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BET Awards TRANSCRIPT: 6/29/20, The Beat

Guests: Ralph Peters, Maxine Waters, Nick Kristof, Francis Suarez, Michael



Hey there, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Hi, Katy. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We begin with the top story tonight, these absolutely serious and explosive allegations that Russia was offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. This potential new scandal is also about what President Trump knew and when.

"The Washington Post" reporting officials believe the Russian bounties, resulted, yes, in success on the Russian side, the death of U.S. troops. U.S. intelligence officers were warning superiors about suspected bounties as far back as January.

And "The New York Times" reports that detail, which puts heat on when Trump knew or how policy could break down on something so grave if he never knew at all. And that is Donald Trump`s defense today.

But "The Times" states that the intelligence finding was in fact briefed to President Trump and the White House`s National Security Council discussed the problem in March. Meanwhile, a National Security Council spokesman is saying the veracity of these underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.

Those are the outlines of the story, in essence, and we have experts to break it down.

But let`s just take in the essence of exactly what`s going on here. The United States is not technically in a hot war with Russia. But Russia infamously clashes with U.S. interests. Everybody knows about that. Russia intervened in the last presidential election to a criminal degree, according to our own Justice Department.

An ongoing plot to pay for killings of U.S. troops would be, of course, a huge escalation, according to some, a potential act of war. So the White House`s response is shaping up to be a scandal in its own right.

Now, as for Russia, the exposure of this plot -- as mentioned, we`re referring to the articles and independent reporting I just referenced, as well as intelligence analysis -- so, all of that exposure wouldn`t lead any reasonable observer to expect Russia to come out and confess.

We will show you, as part of reporting, what we`re hearing from them, a Kremlin, a doubling aide doubling down on their denial today in this NBC exclusive interview.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN PRESS SECRETARY:  I don`t think that this situation is possible ever. So, this is -- this is really ridiculous.

This is really ridiculous to spread this kind of information.

QUESTION:  You don`t think that -- well, if it did happen, do you believe it would...

PESKOV:  Maybe I can sound a little bit rude, but this is 100 percent bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). It`s nondiplomatic thing, but it`s bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

QUESTION:  Hmm. That`s strong, Mr. Peskov.

PESKOV:  As simple as that.


MELBER:  Strong rhetoric, simple rhetoric, but, according to many -- this is my job to tell you as a journalist -- according to many of our journalistic colleagues, our own reporting, the intelligence, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," that strong rhetoric is also false.

Now, Donald Trump facing bipartisan rebukes in Congress over all this tonight. We`re also learning that eight Republican House lawmakers got a briefing about this at the White House -- from the White House. Democrats are supposed to get their briefing tomorrow.

So, as we are joined by experts who will walk us through this, a few big questions. How far did this plot go? Can President Trump handle any escalating proxy conflict with Russia? Did this intelligence reach him or not? Is he lying about it? And if so, why?

Let`s get right to it.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is here, as is Malcolm Nance, an intelligence analyst and author of "The Plot to Betray America: How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised Our Security, and How We Can Fix It," two experts who have been in the room when these kinds of plots and intelligence assessments are made, and policy is then made, serious stuff.

Good evening to both of you.

Ambassador, dealer`s pick on any of the above questions to start our analysis tonight.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Well, we need to know more. I want to say that.

There`s been fantastic reporting, corroborated by many different outlets, but Mr. Peskov, somebody I know, well, when he says B.S., then we need to interrogate and we need to know. That`s the first thing I want to say.

But, second, if it is true, it is just like you said, Ari, an amazingly scary escalation in Putin`s belligerent behavior around the world against American interests. But it follows a pattern.

I also want to underscore this is not the first time that he has done things that other people would consider criminal against American interests, starting with annexation of Crimea in 2014, as you said, in 2016, intervening in our election, criminal intervention, 2018, trying to assassinate Mr. Skripal in the United Kingdom, and now potentially this.

And I would just add to this is, there`s already been reporting of Russians providing weapons to the Taliban. So this is just a further part of that story, a very scary escalation. And the reason he continues to escalate is because President Trump never, not once in four years, has ever pushed back on Vladimir Putin.

His administration has. I want to make that clear, but never has the president of the United States says, you cannot do that, there are implications for you doing that.

And already we`re three days into the story, and President Trump hasn`t even once said, if these allegations are true, it`s completely outrageous. You cannot kill American soldiers on the battlefield. He could say that literally right now. He could get on TV and say that right now.

And he has chosen, he has made the decision not to do so. And that also follows a pattern, a four-year pattern of never, ever pushing back on Vladimir Putin.

MELBER:  And, Ambassador, before bring in Malcolm on the intelligence, what is the import of Russia and specifically Putin`s use of proxies, cutouts, third parties, intermediaries to advance their interests?

MCFAUL:  Well, of course, he does it all the time, so he can deny it, right?

The GRU in this case -- there`s already stories in the Russian press, well, maybe they were a rogue operation, now that Mr. Peskov has made clear that they`re just going to deny it. That happens all the time.

But, again, intelligence is hard. And Malcolm`s going to tell you about that. I used to be a consumer of intelligence when I worked at the National Security Council before becoming the U.S. ambassador. I had that job for three years.

I want to make one other point. Your job -- I was a senior director for Russia affairs -- is to make sure that the president is aware of this intelligence, especially, especially when they are making policy decisions.

MELBER:  Right.

MCFAUL:  And let`s be clear here. After this intelligence was known, President Trump invited Putin to join the G7. After this intelligence was known, he called on the troops in Germany to be reduced.

After this intelligence was known, March meeting, according to "The New York Times," nobody`s denied that, he`s had several phone calls with Vladimir Putin. So the way it normally works when I worked at the National Security Council is that would be in his briefing, that before he would make a call with Vladimir Putin, it would be written right there in his briefing materials, Mr. President, you should know that we have intelligence, even if it wasn`t completely confirmed, that this might be going on.

That might change the tenor of that conversation. And that`s where intelligence and policy comes together. And it sounds like nobody bothered to bring this intelligence to the attention of the president of the United States. That is a breakdown in the National Security Council`s work as well.

MELBER:  That`s an important point, as raised in our lead, we want to get into both of you, because there`s either that complete breakdown or, as Trump has done in other issues -- I`m not saying we have it confirmed on this one -- there`s the possibility that he`s throwing people under the bus.

So they did their job, they did their work, they brought the information to him and he`s saying, oh, I didn`t know about it.

I didn`t know about it, Malcolm, is the I don`t know defense, to put it simply, which is different than Trump`s other Russia defenses that we have heard on big issues the ambassador raised, which is, I don`t care, or, I don`t believe Americans, I don`t believe the intelligence people I hired. I believe Putin. I take his word for it, an echo that is very relevant now as we deal with the serious story of the targeting of United States troops.

With that in mind, Malcolm, take a listen to that version of the Trump defense. This was in Helsinki.



He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.

President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


MELBER:  Malcolm?

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Donald Trump is the master of the Sergeant Schultz defense, right? I know nothing. I know nothing.

But that`s just one of the many things that he uses in his repertoire. Every one of the other excuses that you said, no one told me, I`m going to throw my people under the bus, so what if it happened, Russia didn`t mean it, every one of those is going to play out within the next week. Just mark my words.

If I could just quickly step back and touch on what the foreign minister, Peskov, said, look, I think it`s wonderful that we have an ambassador here so that we can use flowery language. I will not be so flowery, as an intelligence collector.

That man is a liar. And we know he is a liar. This is the man who shot down a Malaysian airliner and said it was -- and didn`t even recognize that they had their own surface-to-air missile launcher there blowing these 200 people out of the sky.

This is the man who launched a chemical weapons attack in the middle of a NATO ally attempting to assassinate people and killed civilians. This is a man who had mercenaries attempt to attack a U.S. Special Forces ODA in Syria and get 250 Russian mercenaries slaughtered by 12 Special Forces soldiers.

And they all deny everything. General John Nicholson, commander U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2018, said, we have evidence Russia is arming the Taliban. The ambassador referenced that a little earlier. That came from Tajikistan.


MELBER:  Let me for you play, since you mentioned this, we get into that, what`s the response? And it`s not that everyone wants to go to the highest escalated hot war, but Donald Trump`s over on the other extreme, as you laid out.

Here`s a little more on the policy issues with Peskov. Take a listen .


PESKOV:  Introducing so-called sanctions once in a while to different countries, it`s a very favorite way of doing things in Washington, this habit of America, introducing sanctions.

Well, of course, this is a joke. This is a joke. And I repeat, I think I have said enough on this issue.


MELBER:  Malcolm.

NANCE:  I mean, the man is the official face of an ex-KGB officer, OK, who deals strictly in these asymmetric warfare-type operations.

And I am certain that Russia did pay the Taliban. These reports have been coming out for the last two years from Afghanistan. People who are in the field have collected it. It`s been at the joint intelligence collection level. It went up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

These reports are real. And Donald Trump seems to be the only person that in the room who claims that he wasn`t briefed, despite the fact that there are flash traffic communication systems designed to get this level of intelligence into his hand within 10 minutes.

So everybody here is dancing around the subject. But what we are seeing is a president of the United States who is so afraid of Vladimir Putin that he wouldn`t even let this subject come up or admit that it was even discussed.

And we`re going to find out in the end that he is covering up something. I always say this about Donald Trump. When you owe money to your bookie, you talk nice about him.

MELBER:  Well, there`s a lot there.

I will repeat, journalistically, in this story, we don`t have the reporting and whether it`s a cover-up or not.

But, Malcolm Nance, you speak from evidence and precedent, which I appreciate, Ambassador McFaul giving us the foreign policy.

Thanks to both of you. I feel more ready in having listened to you tonight.

And now on the military piece, we turn to a friend of THE BEAT, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, author of many books, and has served in administrations here and both parties in Washington.

Sir, from a military perspective, how do you view the plot, as reported in these print outlets, what Russia is trying to do?

COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Well, the first thing I see is an apparent betrayal by the president of the United States of our armed forces.

It shouldn`t surprise us too much. You have a president who doesn`t feel empathy for 126,000 dead Americans on his watch. So why worry about a few a handful of American casualties in Afghanistan?

And, Ari, I think your previous guests really nailed it. And Trump is desperate. He`s always been slavishly obedient to Vladimir Putin, for reasons we still don`t fully understand, although it will eventually come out.

But, right now, trailing Vice President Biden so badly in the polls, Trump desperately, desperately needs and wants Russian help and Chinese help in the election. So he`s going to fight tooth and nail to avoid any criticism of or action against Vladimir Putin. And I suspect that`s probably key to this whole kerfuffle right now about, what did the president know and when did he know it?


MELBER:  And, Ralph, when you look at -- let me -- if I may, I just want to get you on the military piece, though.

PETERS:  Sure.

MELBER:  When you look at the reporting, from a military perspective, how do you view, if true, if confirmed, a power like Russia paying an enemy like the Taliban to kill U.S. troops? Do you view that as a potential act of war?

PETERS:  I -- to be brutally honest, in the world of geopolitics, it probably technically is, but falls short of a casus belli.

It`s monstrous that are doing it. But let`s do what an intelligence officer does. Look at it from the Russian perspective, because we fail to do that. And for Vladimir Putin, he hates the United States with icy passion. We don`t like to mix emotion with diplomacy, but, by God, Putin, for all his calm demeanor, is a really good hater.

He blames the United States for having destroyed the Soviet Union. He called it the worst tragedy of the 20th century. And he also remembers that -- and we forget with our short memories -- in the 1980s, the United States supplied arms, including surface-to-air missiles and money, to jihadis, who later turned into the Taliban, Haqqani Network, et cetera.

And thousands of young Russians were killed or wounded. And so for Putin, this is two things. One, it`s just a chance to hit America any way he can, even if it`s ultimately counterproductive to Russia. He just hates us so much.

And, secondly, for he and many other Russians, it`s payback.

Now, for our troops on the ground, it`s a real threat. And you ask yourself, well, why would Putin -- again, why would take such a grave risk for such small stakes? And the answer is, because he`s Vladimir Putin.

MELBER:  Well, I appreciate your nuance about the fact that, as ugly and horrific and dastardly -- we could pick -- run through the words -- that this may be, from a military perspective, you don`t see it as a casus belli, as the kind of thing that countries would go to war on this alone.

And yet you`re laying out the concerns you have. When you get to the geopolitics -- and we heard from our other experts as well -- I want your view on the Trump-Putin relationship here.

The president has often complained that this just comes up and he blames others. This reporting suggests that he can`t blame Bob Mueller, the Democrats, campaign meetings or anything else. This is real world stuff that Putin`s doing and, according to the reporting, that Trump`s out of the loop on, or worse, briefed and didn`t care.

April, you had the U.S. purchasing Russian medical supplies and Putin demanding sanctions be dropped. By late April, you had this statement of trust that many were critical of, including some Republicans. May, the $5 million, $6 million in humanitarian aid to Moscow.

By June, the Trump-Putin friendly phone call. People can forget some of this, given everything else going on, which is why we want to walk it through. And then June 15, U.S. withdrawing the troops supporting NATO against Russian aggression, all this going on, again, when people are busy with other things in America.

Do you have a concern that U.S. national security is being undercut when you take it all together?

PETERS:  It`s being betrayed.

There`s no question in my mind that Putin has something on Trump. And, also, I continue to think that there`s more fact than fiction in the old Steele dossier, which is now almost forgotten.

I mean, how else do you explain Trump`s behavior? His behavior, disloyal to the United States of America, in this current circumstance, so far, thus far, it is disloyal to our troops. And it`s stunning.

It`s literally unbelievable to have an American president who has such -- so little interest in American security and such a vast commitment to himself.

MELBER:  Hmm. Well, you speak plainly. I would say you`re laying out your view of it in stark terms, Ralph, and I think it`s important for people to remember you`re speaking as someone who served in the military and cares about national security.

That`s where you come to this from. And you sound downright concerned. And I appreciate you coming on. And we will be calling on you again, Ralph Peters.

PETERS:  Of course I`m concerned.

MELBER:  Yes, sir. Thank you.

PETERS:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Yes, sir.

We`re going to fit in a break. But, when we come back, we have a lot of other stories. Take a look at this scene right here on Lake Michigan just over the weekend, a lot of folks living life. But is it making everyone in their community more at risk?

Later tonight, I have a breakdown on Chief Justice John Roberts voting with Democratic appointees on the Supreme Court on a big abortion rights case. We`re going to get into that.

Also, Congresswoman Maxine Waters back on THE BEAT tonight. We`re going to get into policing, racial justice and a lot more.

And by the end of the night, we`re going to see Michelle Obama. She made some brand-new statements regarding Black Lives Matter and Beyonce. We have that for you in this hour.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  How bad is the coronavirus getting in America?

Well, there`s more than one way to answer, first, the overall numbers, U.S. cases spiking over 2.5 million, 126,000 deaths.

Second, the geographic reality, most states now seeing an increase, 32 of them. That includes California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, big states, with medical experts warning, indoor gatherings there and many places are too risky to do. Keep that in mind going into the holiday weekend.

Outdoor gatherings can also be risky. It depends on how you do them, if people are packed into beaches, as we saw this past weekend, without distancing. This was near Milwaukee.

Then, third, how do it`s getting worse? Well, there are responses that show how bad it is, because the very officials were supposed to keep us safe are actually taking these new measures. California`s governor had allowed bars to reopen, but is now closing them. Ditto for Florida`s Republican governor regarding many beaches there.

Trump officials, meanwhile, are telling people to wear masks, but they`re also defending Trump for not doing that.


QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, shouldn`t the president be wearing a mask, if we`re telling everybody in the country they should be wearing a mask?

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY:  So, the president`s situation is very different, as the leader of the free world.

But the message is very clear and has been from day one.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Listen, have you directly asked the president to please ask the country to wear a mask?

AZAR:  So, I`m the president`s secretary of health. I`m telling you, practice social distancing. Where you can`t appropriately social distance, we encourage you to wear a facial covering.


MELBER:  Then there`s the leader of the federal government`s virus response, Vice President Pence. He`s urging people to wear masks because of the danger.

That`s a shift from earlier this month, when he wrote this piece claiming, despite cable news coverage, most states are seeing cases decline. Well, that`s not true tonight.

Pence also adding at the time that, while the media is trying to scare you, Trump`s whole-of-America approach has been a success. "We have slowed the spread," he wrote. Also not true.

And that is context for his new tune.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, the president tapped me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and part of our guidance, guidelines to open up America, again, encouraged people to wear facial coverings where social distancing was not possible.

So our administration is promoting the practice. On behalf of the administration, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the president, we will continue to do that.


MELBER:  That was Pence on Sunday, where he did don a mask.

He also went to an indoor church service with 2,000 people and a large choir singing, the kind of action that can also undercut Pence`s own evolution these guidelines, because , while the mask was a start, praying and singing are also, of course, perfectly fine.

But Pence`s own guidance would be to do something like this outside or with more distance or with masks. Take me to church, as the saying goes, but like anywhere else these days, take me to church responsibly.

Now, how do we do that? Well, the mayor of Miami and a Pulitzer-winning journalist weigh in when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  And I`m joined now by Pulitzer Prize-winning "The New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof. He`s been reporting from inside New York hospitals from the start of the pandemic and keeping an eye on all this.

As mentioned, we will be joined as well by a local leader dealing with it.

But, starting with you, when you see the shift from the vice president, and you also see, again, to be clear, governors in both parties shifting, what does it tell you tonight?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, I mean, it helps explain why most of the -- our peer countries have gone over a mountain in COVID, they have gone up and then down, and the U.S. went up, up, and then we got stuck in a plateau. And now we`re going up again.

And this moment, only three states, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, have a firm handle on COVID-19. And in other states, it`s either flat or going up.

Arizona -- I mean, Phoenix and Houston right now are really in a scary spot and may well end up being another New York and another Wuhan. And the reasons are complicated, but part of that is deeply problematic messaging from Washington, and in some cases from local leaders as well.

MELBER:  Take a listen to Florida`s governor on all this. Here you go.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL):  This is basically socializing. You have graduation parties. You`re going out. You`re doing different things.

These younger groups, I mean, they need to be thinking about who they`re coming into contact with who may be in the more vulnerable groups.


MELBER:  I suppose it`s this thing -- we have discussed this on the show about a range of issues -- where it`s good if people get to the better place.

But viewers remember Republican Governor DeSantis was full MAGA denial long after the medical science was available. Given that you`re the thoughtful person you are -- you don`t win a Pulitzer Prize by just being a bumper sticker dogmatic -- how do you suggest that, as a society, we take in these changes of heart and how do we get better at handling this, because it ain`t going away?

KRISTOF:  So, I welcome any change toward empiricism.

And, look, I mean, the reason that we have lost so many people, so many lives are gone here is because too many American officials and Americans approach this ideologically. And science doesn`t work like that.

A virus doesn`t care what your ideology is. It looks for vulnerabilities, and it preys upon our need to socialize. If you look around the world, in the countries that did best in handling COVID are those who were led by leaders who were empirical, who listened to scientists, actually also, frankly, disproportionately women.

And those who did worse were those, like the U.S., like Britain, like Brazil, like Iran, that were led by blustering men who disrespected science and disrespected the virus, and the virus is now having its revenge.

And so if we get local leaders who will actually have a change of heart, responding to evidence, looking at the way the curve is going, then it`s belated, but that`s certainly better than the alternative.

MELBER:  Stay with me, Nick.

I want to bring in the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez. He actually recently recovered from his own battle with COVID-19. There are over 146,000 confirmed cases across Florida. And we have seen this spike of over 200 percent in just the last two weeks.

Your thoughts on the above? And what are you seeing on the ground, Mr. Mayor?

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA:  Well, we`re seeing the largest single-week increase since this began, with over 6,000 new cases this week alone.

In Miami-Dade County, we hit the high water mark in two consecutive times, one at 1,500 and another one at 2,000. So that`s three and four times greater than what we had in late March, early April, when we implemented a stay-at-home order.

So we`re starting to see our hospitalizations also go up and our hospital capacity come down. So that is a significant threat that we have to be very, very careful to protect against.

MELBER:  And with the big decisions policy-makers have to choose, you heard Nick Kristof give that shout-out to empiricism.

What do you think of the evolution of your Republican governor?

SUAREZ:  Well, I can`t speak for him. I can only speak for myself.

And I can tell you that I have been looking at the data ourselves. We have an epidemiologist. We have a biostatistician. I mean, I have been criticized for being the last city in the state of Florida that opened.

But we have also been criticized because I implemented a mask in public rule, which we implemented last Thursday. Today, we set forth another set of guidelines, which require any restaurant that`s not complying with the rules to be shut down for a 10-day period, then a 15-day period, then a 30- day period for a second and third offense.

So, we are cracking down significantly, because we`re starting to see the stress in our hospital system. And that is the point at which we can become like some of these other cities and countries that we have seen the death rate escalate from 3 percent to 8, 14 and 12 percent.

MELBER:  Mr. Mayor, we have a lot of debates about policy.

Like, if you look at the financial crash, they bailed out the banks. And people debated that. But we didn`t have the counterfactual. We didn`t have the alternative situation where you don`t bail them out and you see what would happen.

Were the economists right that it was necessary? Or were the critics right that maybe we would have gone on, restructured financing and rebounded, right? You only had one version

Nicholas Kristof makes a point that is, I think, very incisive that`s easy to kind of forget. And we have we have shown it with charts here on the show from time to time. This is that rare time, tragically, where we actually have all the alternatives arrayed, because you can see what other countries have done.

And many of us love America, many things to be proud of, many things to work on. According to the international charts, we suck when it comes to managing this. How does that factor in to what you do on the ground? Do you find it effective in leadership to talk to your constituents about the fact that science shows what does work elsewhere?

Or is that a bridge too far, because people are dealing with their day to day, and the unemployment crisis, and telling them that Europe and Hong Kong did better doesn`t get you anywhere?

SUAREZ:  Look, you know, people expect you as an elected official to lead.

And your decision has to be based on empirical data. That doesn`t mean that everyone`s going to be happy with the decisions that you make. And there have been many people that have been unhappy with some of the decisions that I have made, and saying that I`m taking away people`s freedoms by requiring a mask in public rule.


MELBER:  But, specifically, I`m just pressing you on, like, do you mention the other countries, or that doesn`t work?

SUAREZ:  We -- of course. I mention the mortality rate increases in other parts of the U.S. and other countries. And it should work, because, I mean, it alarm people.

If you have a mortality rate of 8 percent, 12 percent, 14 percent, you should be extremely concerned, because those are your loved ones. Those are your family members who are the ones who are possibly at risk.

And so, for me, it is what it is. I will take whatever criticism I have to take, because, at the end of the day, my objective is to protect my residents, is to be their voice. And if that means doing something like mandating somebody to wear a seat belt, maybe unpopular, it`s going to save lives.

MELBER:  Right.

SUAREZ:  And so having someone wear a mask may be unpopular, but it`s going to save lives. And so that`s why we have done it in the city.

MELBER:  Mayor Suarez, Nick Kristof, thanks to both of you.

Up ahead, we dig into a story that`s huge that we haven`t even had time to get to yet, the Supreme Court ruling against Donald Trump, and an interesting vote breakdown. We`re going to get into that.

Also, those former officers charged in the killing of George Floyd back in court today.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters live on THE BEAT next.


MELBER:  The four former officers charged in the death of George Floyd appeared in court today, three of them charged with murder appearing in person.

Officer Chauvin, the officer charged with second-degree murder for action kneeling on Floyd`s neck and ultimately killing him, was appearing via video.

The judge says, all parties must stop discussing the case to limit publicity.

Now, my next guest knows a lot about fighting for racial justice. In 1992, she was during -- she was in her first term in Congress when parts of her L.A. district saw the violence and unrest after the acquittal of those officers also caught on tape. It was in the beating of Rodney King.

She pushed to invite herself to the White House to press those issues with then President George H.W. Bush and has worked on them her entire career.

We are rejoined by Democratic Congressman Maxine Waters of California, chair of the Financial Services Committee.

Good evening to you.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA):  Hello. How are you? I`m delighted...


MELBER:  I`m good. Thanks for asking.

WATERS:  Well, I`m delighted to be with you.


MELBER:  It`s great to have you back. I know we`re on a slight delay.

You`re keeping safe and everything?

WATERS:  Yes, absolutely.

It`s a challenge, but we have to do it. And one of the things I want to do is have all of us serve as good examples by making sure we do the social distancing, and we`re wearing our mask, and we`re not creating large crowds and attending large events.

MELBER:  Yes, I hear you on that.

And, as a policy-maker and a leader, you are using this platform to remind people of that.

I suppose, Congresswoman, I want to pick up where we left off in our last conversation, because you said something that resonated with me. And I heard some viewers, who I hear from time to time, noticed it too, which is, for all your work, which we mentioned, you were giving credit, saying the protesters pushed farther and got policy-makers in Congress to move more than some of the professionals.

Now we`re in this place where you and Speaker Pelosi and others have led this House bill. We reported on that. We`re seeing this action in various courtrooms, including what I mentioned today, and, obviously, life goes on.

We`re not seeing all the protests to the same degree, although we continue to report on those aspects. What do you see as the next step or phase in this movement?

WATERS:  Well, I think there are several steps to be taken.

One is, we have to really take a look at the kind of crimes that are committed by the people that we pay to protect and serve us, and see if they fall in the category of civil rights violations.

And I think that we have to take a look at that, because we have been referring some of these crimes to the Department of Justice, and they have been oftentimes rejected, or people didn`t seem to be quite sure whether or not they were captured by the civil rights laws. And I think we have got to pay a lot of attention to that.

The other thing that I would like to see happen, aside from what we do at the federal level, I would like to see more pressure put on the members of city councils and mayors. They hold the purse strings.

They`re the ones with the budgets of the police departments. They`re the ones who determine whether or not they get raises. They`re the ones who determine whether or not they`re paying lots of overtime, as we see in Los Angeles.

They`re the ones who decide what the pensions are and whether or not they`re going to embellish them, et cetera, et cetera. They have not used their influence or their power, because they have been made to believe that, if they do some of these things, that the police unions will organize lots of money against them, and cause them not to be reelected.

So, the police protective leagues have had an outsized role in determining what city council members and mayors do, and members are not willing to cross them. They are afraid of them.

And we have got to pay attention to that power and see what we can do to lessen that power to make sure that they cannot exert the kind of influence they have exerted traditionally.

MELBER:  Yes, it`s a really important point.

When we have covered these, I have had people ask sometimes, well, what is exactly the holdup, particularly in perhaps more liberal districts and communities, where you might think there was more cause for reform?

And the police unions and the police themselves sometimes are not being overseen in a traditional way. They are negotiating and leveraging these discussions, as you just explained.

I want to play a little bit of George Floyd -- George Floyd`s uncle, who was at that courtroom today where they`re going through the process of these murder charges for the killing of George Floyd. Take a listen.


SELWYN JONES, UNCLE OF GEORGE FLOYD:  I think the more media that we have on this case, the more resolve we will get.

And this is just absolutely insane that we all are gathered here to talk about my nephew getting murdered by a damn madman in the middle of the street. For what reason? Because of the color of his skin.

I`m mad at the system. The system should have had better order in place. What was he going to do? Hell, he couldn`t get up and run. What could he do?

And we all sat there and just watched him get brutally tortured and murdered.


MELBER:  I`m curious what you think about the balance between listening to people affected and their voices being out there, which obviously is the part of the reason there are charges in the first place?

And the other news I mentioned, which is that the judge -- and, in fairness, as you know, it`s pretty standard a lot of these cases. The judge is saying, OK, now there are charges, let the case play out. They don`t want a lot of public commentary from the participants.

But isn`t it partly public commentary and activism that got us here?

WATERS:  Absolutely.

And I want to tell you, without the kind of protests that we have seen, we would not have so many people saying, oh, my goodness, things have got to change. And that`s not simply black people. It`s whites and all races saying and taking to the streets, and young people taking to the streets.

We saw everything out there. We saw Asians, we saw Indians, we saw blacks, we saw whites, et cetera.

No, this change and this talk of change would not be happening without the kind of protest that we have witnessed. And people don`t like protests. They are afraid of protests. But, of course, this is what is guaranteed to us by our Constitution that we should be able to do.

And, sometimes, all of the attention is on the violence that sometimes is caused or some of the wreckage that`s caused by some of the protesters, but that is minor in relationship to the numbers who are on the positive side of this and talking about change.

And so I hear what the judge is saying, but tradition has not worked for us. And so whether you`re talking about paying attention to police chiefs who too are captured by the police unions, or your city council members, who are saying that they just can`t get it done, or your mayors who are electing these police chiefs and don`t want to be accountable to them, all of that is tradition.

And that`s got to be done away with. And the only way it`s going to happen is with the protests of people taking to the streets in the way that we have witnessed.

MELBER:  Well, we always learn different things from you.

I was just jotting down what you said. Tradition has not worked for us.

WATERS:  That`s right.

MELBER:  That is so striking, because we go to school, I don`t care whether you`re in middle school or law school, and you learn about this.

And we have these words. And some traditions are nice, and some of our history we can be proud of. But the notion that tradition and history when it comes to racism and civil rights in this history is exactly what needs to be overturned, a fitting thought for us to reflect on.

Congresswoman Waters, it`s good to see you. I hope you will come back.

WATERS:  Thank you.

Well, you put it very well. I liked the way you did that. Thank you so very much.


MELBER:  Well, I appreciate that. I`m quoting you. We will see you again soon, Congresswoman.

Why don`t we fit it in a break?

When we come back: calls for justice and change from none other than Michelle Obama speaking about Beyonce, brand-new. You will see it here on THE BEAT.

But, first, after this break, I want to walk through this Supreme Court decision striking down a very restrictive Louisiana abortion law. And I want to tell you why I think it`s really intriguing, including the role of Justice Roberts and previews for the courts work ahead.

I will get into that with you when we come back.


MELBER:  Welcome back.

There`s a lot going on. And now we turn to this major news from the Supreme Court, striking down a Louisiana law restricting abortion access, nixing this law that had tried to add rules for what doctors had to do in order to perform the procedure.

Had the law stayed on the books, it would have effectively left an entire state with just one abortion clinic. The 5-4 decision was basically clenched by conservative chief Justice John Roberts.

Now, here`s a revealing detail that you don`t get with most court decisions. We actually know that Roberts personally supports this kind of law, meaning, if it were just up to him, in his mind, he`s fine with restricting abortion access this way.

Now, how do we know that? Because he ruled for a nearly identical law while he was on the court. And he was transparent about that, referencing it in today`s ruling, where he sided with Democratic appointees on the court, but noted he basically thought this decision was personally wrong, and the past ruling about it was wrongly decided.

So, that right there is interesting. Is there any principle for ruling two different ways?

Well, legal experts say yes, Roberts, using his power to state a value that is more important than his personal view of that law, the nonpartisan practice of precedent.

Meanwhile, Trump`s latest appointee to the court, Brett Kavanaugh, voting to break precedent and uphold this anti-abortion law.

And, fact-check, that looks different than what he pledged under oath about this very issue during his hearings.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE:  As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By it, I mean, Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade is an important precedent the Supreme Court, which is this important precedent in the Supreme Court that`s been reaffirmed many times.


MELBER:  Today, on MSNBC, we also heard from the winning challenger in this very case, noting this ruling is basically Roe v. Wade status quo. It maintains the law as is.


KATHALEEN PITTMAN, HOPE MEDICAL GROUP:  I said, this is a win, and we will take it. And it certainly is. But this just maintains the status quo. This allows us to remain open.

This is not an advancement for reproductive rights, by any stretch of the imagination.


MELBER:  True. So, this ruling held the line. It did not move it.

And, at least on this case, we learned in public today that Justice Roberts meant what he said under oath at his confirmation hearings. And Justice Kavanaugh on this issue apparently didn`t.

Now, when we come back, we end with some uplift, Michelle Obama at that star-studded BET Awards show -- what she said about Beyonce and Black Lives Matter.


MELBER:  This weekend`s annual BET Awards dove right into policy, civil rights and politics.

Michelle Obama speaking out about justice and what she called black joy and pain. Plus, a spirited political performance of "Fight the Power, Y.G., Black Thought and Rapsody.

And awards went to new stars, like Lizzo, Roddy Rich, DaBaby, and Megan Thee Stallion, and Teyana Taylor, plus Beyonce, who received a humanitarian award from Michelle Obama herself.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY:  I am here today to talk about the queen.

You can see it in everything she does, from her music that gives voice to black joy and black pain, to her activism that demands justice for black lives.

To my girl, I just want to say, you inspire me. You inspire all of us.


MELBER:  Beyonce has been joining these causes for years. She was a part of protests, like this one you see in photos here with Trayvon Martin`s mother, Jay Z and Reverend Al Sharpton. That was seven years ago.

She`s advanced diverse voices in civil rights in her music, her work and her business, which she was honored for.

And last night, we want to show you before we go tonight that she shouted out protesters, the movement activists, and made it clear that, in her view, everyone`s got to get together for the next step, voting in November.


BEYONCE KNOWLES, MUSICIAN:  I want to dedicate this award to all of my brothers out there, all of my sisters out there inspiring me, marching and fighting for change.

Your voices are being heard, and you`re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain.

Now, we have one more thing we need to do to walk in our true power, and that is to vote.


MELBER:  One more thing to do:  Vote.

When you pair up Beyonce and Michelle Obama, it will be very interesting to see how many people get together on that task in the months ahead.

That does it for us. I will see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

And, right now, keep it right here on MSNBC.