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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/1/22

Guests: Christopher Smalls, Robert Reich, Harvey Fierstein


New important evidence showing the former Trump aide texting about coup on January 6th, 2021, while new evidence linking Trump to Steve Bannon-Navarro plot. New York Amazon workers to form union for the first time, demanding high wages, paid sick leave, among others. Russia stopped humanitarian aid convoy into Mariupol. The Tony Award winning actor on race and gender norms, and loving people for their uniqueness.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Their plots to directly overthrow the election. But this week`s hearing to hold Trump veteran Peter Navarro in contempt, there was a moment there where Congressman Aguilar chartered a path from Navarro`s attempted coup all the way up to Trump. And since that contempt vote, the committee is continuing the pressure. And that brings us to a text chain that was a text written to then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and it`s making waves right now.

This was sent on January 3rd, 2021. You probably haven`t seen it before based on what we think we know, as this is all pretty new. And that was during of course the tense and pitched lead up to January 6th, the certification and what would become the insurrection. And here is the text. "Mark, I`m reaching out because I have details on the call that Navarro helped convene yesterday with legislatures as part of his effort to get Pence to delay certification of the election for 10 days. Including that the president participated."

We`ll come back to that. And then the person closes by asking, "Were you on the call when the president spoke?" Now that is a big piece of evidence. It shows that people at the time were trying to nail down how Donald Trump was participating, actively, in demanding these legislatures help steal the lawful election, and that it was directly part of Navarro`s plan to hijack the January 6th certification.

And if you`ve watched THE BEAT, you may have heard about this. The idea was thwarted, but the idea was that they could somehow create the appearance of chaos or delay from Mike Pence at the certification, and that that would help them with a possible coup.

Now Trump`s been caught in some parts of trying to overthrow the election, like shaking down Georgia`s elections official. That`s something he`s still under investigation for there, or pressing Mike Pence to help, which he did repeatedly and on Twitter, going into the 6th. But the new evidence links Trump more directly to something that seemed perhaps curious at the time. Why would Peter Navarro confess about this plan?

And why was he so specific about exactly who would be involved in abusing the vice president`s power to ultimately stop the lawful and peaceful transition of power?


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: The plan was simply this. We had over a hundred 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 are describing a coup?



MELBER: He calls it a sweep. He says it was what him and Bannon were going to do, and that even if they were victorious and somehow did stop democracy and end the transition of power, that it wouldn`t be a coup. That`s his take. But more importantly than how he describes it is what it is. And there are people who watched that and said, oh, was that some person inflating their own role or after the fact or what their motivations may be?

And that`s why the evidence matters. Interviews, sources, claims. These are all pieces. But when you reconstruct it at the time, you suddenly learn what was going on. Donald Trump was involved with what Navarro was doing. And that`s why today we can show you the committee is demanding Navarro comply with its lawful subpoena, we`ve heard that before, but they`re citing this very text, saying, it`s time for him to address his, quote, "role" in the attempt to overturn the election.

Now, Meadows went from partially cooperating and handing over some documents to then going silent, to then, according to the committee, defying. I have mentioned on the program, he may have some better privileged claims, but he`s been held in contempt, too, by Congress. That the DOJ has to decide what to do.

As this week ends, after these contempt votes, we see that this is an investigation that has more and more receipts. These are just some that are coming out. For example, I can tell you as someone who`s been involved in following this, reporting on it, that if Navarro were cooperating, we wouldn`t necessarily have that text in public this week. It was private and part of their investigation.

It`s only being used as they have to build a case because you have to write down what the contempt case is, and then the attorney general has to decide whether to indict on it. So some of what we`re learning is only a product of the defiance. Much of what we don`t know yet is a product of the cooperation, because they`re bringing it all together. And amidst all of that, you have, of course, the bombshell discovery about the White House call logs.

Again, thanks to the committee`s investigation, we learned seven hours are missing from that key day. And that has put more pressure on. Now officials tell CBS News that there was a very messy record-keeping process when Trump was president. Notes from calls that would be scribbled on top of the private schedule. Here`s one that, again, has been obtained through the investigation. You see at the top sort of the schedule has become a placeholder for some of those calls. You can see a reference in longhand to V POTUS and Senator Loeffler.

Now, in that CBS account, the reporters spoke to an official who said things got missed and saying, sometimes the handwritten notes would be sent directly to the diarist and not go through the official process.


Axios reports more details about who was keeping those records. It was an executive assistant, Molly Michael, and one official said she was just gone most of the day and by the time she arrived late in the afternoon, the White House was an expletive show.

So you take this together and you see that the investigation works. There are many calls for more action and more accountability, which is understandable. In fact, Attorney General Garland was pressed about that in public today, and I`m going to show you that detail in a minute. But whether people like the timeline or not or they think the committee is getting it all done fast enough or not, or whether the DOJ is involved enough or not, we are learning just how high the effort at the coup went. According to some of these texts, it went all the way to the top.

Let`s bring in our experts tonight. Former RNC chair Michael Steele has a longtime experience in the Republican Party. He did endorse Joe Biden in the last election. Former Watergate prosecutor and MSNBC analyst, Jill Wine-Banks is a very steeped in political prosecution and political corruption cases.

Welcome back to both of you.


JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you for having us.

MELBER: Jill is going to handle the law. I`m going to start with Michael, though, on the org chart.

You`ve been around this time for a while, Michael. When the chief of staff is texting or having contact with people about POTUS being in on something like this before the 6th, what does that tell you? What everyone thinks of Mr. Navarro and the way he talks, this would appear to be a contemporaneous log that shows POTUS was involved all the way up before the 6th.

STEELE: The -- again, I go to a very fundamental piece that is operational with Donald Trump all the time. Nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. You don`t have Mark Meadows, you don`t have Peter Navarro. You don`t have anybody out here talking about trying to orchestrate, manufacture, create, or execute a coup, an insurrection, unless that is something that the president himself, Donald Trump, wants to happen.

It does not surprise me. And you`re going to see many more pieces of evidence, the receipts, if you will, that are going to be -- that show just how involved the president was because from my own experience with him, nothing happens in his orbit unless he knows about it. It just doesn`t. It does not happen any other way.

You`ve heard Michael Cohen, you`ve heard his niece, you`ve heard others sort of verify that second, third, firsthand, whatever, that is a key part of this. And so to your intro about how this is becoming more evident and how it`s unfolding, I think, and Jill can really speak to this, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Justice Department now, because all of those little pieces are filling out one hell of a puzzle. And it is a very damning puzzle.

And as I said, it doesn`t happen unless Donald Trump wants it to happen, and as a result of that, everybody has a little chit here that when you pull all of it together, Ari, you get a better, clearer picture of exactly what the president started to orchestrate. I would probably -- I wouldn`t be surprised if you saw this go back to April, May of 2020.

MELBER: You mentioned Garland, let`s take a listen to how he was questioned and his response today.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There`s been so much criticism of the Justice Department around the January 6th investigation, and a lot of people trying to pressure the department to either work faster or even to investigate specific individuals. How would you respond to that pressure and to those critics?

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Look, the only pressure I feel and the only pressure that our line prosecutors feel is to do the right thing. That means we follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead.


MELBER: That`s the latest response. It`s a reminder, Jill, that he`s certainly aware of this. He didn`t say, oh, what are you talking about. He took it as a factual premise that people are demanding more from him based on the evidence, or whatever their views are.

Do you see this evidence adding to the case for a criminal approach to the thwarted coup?

WINE-BANKS: This is a very important piece of evidence. And criminal cases are built, as you just said, by putting pieces of a puzzle together. And each one adds to the other and you cross-check them. And you`ve had Peter Navarro on admitting on your show that he had done what you described as plan a coup. And everybody would conclude that. So, yes, this does add to the pressure.


It certainly adds to the pressure of holding in contempt Peter Navarro for not cooperating because it shows a really good reason why he has key information about what the president knew and when did he know it and what was his role in it beyond just knowing about it? What did he do? He spoke to that group, according to that text message. So it is very, very damaging to the president, and very damaging to the lack of action.

I`ve been in that group that has said, justice delayed is justice denied, and that the Department of Justice needs to act faster. I am very encouraged by the recent revelation that there are over 100 more prosecutors being hired, and that the scope of the investigation in the federal grand jury in D.C. is expanded beyond to people who broke into the Capitol to those who planned and funded it.

Those are good things that make me feel a little more comfortable about my beloved Department of Justice doing the right thing and doing, as Merrick Garland just said in that clip, following the law and the facts, to wherever they lead. And they seem to be leading in every aspect to President Trump.

MELBER: Well, and that`s so important because, Michael, there can be a possible or call it a charitable case where two different things happened. Where people over here were saying, let`s exhaust all legal remedies to challenge the election. And then people over here were saying, let`s plan an attack to breach the Capitol. It`s possible. I spoke to a rally organizer last night who says she condemns the violence and says she wasn`t involved. And there`s no evidence that she breached it, although people might disagree with the way she was exercising her speech, she`s got the right to speech.

But there`s more and more evidence that seems to link some of this together when you look at the rhetoric, the nature of the way people were called to town, and then the fact that you`ve got people like Navarro saying, yes, a bunch of legislatures were in on this.

Our own colleague Joy Reid has the big interview of the week, the newsworthy interview with Kamala Harris. They`ve taped it. It`s going to air tonight. So I think it`s interesting. It sounds like a plug, but I`m going to be watching it. But here`s the one excerpt we have that relates to all this and whether political elites who are elected have to be held accountable. Take a look.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, REIDOUT: What do you think should be the consequences for people like Ted Cruz, people like Josh Hawley, who are now being named, as we learn more about those who were actually putting together the plan to overthrow our election?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should be accountability. In terms of elected leaders, to the extent that they were complicit in a crime, of course, there should be some kind of response to that. But also, there should be a -- I think a continuing discussion about the fact that what happened on January 6th was a concerted attempt to undermine the integrity of our elections system.


MELBER: Michael?

STEELE: No, I mean, the vice president is right on the latter point. The problem is the former point. Accountability. It has been the problem from the very beginning of the Trump administration. There has been very little accountability for all the nonsense that we`ve witnessed over the last five or six years. And it is, it`s all culminated, Ari, on January 6th, in such a horrific way.

So if -- to the vice president`s point, if there are members of the United States House or Senate, who in some way or other, either earlier on, during, or after the fact, were involved in this nightmare, yes, they need to be known, first off. And then the appropriate remedy, which is accountability and maybe prosecution, has to be a big part of the conversation.

My sense, though, in this town right now, and you get this a lot, when you talk to folks quietly, whether it`s about the Justice Department or the politics, is that, well, we don`t want to stir the pot. We don`t know where this is going to go. Well, dammit, I know where it should go. I`ve watched people trying to overthrow my government. And as a citizen, I`m bothered by that, that there`s not enough concern by those members who aren`t on the January 6th Committee to get to the bottom of this.

So it`s, I think it becomes really, really important, to your point, about yes, there`s the legal piece and there is this other piece. What we`ve seen, Ari, is that they`ve converged.


STEELE: Trump converged them. The legitimate effort to challenge the election, OK, legitimate, we`ve seen that in prior elections. But then this other very sort of gnarly, nasty little thing called insurrection. And how they used the first piece to layer on the next piece.

MELBER: Yes. And that --

STEELE: And that`s where they`re going get tripped up.

MELBER: And there`s no guarantee that this is a one-off. You know when everyone says, oh, some people wrongly, blithely said it`s not who we are.


Well, it was who we were that day. And it was who we were the days after, as the Republican Party came around to defending it. And may be who we are again if it`s not punished.

When we asked Peter Navarro about this in the interview, Jill, I`m not going to play the whole piece because I`m running out of time, but he didn`t want to answer. I said, what was the plan? Who was in on it? Was Trump in on it? He said, sure, and then went on to kind of dodge into other areas. What does it tell you that even the people doing it for Trump, sort of like Michael Cohen 1.0, not the 2.0 version, want to play along with the denials and give the boss that cover?

WINE-BANKS: That`s one of the most inexplicable parts of Donald Trump`s presidency, is the loyalty from people who are willing to conceal for him, to cover up for him, when he`s perfectly willing to throw anyone under the bus who even deviates slightly from supporting him. And so that is -- that`s obviously of concern, but eventually, as I said, you take all the pieces of the puzzle and you put them together, and you will see, not only that it happened way before January 6th, but that it`s continuing today.

There is an ongoing threat to democracy. There are ongoing lies. The statements about a stolen election, which has been disproved in every venue that it has been presented, every court that`s looked at it has thrown it out. And yet millions of Donald Trump followers believe it.

MELBER: Yes. And that goes to the future risk, if they really believe it and want to act on it again.

Jill and Michael, thanks to both of you. I`m going to fit in a break. Let me tell you what`s coming up. Ukrainian forces are attacking targets within Russian for the first time.

Also, a huge victory for the left, for labor, and against Jeff Bezos. Amazon workers have now voted to form a union. That`s for the first time ever in America. We have the activist who led this effort, who`s even popping champagne you see there. Our special guest tonight.

And this growing movement, backlash against the Florida "Don`t Say Gay" law. Our special guest, the one and only Harvey Fierstein, that`s tonight on THE BEAT. Stay with us.



CHRISTIAN SMALLS, AMAZON LABOR UNION PRESIDENT: We`ve got the jugular. We went for the jugular. And we went for the top dog.

This moment, damn. Man, I ain`t going to cry right now. I only want to do the right thing and speak up for the workers behind me.


MELBER: Speaking up for workers and winning. This is a historic labor victory. The news breaking today, a landmark vote, this is an Amazon warehouse in New York to form a union. It is the first of its kind. Amazon is the second largest employer in America. Over a million people work at warehouses and around the Amazon delivery process, all throughout the country.

"The New York Times" says this is one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation. It all started here in Staten Island, New York. It comes after there were many setbacks and a whole different effort to unionize an Amazon warehouse down in Alabama.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are officially over for now after workers at a facility in Bessemer voted no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Less than 16 percent of the employees at that facility voted to join the union.

GUY RAWLINGS, WVTM 13 ANCHOR: Yet another vote failing to bring Amazon`s first union to Alabama.

BRITTANY DECKER, WVTM 13 ANCHOR: Yes, so this is actually the second attempt, as workers with assistance from the National Labor Relations Board tried, but failed around this time last year.


MELBER: That`s just one of several efforts that`s been thwarted. Indeed labor organizers in Alabama lost another vote there to go at Amazon this week. There is a recount, we should note. And it`s not by accident. It has nothing like an even debate or fight over whether people want to unionize which different employees may make decisions about. No, this is a place where Bezos and Amazon pour millions of dollars to affect what workers hear about, whether they know what the real truth and rights are, because all that spending is designed to push them away from exercising this choice.

For example, there are reports the company even surveyed employers. That it used outside interloper language to try to castigate the union effort, which again as I`ve shown you is by people who work at Amazon. At the Staten Island location, they were papering the walls with banners that just put it straight up and said, quote, "vote no."

It`s against that environment and that well-funded backdrop that some of these voters voted "yes." They decided with their colleagues to learn about this and make up their own mind, to disagree with the billionaire Bezos, who runs so much of their lives and so much of ours when you think about the impact of this powerful company.

National reports also emerged about unsafe work conditions, physically intensive labor, overheated warehouses had some workers basically getting sick, and that was all before COVID. In the pandemic at this location that unionized, Staten Island, one employee, Christian Smalls, the one I showed you earlier, encountered a colleague who was clearly sick and then reportedly says they were fired after talking about being sick.

So this is a story about unions, about human rights and labor rights. That`s an old concept, but these organizers we want to point out also use some new tools. Smalls went on TikTok and Twitter, exposing what he called Amazon`s unsafe conditions. He also filed unfair labor practice charges, and then was arrested earlier this year on alleged trespassing by showing up at the warehouse to bring colleagues food.

Organizers kept pushing. They projected images like this under the warehouse "vote yes" or quote, "they arrested your coworkers." So 5,000 workers that have voted. You can see it`s a large warehouse. And the union won by over 10 percent. What does the union want? Well, better wages for employees, longer break times, to deal with the intensive work structure there, paid sick leave, and other demands.

Amazon says it is disappointed and that`s evaluating its response. Now that leader of the effort I mentioned, Christian Smalls, after all of this hard work and what many called the harassing campaigns, the threat of police intervention, all of that, it was a time to, well, take a moment to celebrate and pop some bottles.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, we make history.


SMALLS: When COVID-19 came to play, Amazon failed us. They dropped the ball. They lied to the public saying they doing all of these things. None of that was the reality of our situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`ve broken the glass on what people thought was impossible.

SMALLS: But I can tell you what. Amazon doesn`t become Amazon without the people. And we make Amazon what it is.


MELBER: How did these organizers pull off such a historic win? Well, guess who`s here? The president of the Amazon Labor Union is our special guest, Christian Smalls, who`s busy running around today, but made some time for us, and the former secretary of labor in the United States, Robert Reich. We`re back in one minute.


MELBER: I`m joined now by the former Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, who led this victorious push to unionize today, and former United States labor secretary under President Clinton, Robert Reich.

Welcome to both of you. Robert has a pretty big title. Sometimes he goes first, but we`re starting with you, Christian. Thanks for being here today.

SMALLS: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

MELBER: Absolutely. We just walked through it for our viewers. Just, before I bring you in here, I want to read what Steven Greenhouse, who I`ve always read as a labor reporter. He`s covered this space that you`re working in for decades. He said today, quote, "In my 25 years writing about labor, the union victory at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island is by far the biggest beat the odds, David versus Goliath unionization win I`ve seen." And he covered labor for decades for "The New York Times." That would make you the proverbial David. How did you do it?

SMALLS: With the people. You know, I couldn`t have gotten to this point without them. You know, I`ve been fired from Amazon for two years now and I`m still unemployed as we speak, even as the interim president. But I couldn`t have done it without the support of my supporting cast, my comrades. These workers that I organize with every single day. The workers that have been with me even before all of this even happened.

Without their support, without their dedication and sacrifice, none of this would have been possible.

MELBER: When workers have to make these decisions, there`s many pressures on it, which I`ve covered. People have the right to decide to join, they have the right not to join. That`s how it`s supposed to be. Did you find that this was a debate at the warehouse that was on the level or do you think Amazon and effectively Jeff Bezos, if we`re going to talk specifically, were funding and interfering in a way that made it not a free and open debate?

SMALLS: Of course it wasn`t fair. Amazon spends billions of dollars. There`s already been reports that came out of how much money they spent on us, and that`s just the surface level. I can guarantee they spent a lot more money than that. They lost a lot of money union busting against us and of course it starts from the top. You know, Jeff Bezos himself, trickle down into these warehouses that are trying to unionize. So we definitely had our fair share.

As you mentioned I was arrested a few weeks ago, along with two organizers. One of them have been arrested twice. And in just three months, during our campaign, this will tell you the lengths of what they`re going to stop us from trying to get here to this point. So the odds that we defeated to be able to get to this point in actually being victorious, this is the feeling in the world.

MELBER: Let me bring in Robert Reich, as promised. Overall labor participation has crashed to a nearly all-time low in the United States, down to about one out of 10 employees. It used to be much higher. What do you see in this breakthrough? Do you agree, Robert, that this is a big deal for Amazon to have this crack in its anti-labor activities?


ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Ari, this is the biggest labor victory in the last 30 years. I want to congratulate Christian Smalls and all of the workers at the Amazon warehouse, but it goes far beyond the Amazon warehouse. We are seeing the beginnings of a revival of American labor organization in America, such as we have not seen. And it`s about time.

Workers need and deserve higher wages, better working conditions, safer working conditions. Amazon just about the most profitable company in the United States, as the second largest employer in the United States, pouring in huge amounts of money to stop unionization, unfairly, illegally, I think that this is, this is not just David and Goliath. I mean, this is David and Goliath squared. It`s extraordinary.

MELBER: Yes. Because Goliath, Christian, was not actually technically a billionaire, although he was large. He was in good fighting shape. But based on my knowledge of the story. Well, such as it is.

I do want to ask you, Christian, what do you think people need to know about what goes into these warehouses in the Amazon delivery system? Because statistically, most people watching this have probably used Amazon or gotten a delivery and people appreciate the aspects of the service and the price. What do you want people to know about what goes into that and what would it cost to take, in your view, better care of the people doing the work?

SMALLS: Yes, you know, I`ve never blamed the customer. The customers definitely don`t know what it entails with these jobs. So let me break it down. These warehouses are massive. They are almost a million square feet, if not over. They`re 14 NFL football fields. I used to tell my new hires, if you have a gym membership, you have to cancel it, because you`re doing 10 to 12 hours of calisthenics. Your break is only 30 minutes, you`re being tracked for every single second that you`re not standing and idle.

And you know, you have to prepare yourself mentally, really, over more of the physical aspect, because you have to change your whole lifestyle when you work for this company. You lose family time, you lose sleep. Your commute is two and a half hours, three hours, depending on where you live, what borough you`re coming from. I know I lived in New Jersey, working in Staten Island, so my commute was three hours each way.

On top of a 12-hour work shift. And you`re rinsing and repeating. So we`re so disconnected from society, all we know is Amazon. And, you know, when customers support this company, they`ve got to understand, our voices matter, too. And we were deemed essential workers. We weren`t asked. You know, our job title, a high school diploma and a GED, it didn`t say work in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

And you know, that led me to walk out. And then ultimately led me to lead this union drive and I`m happy that we were able to once again be successful.

MELBER: And we`ve seen more Democratic politicians and others engage this labor debate. This was Senator Sanders on a visit to folks in a different part of the country that were not as victorious as you. Let`s take a look.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I say to Jeff Bezos, why are you spending millions trying to defeat an effort on the part of workers here who want nothing more than decent wages, decent benefits, decent working conditions.


MELBER: You did this through organizing. We showed that. Are there any leaders local or in Congress who have been helpful? Was Senator Sanders or AOC, where there`s been some discussion? Were those individuals who were helpful to you or neutral or not helpful?

SMALLS: Well, unfortunately, I would love to give them credit, but that hasn`t been the case. We haven`t had any support since we started. And, you know, I tried to invite them, I tried to reach out, I did the best I could. I met with them, AOC personally. She, you know, she said that she was going to come and then, you know, she canceled on me the day before. But we didn`t hold any grudges.

MELBER: When was that?

SMALLS: That was back in September, I believe, or August, somewhere around that time, whenever the eviction or moratorium was going on. That`s --

MELBER: And she had -- that`s interesting. I mean, she had posted today that in her view she was trying to be helpful, but that`s not your view?

SMALLS: I don`t know what she`s talking about. But all I can say is, you know, it`s unfortunate, because I saw a tweet that she said that, you know, this is not in her district.


SMALLS: And I just think that`s a terrible response, because there`s absolutely workers that live in her district that travel and commute to Staten Island every day that I know personally.


And you know, it`s disheartening to them. You know, these are her constituents, you know? I`m from New Jersey. She don`t represent me, but I know the workers that on my voters list, you know, we`re talking 8,300 people. They absolutely come from her district. And she should be more supportive, and not just her, a lot of politicians that definitely were radio silent about this campaign need to step up and help these workers as well.

MELBER: Well, it`s very interesting to see what you`ve done because, as mentioned, it`s historic, it`s precedent breaking, and you did it on the ground. As the former labor secretary mentioned it`s significant.

My last question for you is the least important question. Will you tell us what type of champagne it was?

SMALLS: Wherever -- whatever my organizer hand me. You know, it was for them. You know, I wasn`t expecting that. But --

MELBER: Somebody just handed it to you.

SMALLS: It tasted very good, whatever it was. It was sweet victory.

MELBER: Hey, hey, as mentioned. When David beats Goliath, I think a lot of people are inspired by that. As I said here, people make up their own minds about it. We`re talking about whether they have a fair process. And we wanted to hear from you directly so you could put your experience on the record.

Christian Smalls, thank you. Robert Reich, thank you, sir.

SMALLS: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We are going to fit in a break. We have new heat on Governor DeSantis and Harvey Fierstein, the legend, is here. We`re going to get into all of it tonight.



MELBER: We`ve been covering a lot of news in America, but there`s also been a shift in the Russian invasion of Ukraine where the civilian and military resistance is building stamina. Ukraine reportedly going on offense and going into hit a fuel depot inside Russia. It would be the first attack on Russian soil since this invasion began over a month ago. The surveillance attack of the footage overnight shows first the helicopter launching missiles, which hits the depots, then a few seconds later, you can see a second helicopter falling behind. That releases its payload. There`s then a second blast.

Many eyes are on the evacuation of Mariupol, meanwhile, in southern Ukraine. The mayor`s office says an attempted Red Cross convoy failed to reach the city when Russians would not let it through. And they actually stole some supplies designed to help innocent civilians, who have been sheltering.

Richard Engel reports on the efforts.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hope and anxiety this morning for some 100,000 Ukrainians trapped in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of blocking and stealing humanitarian aid in the city, frustrating repeated attempts to open a safe passage for supplies to get in and residents to leave.

(On-camera): The aid organization, however, was not allowed to bring aid into the city, and there are concerns here that this corridor, this lifeline to Mariupol, could collapse like so many other efforts to bring relief to the city.


MELBER: Our thanks to Richard Engel for that reporting. The Red Cross says it will try again tomorrow to reach these increasingly desperate civilian residents.

Up ahead, there is a growing outcry over what critics are calling Ron DeSantis` "Don`t Say Gay" law. We`re going to deal with that politics and a lot of the cultural history with a very special guest, Harvey Fierstein returns to THE BEAT, coming up.




GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: There`s policy disputes and that`s fine, but when you`re trying to impose a woke ideology on our state, we view that as a significant threat. This wokeness will destroy this country if we let it run unabated. So in Florida, we take a very big stand against that.


MELBER: That`s Governor Ron DeSantis today, when he goes on offense, he always seems to explain he`s just playing defense. Here he says he`s defending the "Don`t Say Gay" law, which basically tells parents they now have the legal right to sue teachers or administrators and principals if there is any discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms. The law has already spawned lawsuits, but not the kind he had in mind, the kind challenging its constitutionality.

It`s the leading edge in a flight that`s spreading across the country. Republicans have been introduced about 200 bills that basically go after these kind of civil rights. The clash is playing out not just in our politics, but really in a broader culture war that has spanned decades, including in TV and film, which has long explored gender.



ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: Could you make me a woman?

FIERSTEIN: Honey, I`m so happy.


MELBER: The 1993 film, "Mrs. Doubtfire," may feel like a long ways from today`s evolution and ongoing debates over equality and gender identity. That moment there was meaningful in many ways, especially to people in the know, because we just saw right there Harvey Fierstein on screen. The Tony Award winner has been at the forefront of this exact conversation in the arts and politics.


SETH MEYERS, LATE-NIGHT SHOW HOST: Harvey Fierstein, everybody.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: His name is Harvey Fierstein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harvey Fierstein, what are you doing here?

FIERSTEIN: I am here saving the day, dammit.

I think we have to go to the next level. Latex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the winner is Harvey Fierstein.

FIERSTEIN: (Singing) I am what I am. Go be great. Go be swell, if there`s something that you want to smell.

My god, Rebecca, you`re beautiful. Who would have thought that you would have developed into this gorgeous creature.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, Mark, over here.

FIERSTEIN: Rebecca, you haven`t changed a bit.

JOHN LITHGOW, ACTOR: The 2003 Tony is awarded to Harvey Fierstein.


MELBER: And we are joined now by the stage icon himself, actor and playwright, Harvey Fierstein. Four-time Tony Award winner, including for that role as the larger-than-life character in "Hair Spray." Fierstein`s memoir, which touches so much of those moments we just saw, is aptly titled, "I was Better Last Night" and in "The New York Times" has described it as a warm and enveloping story, still full of righteous rage. It is also on the "New York Times" best-seller list.

Congratulations and thanks for coming back on THE BEAT.


FIERSTEIN: Anytime. You know I adore you. So I would come anytime. But, that little -- those little clips I feel like -- remember that show, "This is Your Life"? I feel like any moment, you know, this is your life. Then giving me roses and a car.

MELBER: Let`s start with you at the forefront of this conversation people are still learning about around the world today, which is gender identity. We saw the clips of you there dressed different ways. What were you pushing up against even in the world of Broadway let alone the rest of the darn world as you were coming up?

FIERSTEIN: Yes. Well, my generation, I`m going to be 70 in June. So my generation, our whole battle at the beginning was sexuality. We somehow had to take on the, what they call the majority heterosexual world, which I no longer believe is the majority. I`ve been around long enough. I don`t see it so. But we had to take on the majority heterosexual world and let them know that gay people were just people.

So now, this younger generation is now working on gender. All of a sudden, this questions come up what makes a man a man, what makes a woman a woman, something that people like Gloria Steinem have been talking about for years but now the younger generation is putting all kinds of words to it that I don`t know will stick or not.

I watch these people and I say this with all humanity. You watch them wearing hats that say "Make America Great Again." And my heart goes out to them. You can`t go backwards. There is no backwards. There is no rewind. You can only move forward. To go backwards to say again, means you`re dead. It`s over.

MELBER: You`re saying something very deep. Trump`s "Make America Great Again" is stolen from Reagan, who was a, you know, a B movie actor who was trying to be a John Wayne and you think about the influence of art, Gill Scott Heron, who was like you, important throughout that era, although he`s not with us anymore, talked about Reagan as a kind of a fictive John Wayne desire that go back to a time that never was for America. And you see that tapped into certain right-wing movements.

You talk about the update. I want to show -- well, go ahead briefly but then I want to play something. Go ahead.

FIERSTEIN: I just want to say every single antique dealer in the world will tell you how to become rich. Sell people back their childhoods. People want to buy back the simpler moments in their lives. They want to buy back happiness.

MELBER: Our team here found this where you got to listen to some of your songs here. You talk about the world evolving, updating. Let`s take a look.


MELBER: You feel like you`re living through progress. How does it feel?

FIERSTEIN: Once again, it`s very different when an actor stepped on stage in 1983 and sang "I am What I am." It was a heterosexual actor playing the role who is supposed to be having sex with another heterosexual actor. The chorus which was supposed to be all drag queens had two actual women in it. That`s how scared they were to have just drag queens on stage.

It was wonderful. Wonderful to see people not be scared.

MELBER: I got to say you have -- yes, you have such a way about you. I will tell you, Harvey, I don`t think you know this on a personal note. The very first time I saw you perform was your version of Tevye in "Fiddler of the Roof" on Broadway and it wasn`t until then, I didn`t even know you were Jewish.

FIERSTEIN: With a name like Firestein?

MELBER: I`m kidding. I knew -- you know what, I had a -- you know what, Harvey? I had a hunch. I`m going to give you the final question which is, in a sentence, if someone just listened to all this and says OK, but you know what? They say they`re still old fashioned and this all seems like it`s going against their view of nature and tradition. What do you say to them?

FIERSTEIN: You make those kind of judgments about people you`ll never know the people in your life because you`re surrounded by all kinds of people. They are just -- my childhood, we grew up -- I`m much older than you, of course, look how young and cute you are. We grew up with this brotherhood idea that we`re all the same and we all hold hands, you know, and it`s not true.


We`re all completely different. We`re all magnificently unique. And why don`t we appreciate each other for that? Why can`t I say I love you for your uniqueness. Please love me for my uniqueness.

MELBER: Harvey Fierstein, thank you for being here, sir.

FIERSTEIN: Thank you for having me, Ari. You know I adore you. Keep telling the truth.

MELBER: Happy to be adored. He is adorable, if I may so. The great Harvey Fierstein. That`s excerpts from the interview that we recorded here amidst this busy news time and the full interview if you search Harvey and Melber, type in Harvey and Melber in YouTube, you can see the whole unedited interview. We like to share those things with you. And we`ll be right back.


MELBER: We heard from Harvey Fierstein at 70. Well, the National Park Service has its oldest active ranger, Betty Reid Soskin retiring at 100. She spent the last decade at the World War II National Park in California sharing her experience as a working black woman during the war and preserving history of people of color. She was actually honored by President Obama and says her work has brought meaning to her final years. We wish her the best and a retirement at 100 sounds about right. Shoutout to her.


You can always find me online at AriMelber or Thanks for spending time with us. A very special edition of "THE REIDOUT" with Joy Reid for the reasons mentioned and the big interview starts now.