Russia Scandal TRANSCRIPT: 6/30/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Gregory Meeks, Evelyn Farkas, Megan Ranney, Aja Brown, Neal Katyal, Paul Rieckhoff, David Priess

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: In the meantime, THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi there, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You know what, Katy?

TUR: No, I don`t.

MELBER: I, for one, am looking forward -- I`m looking forward to when the news slows down enough or is less serious so that we can have a goofy handoff. Things have just been too serious.

TUR: I know. I was worried that people might think that things have chilled between us, but it`s just -- it`s a heavy time. Don`t want to not take it seriously.

MELBER: No. Well, that`s a fair worry.

I mean, it`s a low worry compared to the real worries. But there`s no chill. There`s just the fact that, when it gets -- people say, well, what`s the limit for goofy? Because we`re all humans, and, sometimes, we just, as colleagues, have fun. But things get so heavy, that`s the limit.

So I look forward to a future goofy handoff, Katy Tur. That`s all I can say at this time.

TUR: Me too, Ari.

MELBER: OK. Have a good evening.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And it is actually a pretty serious time. So we will get right into it. We are tracking these disturbing new revelations about President Trump`s actual knowledge and awareness inside the White House of the reported Russian bounty plot to kill u.s. troops in Afghanistan.

Now, there`s a lot new on this front. And we have got some incredible experts. We will walk through just the national security facts before we bring them in.

Late today, the White House now saying Donald Trump got his first briefing about it after this was all revealed in a "New York Times" explosive report that first broke -- at least the first details of it -- four days ago.

And yet we are also learning, according to some of the same dogged investigative journalists, as well as other sources of intelligence, that the Trump administration actually first obtained the key intelligence and the clues about this very terrible plot against U.S. troops over a year ago.

But let`s be clear. The bad news for Trump here on these briefings and the schedule, it matters, because this, at its core, is the kind of scandal that can hobble a presidency and that affects the lives of men and women in uniform.

We`re talking about credible allegations that the president fell down on the job facing off with a key adversary, which is also, of course, the other great nuclear power on Earth. We`re talking about allegations that the president either completely mishandled or didn`t even know about an ongoing Russian plot to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers.

Just taking that in helps put a context on why this now pitched Washington battle over the history of the information and the briefings, why that all really matters, what`s under what you might call briefing-gate.

Independent reports finding the Trump administration has long known about Russia`s escalation. A person described as having direct knowledge of the intelligence telling NBC the White House and top officials learned about possible Russian bounties against U.S. troops as far back as early 2019.

And that matches a story from the Associated Press, which has additional details, reporting that, in March of 2019, John Bolton -- we have heard a lot about him lately, he was on the job or Trump then -- was briefing the president about it.

"The Times" also reporting, brand-new, that Trump received a written briefing this past February focusing in part on a car bombing in April 2019 which killed three Marines, and that was a potential example of these targeted attacks, targeted killings backed by Russia.

Now, Democrats today got a briefing from administration officials, but not -- that was from basically people who are political appointees, but not from top intelligence officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We need to hear from the heads of the intelligence agencies. In my view, the right people were not in the room to give us the kind of briefing that we needed to get.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): I thought this briefing was the White House personnel telling us that perspective. I think we knew the White House perspective.

What we need to know is the intelligence perspective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Tonight, many Republicans demanding answers, others starting to go into a cycle of defending Trump.

A top Republican who was briefed this week saying, the intel may have been included in the written briefings -- here we are in that parsing -- but that they don`t think it was raised to Donald Trump`s attention because they don`t think that intelligence was actionable.

OK. That`s one view of, again, what many experts say would already be this scandal, not telling the president about something as important as Russia getting U.S. troops killed.

All of this goes way beyond whether a given president prefers, prefers written briefings or verbal presentations. Indeed, there are those who like to attack Trump for anything and make a big deal out of it. The issue is the substance, not whether he reads or not.

If Donald Trump`s aides didn`t get him this vital intelligence in whatever mechanism the president chooses, why? And had Donald Trump already effectively discouraged the free flow of intelligence if it made Putin look bad, or if it pressed hard calls on the commander in chief?

That -- if that`s the defense, if that`s what happened, that would be the opposite of what you`re seeking in a commander in chief when it comes to reports that our troops are being targeted and killed by a major adversary through a third-party killing program.

And as this entire story escalates, there is also the question of what to do next. Does this president have any action plan to deal with these reports about what Russia and Putin are up to?

We have a series of experts here in the top of our show. We begin with two of them, Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" columnist Gene Robinson, and David Priess, who`s a CIA officer. He`s now chief operating officer at Lawfare Institute, and, most importantly for tonight, he was a daily intelligence briefing himself. Indeed, he was wrote "The President`s Book of Secrets" and understands exactly why Washington is consumed with how the briefing was conducted.

Good evening to both of you.

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Evening, Ari.

MELBER: David, what do you find as the priority issues, given where we are in these reports?

PRIESS: There are so many questions here, that it`s hard to know where to start.

But, fundamentally, we need to know, when was the president made aware of this reporting? Even if it was not deemed corroborated yet, when was he first made aware of it, and then by what means?

Because perhaps it was printed in the president`s daily brief. But the president famously does not like to read it. That`s fine as long, as he gets the intelligence information another way. But then it`s incumbent upon either an in-person briefer or the national security adviser to get it to him.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: May I hit that with you, since you were a briefer?

PRIESS: Please.

MELBER: Are there times where something is so important that, while it exists in a longer, deeper form, people make sure that, with their time with the president, they get it across?

PRIESS: Absolutely. That`s true for the president. That`s true for other national security principals.

I can tell you, when I briefed the president`s daily brief, if the person I was briefing did not register the thing that he was reading at the time, usually right in front of me, I would emphasize it. I would find a way to say, sir, I don`t want you to miss this on this page, or I don`t want you to miss this story, because it`s really important.

And I would make sure that they understood it, not that they liked it, not that they agreed with it, but that they understood what the best assessment of the intelligence community was.

MELBER: Right.

So, let`s hit that, because that goes to the other piece here. Whether you like a given president or not, I don`t think this story is about that. This story is about what`s happening when Putin and Russia set up a program to kill U.S. troops.

And whether a given president has reason -- you could have a pacifist, dove president who says, gosh, I don`t want to hear about anything that might provoke escalation. Or you could have a really militant one. Whatever the views that may be of the president, do you view what we know -- and there`s much we don`t -- but what we view that`s been publicly corroborated about this story, the kind of thing that any decent, competent briefer would say, hey, wait, Mr. President, you got to understand what`s happening?

And thus, if so, do you think they`re lying about the president not knowing?

PRIESS: I think there are two alarming, even disturbing options here that look more likely than the others.

One is that the information was briefed in one form or another to the president. That is, he received it, perhaps orally only, but he received the information. And the White House is denying that he received it because they don`t like the implications of this without any action taken or any decisions authorized from the White House.

The other option that appears likely at this point is, Trump was not briefed on it, he did not read it in the written product, and no one, whether the intelligence briefer who sees him occasionally, or, more importantly, the national security adviser, who is the focal person for getting national security information to the president, that none of them decided they want to bring it up with him.

That could be because he has said to them, never bring me bad news on Russia, I don`t want to hear it anymore, which is bad. Or it could be because they have just decided internally it`s not worth getting yelled at when we do that, so we`re just going to stop doing that. And we`re not going to give the president some devastating intelligence information and, in a sense, hope it goes away.

All of those options are bad.

MELBER: Gene?

ROBINSON: Yes. No, I agree. This is a shocking failure either way.

I mean, there`s no question now that this intelligence exists and that "The New York Times" has been all over the story. The latest thing I saw was indications of money transfers that were detected between Russian intelligence and the Taliban that perhaps may be related to the killings of U.S. soldiers.

I mean, this is -- this intelligence was there. So, it is shocking, a shocking failure either way. If the president really did not know, that`s a giant failure. That is that he organized his administration in such a haphazard and incompetent way that such important information did not get to the person needs to know it.

MELBER: Right.

ROBINSON: And if he did know and is lying and did nothing about it, or said nothing about it, no steps, authorized nothing, again, that`s another -- that`s a whole different shocking failure.

I -- and I think that`s -- those two polar possibilities, I think, are why the White House is floundering on this issue, because they don`t -- they don`t know which way to jump. There are alligators in each pit politically.

MELBER: Well, and, Gene, one of the alligators is Vladimir Putin. And here we are again with Trump and Putin.

And I want to be very clear. Whether people like it or not, we meticulously reported on the issues in the election meddling, the links with some Trump advisers, many of whom were on this program, some of whom came back. I invited Carter Page back, and I said, turns out you were cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

We read the whole Mueller report, just about all of it, and he didn`t find a criminal level conspiracy. And we reported that. So that was, in essence, some good news for Trump folks.

But here we are again. What also was in there was, Putin did intercede in the election. Mueller did charge those crimes. We are warned he will do it again. We are talking about American democracy.

You have someone who, according to all of these accounts, is often using intermediaries -- intermediaries and cutouts. And our experts have taught us why Russia does that. But, basically, if I can simplify, you have got someone who`s trying to kill American troops, undermine American democracy, pick the winners of our elections, instead of our voters.

And even when you`re as fair as possible to Trump, as is my job as a legal reporter, you say, OK, no criminal conspiracy, but here we are again, Gene. And I ask you the $64 million question. Why is he afraid of Putin?

ROBINSON: Well, that`s a good question. I think it was Speaker Pelosi who told the president that, with you, it always comes back to Russia.

And it always seems to. And so we can speculate as to why that might be, ranging from some deep dark secrets that Putin knows about the president that nobody else knows and he doesn`t want to go out. That`s one side, or perhaps that he doesn`t want to acknowledge -- he just doesn`t want to talk about Russia because of the question of Russia having helped him win the presidency.

But whatever the deal is, there`s a deal here. It is -- Russia is the theme that has run through this presidency since day one, and continues to run through his presidency. We haven`t gotten to the bottom of it. Maybe at some point we will. But we haven`t yet.

MELBER: Yes.

Really fascinating. Because I`m -- the nature of this story, we`re going to different experts on different pieces of it.

So, I want to thank Gene Robinson and David Priess for getting us started.

David, we always feel more briefed after talking to you.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: That`s a CIA daily briefing joke. Yes, it`s weak. Weak joke. Great guests.

Thanks to both of you.

I want to turn now on the policy response. What do you do about all this?

I`m joined by Congressman Greg Meeks, a Democrat from New York who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was at this morning`s White House briefing. And we`re also joined by Evelyn Farkas, a top expert on Russia who served in the Obama administration.

We had the primary last week, so mentioning you`re also a candidate in that race, which I believe was still yet to be called. But we`re here on...

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Doesn`t look like I was the winner.

MELBER: Well, I was trying to -- I was like, do I say -- I want to be nice. I wasn`t going to try to draw extra attention to that.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Congressman Meeks, I`m sure, could tell us, these are hard races, and people run them more than once. We wish everyone well.

Evelyn saw me stumbling a little bit.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: But let`s start with the congressman.

Your view of today`s briefing and what, if anything, do you think the U.S. should do about this, or is it too early to say, given the intel?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Well, of course, I`m not going to talk about the intelligence part of it.

But I think that your first segment has it exactly right. The wrong people were in the room today for this briefing. There was no CIA. None of our intelligence agencies were there. And those are the individuals that we need to talk to and we need to hear from.

The people that were in the room are basically those who are appointees of the president, and who basically want to, of course, spin on the best way for the president, as we have seen with a number of other individuals who used to be in that administration, whether it was Kelly, or Mattis, or Bolton now, all who have said different things.

And so we need to hear from the intelligence agencies themselves and their interpretations of what took place, because, as stated, either way, either the president was briefed, or whether he wasn`t briefed, it`s all bad.

Here we have a president who is fighting and considering to have Russia back into the G7, to make it the G8 again, and yet we have got this information. And for the president not to have it or not to act upon it is very troubling, when we see that our troops are being targeted by the Russians with a bounty.

So, there`s a lot still to be answered, so that we can move forward. But we just can`t just do nothing at this point. Clearly, the president should have been out there saying, clearly, all G7 considerations are off, because we have got to make sure that we are doing all of the investigation until we get all of the information.

But, again, you have a problem of a president who has questioned his own intelligence when it comes to Russia, where he`s taken the Russian intelligence over his own intelligence.

And so that just makes another problem on top of another problem in regards to this president.

MELBER: Evelyn?

FARKAS: Well, look here, Ari, I think what we really need to focus on is, why are the Russians doing this?

First of all, they want to weaken America. They want to weaken our democracy, as you pointed out earlier. Second, there is an element of revenge. They are running around killing people all over, I won`t go through the long laundry list of the latest ones, but they are killing more people across the world, people that they have a vendetta against.

And by they, I mean really Putin and the intelligence services. But, finally, it`s a test. And it`s a test that we failed, because if Donald Trump did nothing, that`s one thing. But the entire American government did nothing. And don`t think that Putin`s done with this.

He`s looking very closely to see, what did we do? Well, we covered it up and we did nothing. We let our people die. And, by the way, there`s an open question. Were other nationals targeted as well? Is this only limited to Americans? What about other NATO-allied country troops who are there also still in Afghanistan?

So, all of these open questions. No response from us. This is a test. We failed. And so we can expect more from Vladimir Putin. And, believe me, he can do a lot more damage to us. And I`m worried in the run-up.

I think Congress -- I`m sorry to say, Chairman Meeks, you`re going to have your work cut out for you, because between now and January, especially if we have, God willing, a change in the White House leadership, this Russian president is going to push pedal to the metal to get every advantage he can and to weaken us as much as he can.

MELBER: And on that point, the policy process, we`re being told by people who were literally in the room, Congressman, is totally broken.

And so you get the same thing that people are concerned about with Donald Trump`s approach to propaganda and lying -- and "The Washington Post" and others have documented that -- that`s outside the house, right? That`s messaging.

But the reports here from John Bolton are, it`s the same problem inside the house, which some could argue may be worse or at least more concerning for security decisions. Take a listen to John Bolton.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It`s, unfortunately, not unusual that, when something comes up, whether it`s intelligence or publicly available information that isn`t what he wants to hear, he just turns a blind eye to it.

I think a lot of that was true in the coronavirus. He didn`t want to hear bad things about China in January and February of this year. And I think that`s cost us a lot, because he wouldn`t face up the information that was displeasing to him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Congressman, given your role here, we give you the final word.

MEEKS: Yes.

So, what`s further troubling is his go-along attitude. As just mentioned, our NATO allies, are they being targeted? He doesn`t want to work with them. There`s no cooperation in that regards.

So, all of that is a huge problem that this president has. We have a catastrophic situation that could be building. And yet it seems as though he`s hiding and keeping back and lying, because he`s continually lied.

And that`s what the problem is with this White House. And there`s -- just as outside, there`s dysfunction, inside. Anybody that you talk to that was there that has left has told you about the dysfunction inside and this president not listening to anyone that is there who`s giving him advice, even once he gets it.

MELBER: Congressman Meeks and Evelyn Farkas, two more of our experts here unpacking this intricate national security story, our thanks to both of you.

I want to tell viewers, coming up: Dr. Fauci speaking out with a new warning about the coronavirus. Very interesting to hear what he`s saying and how it does also undercut some of what the White House has said.

Trump allies pressuring him to set a better example and wear a mask. That includes some Republicans.

Tonight, Neal Katyal is here. We`re going to get into Obamacare and why we think we might get decision on Trump taxes from the Supreme Court very soon. He will explain.

Also, history in Mississippi tonight. We will explain why. It`s a big one.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to one of the most important stories tonight impacting your safety, this surging coronavirus pandemic.

Do you remember when President Trump restricted travel to the U.S. by people from countries with lots of coronavirus cases? That was back before the pandemic had spread across America.

And whatever one thinks of Trump`s instincts on immigration, many countries do restrict travel that evidence shows could spread a new virus. Well, consider how far we have come tonight, news breaking that Europe will bar some American visitors when it reopens, because our country has failed to get the spread under control.

Now, that`s one outside international perspective. Inside the administration, medical experts sounding the alarm too.

Here`s Dr. Fauci stark warning today:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We can`t just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk. We are now having 40,000-plus new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around.

And so I am very concerned. We`re going in the wrong direction. Clearly, we are not in total control right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Going in the wrong direction, clearly not in control, Dr. Fauci`s words.

And we will look at the evidence he`s drawing on, U.S. cases spiking 80 percent in just the last two weeks. That`s that climb on the right. Most states facing outbreaks are nixing or changing reopening plans.

And Donald Trump`s own Republican allies are basically speaking out about his well-known shade for wearing masks, noting it actually makes no sense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): That makes no sense. I mean, it actually would help restore the economy if we contain the disease. And the better the economy is, the better off the president is, I would think, running for election. So it makes no sense.

So, I hope the president will help us just get rid of this mask politics. It hurts the country and it doesn`t help him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It does hurt the country.

And as doctors and policy experts and this show has documented with this chart, take it in, the facts, the charts, the case count do show that the virus can be stemmed. You`re looking in April, the very middle of this chart, where we were, along with Europe, peaking, peaking at the same time.

Europe, the blue line, applying some of those rules to get their case count down. We, of course, you see up to the right, are still rising. We never did that dip.

Now, can policy-makers use these facts on your screen to push Americans with the evidence, so we learn that sometimes there are other international examples to apply?

Well, today, Joe Biden actually stressed that other countries got things under control, while he says Trump`s surrendered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It didn`t have to be this way. Month after month, as other leaders in other countries took the necessary steps to get the virus under control, Donald Trump failed us.

And now Donald Trump is in retreat. It seems like our wartime president has surrendered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and a professor of emergency medicine at Brown, and the mayor of Compton in California, Aja Brown.

Both of you have expertise on the medical side of this and what do you do with the medical evidence as a leader, a local policy and government leader.

Good day to both you.

AJA BROWN (D), MAYOR OF COMPTON, CALIFORNIA: Thank you.

MELBER: Starting with you, Doctor.

You hear Biden referencing it. We understand there`s an election coming, and people have polarized political reactions, sadly, when there`s underlying evidence that knows no party.

But that chart that we have shown before -- and I showed it again tonight - - and it relates to what seems to be a wider emerging consensus even across parties. There are ways to stem this. Other places have done it. The U.S. can do it better.

Your thoughts?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, RHODE ISLAND HOSPITAL: Yes, absolutely, Ari.

I have been on this show and many other physicians and public health professionals have been sounding the alarm for months now. As we have said, this disease is unprecedented, but the techniques to control it have existed for centuries, right?

We know that wearing masks helps. Wearing masks alone is not a panacea. We know that physical distancing helps. We know that handwashing helps. These things need to be put in place together and need to be supported with social norms.

All of us in society have to decide to do them together if we`re going to control this virus. And what we`re seeing now across the United States, is a failure of leadership to set policies and to set standards and to set norms that the rest of folks feel that they can and should follow.

And that`s why we`re seeing this spread of the virus. There`s still time to walk it back, but it is going to take concerted effort at this point. And it is disappointing and frustrating to those of us that have been on the front lines for months now.

MELBER: Mayor Brown?

BROWN: Yes.

I think it`s critical that we have a mandate to direct public dollars into areas of high risk. The community of Compton, we`re 98 percent Latinx and African-American communities, and we still have not had a strong commitment from the public sector to provide testing to my community.

I have had to partner with the private sector on having different events for the residents to ensure that they have access to critical health care. We know that we have systemic inequalities that are -- have existed for centuries, and we`re trying to overcome the barriers to access of health care, but still protecting the most at-risk, the highest-need communities.

And that`s people of color. And so we definitely need a change and a commitment to really reinvest those public dollars into the places that really need it.

MELBER: Yes, all of those great points.

I want to turn to something else that we prepared. And I think this is really striking to watch. I think viewers will really see something here.

And to set it up, Mayor Brown, sometimes, people -- I`m sure you run into this in politics -- there`s a kind of a skepticism. And people say, nothing changes. What`s the point? I mean, on a host of issues.

And on the one hand, I get why people feel like that. We cover a lot of those kind of frustrating stories. On the other hand, from what I could tell, things are changing all the time.

And there has been a movement afoot just recently in the last few days by conservatives and Republican allies of President Trump. Maybe people think it`s late. Maybe it would have helped earlier, but we`re going to report what we see, people suddenly saying, you know what, we got to be better about following CDC guidelines, which includes the mask if you are within six feet. If you`re not -- keep your distance.

If you`re within six feet, use the mask. And that includes the president. Take a look. This is all new from many of his most well-known allies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don`t see any downside in the president being seen more often wearing it. It`s symbolic.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I think that we all should be wearing masks. And I think it would help if the president were to do so as well.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): It`s serious. We haven`t beat it. You have got to wear a mask. You got to social distance.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I will wear the mask. I want to go to the game. It`s a short period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Mayor Brown, how about that?

BROWN: People need to wear masks. And we have heard from the CDC. We have heard from Dr. Fauci. Our country is undoubtedly in crisis. The numbers support that.

We need to change the commitment to wearing masks. I`m happy that, in my community, people have taken this more seriously than some other places of more, to be honest, affluent Americans.

And so we really have to understand that our affluence doesn`t give us the privilege to put other people`s health at risk.

MELBER: Sure.

BROWN: And so I`m hoping that, as a nation, we can make a commitment to wear a mask.

MELBER: Well, what do you think of Sean Hannity getting on board, albeit it pretty late?

BROWN: God bless him. I just hope that more people get on board at this point.

MELBER: Doctor?

RANNEY: I couldn`t agree more. I think the more people that get on board, the better. This is not a partisan issue. Science doesn`t respect party lines.

And I will emphasize what Mayor Brown said, the importance of making sure that masks are available to everyone. As you know, I run a nonprofit, GetUsPPE, that tries to get donated PPE to health care providers in need.

We have also provided PPE to protesters, recognizing that folks out there need protection. It is critical for us to make sure that essential workers have masks and have masks that protect them. But we also have to follow all of those other precautions. Masks alone are not sufficient.

They are a critical part of the equation, but they need to be accompanied by those other elements of a strong public health response as well. Again, this isn`t rocket science, right? This is really basic public health. And it`s time for us to invest in it and to get other Americans to believe in it as well.

MELBER: Yes.

No, Doctor, we`re not ready for rocket science. We`re just working on regular science here, but trying to get the word out.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Dr. Ranney and Mayor Brown, thanks to both of you.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump trying to go after health care coverage in the middle of a pandemic.

Neal Katyal when we`re back in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We`re living through a health crisis which we know sparked a jobs crisis; 40 million people, give or take, have lost jobs now, some states hit so hard that one out of four people out of work in places like Nevada and Michigan.

Losing a job usually means losing health care. Experts say Obamacare, though, helping blunt some of that burden, the subsidies to help people get covered leading to a spike in Obamacare coverage after these job losses, the number of people registering up 46 percent from the same period last year.

That means more people have health care when they need it. But now the Trump DOJ is asking the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare entirely. House Democrats insist that`s terrible policy. And many Democratic strategists think there is also good politics here, too, going on offense with a new bill expanding Obamacare, forcing Republicans on the record against it heading into an election where health care is paramount.

Joining us now on the law and a lot more in our Opening Arguments series, former acting solicitor general of the United States Neal Katyal.

Obamacare has been to the court more than once, as you know well. Good to see you tonight, sir.

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Good to see you.

MELBER: This is an intersection of health policy and the politics I mentioned. I think that hangs over this.

Democrats see an upper hand. And, of course, the Supreme Court, which you know well. Your thoughts on all of it, sir?

KATYAL: So, the Trump administration has had a lot of low moments in the Supreme Court. But, Ari, I think this is just among the very lowest.

So, the United States is not even a party to this case. The Trump administration voluntarily came into the Supreme Court and said, strike down Obamacare, and not just what the challengers are arguing, a little part. They said, strike down the entire statute as a whole in the midst of a pandemic.

Now, ordinarily, the job of the Justice Department is that they have a duty to defend a statute, not to come in and try and gut it. It`s a baseless, really weak attack. It`s going to lose. And, indeed, the Supreme Court yesterday, in the Consumer Finance Protection Board Act case, said, even if there`s a technical problem with one party under the statute, the rest has to stay.

And that`s going to -- I`m almost positive going to control this case. You never want to predict the Supreme Court. But even the challengers to Obamacare from the last two rounds when they tried to challenge it have come to the court saying, this lawsuit has got nothing to it.

MELBER: And briefly on this, because I want to get you on another big case, then, is part of this something that any person can relate to, separate from intricacies of Supreme Court jurisprudence, which is, if something has been upheld enough times, the court says, we did that?

KATYAL: Totally.

And when millions and millions of Americans have health care only because of this law, and then the Trump administration goes in and tries to take it away from people in a way they couldn`t get it passed in Congress to take it away, so they try to ask the courts to do their dirty work, that`s reprehensible, unforgivable.

MELBER: Yes, well, appreciate your straightforward take on that, important issues. And a lot of people`s health care hangs in the balance.

Neal, the other thing here is, you remember "Us Weekly" when they say, stars, they`re just like us? Well, we have learned the Supreme Court justices in one way are just like us. Some of the big homework goes down to the wire. We have seen this on many big cases.

Everybody, I mean, Republicans, Democrats, MAGA, resistance, lawyers, regular news viewers, everybody`s waiting for the Trump taxes case. Walk us through why it appears like it`s one of the last cases, what day we could get the ruling, what you expect, because Trump taxes here, after these other big cases, is still pending. We could get a decision soon.

KATYAL: Well, the Supreme Court generally likes to take the summer off starting on July 1. But, this year, that`s obviously not going to happen. They have eight decisions left, including the Trump tax returns cases.

And I think there are two different cases there, Ari. One is brought by the Manhattan prosecutor because he wants information because Trump evidently, according to his own lawyer Michael Cohen, tried to deduct as a business expense the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels that he paid off.

So they want a little bit of information about that, because that could be potentially criminal. And then, the House of Representatives wants information about Trump and his financial records, and perhaps his dealings with Russia in particular.

I think it`s well understood that, at the oral argument, the argument for the Manhattan DA went really, really well, the argument for the House less so. I think what`s happened in the last couple days -- and, Ari, the beginning of your show was all about this -- , s this whole Russia story, I think, may very well color what`s going on even at the Supreme Court, because it does, I think, give fuel to the fire that our Congress should figure out , what in the world is going on with Donald Trump and Russia?

That`s why they sought that information. And so then that`s a new twist. But, look, we`re going to get this decision maybe on Thursday, maybe next week, maybe the week after, but it`s coming. And I suspect it`s not good news for Trump.

You never want to predict these things. But Trump`s argument was really, really tepid. I mean, the idea that he can just say, hey, hell no, I`m not going to give this to you, in an American democracy, when the president does that, generally, the courts don`t accept such things.

MELBER: Yes.

And I`m running over on time, but it`s striking. And you`re saying precedents suggest, by next week, we could have that Trump tax ruling. Obviously, Neal, we will be having you throughout the day, as well as on THE BEAT, on that.

So I look forward to it. Thank you, sir.

KATYAL: Thank you.

MELBER: And I like to remind people, because this is a special series, you can always go to MSNBC.com/openingarguments. You can watch Neal`s breakdown of what we just discussed, as well as many of our past pieces.

Up ahead: The families of Marines killed in Afghanistan want answers on this whole Russia bounty story. We have a very special guest digging into that with some real experience.

Also, news crossing this hour out of Mississippi, the very last state that was still displaying the Confederate emblem on its flag.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to another aspect of this story plaguing the Trump White House tonight, the reports that Russia was paying bounties to kill U.S. troops.

New scrutiny now on an April 2019 car bombing which killed three Marines, Sergeant Benjamin Hines, Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman and Corporal Robert Hendriks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN HINES, SISTER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: He was always the first step up when he knew something was wrong, the first one to defend us when we were too small to defend ourselves.

SGT. CRAIG HOLLIS, TRAINED WITH KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: It would be a horrible situation, and he could make you laugh going through training and stuff like that. He was just one of the greatest guys we had.

JANET MARTURANO, GREAT AUNT OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: He was a beautiful person, good family. Precious. Precious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A somber reminder of the lives at stake here.

Staff Sergeant Slutman was also a firefighter. And he was mourned by hundreds of his colleagues you can see lining the streets of Manhattan. This was just last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. MAJ. CHRIS ARMSTRONG, U.S. MARINE CORPS: To Chris` wife, Shannon, his beautiful girls, your daddy is and will forever be our hero. And this world is a better place to have been graced by such an amazing man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We`re joined now by Paul Rieckhoff. He is the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and hosts the podcast "Angry Americans."

Good to see you, sir.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: You too, Ari. Good to see you.

MELBER: You do this work. You know these people, and also many people who serve.

And as I understand from reporting some of these stories, nobody wants to be dragged into a Washington fight with potential political implications about what they did when they served and who was lost.

On the other hand, "The New York Times" and others reporting about this precisely because there are real people, real stories, real deaths attached to what is now also a Washington Trump scandal.

So we wanted to look briefly their lives there and ask you your views on all of this.

RIECKHOFF: I think it`s a new low, and in a presidency that hits new lows every single week.

I mean, the core issue here is that the president has completely abandon our troops. And he`s done it before, Ari. I mean, I`m kind of out of outrage. We say, in my show, if you`re not angry, you`re not paying attention. We have been angry for years.

The president has left our Kurdish allies stranded. He`s taken money away from the Pentagon and put it down to his border wall. And now maybe he knew that the Russians were killing Marines. I mean, how low does it have to go before people in Washington move beyond outrage and get toward action?

And I`m sick of it, quite frankly, Ari. I think most Americans are too. So, I`m tired of hearing lip service from politicians. I`m tired of hearing lip service from people in Congress. And I want to know what they`re going to do to get control of this president, until they can vote him out?

January is a long time away, Ari. He can do a lot more damage between now and then. And there`s probably plenty of other stories we don`t even know about yet. So, this is a new low, Ari, but I fear it could get lower.

MELBER: Well, on the -- on some of the reporting, I do want to read from one of the fathers.

A father of a killed Marine says he finds heartbreak anew. I mean, this is real people going through this, obviously, and the possible Russian bounty. And he goes out of his way to identify his politics.

So, in "The Times," we will quote that: "I`m a Republican, and I`m a Trump supporter. But there would be no way he," the president, "didn`t know about it if Russians were paying off these cowards" -- he`s referring to those Taliban fighters -- "like mafia payoff hit men" -- end quote.

Paul.

RIECKHOFF: Here`s what I want to see. I want to see the president dragged in front of the American people to answer what he knew and when, and I want to know who else knew. I want to know when they knew.

Secretary of Defense Esper, what did he know? When did he know? What did he do about it? And I think both parties have a role to play here; 90 senators voted to confirm Secretary of Defense Esper, who now is mocked in the Pentagon by the name Yesper.

They call him Yesper because he does everything that Trump wants to do. There`s an entire apparatus around a failed commander in chief that is putting American lives in jeopardy right now.

The bounties are out. This means that there are bounties on Americans all around the world right now. It`s open season American troops. We can`t wait until they come back in September. We can`t wait until the election in November. We can`t wait until maybe there`s a new president in January.

We need accountability right now.

MELBER: Plainly stated, and we understand where you`re coming from, Paul. And we have come to you before. We will be coming back to you on a lot of these military-civilian issues.

Paul Rieckhoff, thank you, sir.

RIECKHOFF: Any time, my friend. Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you.

Fitting in a break, but we have a story we haven`t had time to get to yet tonight. And it`s an important one I want to bring you.

We talk about change and things happening, not just in one part of the country.

Well, Mississippi, obviously, a very red state with its own checkered history, but breaking news there on the Confederate Flag and what a movement is achieving, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: In this national reckoning we have been having about racial justice across America, we are seeing all sorts of signs of reform.

Some are quite tangible. Some involve charges. Some are about living history. They may seem symbolic, and yet we`re told they`re important to so many people.

And with that, we bring you this news tonight, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signing a new bill to finally remove the Confederate battle emblem from that state flag.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): A flag is a symbol of our present, of our people, and of our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.

It is now law.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is the change. And overdue or not, it is one that Mississippi had resisted for a long time.

Of course, it comes in the context of months of national protests. Mississippi actually has the highest percentage of black residents. It was the last state, though, that was still having them go to work in the capitol or go visit the buildings run by the government, kids growing up with that Confederate symbol flapping on its flag.

Here is the historic moment from over the weekend where the first flag actually came down from the state capitol. We can see that there.

The decision has been emotional. Here are some words from young people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORDAN JEFFERSON, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: If Mississippi can make a drastic change like that, we can do anything. And I`m very excited about what we`re going to do next.

AREKIA BENNETT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MISSISSIPPI VOTES: To be in this moment, where young people have literally pushed the envelope and said, hey, there`s this moment that is pregnant with opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we`re a part of history. We`re making history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Making history and, in the best spirit of America, making new and better history. That`s for Mississippi and for a lot of people around the country keeping an eye on that.

I can tell you, there will be a vote on the new flag design that`s held during these coming November elections in that state, an update we wanted to bring you.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That does it for THE BEAT. You can always find me on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere @AriMelber.

We will be back at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow.

But keep it right here, right now on MSNBC.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END