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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/24/22



Russian President Vladimir Putin`s KGB roots and the choice he`s made to go to war in Ukraine are examined. The January 6 Committee targets Trump aide Peter Navarro. President Biden attends an emergency NATO summit in Europe over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Confirmation hearings conclude for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. A prosecutor resigns in protest in the New York criminal probe of Donald Trump, saying Trump is guilty of crimes.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Alicia. Thanks so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we are covering a lot tonight, a special report that we have been working on about Vladimir Putin, his KGB roots, the choice he`s made to go to war in Ukraine, and some pretty fascinating video. We have been working on that. And we`re going to get to and share with you tonight.

Also, the January 6 Committee is going at Trump aide Peter Navarro. You may remember Peter Navarro from when he confessed a plot to overthrow the election right here on THE BEAT. Well, now they want to hold him in contempt. I have an update on that coming up.


And this is the final day of the confirmation hearings for Judge Jackson. We will get into all of that.

But we begin right now with President Biden at an emergency NATO summit in Europe talking about the new sanctions against Russia, as there are fears about how far Putin would go in this war.


QUESTION: If chemical weapons were used in Ukraine, would that trigger a military response from NATO?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would -- it would trigger a response in kind. Whether or not -- you`re asking whether NATO would cross -- we`d make that decision at the time.


MELBER: The White House has also assembled what is called now a Tiger Team that meets to plan for any of these eventualities where Putin might try to use chemical, biological or even tactical nuclear weapons.

This is the 29th day of Russia`s invasion. It is not going as Putin planned. They did not think they would be in this position at this time. Here`s a video that shows a Russian warship on fire after facing a serious attack from the Ukrainian military.

And in a town Ukrainian forces have recaptured, we see the remnants of the Russia invasion, burned tanks here and armored vehicles that are in no condition to fight anymore. But the devastation goes beyond, of course, the military. The entire town is basically destroyed at this point.

In other parts of Ukraine, there`s new drone videos that show a downright apocalyptic scene here in the city of Mariupol. This place that you`re looking at is still under siege by the Russians. But, as you can see, there`s not a lot of signs of life for the normal civilian activity that would have occurred, again, just 29, 30 days ago in that same spot.

President Zelenskyy says about 100,000 people are trapped in the city, but, at this point, most have no food or water. To take one example, here`s a family that spent 22 days, they say, sheltering in a basement.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They found themselves sheltering in a basement for almost a month, but with enough food for just a few days. They have money and bank cards, but there was nothing to buy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There were problems with food because everyone thought it would only be for a few days. And then we sat in the basement and realized that we were there for 22 days. It was almost a month. We had a spoonful of porridge. Everyone lost weight.


MELBER: One mother`s story, one family speaking there to Sky News about the human side of all this.

We`re joined by former U.S. Ambassador Russia Michael McFaul.

Ambassador, welcome back.

We look at these stories because we can`t get our minds around the numbers when we hear about three million-plus refugees or the death toll. But, sometimes, with the reporting of an individual here or there, you get a feel for the human side.

On the diplomatic front, what is to come out of this emergency NATO meeting today?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, NBC NEWS INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, first of all, it`s just horrible to watch what Putin is doing in Mariupol. He is killing everybody on purpose.

He`s put all his cards on the table to try to seize the city. And I think he`s looking for a victory in Mariupol that he can then claim momentum for other cities. It`s just unnerving to see these videos, and realize just what a horrific way that he is fighting this war.

And that`s why NATO, when they meet, and they have met, has pledged to do more, and I want them to do more. President Zelenskyy addressed the NATO leaders. And he said: We need more military assistance. We need more military equipment to fight the Russians.

NATO has pledged to do so. I hope they`re quietly then providing exactly the kind of assistance he needs, first and foremost, assistance to protect the skies. Those S-300s, as they`re called, it`s a Russian system, a surface-to-air missile system, NATO has hinted that they`re going to provide them. Zelenskyy needs them now.

I hope that they`re moving into Ukraine as we speak.

MELBER: Here`s what the president said today about sanctions and why it is a matter of time, painful, given the scenes that we`re looking at, but a matter of time and resolve to make them actually work. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Sanctions never deter. The maintenance of sanctions -- the maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain, and the demonstration, why I asked for this NATO meeting today, is to be sure that, after a month, we will sustain what we`re doing not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That`s what will stop him.


MELBER: Ambassador your view.

MCFAUL: I`m not sure.

Let`s be honest, we don`t know if sustaining sanctions will stop Putin. That`s a hypothesis. I 100 percent support it. And I don`t like the verb sustain. I like the verb ratchet up.


Every week that Putin fights this work, this heinous, senseless war, the Western world and anybody who cares about freedom around the world, not just the Western world, needs to increase sanctions. It`s not sufficient just to keep them in place. That`s why I applaud what the Biden administration announced today.

But, every week, there should be a new sanctions update. Ari, they should get on your show every Monday and say, here`s what we`re doing this week, Ari, because Putin hasn`t stopped this war. That pressure needs to be ratcheted up, not just sustained.

MELBER: Understood.

You mentioned what Zelenskyy wants out of NATO. We were looking at that reporting as well. Here`s a little bit of what he said. It`s become a grim part of sort of his international diplomacy, that he seems to be addressing a different Western parliament virtually every other day or so.

And his message is the same. NATO obviously thinks they`re trying to do certain things you just alluded to. Here`s what`s Zelenskyy said.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): You can give us 1 percent from all your planes, 1 percent of all your tanks, just 1 percent.

When we receive this at last, this will give us and you 100 percent of security.


MELBER: Do you see the difference now this far in, that he actually sees a way to hold Russia off, which may not have been clear to him or many of the military planners on day one?

MCFAUL: Well, I think all the experts that said this war is going to be over in three days need to think about why their assumptions were wrong.

And we need to think about how we misjudged the will to fight of Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people. It`s a month in. Nobody that I know -- and I know lots of four -- retired four-star generals and military analysts and U.S. government officials. I speak to them every single day. Nobody predicted this moment at this time.

That said, what President Zelenskyy is also saying, if you don`t give us more planes, if you don`t give us more military equipment, we will lose, running out of weapons. They need more weapons, and he was emphatic today in his message to NATO. Thank you for what you have done so far. And now you have to do more.


And that`s sort of -- that`s what they`re looking at here. You look at Zelenskyy, it is the role, the power, the influence of one person, one leader. Folks who follow the region, like yourself, know that Ukraine has had leaders who are far more pro-Putin. And that`s been a foreign policy issue for their domestic politics.

American viewers with a good memory, Ambassador, may recall that we have had leaders who were more pro-Putin, pro-Russian than the current president. That issue also came up today. And President Biden spoke about it. Take a listen.


BIDEN: And I sat down, and I said, "America is back." And one of the -- one of my counterparts, colleagues, a head of state, said, "For how long?" "For how long?"

And so, I don`t blame -- I don`t -- I don`t criticize anybody for asking that question. But the next election, I`d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me.


MELBER: A reference there to Donald Trump. America has a midterm election this year. And the other elections are not that long away, not that far away.

How different would some of these security challenges be if Donald Trump were in power right now? And is that something that you think should be a factor as voters weigh who runs American foreign policy and the military and what many are hoping does not get anywhere near a conflict with a nuclear power?

MCFAUL: Well, I just think everybody should remember that, under President Trump, he suspended military assistance to Ukraine. And he held it up and he said, you got to have to help me in my reelection before I provided.

President Biden has a very different perspective. He`s provided historic levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian army. Number two, President Trump was not a big fan of NATO. He said, why do we care about -- he -- at some points, even said, why do we even need this alliance anymore?

Obviously, President Biden has a different view of the alliance. And you see him leaving the alliance today at the summit. But, third, I think it`s very important. This has been all heroic. It`s been great to see unity in NATO.

But, at the end of the day, the Ukrainians are fighting Russia. NATO is not. And if the Russians win, if Putin wins, that`s going to be a blow to NATO. That`s going to be a blow to our security. And that`s why it`s not just for Zelenskyy that we need to be providing these weapons.

It`s so that we reassure our NATO allies on the front lines that they will be OK. If Putin wins, they`re going to be frightened. If Putin loses, they`re going to be reassured.


MELBER: Understood. Yes. And you lay that out. And that`s why it`s an issue, obviously, in so many countries, but including what kind of foreign policy America wants.

Ambassador McFaul, I know you have agreed to stick around, because we have this special report taking on Putin and much of his record. And we could think of no better expert than you for that.

So we`re coming back to McFaul in a couple moments.

Let me tell folks what`s coming up, because there`s Republican hypocrisy that has really been put on blast in the final day of Supreme Court hearings. We have an update on that.

And do you remember Peter Navarro? He`s back in hot water. I`m going to explain exactly why in just a moment.

And that Putin special report I mentioned, including looking at the archives, his dealing with five different American presidents, and even a rare video of Vladimir Putin speaking in English. If you have never heard that, we will explain why he was doing that.

A lot coming up. Stay with us.


MELBER: Turning to some breaking news here on the home front.

We learned today the January 6 Committee is moving forward to seek contempt charges for former Trump aides Dan Scavino and another name that looms even larger, Peter Navarro.

The allegation from the committee is that they have completely defied subpoenas illegally. And that is basically what Navarro came close to admitting was his plan, because, like any human being in America, he`s subject to subpoenas, and he basically was dismissive about all that when I asked him about it on THE BEAT.


That interview made headlines for some of his odd and fairly unconvincing privilege claims.


MELBER: Why risk a legal battle or going to jail to refuse to discuss them with the committee under oath?

PETER NAVARRO, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: The president has invoked executive privilege. It`s not my privilege to waive.

MELBER: Do you understand that you have already waived it by discussing it? They want it under oath.

NAVARRO: That`s not what happened. I did not waive privilege.

MELBER: And, number two, finally, Peter, are you prepared to risk indictment for defying the subpoena?

NAVARRO: I will stand tall on this.


MELBER: He said he would stand tall on this. And, if by that, he means facing the consequences while defying the committees, then fact-check true. That`s what he appears to continue to be doing.

These contempt proceedings go forward, like the others you may recall for Steve Bannon. The committee votes. Then Congress has a vote on holding someone in contempt. That kicks it over for potential criminal prosecution by the DOJ.

Navarro has also been ducking questions about everything from what he called the Green Bay Sweep plan to overturn the election to something that Congress wanted to get his answers on under oath. And, again, if his answers make the case that he wasn`t involved, that`s fine.

But we did ask and many want to know how involved and aware he was of Donald Trump`s now documented push to try to seize voting machines and get the military involved.


NAVARRO: You cannot assert on the Pence side that President Trump was wrong.

MELBER: Vice President Harris will ultimately have the call over who should be president, regardless of the results?

NAVARRO: You have misconstrued the whole Green Bay Sweep plan.

MELBER: But it seems like it`s making you stretch, when we just change the name from Pence to Harris.

NAVARRO: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No.

MELBER: Are you holding the contention...

NAVARRO: If -- if -- any vice president...

MELBER: If what?

NAVARRO: You have two hours of debate in each chamber.

MELBER: Is that a yes or no, Peter?

NAVARRO: And, at the end of that, you have the ability to send those back to the states for a second look.

MELBER: Peter, you`re an outspoken individual. Was that a yes? Because I didn`t hear a yes.


MELBER: I didn`t hear a yes. Viewers and listeners can decide for themselves what they heard.

That was Navarro struggling really to explain a consistent view of why the vice president in Republican administrations would have some sort of power to overrule elections, but not here.

He was laboring to claim that it wasn`t the overruling that they want to, but just to send the votes back to the states for some re-re-recount.

Now, we should mention it makes news when witnesses defy, but the vast majority of people contacted by Congress in the January 6 probe have cooperated, providing testimony and documents. This is actually the fourth time the panel has said, someone is so uncooperative, that they`re moving towards the very severe contempt proceeding.

They did that for Trump allies Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark. Now, those individuals had different legal claims. Clark ended up pleading the Fifth, which we should note is a form of cooperating, meaning he spoke to the committee, rather than defying it.

Bannon defied it completely, was indicted. Others like Meadows have not been indicted. The Justice Department pursuing Bannon for contempt of Congress. He awaits trial. Meadows specifically was referred for that possible prosecution. And it was in December. So we should note that it`s been several months. Anything could happen.

But, in fairness to Mr. Meadows, at this point in time, I can report to you the DOJ has clearly not publicly found enough evidence to move forward on any indictment.

Meanwhile, in related news -- this is brand-new. I was just discussing this with our colleagues coming on the air. The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas, has now been caught effectively, in writing, pressing Mark Meadows to try to overturn the election as well.

She did this via text. It`s unclear whether it was connected to other people who, of course, would later be in cases that her husband would rule on. But, among other things, these texts show she falsely said the election was -- quote -- the greatest heist in our history.

"The Washington Post" reporting on some damning texts that lead to even more questions about fairness, independence and recusal for Justice Thomas at the Supreme Court.

Now we have our shortest break in the hour, 60 seconds.

Coming up, I`m going to give you our final day`s coverage of that Supreme Court hearing with Judge Jackson. She looks to be on track.

And our special report on Vladimir Putin, with Ambassador McFaul`s breakdown, next.



MELBER: Here`s what`s going on right now on the world stage.

Some of the most powerful leaders of Western democracies are at this emergency NATO summit meeting. It`s a show of force, unity and concern against how Vladimir Putin continues to run these attacks and this war against Ukraine.

This realignment against Russia, in many ways, was avoidable. It`s wrought by Putin`s decision to launch a war that`s now killed thousands and displaced over three million. This is a war that Putin started. That`s a fact.

Many experts say that, while the Ukrainian resistance continues to be effective, the ending of this war will likely be up to Putin in many ways.

And that brings us to our special report for you right now.

We recently charted Ukrainian President Zelenskyy`s unusual path to power and how that created a framework for him to then lead this resistance in ways that have caught many by surprise, as one of our guests remarked on earlier tonight.

Now we turn to a report on the making of Vladimir Putin, a very different man and a different adversary, a man who much of the Western world is still struggling to understand and constrain, as he leads this largest land war in Europe since World War II.

This reporting, which draws on many different sources, this collective understanding of this man, it matters. Sadly, it is a matter of security and an existential issue for so many in the region.

Putin is an authoritarian. His reign has now spanned five U.S. presidents. So, to understand where he began, he first took power in 2000, tapped by Kremlin insiders to replace Boris Yeltsin, after Putin`s own 16 years of service as a KGB agent.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not long ago, I had about a 20 minute phone conversation with President Boris Yeltsin, who today tends his historic tenure as Russia`s democratically elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Moscow, preliminary results of the presidential elections have been announced. According to the data from the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Putin has been elected president of Russia.


MELBER: Putin deployed his own government background and relationships to actually get installed as Yeltsin`s successor, which allowed him to then run for the results you just saw, as kind of a new incumbent with connected insiders and forces behind Putin who immediately used the power of official state TV to enhance his profile, aiming to win him more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

As "The Times" reported, that was before the 2000 election. Putin came up decidedly through that old system. And any ways that he has updated Russian governing has typically focused on modernizing authoritarian tactics for the new age we live in, not to share power or freedom or engage meaningfully in democracy.

Stalin infamously purged and killed people and then would literally have the state photographs doctored to make it as if they never existed, photography itself a kind of information weapon. Putin deploys more modern propaganda, from the cyber meddling and online influence campaigns that occurred in the United States that we may all remember from 2016 and in Europe right now, to carefully staged propaganda and grandiose images that try to cast Russia, and thus Putin, as still a piece of some kind of Soviet era dominant power.

That`s why Putin experts say he invests so much in these grand international events you may recall, because they both enhance his perceived power and try to launder and cover for his authoritarianism. It`s widely reported that Putin obsessed over getting the 2014 Olympics to Russia, even claiming that he would end Russian attacks on civil rights and censorship to get his much-needed international approval.

Those were actually the most expensive Games to date, $50 billion in counting, and he terrorized staff to pull it off. One project manager fled the country after being fired and being warned of retribution by Putin. That manager later said he was poisoned with mercury.

Now, Putin got those Olympics. In fact, he was back at it, making a bid to host the 2020 World Expo, a pitch so important, again, because he clearly cares about some of the world`s opinions, that this is one of the only times Mr. Putin`s ever been seen speaking English in public.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Russia has a long and rich experience of participation in the World Expo movement.

We proudly submit our bid to host World Expo 2020 in Yekaterinburg.


MELBER: That`s how bad he wanted. That was years out. You can see him laboring to make the case in English. And it did not work. The expo went to the UAE.


Just as Putin sought the image and luster of international credibility to try to blunt any edges of his actual autocratic moves, he has constantly tried to get American presidents to see him and treat him as something other than a dictator and adversary.


B. CLINTON: It`s very important for the future that we continue to work together.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He just laid out a vision. I think it`s very sincere. I think it`s innovative. I think its strategic.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had excellent discussions with the president yesterday. I am aware of not only the extraordinary work that you have done on behalf of the Russian people.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had great meetings. We have had a very, very good relationship.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s warmth towards Putin is well-known. And it may be complicated, as we have reported.

But what`s actually telling about Putin`s abilities is that all of this predates Donald Trump`s unusual presidency. The ex-KGB officer has proven pretty effective at personal diplomacy, given the hand he is playing.

He even drew one of the perhaps most odd compliments an American president has ever given any Russian leader, when George W. Bush talked about Putin soul, which was later mocked by Hillary Clinton.


BUSH: I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. And we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. He`s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, this is the president that looked in the soul of Putin. And I could have told him he was a KGB agent. By definition, he doesn`t have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right?



MELBER: A waste of time, but one that the United States and its diplomats have to contend with.

Putin has also found ways to try to play administrations off each other. He does not practice democracy at home, but he has some understanding of the politics of a democracy. By the time Obama tapped Clinton as his secretary of state, she was trying her own version of Russian outreach, meeting with Putin`s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, to present -- remember this? -- a giant reset button that was supposed to symbolize a jump-start and reset for these two countries` relationship.


H. CLINTON: We want to reset our relationship as...

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Let`s do it -- let`s do it together.

H. CLINTON: So, we will do it together, OK?


LAVROV: Thank you very much. Thank you.

H. CLINTON: You are very welcome.


MELBER: That`s the warmth of diplomacy.

Many diplomats try it. We should note the diplomat you see there on the Russian side, though, Lavrov, is the same one Trump would later host in the Oval Office after firing James Comey over the Russia probe. So, things got even trickier.

Lavrov is still in that post today pushing Putin`s global agenda. As for Clinton, well, she concluded Putin was getting more out of those types of gestures than the United States. And, by 2013, she said she was counseling Obama against flattering Putin with high-level attention. Decline his invitation for a presidential summit, she said.

It was two years later that President Obama`s hardcore glare at Putin at a U.N. meeting got some notice around the world. Many nations were soon glaring at Russia when it made that first incursion into Ukraine, which was a year later, a year after that photo with Obama, in 2014.

"The Times" reported how Putin reclaimed Crimea for Russia and bitterly denounced the West along the way. Now, that move was not a full-scale war to formally topple a government. But it was a new line crossed.

It showed what Putin was doing, feeling strong, unchallenged at home and bent on defying even the appeals to his own interests from a much more powerful country, the United States. As Obama put it, why disrupt Ukraine when doing so would mean Western sanctions?

There`s no single confirmed answer, only the reality that those partial sanctions back then did not slow Putin down. Today is different. He faces crippling massive, enduring sanctions for what is a full-scale war.

Another answer to the question of what Putin was thinking then and now is that his strategy is to take great risks or costs because he is hell-bent on a Russian resurgence. He`s long viewed the Soviet collapse as a kind of tragedy. He called it the geopolitical catastrophe of the century.

And he`s pushed the idea that Russia must counter the West, and specifically NATO, which he claims he views as a provocation that`s outlasted its Cold War era use.

So, that`s another answer if you think this is all consistent foreign policy.

A third possibility is that Putin thinks Ukraine must just be a part of Russia, that this is Ukraine-specific. Last year, he wrote an essay asserting: "True sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. We are one people."


That`s kind of like how he once claimed that his rule of Russia would follow a path away from harmful communism and towards being, well, something that he lies about, towards being, he claimed, a democracy.


PUTIN (through translator): And effective a democratic state can uphold civic, political and economic freedoms. We have developed a democratic political system. The multiparty system is a reality no. Russians can elect their president, the deputies of the State Duma, governors and local governments.


MELBER: A younger Putin claiming that it`s a democracy, trying to argue that, in key ways, Russia is like the West.

But Putin`s Russia only has the trick and trappings of a fake democracy as a shell around his dictatorship. In 2020, Putin gave himself a path to stay in power another 14 years. He unilaterally canceled any limits in the Constitution. That was two years after he publicly said he would not do that.

This is what his authoritarianism looks like. And it creates a loop of repression and disinformation and confusion that strengthens the power of the autocrat.

So, Putin can create the perception today that, initially, when the Internet first burst on the scene might have seemed like a difficult task. How would you get people to think your dictatorship is a democracy or the war you started isn`t even happening?

But, of course, as you may have noticed from some of the coverage in the last month, Vladimir Putin censors huge parts of the Internet. He suppresses criticism and war coverage to the point that many Russians do incorrectly think there is no aggressive or unilateral war that Russia started in Ukraine.

For many experts who have charted Putin over the years, it`s clear that, sometimes, he will talk directly about his goals. I quoted some of his writings, for example, about Ukraine. Then, other times, he lies. And the difficulty will be figuring out what he is up to at any given time.


PUTIN (through translator): We democratized our election system in a serious manner.

I will continue to work actively, openly, and honestly.

If you`re a weak, there will be always someone who would like to come over or fly over.

We must look to the future of our great motherland strategically.

I don`t think the Ukrainian people is in any way unfriendly. No, we are one single entity. Now, the leadership of Ukraine, that`s an altogether different matter.


MELBER: You take it all in from where he started, and all the different things, he says claims and does. And the bad news is how devastating Putin`s goals are and how effective he has been over the years, as he`s accrued even more power and dealt with other leaders and countries that are stronger than him militarily and economically.

On the other hand, you take it all together, and experts say there are some constructive points here, because this is a person who does respond to some of the world`s stated values, who does respond to external pressure, who has felt the need to at least claim that he follows democracy, even when he doesn`t, or that he will stop censoring, even when he won`t.

So something worked there up to a point. This is a person subject to self- interest. And that can be used against him, perhaps not only for the benefit of Ukraine, but for the benefit of many people stuck being ruled by Vladimir Putin inside Russia as well.

That`s our special report drawing on sources and archives.

And we turn now to someone who knows far more than most about this very individual, returning to the program, former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Welcome back, sir.

MCFAUL: Thanks, Ari.

And fantastic piece, a tremendous piece. And I was at several of those meetings that you just showed over the course of my time working for the Obama administration.

MELBER: Well, thank you.

And let`s start there. What you see over that arc of time, of what he`s become, how he operates, and what, if anything, that provides the West for constraining him?

MCFAUL: Well, a couple of things I would underscore that were in your piece.

Number one, he was an accidental president. He was chosen by Boris Yeltsin, a democratically elected president. He blessed him. He made him the acting president on the first day of the millennium, and then got him elected. It was ratified by the people. But he wasn`t a populist figure. He wasn`t an opposition figure too, as your piece rightly pointed out.

He was not a communist. He was not with the nationalists. He was part of the system. He was an opportunist until he became president. Number two, another piece of your reporting, I think, is really important for people to understand. It`s not a coincidence, in my view, that, as Putin became more autocratic at home, he became more antagonistic to the democratic West.


And if you think about, it makes sense, right? If you`re an autocrat, you`re threatened by democratic countries. And, two, if you`re an autocrat, you need an argument for legitimacy. Xi Jinping, by the way, he has economic growth, right? That`s his deal with the Chinese people.

For Putin, it`s always been: The West is out to get us. They`re out to get us. And that`s why we need to be vigilant.

And if you look at the way he argues about why he invaded Ukraine today, it`s all about Nazis, right? Think about how crazy that is. It`s the Nazis leading Ukraine that are out to get us, supported by the United States of America. It`s the necessity to have this outside enemy as a way to legitimate your autocracy back home.

MELBER: When you see him seeking the international approval, the grand events, does that offer any clues for what the West can do now?

MCFAUL: That`s a really hard question. And my answer is probably not.

And I think that`s another really important part of your piece. The Vladimir Putin that became president in 2000, the Vladimir Putin that I first met in 1991, by the way -- so I met him a long, long time ago -- has changed over these decades.

Initially, he wanted the respect from the West. He valued that -- his relationship with President Bush, in particular, that you showed, that was very valuable to him. And after September 11, they bonded over this global fight against terrorism, right?

But, over time, he`s become more paranoid. And he`s become more paranoid because of democratic breakthroughs, so Georgia 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, Arab Spring 2011, massive mobilization in his own country against his regime in December 2011, in the spring of 2012, and then the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in 2014.

All of those events, in his views, are masterminded by the West, by the KGB, by the deep state of the United States of America, overthrowing his allies and trying to overthrow him. So, 20 years ago, I think he wanted to be part of the West. Today, I don`t think he -- he no longer cares about that. He`s decided that`s not part of his future.

And, therefore, that`s the reason he only looks to one leader in the world today for respect and to develop a relationship, and that is Xi Jinping.

MELBER: Really interesting, especially, as you say, since you have been there, and you chart the complexities and the evolution over time, which is so important as you look at this nuclear power on the attack.

Ambassador McFaul thank you, as always, sir.

MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely. Appreciate it.

When we come back, we have the story about why a Republican is calling out some of the over-the-top attacks on Judge Jackson.

And a prosecutor resigning in protest in the New York criminal probe of Donald Trump, saying Trump`s guilty of crimes. So, will or won`t there be an indictment?

My legal breakdown I have for you tonight, that`s coming up later.




SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): We should recognize that jackassery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities, trying to get on cable that night, or create a viral video.


MELBER: There it is from the Republican side of the aisle. That`s Republican Senator Ben Sasse at the hearing for Judge Jackson.

And he was playing. He said that this is all about clout-chasing and not substance, calling out his own party`s attacks on her. Those hearings wrapped today. There will be votes on the nomination the next few weeks. It still looks on track, with her sailing through the Democratic Caucus, which is the votes she would need.

Republican senators had pushed debunked claims and then really seemed to edge towards conspiracy theories. And that is a complete and total failure and violation of their own standard. And I don`t mean from five or 10 years ago, but what they laid out on day one of the hearings. Take a look.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Judge Jackson is receiving a calm, respectful process.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): We won`t try to turn this into a spectacle.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Judge, with all due respect -- and I can tell you what -- I will be direct with you -- I am questioning your discretion and your judgment. That`s exactly what I`m doing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Most of the members of this committee remember the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, one of the lowest moments in the history of this committee.

Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racists?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It won`t be a circus. We`re off to a good start.


GRAHAM: That`s exactly what you said. Put their ass in jail.


MELBER: That is just a day or two apart. And it shows that the Republicans set out on a strategy day one to claim that, since they weren`t going to stop the nomination, they wanted to get some kind of credit for being respectful and claiming decorum.

And then they violated that over and over again, as you can see on your own screen with your own eyes, and as one of their own members of the committee, Ben Sasse, called out.

And then take a look at the proof in the pudding. All of these Republicans who were some of the most vocal critics with those TV and viral moments that Senator Sasse was talking about, they all found their way to FOX prime time.

Cruz also went viral, but not the way he wanted. He went viral in a meta self-own, because if you look in the lower portion of your screen, an eagle-eyed journalistic photographer caught that he was searching his own name on Twitter after his exchange with the chairman about process, where he tried to get some extra time and some extra drama.


You know what they say? Out here in the streets, doing it all for the tweets, and it`s pathetic. That`s actually not a quote. That`s just what I thought in the moment.

We`re going to fit in a break.

When we come back, my legal breakdown on this absolutely blistering resignation letter from the prosecutor who says Trump is guilty of crimes.

Stay with us.



DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Donald Trump is a criminal level tax cheat.

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: He is America`s -- our own American war criminal.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": He should be sent to jail today.

DONNY DEUTSCH, CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, DEUTSCH INC.: Any way a person can lie and cheat and steal for his entire life, Donald Trump has.

BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: I think he deserves to go to jail for a long time.



MELBER: From analysts to former colleagues, people who know Donald Trump`s conduct have long said he belongs in jail.

The news tonight, Donald Trump is not heading towards indictment in New York, let alone jail. And since New York had the most advanced open criminal probe, legal experts say that means Donald Trump will probably never be indicted for anything he`s done up to this moment that I`m speaking to you right now.

The reasons matter. The new DA in New York, Alvin Bragg, just paused the entire criminal probe of Trump`s finances. That was the successful investigation which even won a Supreme Court case to get Trump`s tax returns. It`s the case with the highest-profile indictments of Trump`s business aides, like the CFO, who still awaits trial on fraud-related charges.

But now we know that is as far as this probe will go. After much speculation and a few leaks here and there, what`s new right now is the first written on-the-record rebuke of Trump`s allegedly criminal conduct in New York in his business by the top-line prosecutor who`s been working this very case for years.

That prosecutor got the tax returns, ran the grand jury probe, took what he calls damning evidence from many witnesses, and then concluded Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations.

"The New York Times" obtained the prosecutor`s letter, which came when he resigned after the DA paused this case.

And the prosecutor writes that the failure to indict Trump is a grave failure of justice itself. Now, that prosecutor clearly thought he was on some kind of path to charges under the previous DA, Cy Vance, who managed the vast majority of this probe. And that was a DA who had pursued some pretty high-profile cases, but was also known, quite frankly, to waffle.

Indeed, if you watch this show, it might not be a surprise, because we reported last year that that DA, Cy Vance, had already punted on his prior probe of the same company, Trump Org, and he could do that again.


MELBER: He was criticized for following the path of many other prosecutors after the `08 financial crash, treating most banks` activities as something more akin to bad judgment than crime.

And there are basically three doors here for how this probe ends, according to precedent. It could still end like the DA`s last Trump Org case, after much attention and drama, closed without any charges.


MELBER: Now, Vance kept the probe going, but he left office without charging or clearing former President Trump. It was the biggest case in his office.

So, Vance basically punted on the most significant charging decision in the history of the American presidency. Now, that was not only a dodge. It also forced this very tough call on his new replacement, who would have less experience on the job or familiarity with the long-running probe, and someone we have spoken to on this program, you may recall, Alvin Bragg.

Now, we follow the facts. We follow the people in power. And so I asked Alvin Bragg about this very case more than once. Within weeks of taking office, he even said he was following those facts to make a final decision about whether to indict Trump.


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I led the team that held Trump and his children accountable for their misconduct with the Trump Foundation. So I go where the facts go.

MELBER: But does that mean the door is open to the potential indictment?

BRAGG: Well, we are -- I mean, obviously, as you know, it`s an open investigation, and we`re going to go with the facts take us on.

I`m now obviously a new person looking at those facts as the final decision-maker, and we`re in the process of doing that.


MELBER: They said they were in the process of doing that two months ago. And now we know they really were.

But Bragg gave such a definitive no within weeks on the job that you have this prosecutor resigning in protest over the call.

So, think about where this leaves us. One DA scores a series of victories, from the Supreme Court, to indictments, only to punt on the big final call, the point to the whole thing, if you go to the top of the crime, conspiracy, as alleged, or not.

Another DA comes in and quickly decides not to indict, drawing this outraged resignation. Now, there may be valid evidentiary reasons that Bragg decided to hit pause. The line prosecutor thought otherwise, clearly. That`s what the letter is about. But prosecutors are well-known for developing high confidence in the cases they themselves are building.

Now, we know this case never found, at least according to public record, any unassailable inside witness who could flip.

And we know something else. Donald Trump approaches his exaggerated financial estimates like a baby approaches spinach baby food, getting pieces of it on everyone involved in the process, to the point that everyone`s a little dirty and no one can really say they`re not a part of it.

I use the baby analogy deliberately, but I mean it. The auditors, the lawyers, the IRS, the New York authorities, they have all had these numbers and financial estimates for a while. They`re all kind of in on aspects of it.


That doesn`t mean that Donald Trump told the truth. His own auditors don`t even say he told the truth. But it does mean his financial activities were hard to pin only on him.

And none of this means there were never any legal consequences at all, and the people jailed or indicted for their work for Trump include this same company`s lawyer, its CFO, its longtime former lobbyist, who`s gotten in trouble for more than one thing.

But, at the end of the day, the evidence shows Donald Trump did exploit the American legal system, much as he exploited its political system. You don`t always need more votes to win, it turns out., You can get away with a lot more if you`re rich and powerful, as many people knew.

And then, as every effective thug or gangster knows, you don`t go to jail for everything you ever did. You only go to jail for something they can really prove.

We will be right back.


MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI.