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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/31/22

Guests: Caroline Wren


Department of Justice looking into fake electors plot and MAGA rally planning prior to January 6th insurrection. Trump insider on her House testimony relating to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Critics saying controversial anti-LGBTQ bill in Florida targeting transgender rights. Russian camp showed weapons and equipment, even a dead body after taking a huge loss against the Ukrainians.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: All of it underscored by a special visitor to the White House press briefing today. 40 game-winning "Jeopardy" champion Amy Schneider. The show`s first transwoman champ visited the White House and met with the Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

Thanks to all of you for letting us into your homes once again during these truly extraordinary times. We`re grateful. THE BEAT with my friend Ari Melber starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much. Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber, and we begin tonight with the expanding DOJ criminal probe into the January 6th insurrection.

We now know it is larger than it`s ever been, and there are reasons for that. It has now expanded to include that fraudulent electors plot that we`ve reported on, indeed that some have admitted to in public, and the planning of the rally itself. We have a rally organizer subpoenaed on the federal criminal side. That is a big deal any time that you see these subpoenas fly, and that`s part of what`s happening in the widening of the probe.

Later tonight, we have someone who was subpoenaed by Congress who was involved in all this, and we`re going to go at the source and the facts as we try to do around here. So that`s coming up. We think it will be an interesting interview.

Now, on the federal side, the prosecutors are ramping up the probe as the January 6th Committee gets a lot of witnesses. Today, Donald Trump`s son- in-law, Jared Kushner himself, appearing before this committee. Cooperating rather than resisting. Kushner is actually the highest-ranking member of the administration that we know about who has cooperated. He`s also the first Trump family member to face committee questions.

The interview was virtual. It lasted a full seven hours today, which suggests that they were really talking. And by the way, in all fairness, we have been covering the different approaches here. Jared Kushner decided to do this voluntarily. He is an experienced person in government now, thanks to his family connections, but before all of that, he did earn a law degree and he decided to way he wanted to play this was voluntarily rather than defying, getting a subpoena or facing the types of fights that Bannon and others have done.

The interview comes while there`s also the questions about a missing seven- hour gap in the White House phone logs from that fateful day. There`s reporting citing two sources from "The Guardian" that says Trump`s call to Republican Senator Mike Lee should indeed have been in a presidential call log that day and it was not.

We also know Lee got an accidental call from Trump while the Capitol attack was occurring. It was an obviously tumultuous time, especially for people in or near the Capitol. Trump had believed that he had dialed a different senator on the line and when he reached Lee, "The Guardian" reports Trump`s phone number on Senator Lee`s caller I.D. was recorded as a place holder number that recipients see when you get a call from inside the White House because, guess what, you don`t just get the private number.

Any call from inside the White House is something that should have been logged and thus handed over to the committee which raises questions about whether there was an error, which is always possible, or whether there was tampering, deletion, cover-ups, Nixonian-style tricks that would be potentially illegal.

Now the feds are shifting the probe from prosecuting some of the rioters to scrutinizing people more closely tied to Trump and the efforts to overturn the election. Now that`s important because as we have reported here there are many legal ways to challenge what`s going on after an election. Former Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn, for example, insisted that he thought everything he was doing was legal, which may be why he spoke so freely about it.

But the question is when you cross over from your opinion about a race which can include asserting things that turn out to be false, like saying the losing side won, that`s generally protected speech because you just speak it. It`s different if you take that opinion and you try to file it in court or with the Congress where the actual counting is being done, just like voter fraud is different.

You can assert you have a right to vote that you don`t have if you`ve been eliminated. That`s just words. But if you go in and submit your vote and you don`t have the right to do it because, say, you`ve been banned from voting in a state, well, the submission, the fake part, that`s what becomes illegal. And that is what Boris Epshteyn basically admitted to pursuing in the fraud electors plot in an interview here on THE BEAT.


MELBER: There`s also been reporting about the attempt to seat fraudulent electors. Is that something you ever worked on or would support, for example, in Michigan?

BORIS EPSHTEYN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: That`s so funny. Not fraudulent electors, Ari. It`s alternate electors. Because of the process again that`s laid out in the Constitution under the 12th Amendment --

MELBER: This is Chairman Maddock, quote, "We fought to seat the electors, the Trump campaign asked us to do that." Did you ever make calls like that regarding what you`re calling these alternate electors?

EPSHTEYN: Yes, I was part of the process to make sure there were alternate electors.


MELBER: Part of the process. Let`s go to some legal experts. I`m joined by SDNY civil prosecutor, Maya Wiley, also former mayoral candidate and NYU Law professor Melissa Murray.

Good to see both of you. Professor Murray, this is what law school textbooks are made of. You can say a lot of things that won`t be criminal. But if you take the same words and you submit them, you might end up with fraud, depending on where they go.


What does it tell you that the DOJ now, according to some people, quite late in the probe, are looking at those broader efforts and do you think there might have been a crime committed if people submitted fraudulent electors?

MELISSA MURRAY, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF LAW: Well, I think if fraudulent electors were submitted, then that very much looks like there could be criminal activity afoot, so I think that`s clearly what the DOJ is after here. But I think why they have gotten to this point I think is because of the pressure that they have received for not doing much of anything about this until now.

Most of the prosecutions have been of the protesters themselves or these are individuals who for the most part have been charged with property crimes, breaking and entering into the Capitol, vandalizing property. We haven`t really gotten crimes that are equitable with the kind of gravity of the situation that went on on January 6th. And so I think the expanded probe now shows that the DOJ is perhaps moving in a direction where they really are looking to charge offenses that are more in keeping with the way this played out in the public mind. So not just those low-level offenses but bigger questions about dismantling the infrastructure of democracy.


MAYA WILEY, FORMER SDNY CIVIL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think that`s absolutely right. I would add that I think the evidence is becoming public that the January 6th Committee is uncovering also creates that pressure. And even some of the litigation that has happened around just getting the evidence.

You, Ari, point to the fact that, you know, we know that there`s been a legal struggle just to get access to people and to documents that the committee lawfully shouldn`t have had to go to court to get. We`ve got folks, you know, who are up on contempt of Congress charges because they refuse to comply with subpoenas. But in that process, a lot has become public, including the judge saying, look, I`m looking at the evidence, and it looks pretty bad here.

Now he was not speaking to whether or not it meets the standards for criminal indictment, right? He was making a decision about documents that they could get. But in each of these public pieces, you know, what we`re seeing is evidence. What we`re seeing is evidence of sort of demands deeper digging, and I think it`s both the January 6th Committee that`s been unearthing it.

The fact that the committee is bipartisan does have two Republicans on it, lends it the credibility that also says to a Department of Justice that we must remember was and has gone after organizers in January 6th for sedition, which is a very big bold move for the department, not one it takes lightly. So I do think we`ve also seen a building that`s come because of evidence and we have also seen the department build with that evidence.

MELBER: Yes, and Professor Murray, some of these strands are interesting in terms of details and timing. There was an exhaustive report that showed how -- when Donald Trump did the fateful meeting that we now know from these investigations went deep into the night about, hey, do you want to try to get the military involved? And that`s what a coup looks like, and some of the pushback, including from of all people Rudy Giuliani, was we won`t win.

If we try to get the generals to seize voting machines, they won`t do it, which is a good line in the bedrock of our democracy that that was Giuliani`s perception reportedly, and B, it would be such a blatant crime, quote, "we`ll all end up in jail." So that`s reporting that comes out of these different strands, Professor Murray, and then we learn that night when it was shelved, the thwarted coup there, was the night that Trump then turned and sent out the tweet inviting everyone to come into town on January 6th.

What does it tell you that the DOJ is looking closely at those chain of events? Because I don`t have to remind you, we all lived through it, he tweets a lot. Right? So you could be like, man, this tweet, that tweet, and be like, yes, he tweeted something bad happened. That isn`t at a criminal legal level always probative, but they seem to be linking that when one coup idea failed, he then did this. Walk us through that legal analysis, Professor.

MURRAY: No, I don`t even know if it`s necessarily legal analysis but simply a recitation of the facts. I mean, it is a kind of theory of displacement, when the Green Bay sweep doesn`t work out or when you can`t get the generals to actually overthrow the government for you, some other new plan forms. It`s a protest or it`s the alternate electors. And I think as Maya says, it`s worth noting that we probably couldn`t have gotten this far unless all of these different investigatory strands had been going on in tandem.

And that`s worth thinking about because there have been a lot of calls from individuals who have argued that the January 6th special committee is a waste of time, that it`s not important, and regardless of where it ends up, Maya is exactly right, it has surfaced evidence that has actually pushed other investigations forward. So by itself, maybe it`s not going to end the way that people want, but it has actually resulted in being able to push these other dimensions forward, and vice versa.


I mean, things that have happened on the DOJ side have also fed into the January 6th Select Committee. So in terms of what this shows and what they`re linking together, this is a theory of displacement. This was never a rocket scientist White House. When one thing failed the other thing went on. And they just picked a new thing to focus on. The fact that Rudy Giuliani is the adult in the room, that I think is the most noteworthy aspect of that entire chain of event.

MELBER: Right, which is really striking, and the professor raises a kind of interactive or multidimensional view of how investigations are developed, and Maya, you`ve worked on civil prosecutions in SDNY. You have a grasp on that. And I want to play a little bit of how the attorney general sounded because to be very clear, if people in Congress are asserting just generally that they think someone should be indicted, that should make no impact whatsoever on DOJ. That doesn`t matter what name you fill in the blank, whether it`s a red or a blue or other name.

If, however, evidence is developed by an independent or outside source and that evidence gives a lead, well, that`s what prosecutors call a lead, and that happens sometimes in journalism. You know, in journalism, you`re not supposed to just be going after anyone per se, but if you develop information sources and facts, sometimes prosecutors look at what`s in "The New York Times" and go, should we look deeper into that? Is that a crime that we didn`t know about? Which is no different than if they received surveillance tape in the mail.

I say that in response to professor to then look at what we`ve heard from the attorney general, who is known to be quite measured in the way he does everything. This is how he sounded about the probe.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: In circumstances like those of January 6th, a full accounting does not suddenly materialize. To ensure that all those criminally responsible are held accountable, we must collect the evidence. We follow the physical evidence. We follow the digital evidence. We follow the money. But most important, we follow the facts. Not an agenda or an assumption.



WILEY: Well, look, you know, we`re listening to an attorney general who is also a seasoned prosecutor, a former judge, and is acting like one. And I actually think that`s a good thing. Particularly after the four years we`ve had of the Trump administration. What he`s essentially saying to the public, look, I`m going to make sure we`re doing what we`re doing in an apolitical way. And that is what the department is supposed to do when it comes to the prosecutorial power.

I think Melissa was exactly right to say, but if the evidence is there, it is incumbent upon the Department of Justice to act. And that`s what we`re all looking to as this evidence has been building publicly. And here`s the thing, you know, when we`re talking about all the efforts that are now public, for Donald Trump, in instances evidence that is personal, Donald Trump`s personal actions, to find new tactics to stay in power. I think that`s what tells us that there`s no choice but an investigation.


WILEY: Because it`s too plain that he was trying everything and willing to listen to anybody who gave him some hack he could hang his hat on to do whatever necessary to stay in power, and that`s the problem.

MELBER: Yes. That`s well put. And that`s why it`s interesting to see this investigative development. I want to thank Maya Wiley and Melissa Murray for kicking this off and tell everyone what`s coming up.

We have an exclusive tonight. An interview with a key witness in this probe. A rally organizer, first time on MSNBC. We`re going to get into the facts. That`s next.

Also coming up later, why FOX News is picking fights with Disney, and Richard Engel`s reporting on why Vladimir Putin is nervous about Russia, later in the hour. And that big interview next. Stay with us.



MELBER: The criminal investigation into the insurrection, the largest federal probe ever. And it just got larger, as we have been reporting. It`s moving beyond those who stormed the Capitol, who are the most obvious defendants, and reaching into the planning and the funding. The Department of Justice investigating Trump fans who organized the pivotal January 6th rally.

Now if that avenue of investigation does sound familiar, it`s because while it`s new for the federal prosecutors, the House January 6th Committee has already begun gathering information from rally organizers. In fact, it was big news when House investigators began scrutinizing 11 people involved in the rally and their links to the White House.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: We got a second round of subpoenas from the House committee investigating January 6th.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST, 11TH HOUR: They were issued to 11 people tied to the events and rallies that took place before the insurrection.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST, LAST WORD: The subpoenas seek planning and funding records including any coordination with the Trump White House.


MELBER: Coordination and planning is key. There`s a difference between a rally that got out of hand and any efforts by the incumbent government to gather support for violence at the Capitol. Or an organized coup. Congress wants to get the facts from those planners on the ground including someone who was on the campaign`s payroll. And then planned the rally. A name that comes up a lot in reporting about that day. Trump fundraiser Caroline Wren.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, DEADLINE WHITE HOUSE: Today`s characters, Phil Waldron, Alex Jones, Caroline Wren.

HAYES: A woman named Caroline Wren.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Caroline Wren, a name that`s probably familiar to your viewers.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Caroline Wren, a GOP fundraiser who according to ProPublica helped organize the rally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caroline Wren was a -- has been a top Republican fundraiser for some time.


MELBER: Caroline Wren is a Republican Party veteran, a Trump loyalist who worked at high levels to help that January 6th rally happen. In fact, the government required a permit for that very day lists her as a, quote, "VIP adviser" for the rally. One Republican strategist told "Business Insider" that Wren emerged with more importance after Trump`s election loss and was, quote, "in the middle of everything" in Trumpland in that fateful period.

Now, when the January 6th Committee called, she answered. Cooperating with its questions about people who collectively communicated with Trump about that day and the committee knows she`s worked for Trump adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle in the campaign.


It was a money contact between the Trump campaign and the RNC. Indeed, there`s some very controversial and famous right-wing figures who volunteer her as their key contact or plug going into the 6th, including Alex Jones.


ALEX JONES, HOST, "INFOWARS": I knew that Caroline Wren was a big fundraiser headed up one of Trump`s PACs so yes, that was my contact for the 5th and 6th was Caroline Wren.


MELBER: When it comes to doing this work, the January 6th Committee knows what investigators always know. You have to go to the sources to get all of the information and evidence.

I can tell you right now tonight, Caroline Wren joins me for her first MSNBC interview about all of this. She is rarely if ever discussed these issues or the probe on the news.

Caroline Wren is my guest. Thanks for being here.


MELBER: I appreciate it. So much interest in all of this. Let`s start with that rally. What was in your mind the goal for the January 6th rally, and when do you think it went off track?

WREN: Sure. I think the rally afforded for hundreds of thousands of Americans to gather in their nation`s capital to exercise their first amendment right to protest. Obviously, there had been hundreds of rallies all across the country with President Trump. That was one of his sort of famous hallmarks and events and I had been involved in a lot of them over the past few years. And so my role that day was similar to my role at other events where it had been to assist many others in organizing and executing a professional and lawfully obtained like permitted event there at the White House Ellipse.

MELBER: And what about it going off track? When did you hear there could be violence or when did you realize things were changing on the 6th?

WREN: Not really. Not until afterwards when I saw on television what was happening when I was back at my hotel. And so I watched it sort of unfold with everyone else on television. I was not there at the Capitol that day.

MELBER: And as mentioned, the committee subpoenaed you and you cooperated. Why did you choose to cooperate?

WREN: You didn`t really have a choice not to. It was either to cooperate with them or to be held in contempt of Congress and face $100,000 fine and potentially a year in jail, which you`ve seen happen to a few individuals. And I do -- I do think it is pretty alarming. I think the most dangerous, you know, subpoenas that have been sent really have been to the event organizers.

We -- the 11 that you had mentioned earlier in the show are individuals who are private citizens. We have not been accused of any wrongdoing. We`re not involved in any violence at the Capitol, didn`t partake in that, but we were involved in executing a lawfully permitted event at the White House Ellipse, which was 1.5 miles from the Capitol, and it was allowing for people to come to their nation`s capital and to protest even -- what they believed to be a fraudulent election.

And they have every right to do it. It`s a primary pillar of American democracy to be able to protest your government. And for private citizens, you know, for Congress to be able to just come in and seize a year`s worth of your text messages, your e-mails, your call logs, your geological information absent any warrant or due process I think is very concerning. I think it should be a concerning factor for any American citizen regardless of your political affiliation.

MELBER: Well, I take your point that you`re a citizen which is different than people who sign up for government service, et cetera. Some of those individuals, as you well know because you`ve worked with, around or near some of them, Bannon, Navarro, they went a different way than you. Do you think that was a mistake? Do you think it would be better if they just cooperated like you did?

WREN: Oh, I think there`s been -- I mean, over 100 people have now been subpoenaed. And everyone has to chart their own course and how they want to address it. So I think it`s been -- it`s difficult for anyone who`s having to face these sort of accusations by Congress that you have to decide how is it that you want to handle it. So I don`t have anything, I guess comments on their particular situations.

MELBER: OK. In your interview, which we`re very interested with, with the committee, I`m curious just briefly, yes or no, did they ask you about, for example, the rally, leaders contact with any militias?

WREN: That didn`t really come up, and it`s probably -- I mean, you`re forced to turn over all these different documents, and so there weren`t communications, at least not with any that I know of, like militia founders or things like that. So the questions were really more pertaining to the documents that you had turned over. And so at least for me, that didn`t go into that.

MELBER: What would you say those documents and most of the questions focused on?

WREN: You know, I -- what was frustrating for me is like they even will admit to you, you know, we`ve reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents, we have interviewed hundreds of people. We have no reason to believe or see any evidence you had anything to do with the attack on the Capitol, and so you should feel comfortable here today. It`s like, well, I`m very aware that I had nothing to do with it, but it doesn`t change the fact I`m, you know, forced and being compelled to be here by Congress.


And it does raise a lot of questions. I think with this committee does now sets a precedent for future congressional investigations. And I think there`s a lot of people when there is a Republican-led Congress, you have a little bit of opened Pandora`s box here, and I do hope that the committee takes that seriously and does look forward past 2022, and realize the implications that doing this could have in the future.

MELBER: They`re currently looking as well at Ginni Thomas because they obtained some of her text messages. You mentioned the research. Did you or your fellow organizers have contact with her?

WREN: Now it`s funny, I have never the opportunity to meet Ginni. I have never spoken with her, but I feel terrible for her. She`s a private citizen. She has every right to her own beliefs. And I can have a very big problem with Congress taking private messages of individuals and then selectively leaking those to sort of embarrass and humiliate people on national television. And so Ginni Thomas, she seems to be like wonderful, strong, passionate leader. But --

MELBER: Now one of your co-organizers quoted you as saying that Thomas was playing a sort of peace-making role among these different factions? Is that accurate that you said that or where did you get that idea from?

WREN: I don`t know. That was a quote from another individual. And I was a little confused by it. And I think in the article, actually well, it says Miss Wren disputes that, but I didn`t really -- I don`t feel comfortable litigating out again people`s personal messages that I don`t really feel like that Congress has a right to in the first place, and then to go comment each time individually when press reaches out on those. But I did not ever hear or understand Miss Thomas to have that role.

MELBER: OK. And that`s good to know because that was out there so this is you sort of giving that view and people can factor that in. You mentioned the texts. There`s government texts of course that Congress has obtained. Katrina Pierson was someone who was the liaison to the White House, as you know, and she said in a text to Mr. Meadows, at the time chief of staff, very powerful guy, that she was concerned you were, quote, "moving forward," again I`m quoting, with quote, "the original psycho list of speakers that day, and that she, Miss Pierson, would rather leave than be a part of you embarrassing the president.

What was she talking about, her view there is that somehow you were pushing a negative, embarrassing, and extreme agenda or set of speakers at the rally. Your response?

WREN: I think it`s similar to the Thomas text. I think it is, these text messages that Congress has gone in and taken from hundreds of thousands of different ones over a year`s time, and then they are selectively leaking just in little pockets of time different information out to embarrass folks. And so I, you know, I think it is wrong. It is kind of grotesque almost to even have to listen to those happening and play out like that.

I mean, at the end of the day, there were two separate events. There was an event at the White House Ellipse and then 1.5 miles away, you know, some bad actors took place and violence at the Capitol, but the erased distinction between those involved in organizing or attending a First Amendment protest at the White House Ellipse from those who were involved in violence at the Capitol has become a hallmark of Speaker Pelosi`s efforts to embed the events of January 6th into the American psyche and to indict and humiliate those of us who are in political dissent.

MELBER: Well, let`s get through that because you --

WREN: And so there`s going to be an endless number I would imagine of isolated text messages that they just leaked out to fit a certain narrative, but I would, you know, caution Americans from going into that game. It`s abyss.

MELBER: Well, Caroline, you`re raising something really important that has become a real fault like in the discussion of this, and that`s why I appreciate you coming on, because let`s discuss it. When someone says there`s a free speech right for people to peacefully gather and speak and share their views about the election, including their criticism of the election, that`s absolutely free speech, and that absolutely is a part of the American tradition.

When then a bunch of people from that same place and gathering go and do violence and do an insurrection, that`s bad. And so with Trump summoning them on the 6th, those people came. Many of them, as you know, went to the speech part and then they -- that was a warmup, a proverbial insurrection preparty, for going to go do violence at the Capitol and do the insurrection.

So I take your point that the speech part is protected and there are people who didn`t go. But a lot of people did which is why this is such a big deal. So when people hear you say and other organizers say this is completely divorced, I mean, how many people were at the rally and how many people violently trespassed and breached the Capitol? Do you know the numbers?

WREN: The overwhelming majority of those in Washington, D.C. on January 6th did not participate in the violence at the Capitol. It is very much overwhelming. It was -- I have seen reports of hundreds of thousands of people who were there that day. And there has to be like personal accountability here. I think if someone --


MELBER: So your contention --

WREN: -- did partake in violence at the Capitol --

MELBER: I will let you finish but --

WREN: -- then they are personally responsible for that the same way that if someone --

MELBER: I will let you finish but the facts --

WREN: -- storms the stage at the Oscars and (INAUDIBLE) violence, they are personally responsible for that.


MELBER: Will Smith definitely wrong to do violence. When you say what you think the rally was, which you helped plan, the numbers matter. So you just gave me hundreds of thousands. Do you know how many people breached the Capitol, roughly estimated?

WREN: I do not.

MELBER: So it was about, according to multiple independent estimates, and they`ve got a lot of data on this, they got a lot of documentation, as you know, it`s about 10,000 people who were at the January 6th rally. And it`s 2,000 who breached the Capitol. So that means that 1 out of 5 people roughly who were at your rally went from there to go do crime. Yes --

WREN: Those numbers are very off base. There was about -- there was way, way more, if you look at those pictures. People who had come to D.C. --

MELBER: Those were the rough --

WREN: -- who were at the White House Ellipse.

MELBER: Those are the rough estimates. So the 2,000 is a lot of people. You would understand why that`s more than a handful of bad apples, right? That was a very large number of people because they were able to breach those Capitol police who were armed. They were able to do violence. You saw them overwhelming.

What do you say to people who look at this rally and say, yes, you have the right to speak and gather, but you helped plan an event that furnished a road for 2,000 people to go do this violence? Isn`t that wrong? Don`t you condemn that?

WREN: Sure, I condemn any forms of violence and any act of violence. But I will not apologize for assisting others in gathering in their nation`s capital to air their grievances of government in a peaceful way, which is what happened at the White House Ellipse. There were no disturbances at the Ellipse. The event was lawfully permitted and a peaceful protest. And I believe that is a primary pillar of American democracy.

MELBER: But the 2,000 people, you see, it`s -- they heard the speeches there, they heard from the president, and then they went and attacked the Capitol. He told them, go to the Capitol. So don`t you think that if you could do it over -- here`s another way to say it, because I recognize your free speech rights and I think this is an important conversation for people to hear.

WREN: Yes.

MELBER: If you could do it over, would you want the president at the time not to tell people to go march on the Capitol?

WREN: I think it`s very hard to look back and re-live -- I have no involvement in the speech writing or anything like that. That was not a role that I play. Like my role as a VIP adviser was to assist in the seating and credentialing process which is again a role I have done at hundreds of rallies at many different, you know, political candidates and events. And so going back in time, that would never have been my role to play there.

MELBER: Right. I`m not asking you if it was your role at the time.

WREN: But yes, certainly, I think that --

MELBER: Yes, go ahead. You think what?

WREN: Certainly like the events that happened later that day were very difficult to watch and a bad day for democracy, but I --

MELBER: So Donald Trump should not --

WREN: You know, I do think it was an isolated number of people.

MELBER: Given what we know --

WREN: There was a lot of people there who had every right to be in D.C.

MELBER: Yes. And you got -- you made that point and that`s on the record. But Donald Trump should not have told all those people gathered at your rally to go march on the Capitol?

WREN: No, he has the right to say anything that he wants to say. And I do not believe that one led to the other.

MELBER: You don`t believe him sending those people fired up from there to the Capitol, you think that had nothing to do with it? You understand that strains credibility. I mean, again, I respect you coming on the program.

WREN: Yes.

MELBER: I respect that you cooperated with the committee. People are listening to you, and it sounds logical up to a point. The free speech part, the gathering.

WREN: Yes.

MELBER: But when roughly 1 out of 5 people go do that and we know what they did, they were chanting "Hang Mike Pence," they were trying to kill members of Congress, and Donald Trump sent them to march there.

WREN: You`re pulling out select phrases to help fit a narrative.

MELBER: It`s not a narrative. I`m --

WREN: Like everyone there was not chanting, you know, "Hang Mike Pence.

MELBER: I`ll let you respond but just -- I`ll finish and I`ll let you respond. It`s not a narrative. It`s what they said and did. They attacked the police officers, we`ve seen the video, and it was a real significant portion of the people, and they went because of the president`s words. And so it`s confusing unless there`s a political reason, it`s confusing to not be able to say given what you know now, if you are against the violence, you`re telling us you`re against the violence. We want to take you at your word. Then wouldn`t you be against the sending of the people who did the violence?

WREN: Yes, I have said multiple times since I have been on here that I condemn any violence and what have happened, but it was not my experience and what I saw that day. At the completely peaceful and lawfully permitted event at the White House Ellipse, I saw way more than 10,000 people, first of all, and in my immediate line of sight, the people I dealt with, there were, you know, nuns, students, Christian -- like totally peaceful.

And a lot of the people came and they went home, and also I think it is also little bit dishonest and I actually look at the timeline of events that happened. As I mentioned earlier, the White House Ellipse is 1.5 miles away from the U.S. Capitol. And when the president, even you said earlier, you know, was speaking, people, it`s now very much known and documented that there were already disturbances happening 1.5 miles away at the Capitol.

And then for those individuals to even make it all the way down there in time, the timing doesn`t even work out. And so in saying 1 in 5 individuals is also, I think, intellectually dishonest. It was not 1 in 5 individuals. I think that there`s many, many press reports that will show way more than 10,000 people were in Washington, D.C. that day, and spread out, and so I don`t think those numbers are correct.


MELBER: Yes, well, Caroline, as mentioned, you cooperated with the committee, you agreed to come on to take the questions. We appreciate that. People can have their own reactions and evaluations but I appreciate you taking the questions.

WREN: Yes, thank you for having me on.

MELBER: Absolutely. Thank you, Caroline Wren, our special guest.

We fit in a break, we`re back in just one minute, looking at this Disney clash as well as Ted Cruz appealing to QAnon. We have Aisha Mills and David Plouffe when we`re back in one minute.


MELBER: And the lawsuits are here. What many civil rights advocates and critics have called the "don`t say gay" law, we used to call it the bill, but it`s become a law in Florida under Governor DeSantis is now being challenged.

Now what the law tries to do is help parents file their own challenges or suits against teachers or school officials if there is discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms. Opponents say it`s a, quote, "unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence and erase LGBTQ people from Florida`s public schools."

And Disney, which has over 70,000 employees in the state of Florida, is a powerhouse there in so many ways, is opposed to the law. They`re putting out a statement. They`re getting involved. And that has led to attacks on the right. Some Republican pundits are casually suggesting that people who do support the discussion or education around these issues are grooming children for criminal pedophilia.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: They have a sexual agenda for 6-year-old children. You`d think that`s illegal in some way. It`s certainly immoral. It`s creepy as hell.

JESSE WATTERS, FOX HOST: These woke changes aren`t coming. They`re actually already here.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST: Why not just rename the roller coaster, you know, sex mountain? Come on, kids, it will be a blast.

WATTERS: "Turning Red" is a new movie that looks like it`s about a cartoon panda, but really it`s a sex-ed lesson.

INGRAHAM: This isn`t programming. This is propaganda for grooming.

CARLSON: It sounds like the behavior of a sex offender. I mean, normal people don`t sexualize underaged children, period.


MELBER: And here we go. Welcome to the program. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe who is familiar with the politics of all this, and Aisha Mills, the former president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. She`s a guest on THE BEAT since year one. And we`re glad to have both of you back.

Aisha, let`s start with the substance. I know that`s difficult given the range of attacks. But what in your view is the substantive and proper role of freedom of speech, something that came up in a different context earlier in the broadcast, in educational or cultural environments where people want to have tolerance which is a long way from grooming?

AISHA MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I was just listening to your previous conversation, Ari, and it is just so hypocritical that these same folks who want to talk about freedom of speech are literally trying to keep students and teachers from acknowledging their family members, their parents, being able to speak about gay people generally. I mean, literally, that`s what this is about.

I have to laugh because honestly, you know, it`s so infuriating. Otherwise I`d probably just want to curse because we have been fighting this for over a decade, the LGBTQ Plus community. These bills have been popping up in state legislatures for years and years and years. And this is the first time that it`s actually come to pass. I mean, this has been just no merit whatsoever, nothing about this bill has anything to do with the wellbeing of young people.

In fact it hurts young people, trans kids, LGBTQ youth, you know, generally. So at the end of the day, this is about bias, it`s about bigotry, and now sadly it`s baked in the law.

MELBER: Yes. David, let`s stipulate that honest and reasonable people can engage on questions about what is age-appropriate subject matter. This isn`t the first or last time that schools are a flash point for wider debates in society.


Having stipulated that, I ask you as a political whiz, what portion of this right-wing effort is about that good faith exercise and what portion is some sort of rank political effort to demonize opponents, fellow Americans, if you want to put it that way, as sex offenders?

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: All right, I`d say it`s about 100 percent the latter. So a couple of things strike me about the politics of this. So first of all, Ron DeSantis who is probably out there jockeying the most for 2024, should tell you a lot that those that are seeking the Republican nomination has to then route to the presidency believe this kind of hate and division is the way there.

Secondly, it strikes me how fearful most of that party is about just about everything. They`re fearful of gay people, of transgender people, of needles, of books, of history. You know, they`re the self-sufficient party, the tough party, and I have never seen a group of people so afraid of everything in my life. Third thing I`d say is I think most swing voters, and they still do exist next year in House races, Senate races, governors races, aren`t going to be supportive of this.

I think it`s important that because if we head into the election with wrong track numbers anywhere like they are today, you know, this is going to be a very tough election for Democrats. The main way that you can overcome that or at least mitigate the damage is to make the alternative unacceptable. And this is what these guys are going to be about. You give them more power, and this is what we`re going to see.

It`s not going to be about your wage, it`s not going to be about fighting inflation, it`s not going to be about health care. It`s going to be about this hatred and division. But it tells you a lot about where these people believe their party is and where the energy is in terms of primary voters.

MELBER: Yes. And Aisha, I want you to help us think through some of these issues because when we talk about a children`s book or a "Muppets" episode or a "Sesame Street," where there are parents. In one era, the parents might have always looked a certain way. They might have always had a certain configuration. And a different era, that`s evolved.

How is it important for the society to understand what those examples or role models do and why that`s different from the rather ugly thing that I showed just so people understand what they`re going to hear because you`ll hear it at a barbecue coming to you soon, David, where your FOX News- watching uncle says but what about this? And it`s like, we`re referring to parents or a different form of, say, a parent couple is not sexualizing the parents.

We don`t have to get into -- I get it, yes, you`re talking to kids. It doesn`t mean you`re not talking about what those parents may do to make a baby, but the configuration is going to come up one way or the other if you`re talking about family units, is it not, Aisha?

MILLS: Absolutely, Ari. And that`s such a key point that you`re making there about what these young people are actually being taught. So this bill is just like the witch hunt around critical race theory which isn`t really a thing in elementary school. Right? Similarly, no one is teaching kindergartens or second graders or fifth graders for that matter detailed information about sex. That`s not what`s happening in these conversations.

There`s conversations about love, there`s conversations around diversity of family, for example, I was actually raised by my grandparents. Wasn`t a lot of room to talk about that, the fact that I had different type of parenting than maybe my classmates back in the `80s. Now there is. The diversity of family structure, someone is being raised by their auntie, somebody has two dads, is a conversation about who is nurturing children, who is caring for them.

It has nothing to do with sex, and if the right will have you, you know, think about this twice, right, because most people don`t even think much about this. What they want to do is keep yelling about it to get people in their homes questioning what conversations are happening around sex that don`t actually exist and kind of mythologizing and creating disinformation around the actual curriculum in these classrooms in a way that gets the average person all riled up about something that is just completely false and doesn`t matter.

It is so important, though, to have role models and to have a normalization for young people who aren`t like everybody else around them that they too are OK, that they too can have love, are loved, can have families that are treated with kindness and dignity and respect. And so just to be able to affirm who a young person is matters and could be the difference in life and death. Could be the difference in life and death.


MILLS: And that is the thing that they don`t want to talk about is what`s actually socially and emotionally good for young people. That`s not a part of this conversation at all.

MELBER: Yes. And shout out to socio emotional health if I may, Aisha, for all ages.

Last question to you, David, is we`ve tried to deal with the substance, we`ve tried to deal with this somewhat respectfully despite the ugly discourse.


On the pure politics, if you`re a median Republican in a median district, wouldn`t you want to focus more on inflation, on the uncertain war, and the fact that whatever anyone thinks of Joe Biden, in this polarized world right now, his approval numbers are lower, they`re at actually Trump levels, wouldn`t you want to focus on that rather than this weird bang shot that may or may not work? What is the politics there?

PLOUFFE: Well, DeSantis is thinking about 2024.

MELBER: Yes. For him, I get it. What about for the rest of the party?

PLOUFFE: Yes -- no, yes, my guess is Mitch McConnell, you know, would like to basically just play four corners here. He likes his hand the way it is. That`s always dangerous, by the way. So yes, I think if you are a Republican running who is an incumbent in a tough seat or state or you`re a challenger, yes, and so I think this is one of the challenges for Democrats.

We`ve learned through the Trump years, this brand of Republican Party, with just a few exceptions, Mitt Romney occasionally, and Liz Cheney, they are not going to stand up to their leaders. So this is where the party is going, and it`s pretty clear they are, this is what you`re going to get, no matter what an individual candidate says.

So yes, I think you have to turn the Republican Party writ large as an unacceptable alternative to give any more control to. That can differ a little bit by district or state, but that`s where, you know, there`s macro political trends in terms of the economy, you know, Biden`s poll numbers. There`s a macro piece of this too in terms of who`s your competition. And I think yes, most median swing voters, Ari, not just median swing Republican candidates, this is not what they think people should be prioritizing.

And I think most of them would oppose it, number one. And certainly don`t think it should be a prioritization. So you`ve got to make them pay a price for this outside of the precincts like DeSantis who is only thinking about the 20 percent of the most crazy people in America who might be able to give him the Republican nomination.

MELBER: Yes, and that`s why -- look, we invited you both on for a reason, and that`s partly because it`s not a fully substantive thing based on what we`re seeing on the evidence. And as you point out on just the sheer politics what Hawley, Cruz, and DeSantis are running around doing, in what has become -- I hate to say it but what looks like a QAnon primary, where they can all meet up in the metaverse at a pizza gate alternative reality because the real reality is not there, is saddling everyone else with these problems, the children first and foremost, the educational environment, teachers worried about getting sued. And on top of that, at a lesser level, bad politics for the rest of the Republican Party if David is right. So that part is interesting as well.

David Plouffe and Aisha Mills, thanks to both of you.

MILLS: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely. I`m going to fit in a break. As you can see on your screen, there`s a lot happening on MSNBC tonight. Kamala Harris` newsworthy interview with our colleague JOY Reid coming up, and Richard Engel in Ukraine. Stay with us.



MELBER: We`ve been tracking lots of news in America, but we turn now to what is day 36 of Russia`s invasion in Ukraine. Putin has authorized a draft of 135,000 troops. Russian military is taking major Ukrainian hits and forces are moving to the east.

There was rhetoric from the Putin side about some sort of pullback in the capital, but Russians are still attacking there. The Pentagon says Russia has repositioned about 20 percent of the ground forces there. NATO intelligence basically backs the assessment from the Biden administration that Russia is actually resupplying, reinforcing their units around the capital of Kyiv as well as some of the other cities in the north.

President Biden also is releasing a record million barrels of oil a day now trying to ease gas prices for people in the United States as this grinds on.

There are other signs that Russia is losing certain types of skirmishes in certain areas and ground war territory to even hard-hit areas in Ukraine. About 15,000 troops have been killed on the Russian side, according to NATO. By contrast, the U.S. lost a total of 2400 troops over a decade in Afghanistan.

Here`s Richard Engel with more context in his report.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the outskirts of Kharkiv, we followed Ukrainian troops to see what U.S. and British intelligence say Russian generals are too afraid to show their president. That the Russian military is losing ground and taking heavy losses.

(On-camera): This was a Russian camp. And you can see they had all of their weapons here, dugout positions, and they were bombed. There`s still some bodies in this area, and they left a lot of their equipment behind after what appears to have been a devastating attack on their position. There`s nothing left.


MELBER: Meanwhile, there`s a temporary cease-fire in the south, in the besieged city of Mariupol. 17 humanitarian buses were able to get some evacuees out today. Over 100,000 people have been or remain trapped without food, water, or power. We`ve reported on that. It`s a month running. Here`s just two survivors we`ve heard from in that siege.


VALENTYNA, MARIUPOL EVACUEE (through text translation): We didn`t even expect such an attack.

OLGA, MARIUPOL EVACUEE (through text translation): No one was expecting it. It was such hell, I can`t express it. Anything you can imagine was flying through our house and past it. People didn`t leave their basements for weeks.


MELBER: Over four million people have now fled Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion. These peace talks have been going, will resume tomorrow.

Want to fit in a break. When we come back, we will tell you why the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back in the news.






BADER GINSBURG: Looks fitting for dissents.


MELBER: Substantive fashion, that`s Justice Ginsburg back showing her infamous dissenting collar to Katie Couric in 2014. The collar worn by what many called the "Notorious RBG" on the days where she would make some powerful statements against a conservative majority, well now has a home at the Smithsonian, along with three other RBG collars and some other items that were donated to the National Museum of American History. Her family decided that`s where they should be.

Now, that does it for THE BEAT but I have one more thing to tell you. I was so excited about the news worthy interview coming up here with my colleague Joy Reid and the vice president of the United States, that I mentioned earlier in the show that it was tonight.


I just got to be clear. You should watch "THE REIDOUT" tonight, but the interview is formally tomorrow. If I misspeak, I will correct it, and I will be watching tonight and tomorrow night "THE REIDOUT" with Joy Reid which starts now.