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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/28/22

Guests: Jackie Calmes, James Stavridis


A judge rules that former President Trump likely committed crimes related to January 6. Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, is under fire. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs what many critics call a don`t say gay bill.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Welcome back.

WALLACE: Thank you.

MELBER: You know, there`s a lot of work left for you here with a lot of news going on.


WALLACE: I know. I know. Thank you, friend.

MELBER: Good to see you again back in the chair.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber. And this is actually an extraordinary day when it comes to investigations and accountability regarding the ongoing threats to American democracy, and specifically the January 6 probe. We have special coverage for you on that tonight, a judge ruling that former President Trump likely committed crimes. Also, new contempt votes tonight for Trump aides, including one you may recognize, Peter Navarro.

And, if that wasn`t enough, Jared Kushner now will sit down and face a grilling about what he knew and when this week.

And a new push, a new call, a new amount of pressure that we rarely see against any Supreme Court family member, Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, facing these kinds of calls.

We have all of that for you in a few minutes.

We`re going to begin, though, with the war. With breaking news out of another attack on Ukraine, President Biden today asked about his assertion that Vladimir Putin should no longer remain in power.


QUESTION: Do you believe what you said, that Putin can`t remain in power? Or do you now regret saying that, because your government has been trying to walk that back. Did your words complicate matters?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Number one, I`m not walking anything back. The fact of the matter is, I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing, and the actions of this man, just -- just the brutality of it, half the children in Ukraine.

I had just come from being with those families.

And so -- but I want to make it clear, I wasn`t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change.


MELBER: As the U.S. puts that pressure on Putin, Ukraine has officials who now view what Putin is doing as potentially an effort to split this country into two, to make that a kind of an off-ramp for whatever areas he hasn`t been able to completely overwhelm.

You can think of it as kind of like the separations and other war-torn countries, like North and South Korea. Meanwhile, the war on the ground continues. Leaders in Ukraine say they have retaken a Kyiv suburb back from Russian control.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin`s troops are still using the port city of Mariupol to wreak the kind of devastation you see here.

We now know that 90 percent of the city`s buildings -- again, when we talk about the humanitarian side, citizens, rather than military targets -- 90 percent of buildings where people live destroyed. And that has left 160,000 people trapped.


ALINA BESKROVNA, MARIUPOL REFUGEE: The situation in Mariupol is just horrific. It`s a humanitarian crisis. It`s a mass murder that`s happening at the hands of the Russians.

People live in basements. There is no gas, no electricity, no heating, no cell phone service. We melt snow to have at least something to drink.


MELBER: That`s the view from one person the ground.

When it comes to reporting, Richard Engel continues to report from the city of Kharkiv on the crisis facing the children who have now been stuck underground in these bomb shelters for over a month.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It`s touching to see these kids, getting some exercise.

But it`s tragic that they have to do this. They`re down here for over a month now, not getting any sunlight, not getting any schooling. This is as good as it gets. And they don`t know how long they`re going to be here.

So, yes, it`s wonderful that they`re doing this and that people have come down and volunteers are giving their energy and their enthusiasm, welcome, much needed.


MELBER: The human side of this complex situation that Richard Engel is reporting on.

And we begin now our coverage with retired Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander. These are times where we need people who know the facts and the experts.

And you would be chief among them, given your knowledge of the region and NATO and these tough, tough tradeoffs. Welcome back, sir.


MELBER: Great to have you.

Let`s just start with what it means from a military perspective when we hear this level of devastation, these number of people living under siege, while Ukraine says, in some pockets, they`re punching back. They`re getting a little bit of land back.

STAVRIDIS: Let`s begin with the pivot that Vladimir Putin has just conducted, Ari.

As you well know. His original idea was a blitzkrieg across the country, decapitate, probably literally, President Zelenskyy and install a puppet government in Kyiv. That`s over. That plan cratered. So his forces are now fighting on a whole string of fronts across the country. And they`re clearly deluded.


They don`t have enough force in any given area to achieve real military mass. And that`s why we saw them yesterday, day before yesterday talk about, if you will, falling back into the Donbass region. Of course, this is where Mariupol is located.

So, Ari, unfortunately, look for the Russians continue to fall back, but that will give them the ability to concentrate their forces. Bottom line, this conflict is going to go on for a while.

MELBER: When you see the contrast between what President Biden says he wants to convey -- and he`s always been this way. I mean, he was this way in the Senate. He was on the Foreign Relations Committee for a long time, saying that he believes there`s a way for him to speak as a leader, as a human, as an American, and share the moral outrage that I know you and so many feel about what Putin is doing, and not -- quote, unquote -- "make policy."

That may come from the heart. Let`s stipulate for the sake of argument that it is genuine. Do you see any issue or gap there with what U.S. policy still has to be? Because if the policy becomes -- and he says it`s not -- regime change, or that Putin cannot be the leader, that`s a very different outcome than just trying to get Putin out of these areas to stop terrorizing innocent people.

STAVRIDIS: Yes, that`s excellent analysis, Ari.

Let`s remember that speech for what we want to remember of it, which is I would call it the sacred obligation speech, or maybe the don`t even think about its speech. It`s really a speech about NATO, and about the strength of this alliance, and it`s secondarily about our determination to support this democracy.

We are not going to put troops on the ground there. We`re not going to establish a no-fly zone, at least as circumstances exist at the moment, nor are we seeking regime change. But I think the president gave a very strong statement explaining why we`re doing this to the American people, reassuring our European allies, and encouraging Russian dissidents, because that movement is starting to bubble in Russia as well.

MELBER: Understood. So that`s what Putin is doing. That`s the U.S. side.

Then, on the Ukraine side, you have Zelenskyy holding out this sort of bargaining position. There are many countries that have had various interest in joining the West. On the military side, that`s NATO. On the E.U. side, that`s the economic pact.

Here is the idea. I`m just going to read from Zelenskyy opening this door - - quote -- "Ukraine would not be able to join NATO if it adopted a neutral stance." And he is opening the door to that so-called neutrality.

How do you view that? And walk us through, given your experience with NATO, how these things are negotiated or thought through? Because, obviously, Zelenskyy is under tremendous pressure. But he`s already saying, look, there are some things they would be willing to forego if they can just get the war to stop.

STAVRIDIS: President Zelenskyy is making the smart play here. He`s coming in with a tough position, which is, we`re not going to partition my country.

But he`s saying, sort of sotto voce, off on the side, but we may be willing to discuss some kind of neutrality.

I think the model in his head, to some degree, Ari, is Finland, Austria, Sweden, European nations, members of the European Union, but they are not part of NATO. And, of course, the Finns and the Russians fought a bitter war. It`s called the Winter War -- google it, Winter War, Finland -- in 1939 that ended roughly as this one may end.

So Zelenskyy is making the smart negotiating play, coming in high and hard. And I think you`re going to see the Russians take the same course. But, over time, the possibility of those positions coming closer together may exist, still a couple of months to go here.

MELBER: You say a couple months.

Do you see any other off-ramps if a couple of months are still tough or negative for Russia, any other off-ramps for how Putin might get out of this without doing a full continued siege of the whole country?

STAVRIDIS: I don`t see it.

His forces have demonstrated they`re incapable of taking down all of Ukraine, which is this vast country, the size of Texas, as we all point out constantly. It`s also got a lot of the Texas sensibilities, sense of independence, highly armed population, a nation of hunters. Bad choice on the part of the Russians to go after it, in my view.

And, over time, the Russians with their terrible logistics, their bad generalship, there incapacity to do anything at this point but simply pound cities in a siege mentality, it`s not going to be a success for them. So I think the off-ramp for Putin is to fall back to Donbass and try and negotiate a solution.

MELBER: Understood.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral Stavridis, thank you, sir.

STAVRIDIS: Great to be on with you, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely. Appreciate it.

We have that view, the expertise. Now we go to the ground.

Ali Arouzi is live in Lviv. This is the western part of Ukraine. It came under fire again this weekend from Russian attacks -- Ali.



That`s right. Over the weekend, Lviv was rocked by a series of explosions. It`s not the first ones, but they`re certainly the closest ones to come to the city center. The Russians hit a fuel depot and completely destroyed it only two miles from where I`m standing in the city center.

And the Russian said that they hit it with high-precision missiles and they completely destroyed it. Those missiles were launched from the sea. They also hit some sort of military factory. We don`t know what was in that factory, but they`re saying that they hit these places because they were strategic to the Ukrainians, that that fuel depot was sending fuel to the troops, the eastern part of the country, and that`s why they hit those places.

And the people here in Lviv show amazing stoicism. They`re very tough people. Most of them that you speak to say that they`re the lucky ones that they`re here in Lviv, that their brothers and sisters in the east of the country are the ones that are really suffering.

But it certainly punctured the sense of security here in Lviv. It`s always been a safe zone for the people that have escaped the battered east of the country. And a lot of people here are wondering, how long will Lviv remain a sanctuary, a refuge for the waves and waves of displaced people that are coming here, and all of those children too?

I spoke to a young man who was here helping with the war effort. He was sending supplies to Kyiv. His wife was in the medical business. She decided to stay. They had an I.T. business in Kyiv. They said they have no idea if the business is still standing. Insurance wasn`t going to cover their business. And they had sent their child to live with their grandparents in Germany.

And that really does sum up what`s going on here. They`re displaced, they`re getting separated from their children, and they don`t know what their next move here in Lviv is going to be.

But the resilience you see as well on the east is incredible, Ari. I mean, they have pushed back the Russian troops in places that they controlled in the first few weeks. They`re taking back areas in and around Kyiv.

And when you talk about splitting the country, it seems a very difficult thing to do right now, because, to split this country, Putin would have to conquer and control the east part of the country. He hasn`t even been able to conquer it. Most of the major cities, all of the major cities are still in Ukrainian hands. They still hold on too much of their territory.

You see demonstrations in many cities in the east that are controlled by Russia. So it`s going to be a tall order to split this country, especially given what a botched operation it`s been by the Russians so far.

MELBER: Just past midnight there in Lviv, Ukraine.

Ali Arouzi, thank you, and giving us the view from the ground. Appreciate it. Stay safe.

We`re going to fit in a break, and then we turn to major news here on the home front in America, contempt votes tonight for two Trump aides. Investigators also want to question Clarence Thomas`s wife about her role in all this and what lines may have been crossed. And Jared Kushner, we`re now learning, will also face a grilling.

There is a lot going on. We`re going to break it down, including how Peter Navarro talked his way into subpoenas and then this contempt vote tonight.

Stay with us.



MELBER: Welcome back.

We have several developments in the January 6 probe, as well as broader accountability for attacks on American democracy.

I can`t remember a night where I have had this many things to go through with you. So here we go.

Tonight, there are House contempt votes for Trump aides. That`s the same type of vote that led to Steve Bannon`s indictment. He now awaits criminal trial. There`s new heat on Jared Kushner. He will now testify Thursday, we`re learning, for the first time in this kind of probe based on a voluntary agreement with the January 6 investigators.

And there`s a new judicial ruling against Donald Trump. So we will go more in depth on that right now. Donald Trump was recently spared, you may recall, in that criminal probe into his business in New York, the DA here pausing the whole thing.

Now, totally separate issue, not business but democracy, a judge is bearing down on Donald Trump`s potential criminal liability for election crimes, finding it is likely that Donald Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct Congress on January 6 with a plan that was obviously illegal.

Now, if that judge is right, why would Donald Trump be motivated to hide and obstruct the truth about what happened that day? Well, there`s evidence that Donald Trump and his top aides could be tied to other illegal parts of January 6.

In other words, we all know there were things that are legal, like giving a speech, even if you lie in it. And there are things that are illegal, people in trouble for trespassing, battery, sedition. But no one in the Trump White House has been charged with that kind of stuff.

What we`re talking about goes beyond the rallies or the election certification, which is why the committee says it wants to hear for Trump White House aides under oath. And now, tonight, two of them who have been resisting will face contempt votes.

In fact, that`s going to happen within the next hour or so, which brings us to something else I need to update you on, new details that we`re getting that is, basically, when you have a situation like this, that somebody is defying a subpoena, the House, if it wants to go further and punish them or get them potentially indicted, like Bannon, the House has to make a formal written case against, in this case, Trump aides who`ve been defying the subpoenas.

So, today, we got something new, a 34-page report with, I got to tell you, some damning evidence against these aides. Now, the people defying it are, one, Dan Scavino, a White House digital aide, and, two, a White House adviser who is tightly linked to the broader plots to overthrow the election, Peter Navarro.

You may remember him. He`s the adviser who backed Donald Trump`s multifaceted effort to somehow stay in power. And he backed it to the very end, even as other aides and lawyers kind of pulled away. Mr. Navarro has admitted that he plotted for that goal. His own aide was caught helping an Oval Office meeting that pushed a thwarted plan that was trying to get the military to help with a Trump coup. That would be completely illegal.

Giuliani said it would land them all in jail. And on that one item, Navarro basically disclaimed any knowledge of it, while, on the other stuff. He`s admitted a lot.

So, when I say it`s new information, I`m referring to the fact that the House has gone over the evidence to make the case that he should be held in contempt, and they have this new evidence that, on January 6, Navarro had multiple calls with Steve Bannon, including during and after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.


I`m going to read that again. That is a big statement right there, evidence newly released showing they had this contact going during and after the criminal attack on the Capitol, which is important because it adds context to how Navarro was keeping in touch with his co-plotter, the now indicted Bannon, to try to use, abuse or potentially criminally deploy those House proceedings on January 6 to somehow overthrow the whole election.

He admitted part of this right here on THE BEAT.


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: The plan was simply this. We had over 100 congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill ready to implement the sweep.

The remedy was for Vice President Pence, as the quarterback in the Green Bay Sweep, to remand those votes back to the six battleground states.

MELBER: Do you realize you`re describing a coup?


MELBER: Send legal votes back to the states, so the person who lost can stay in power. Coup.

So, after that interview, investigators took more interest in Mr. Navarro. And after he got hit with the very subpoena that led up to tonight`s contempt vote, he did return to THE BEAT. And credit to him for taking questions. We always go to the sources when we can. We want to bring you all the evidence. And you make up your own mind.

So, he came back. And then he proclaimed to me that he would not honor a lawful request to discuss the very topics he kept outlining on TV. Now, that`s not a good legal argument. It`s his right to try it and see. The courts will ultimately determine this. The DOJ decides whether to charge or not.

But I can tell you, it is not a standard or traditional way to try to say something secret privileged, and then talk about it in public or, in this case, in public in front of a live TV audience.

Now, that`s me saying that, but I will tell you, this very point is also in the new contempt report from the House committee, which states -- quote -- "Navarro appeared on national television discussing subjects that were the focus of the subpoena," which he`s defying. And that statement footnotes and cites his February 10 appearance on THE BEAT on MSNBC.

In that appearance, Navarro was divulging details about his -- quote -- "sweep," but also noting that he simply would not comply with the committee requests, even if, as I raised it in the question, he might face possible contempt or indictment.


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

NAVARRO: 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, are you prepared to risk indictment for defying the subpoena?

NAVARRO: I will stand tall on this.


MELBER: Navarro doubling down on his stance last night that we heard in that interview. He said, "If Trump waives the privilege, I will be happy to comply."

Now, if the committee tonight approves the report, it will be sent to the House, who will then vote on whether to recommend the DOJ, the Justice Department, indict Mr. Navarro like it indicted Mr. Bannon for the same contempt.

Bannon and Navarro, there`s no debate, no denial that they worked together for what they call a sweep, but that looks -- what looks a lot like a coup.

And now, within the next hour or so, the second of the two of them, Navarro, after Bannon`s indictment, are going to face a vote that could lead to contempt and lead the DOJ and Merrick Garland have to make a serious decision.

There are closer cases. If you watch our coverage, you may recall that I discussed the fact that Mr. Meadows, White House chief of staff, has some stronger legal arguments for not cooperating with parts of the committee.

Mr. Navarro`s arguments are very, very thin, for the reasons you just saw, for the words he`s shared on this program and in public. So, what happens next?

Well, we have a legal eagle that will break it all down. Neal Katyal is here when we`re back in 60 seconds.




WALLACE: A federal judge today ruled that former President Trump and his allies likely committed felonies by trying to overturn the 2020 election result.

HALLIE JACKSON, MSNBC HOST: Former President Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is scheduled to come before the committee later on this week.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: The January 6 Committee is set to vote on contempt of Congress charges for two former aides to President Trump.


MELBER: And those votes are coming within the hour. A lot of news here.

And we are joined for a legal breakdown by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal.

Welcome back, sir.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you. Good to be with you.

MELBER: Great to have you.

Two contempt votes coming up against Scavino and Navarro, both involved for reasons we just broke down. What do you see as the strength of the House`s argument here that they should be held in contempt, which means they could be indicted?

KATYAL: The House has an incredibly strong argument, Ari.

As you say, Mark Meadows had some sort of arguments to maybe not be prosecuted for contempt, and Merrick Garland is evaluating that right now. But these guys have basically squat, to use the technical legal term.

I mean, it`s astounding to me that they are making the same executive privilege arguments that Trump`s inner circle made six months ago and Trump himself made. And it all got rejected by the United States Supreme Court in an 8-1 one decision.

I mean, what`s next for these people? I mean, I don`t know what their next big legal move is. Is it going to be something like sourdough starter and listening to folklore or something?


KATYAL: I mean, we have been through this.


And Mr. Navarro is different than some, in that he has been very voluble. I want to remind everyone that most people, including Trump aides and allies, have complied in various ways with the committee. Indeed, "The Times" actually has a rundown today.

It says Navarro and Scavino are among just a handful of allies who have refused to sit for interviews or turn over documents. More than 750 witnesses, including top White House officials, have complied with the committee`s request.

Contrast that to some more of what Peter Navarro did tell me, where he just seemed to feel that, because he cares about this and has his angry, passionate view about what should have happened in the election, that everyone else, the committee, Pence, who obviously outranks him in the administration, everyone else that disagrees is just wrong.

Here`s what he said about all of that in the interview.


MELBER: What do you say to former Vice President Pence?

NAVARRO: Well, I would love to do an intervention with Mike Pence.

MELBER: Peter, he says you`re un-American. He says you`re wrong.


NAVARRO: Mike was just a tool and a puppet of these guys. He betrayed the president.

MELBER: You just think Mike Pence is wrong, doesn`t understand the law or the Constitution?



MELBER: That`s how it went back and forth.

The report has more details on that. It gets serious and legal tonight with a contempt vote. Peter Navarro seems to think that, if he has a strong opinion about something, if he feels strongly about it, then the rules and the law doesn`t apply to him.

KATYAL: Right.

MELBER: Do you see him at a certain point here as sort of the Will Smith of this probe, where he doesn`t think the rules apply, and that`s not true?

KATYAL: Yes, I mean, Ari, I mean, that interview you did was just beautiful. It really did get to the essence of the thing.

And, look, executive privilege is a real thing. It exists. It`s existed since the founding. And it`s designed to protect presidential secrecy and important things like foreign affairs discussions or the like.

Here`s what it`s not. It`s not something that selectively allows the president and his henchmen to decide, well, I will tell Ari something, or, is Peter Navarro did, I will write about it in my book, but I won`t tell a court and I won`t tell the Congress. That`s not it.

When you do those kinds of things, you waive whatever privilege claims you got, which is why Navarro`s claim is the absolute rock-bottom weakest. I mean, I respect him for coming on the show and being a friend of the show and taking your questions and answering them honestly, but he blew any executive privilege claim he might have had. And, truthfully, he didn`t have one to begin with.

MELBER: Right.

And, as you say, there`s a transparency side, which is we`re trying to get information and evidence. Then there`s the legal side. The fact that he has decided to give more evidence to voluntary settings like interviews than to legally required ones, like subpoena-backed investigations, is a theory, if you want to call it that, or a thin case that he`s making that the Congress appears to disagree with. And we`re going to track that vote tonight.

That effort for what he calls a sweep, what I pressed him on as a coup, overlaps with this other news, a judge saying this. I mentioned the judge saying Trump likely committed a crime, is a big deal. You don`t usually see that kind of talk in a ruling.

And here the judge says -- quote -- "It was a coup in search of a legal theory, and it would have permanently ended the peaceful transfer of power."


Stark language from rulings that you and I know and anyone who`s hopped online to kind of download one of these knows are usually quite careful, sober, measured. This is not a tweet.

What does it mean to see something so starkly put by a judge? Give us your reaction to this ruling, please.

KATYAL: It`s hugely significant, Ari.

I have never -- I don`t think I have ever seen a case go more sideways. I mean, this started out as a claim about attorney-client privilege about one of Trump`s attorneys. And it`s wound up with a federal judge writing a 44- page written opinion that concludes that Donald Trump likely committed serious federal felonies.

And that isn`t something you see. You don`t see federal judges accusing a president of the United States of committing federal felonies. But this judge did. He went through in meticulous detail the statutes, both the conspiracy statute and the obstruction of an official proceeding statutes, and concluded Donald Trump likely committed federal crimes.

So what does that mean? Well, it`s written like a prosecution memo, like something a prosecutor would write to her boss to say, I want to indict this person. But it`s a federal judge doing so.

And, look, I think we`re all frustrated with Merrick Garland at this point. I mean, it`s been a long time that he`s had these investigations. We don`t even know how much of an investigation there`s been into Trump, but you can`t read this opinion and do anything else, if you`re the attorney general, but make sure and get to the very bottom of everything that happened with Donald Trump himself and January 6.

It`s one thing to talk about Meadows or Bannon or Navarro or all these other people. It`s another thing to talk about the president himself committing wrongdoing, which is what this federal judge said.

MELBER: All put quite clearly.

And I will mention, because there`s so much news, we had trouble fitting all of it into the headline banner, which is below. And I didn`t even get to ask you about what you would want to know from Jared Kushner -- that`s coming up later in the week -- and the Ginni Thomas questions, which relate to all of this.

So, luckily, we get Neal frequently around here when he`s available.

So we hope to get you back to get into some of the rest of all of this news. Thank you, Neal.

KATYAL: Thank you. I would love to come back.

MELBER: Absolutely. Appreciate it.

There`s another problem brewing tonight. The riot committee is discussing the texts I just mentioned with Ginni Thomas. That`s Supreme Court Justice Thomas` wife. Why was she back-channeling with the White House about overturning the election?

Neal and I didn`t have time to get to it, but we have other updates on it coming up.

And outcry, as Ron DeSantis signs what so many critics have objected to as a -- quote -- "don`t say gay" law.

Stay with us.



MELBER: Congress might do something quite unusual and demand a Supreme Court justice`s wife testify.

We`re talking about Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, because she has been busted for something that is absolutely beyond the pale, text messages she sent to the chief of staff of the president, Mark Meadows, about overturning the 2020 election results. And the access she had appears to draw on her husband`s career.

So while she has free speech rights, this one does seem to get really close to inside the Supreme Court. Now, the committee is meeting tonight just within almost an hour from now. And they`re also going to discuss whether to request or potentially try to compel her to face Congress over all of this, top Democrats also calling for Justice Thomas to recuse, to step aside from any cases that now relate to this area, where he has an apparent conflict of interest, the January 6 probe.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): I mean, to think that he would consider a case where his wife is frequently contacting the chief of staff for the president and giving advice on matters that are going to be ultimately litigated by the court, that is the ultimate conflict of interest.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): These cases are going to come before her husband. This is a textbook case for removing him, recusing him from these decisions.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Even the appearance of impropriety will delegitimize the court. So, clearly, Justice Thomas should have recused himself.


MELBER: Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, Justice Thomas returned to the bench after a week in the hospital with some flu-like symptoms. There hasn`t been any mention of the controversy at the court.

As for Ms. Thomas, NBC has learned of additional messages she sent. These are new, beyond the first tranche we heard about, where she told a Republican congressional aide that the party needed to fight harder for Trump and be -- quote -- "out in the streets."

Her -- Meadows -- Meadows` text chain, I should say, the messages she sent to the chief of staff included calling the lawful victory of Biden a great heist, and saying we were living through the end of America, the end of liberty, and then her instructing Meadows: "Make a plan. Release the Kraken. Save us from the left."

Ms. Thomas is embroiled in controversy and accusations of conflicts of interest that she basically has not yet really addressed, putting her husband in this position. It`s also the kind of wrongdoing that she has previously accused others of.

This, for example, was in 2010.


GINNI THOMAS, WIFE OF SUPREME COURT CLARENCE THOMAS: There`s a culture of corruption in Washington, where dissent is stifled, friends are rewarded, enemies are punished.

And, in my lifetime, it`s never been this bad or this blatant. I`m telling you, there`s death threats, there`s intimidation, there`s very thuggish behavior that is not being reported in the mainstream media.


MELBER: The context there is the thuggish behavior that she said was secretly happening that she was aware of, but was nowhere in the press, right after Barack Obama became president.

And yet let`s be clear. Whether you call it thuggish, illegal or bananas, the texts show her sidebarring in secret with the White House about sending political opponents to Gitmo.


Was she serious? Was she joking? Does her husband have anything to say about this in our lawful democracy, as they, the Supreme Court, hold judgment over everyone else?

Let`s get into it. We have a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with us from "The Washington Post." You know him well, Eugene Robinson, and the national columnist from "The L.A. Times," Jackie Calmes, who`s the author of "Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court."

Welcome to both of you.

Eugene, what should be done in a situation where nothing can be forced upon a Supreme Court justice, and yet this calls into question, basically, every time Justice Thomas does or would rule on these kinds of cases, because investigations that go further will go right into his home.


Well, first of all, this is not -- this is a new situation, but it`s not that new, in that Ginni Thomas has been a conservative activist for many years, and she has been active in causes that the court has had occasion to rule on.

So should Clarence Thomas, Justice Thomas, have recused himself in any number of cases? That the question. In fact, he did not. So that`s history.

This is -- I don`t think could be clearer. Any case involving the January 6 insurrection, it seems to me, Thomas must recuse himself, because of the texts, because she attended the January 6 rally. It just -- we recognize this division between spouses and the ability to pursue separate careers.

And that`s the way it should be. But this crosses that line. I mean, it just way crosses the line. And I think he has to recuse in these cases. Now, will he or will he not? That`s unclear, but he should.


Well, Gene, you are spitting facts, as some say. You mentioned the line. Let`s deal with the evidence. We can show people at home what the line is, because it`s not made up. And it`s not partisan. And it`s not about whether you agree or disagree with Justice Thomas.

The line is -- quote -- "Any justice shall disqualify themselves if the spouse has an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding."

So, Jackie, if a lower court judge was in the situation, there would be a process of affirming or forcing them to do it. And if the investigation is going to go into their wife`s texts and everything else, that`s very obviously over that line.

If you are one of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, though, there`s no formal way to force it.

So that is sort of the legal side, you have been covering this deeply. Your thoughts on all of it.


This goes way back. I wrote a story on Ginni Thomas and the apparent conflicts of interest she posed for her husband back in 2011 at "The New York Times," when she started a Tea Party-related group with $550,000 in dark money, two separate contributions, one $500,00, one $50,000, that we had no idea who these contributors were.

And it is true -- this is what makes the pressure on him to recuse if there`s any apparent conflict of interest so great, because there is no -- there`s no appeal from the Supreme Court. There`s no enforcement. And -- but these texts have taken it to a whole `nother level, where he has arguably broken that federal law you cited, not just in the provision you cited, but in a separate one, in which -- and I will read it -- that it was -- that any reasonable person,where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

And of course it would be questioned here. I mean, his wife was plotting an insurrection. And as legal ethicists Stephen Gillers at the New York University Law School said to me, if he didn`t know, which is, of course, hard to believe, that his wife was involved in these, to put a legal fine point on it, nutso activities, he should have known.

It was his duty, Gillers argues, to ask his wife -- he certainly knew how she felt about the election results -- and to inform himself as he was participating in at least three cases that had to do with the election or its aftermath or the January 6 Committee.

And let me say one thing about the January 6 Committee. When he voted just in January to not -- the only vote against turning over record -- Trump`s records to the January 6 Committee, his -- whether he -- ignorance, I have already said, is not a defense.


But his wife had been part of a group that, the month before, had publicly called the January 6 Committee a political persecution and called on the House Republican Caucus to expel Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from their ranks for their participation in it.

And he -- and yet he participated in that. I don`t see how any reasonable person, unbiased person, could think that he shouldn`t have recused in that case.

MELBER: Gene, the challenge for the Congress run by Democrats here on the January 6 Committee is where to go with this. You don`t have any legal control, as mentioned, over the Supreme Court.

You could try to put more pressure by demanding she testify. There are reasons related the evidence that that is substantive. But it`s also tricky, because you`re going into the family member of a judge. And reasonable people can disagree about what the controversy is and how bad it is, but if -- you can definitely imagine a Republican Trey Gowdy-type Congress going after judges` spouses in a way that isn`t a good precedent.

And so people can debate that out.


MELBER: What do you see as the challenge there? And is this worth doing, or perhaps not, substantively?

ROBINSON: Well, it`s hard to see -- hard for me to see how the January 6 Committee avoids asking her, at least asking her to testify in some way, and wanting to interview her, because here you have a prominent conservative activist in Washington of long standing -- Jackie recounted some of some of her history. It`s a very long history.

You have her attending the rally. You have all these texts between her and the sitting chief of staff for the president. And you know or you certainly presume that she may know a lot more about the organization of that rally and the organization of the insurrection and the whole -- quote -- "Stop the Steal" -- end quote -- campaign than these bits and pieces of evidence tell us.

And so how could the committee not be interested in at least interviewing her and hearing more about what she has to say? If she were if she were Ginni Jones instead of Ginni Thomas, it would seem to be automatic that they would want to talk to her.

MELBER: Yes, it`s interesting.

Well, you did something that lawyers do, Gene. No offense.

MELBER: Which is, it flipped around.


ROBINSON: My dad was a lawyer. So...

MELBER: There you go. I should have known.

Flip it around and say, not, well, is it a close call, but how could you not? That`s how strong the requirements are. And I take your point, because it dovetails with what we mentioned earlier in the broadcast with Mr. Navarro and Mr. Scavino, who await contempt coverage. And that`s going to continue at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. on MSNBC tonight.

These are people who defied, where 750 others cooperate. And are we a nation of laws? So yes, she`s a spouse, but does she have that obligation? The committee, again, not me, not you, the committee will decide whether they call her.

But people are not above the law just because they -- and I say this as a compliment -- married well, if you want to call it that. He is a Supreme Court justice.

Gene and Jackie, thanks to both of you.

ROBINSON: Thank you, Ari.

CALMES: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Cracking down on freedom, the kind of freedom apparently he doesn`t like, the freedom to love.

Stay with us.




WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: We`re going to have a great night tonight. And for you people in Florida, we`re going to have a gay night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay.


MELBER: That`s how the Oscars gave a little bit of a shout-out and a push back to something important.

Critics blasting what many have called this don`t say gay bill in Florida from MAGA Governor Ron DeSantis. Well, now today -- you may have heard about it -- today`s the day it was just signed into law.

There have been waves of protests. This applies all the way down from kindergarten to third grade. And it basically would operate to ban education and lessons to touch on things like how people fall in love, LGBTQ topics, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And that`s not all. It creates a kind of a police state model where parents supposedly can then sue for alleged violations, which creates a culture of fear. School officials also under the rule have to tell a child`s parents if the student asks about any of those topics I just mentioned.

DeSantis says this is all about fighting indoctrination of young kids. And there are certainly legitimate debates about when and how to teach kids things, whether that`s at home or in school.

Of course, for someone worried about indoctrination, if you look closely on your screen, you might see he signed the bill in front of children that would seem to be cast as his own political props for his agenda.

Opponents and civil rights advocates have also said that barring access to lessons can just be harmful to people who need to learn facts and understand how diverse the world is that they`re entering. Indeed, one study shows 86 percent of LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide; 56 percent attempt it at some point.

And across the country, Republicans have filed 200 bills that would roll back these kinds of protections or somehow impinge on the education that can very -- in a very real way help people navigate these difficult topics and, for those who aren`t maybe a part of these groups, just learn more facts, so they can be informed, which is kind of the point of school.

In the last week, two Republican governors also stepped out and vetoed what were seen as anti-transgender bills in their own states. It`s not all partisan, and there is room for learning and communicating with respect.


Now, in Florida, DeSantis says he wants parents to sue the school districts, but critics are saying they will sue to test whether this law is even constitutional. And there are some big corporate groups behind this, who, of course, donate plenty of money to Republicans. They`re not anti- Republican.

But Disney says they will help fight to repeal this bill. They are a big, big presence in Florida.

I`m going to fit in a break, and then we have one more thing as we preview a big night on MSNBC covering what`s going to happen in that room, potentially two contempt votes.

Stay with us.


MELBER: We`re tracking breaking news.

And this is the room where the January 6 Committee will soon gather. All those seats will be full. They`re going to consider contempt charges for Trump veterans Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino. This vote is scheduled to take place in just half-an-hour, 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The committee will also discuss whether it may invite or try to compel testimony from Clarence Thomas` wife, Ginni Thomas.

That will happen in a closed session after the earlier votes. But we`re going to be covering all of. It is a busy night on the Hill. There`s going to be world news, but there`s going to be news here in America, including about what the consequences are for defying subpoenas.

You may recall, the last person who did this and was held in contempt, the first person held in contempt, was Steve Bannon. He awaits a criminal trial on these issues. So, the stakes are high.

Keep it locked on MSNBC. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.