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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/11/22



Does the January 6 Committee have enough evidence to refer Donald Trump for criminal charges? What scares Vladimir Putin the most? How many Republicans nationwide are running on Donald Trump`s big election lie? President Biden targets the sale of ghost guns.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Nice to see you.

Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I am Ari Melber.

And we have several things on the docket for tonight`s show, including something we and our team here has been working on for a long time, a special report on what scares Vladimir Putin most, the truth and dissent within Russia, and his history of stifling the opposition with poisonings, crackdowns, and killings.

It`s a special report we have prepared for you. As I mentioned, that`s going to be coming up in the show. And I urge you to stick with us for it. We think it`s important. So, that`s the news abroad.

We begin tonight, though, our top story is some news here at home and the January 6 Committee, which is considering something that you may have heard a lot about. You may say, well, wouldn`t they have figured this out by now or not? But it is a very significant question no matter what your view of history is or your politics are.

It is a committee in a co-equal branch of government discussing and debating the potentially unprecedented step, if they recommend criminal charges indictment of a former president, in this case, Donald Trump.

"The New York Times" has been reporting that lawmakers on the panel now believe they really do have the goods.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We have not made a decision about referrals on the committee. I think that it is absolutely the case, it`s absolutely clear that what President Trump was doing, what a number of people around him were doing, that they knew it was unlawful. They did it anyway.

There`s not really a dispute on the committee.


MELBER: There`s not really a dispute on the committee about the evidence and the facts.

And that makes sense if you think about it, even if it is frustrating for people who believe that, whenever there`s evidence of a crime in a society or a government that cares about the law, that you would just go forward.

But the fact is, there are some disagreements, even among these members of the panel who agree on so much, about the tougher question, which is, when do you make this criminal referral of a former president to the Justice Department? Because it`s not just discussing a crime in the abstract. It`s whether Congress wants to go down that road specifically.

Again, with "The New York Times"` scoop here, they report that some are worrying that a referral could saddle a criminal case with further partisan baggage at a time when Mr. Trump is openly flirting with running again, and it could create the appearance that Attorney General Garland is investigating Trump at the behest of a Democratic Congress.

More on that in a moment, all of this coming after a federal judge ruled that it was more likely than not that Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct on that fateful day of January 6, and noting that the coup plot and other planning to overthrow the election was all out in the open, meaning the -- quote -- "illegality of the plan" was obvious.

Congresswoman Cheney giving a hint of what crime Trump could be prosecuted under when she spoke in December.


CHENEY: Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress` official proceedings to count electoral votes?


MELBER: As you can see, the question she posed was ripped right out of the criminal statutes.

And we`re joined now by someone who understands all of these issues quite well, including the branch interplay. Neal Katyal was former acting solicitor general for the Obama administration.

Welcome back, sir.

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

MELBER: Absolutely.

We try to do this seriously, as you have done throughout your career. And so I`m actually going to begin with the more intricate question, and then we can back into the broader one. That broader question is, was there a crime or not?

The more intricate one is raised here in this "Times" reporting. It`s issues you and I have discussed before, but now it`s advanced, in the sense the committee has a call to make. And that is, while Congress does have a lawful ability to make criminal referrals, this would seem like a special case.

And is there a legitimate concern, as mentioned by those on the committee, that whether or not the case is ever dealt with by DOJ, which is ultimately DOJ`s call, that Congress jumping in and trying to make it a referral may not be constructive or helpful? What do you think of that whole intricate question?

KATYAL: So, Ari, I think the key thing, even before you get to the referral question is just to take a step back, as you did at the start of the show, and recognize how remarkable it is that a congressional committee now appears unanimous in concluding that Donald Trump committed federal crimes.

And if nine bipartisan members of Congress can agree on something like that, I`m pretty sure 12 of our peers can as well. So, that, to me is the most important thing.

Now, you have asked the question, well, should there be a referral? So a referral is a request from Congress to prosecute. And there have been referrals just even recently. Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows are ones in which Congress has made those referrals. And, indeed, the old Independent Counsel Act, the structure of it basically contemplated congressional referrals.

So we have had them over time. The argument against a referral here is I think twofold. One is, it`s not needed, because we have this decision, as you just flashed, from a very respected federal, Judge Carter, two weeks ago concluding that Donald Trump likely committed federal crimes, and, second, that it would politicize things, that it`s a little like turning to your friend and asking how their favorite child is doing.


No matter how they answer, it`s going to put them in an awkward spot. And that`s, I think, the criticism of a referral with the attorney general in Garland.

And, look, I can see that point. I fundamentally disagree with that. I think the two arguments against referral are actually in tension with one another. The very fact that you have a Judge Carter opinion means it`s not politicized. It`s a respected federal judge. And the congressional committee -- this is my last point.

The congressional committee itself is not politicized. I mean, Liz Cheney is on it. Liz Cheney is as far from a Democrat as you could get. I mean, as our living bard says, I have never agreed with Cheney once. We have fought on like 75 different fronts. But when all is said and done, Cheney has beliefs, Trump has none.

MELBER: Wow. Neal Katyal always prepared on more than one front. We love it.


MELBER: A tip of the hat.

And it is interesting hearing you sort of address or say, yes, those arguments are valid. They might be difficult, interesting, debatable questions, but where you come down.

And, of course, people will remember that, to the extent that Congress stays out of this stuff completely, well, that -- those days, if they ever existed, are certainly over. James Comey spent a lot of time writing letters back to the committees. They have a lawful oversight function. Folks can disagree about when and how that all went down.

But we`re in that push and pull. And there was an attempted coup. We have had people come on this program and outline the aspects of it. They might - - they admit to this part or not that part, and then we saw the violence. So we know what happened.

I also want to look at the contempt proceedings that have been in the news, and you mentioned that they have already made those criminal referrals. And that`s, of course, the link. If we really believe that no one is above the law, then the fact that Donald Trump was the president does not mean that he should ultimately be treated any differently than any other person, human being, in our system.

And these other criminal referrals relate to the contempt proceedings that people heard about. We will put on the screen you have Bannon held in contempt, referred, indicted. Meadows, we have discussed, mixed case, nothing yet. And then the most two recent, obviously, we would never expect on the timeline for DOJ to have acted yet. They have to investigate. They have to do their process.

But your response to the most recent referrals, which are Scavino and Navarro`s contempt proceedings, and does Merrick Garland feel, in this mood, like, OK, he`s taking them one at a time, or is there a Washington pressure to sort of say, gosh, if you held them all in contempt, you`re going to -- quote, unquote -- "look political"?

KATYAL: Right.

I mean, look, I get if Congress was never in the referral business, that maybe you don`t want to start with Donald Trump. But for exactly the reason you said, they have been referring person after person. And it`s actually troubling to me that Merrick Garland has taken so long to act on Meadows.

Now, maybe it`s because Meadows is in negotiations with him. That`d be absolutely appropriate and great. But, otherwise, it is of concern to me. And I guess my fundamental message to Congress is, look, I know a referral is not necessary, but it`s part of your job. Do your job.

And Trump is going to say it`s political no matter what, whether Congress refers or not.

MELBER: Right.

KATYAL: He says that about every federal judge who disagrees with them, even though they`re nonpartisan.

And I don`t think Democrats should be suckers or the congressional committee as a whole, which is bipartisan, should be suckers. I mean, Trump always plays on people`s weakness. And, look, if he`s -- if the congressional committee doesn`t make the referral, we know he`s going to say he`s been acquitted by the congressional committee, he`s been cleared as innocent, totally perfect, beautiful congressional report and the like.

MELBER: I have never heard your Trump impression before, Neal. And while understated, totally perfect and beautiful are words we remember from years of coverage.

And you make another point I hadn`t fully thought about, which is what you often do. For all the talk about whether Mueller went up to the line or fell short, this committee was established to deal with this. And if they think that crime was committed inside the White House in this great insurrection, then, obviously, there is something incumbent upon them to do everything in their lawful power, not beyond it, to take that final move, if that -- if that`s what they found.

I`m not on the committee. So it`s interesting when you put it that way, food for thought.

Neal Katyal, thank you, as always, sir.

KATYAL: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We are moving on to the next topic, which is what I mentioned at the beginning of the program. We have a special report on Putin`s crackdowns in Russia, why he`s arresting thousands who protest right now, new news of new crackdowns.

But, also, the reason it`s a special report, we`re going to go into the deeper history, which has played out in full view of the entire world, why the truth scares Putin so much. It`s not an overstatement to tell you that what you`re about to see is something he doesn`t want you to see.

Our special report -- right after this break.



MELBER: Russia`s invasion of Ukraine began as a story of military aggression. A larger power invades a smaller one.

But it`s quickly turned to these allegations of atrocities and war crimes, as Vladimir Putin`s soldiers have launched these gruesome attacks on civilians, on children, tying up bodies found in mass graves, reports of blatant menacing attacks that target the innocent, including of soldiers raping women in Ukraine.

Some world leaders are reassessing their views of Putin, who`s largely operated as a controversial, but largely accepted member of the international community. He generally gets the top meetings he needs with world leaders. He weighs in on global policy through the powerful U.N. Security Council.


Putin has even seen his popularity rise on the American right, praised by Donald Trump, and other Republicans. So, as Putin is now dubbed a war criminal and seen as the ruthless dictator that he is, it`s important to note very little is new about his current actions, which brings us to our special report for you right now on how Putin built power, initially as a bureaucrat installed to then win an election, and then as a dictator, who crushed any and all opposition to prevent free or fair elections during his ongoing reign.

Indeed, it was 20 years ago when Kremlin insiders installed Putin as a replacement to Yeltsin. And then Putin was deemed the winner of an election after running as that installed quasi-incumbent.


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


MELBER: Elected president of Russia.

And that history matters, because it`s truly more than history right now. It is a power structure he built which enables him to lead these atrocities in plain sight, to lead a war that is increasingly controversial inside Russia, which matters if there`s going to be opposition that might change the course of this war or save lives.

Now, Putin`s crackdown on most opposition inside Russia is, to be clear, bad for the Russian people. They are effectively oppressed. It`s also very bad for the Ukrainian people because it complicates any potential payoff for even an effective Ukrainian resistance to these Russian incursions right now, because, if there aren`t many levers that impact Putin at home, then it`s harder to make even an effective resistance stop the next attacks.

Now, since the war began, Putin`s forces have actually gone further than before. They have been detaining over 15,000 anti-war protesters. Putin pushed new, harsher laws that shuttered the few independent press outlets that even remained in Russia.

And by pledging to jail reporters, domestic or foreign, who report on the facts that the Kremlin deems wrong, well, he has further suppressed even international reporters who might otherwise be in Russia.

Russian citizens can face jail for using words like attack, invasion or war to describe this war in Ukraine. And that is a sign that Putin knows a long war will not be a popular idea at home for him. Kremlin state media, they refer to it as a special operation, something that sounds contained or perhaps powerful.

When Russians see even more rules banning opposition or protest or even specific words they might use, let`s be clear. Better than anyone else abroad, Russians know how serious the consequences are, because, when Putin`s regime kills opponents, they often do it quite blatantly and publicly and brutally to send a message that even a few words by a person - - I mean, words out of their mouth or in writing -- uttered in or even outside of Russia can be punished by execution, be it shooting or poisoning.

Putin`s hit list is long.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Journalists and activists and critics of Vladimir Putin who have mysteriously been shot to death or, in surprisingly large numbers, poisoned to death.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: A Russian who was a critic of Vladimir Putin found dead in his home in London.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who drank tea in London laced with polonium.

NORAH O`DONNELL, CBS NEWS: Alexey Navalny is the latest enemy of Vladimir Putin to fall victim to possible poisoning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gunned down on a street in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the murder of a man deeply critical of the Russian government.


MELBER: Putin`s attacks and alleged killings of dissidents can be traced back to as early as 2002, when an opposition member of Parliament was shot under very mysterious circumstances.

Eight months later, another opposition lawmaker who had spoken out about the murder of that colleague as -- quote -- "politically motivated" was then shot dead on the streets of Moscow. Same year, another former lawmaker who was an investigative journalist for reform-minded newspaper died mysteriously while investigating whether an apartment bombing was linked to Putin`s government.

Russia classified his medical records, adding intrigue about whether the Kremlin killed him.

Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya documented government abuse and police state tactics in her book "Putin`s Russia." She was shot in 2006 at point- blank range in an elevator. It was the second attempt on her life. She survived an earlier attempted poisoning. She wasn`t known for any other lethal enemies who would go this far.

Under public pressure, Putin went out of his way to deny involvement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who exposed killings, torture and other abuses against civilians in Chechnya, was gunned down in an apparent contract killing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a correspondent for "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper and was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had made many enemies, most of all those in the Russian army and paramilitaries.


MELBER: That was in the 2000s. And it was not considered big news everywhere. We pulled some of those clips from places that were, to their credit, paying attention.

It`s some of the evidence that critics cite for how Putin controls information about him. There`s also a series of suspicious deaths and killings of people in the government arena, from candidates who might oppose his power if a fair election were held, to veterans of the Kremlin who turn against Putin or call out what Russia has become.

Take Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, like Putin, who had unusual access to the government`s inner workings. He accused Russia`s security services of organizing the coup that effectively gave Putin his power. And while he had to flee to the West, it did not save him. He died in London after drinking that cup of tea mentioned earlier, which was laced with radioactive poison.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Mr. Litvinenko was poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium-210.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His murder was an operation of the Russian security service. And the inquiry goes on to say the killing was probably approved by President Putin.


MELBER: The suspicious killing also an example of how many Western countries often have to just sidestep Putin`s crackdowns, even when they occur inside these other nations.

This poisoning was on British soil and was found to be carried out by two Russian agents on orders probably approved by Putin, according to a probe that used strong circumstantial evidence. The men were charged, but Putin simply defied requests for extradition, and then celebrated those who were accused of doing this brutal killing.

Putin gave one a medal for -- quote -- "services to the motherland."

Now, before Putin invaded Ukraine, it was also the site of executions carried out in Russia`s interests. A former Russian parliament member who criticized Putin was shot in the back in broad daylight in Ukraine`s capital. This was in 2017.

Now, Russians know the risk of speaking out against Putin. So it`s all the more striking that many continue to do so. Even powerful connected government veterans, though, can meet the same fate. Take a former deputy prime minister who was very well-known in Russia. Almost you could think of it like a role of, say, a former vice president in the U.S. It`s a powerful person. Everybody knows who they are.

And yet this one, Boris Nemtsov, had initially backed Putin, and then staked out an opposition leadership role that might have really challenged Putin. Again, he had a following. He had credibility. It was someone Russians knew who had been open to Putin, and then was hitting him for what he`d done to Russia. Here he was in 2011.


BORIS NEMTSOV, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF RUSSIA (through translator): People are tired of Putin.

When he announced he would run for president in September in order to rule for another 12 years, people realized that he wants to remain in power for life. Putin rigged the election. According to estimates, he manipulated 13 million ballots for his party of crooks and thieves.

They are against the reign of cynicism and lies, against the lifetime of Putin in charge.


MELBER: Straightforward set of accusations backed by evidence, and Nemtsov proved he had people behind him, because there were big street rallies. He was tapping into an opposition that`s relevant today, because he also protested against Putin`s increasing incursions into Ukraine, arguing that wasn`t helping the Russian people.

He was out in public blocks away from the Kremlin when a seemingly skilled unknown assailant came up from behind him and shot him four times in the back. Putin denying wrongdoing in that case as well, but journalists found Kremlin security had already been tailing Nemtsov for 10 months.

Now, he may have hoped that his prominence enabled a kind of a platform to get heard and perhaps stay alive, in contrast to far less connected Russians. But he also knew the risks.

He outlined them to American journalist Anthony Bourdain. What you`re about to hear was just one year before that execution in the streets of Moscow.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN: Critics of the government, critics of Putin, bad things seem to happen to them.

NEMTSOV: Yes, unfortunately, existing power represent, let I say, Russia of 19th century, not of 21st.

If you have a good relationship with Putin and his people around, you have a chance to raise money, to be successful. But if something happen between you and Putin and or governor, you will be in jail. It`s very easy.


MELBER: Boris Nemtsov knew the risks. He`s dead.

There are others who took those risks and lived, and they may pose some of the greatest living specific threats to Putin right now.

We`re going to report on them when this special report continues when we`re back in just one minute.



MELBER: Now our special report on Putin`s crackdown continues.

In any government, the power over policing is always susceptible to abuse. In Russia. Putin uses the police to destroy his opponents quite regularly. One KGB veteran said Putin`s government is using the special service to just liquidate its enemies.

And when Putin can swiftly disappear people, he does. Now, some have survived attacks, bringing notoriety that could raise the cost of trying to kill them again. Some Russia experts say that is what may be keeping Alexey Navalny alive right now. He`s probably the most prominent opposition leader to Putin today.

He`s showed courage in taking him on and building a constituency. For example, six million people follow his political messages that he shares on YouTube. Millions more appear to back him in Russia. He`s held big rallies. He formally ran for president in a system where elections are supposed to be set in advance by Putin.

And he has combined domestic credibility with growing international interest, making his case against Putin in Russian and English.


ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: These are people who are trying to steal my country. And I strongly disagree with it. I`m not going to be kind of speechless person right now. I`m not going to keep silent.


MELBER: That`s a message across Russia and throughout the world.

And Vladimir Putin is clearly afraid of Navalny`s reach. He wouldn`t even say the man`s name, which seems like a weak and fearful tack, to avoid promoting him, but Navalny`s would-be killers put his name back in the news when they attacked and poisoned him. He was medically evacuated out of Russia in that instance, hospitalized in serious condition for a month.

A probe again finding evidence that Putin`s agents were likely responsible. Navalny was clear on what he knew and what he thought about who was behind that failed assassination.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Navalny told the German newspaper "Der Spiegel" that Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for the attack that left him in an induced coma fighting for his life.

NAVALNY: It`s maybe it`s the most toxic agents invented by humans.


MELBER: Now, Navalny could have tried to stay abroad after recuperating from that attack. But he didn`t, knowing what he knew and a lot more than what we know here. But just think about what we have just seen.

He still returned to Russia to challenge Putin, where he was jailed. The Kremlin claims he`s corrupt and a -- quote -- "terrorist." He`s been held in prison since then, and, recently, the government added nine more years to his prison sentence.

The outcome shows how Putin mixes murder with a kind of improvisation. He will kill you when he can. If Navalny had stayed abroad or quieted down, well, he might have kept his freedom. But when he returned, Putin adjusted the plan to imprison him, potentially forever, avoiding the creation of one more famous martyr perhaps. And he was just seen within the last month looking quite gaunt in a courtroom, you see here.

Human rights experts say the whole case is a sham, another political crackdown and an abuse of the government. Now, there are other cases that follow the pattern where poison is used to remove opposition, even if it does not kill. Putin has long tried to control Ukraine.

And when a candidate there was deemed too critical of Putin in that country`s 2004 election, he was poisoned and left here badly disfigured afterward. Russia denied any involvement at that -- at the time then. Journalists, opposition figures, government veterans and even candidates in other elections in other countries have seen this fate.

That`s the type of target that Putin has went after him killed for years. And many have tried to treat him as a kind of a world leader who could be reasoned with amidst all this. Some have suggested he`s a smart and great leader, as Donald Trump`s Republican Party had spent years claiming, although that looks pretty tough to square with the history you just saw over the last few weeks in Ukraine.


The record also shows what Putin really is. Contrary to Trump`s claims, Putin is the opposite of a great leader. He`s a murderer. He uses brute force to bend even very powerful people to accept him even abroad. And he`s clearly intimidated many powerful people.

Now, in rare cases, when people who are far more powerful than an activist or writer stepped up to Putin, when someone with more resources said they were going to draw a line, what did Putin do? Well, this is also telling and important as the world considers this challenge right now.

We know billionaires are quite powerful everywhere, but especially in Russia, we`re a network of government-connected billionaires, or oligarch, a term that`s been batted around for years, those billionaires act like kind of a shadow cabinet.

And the one-time leader of that group Mikhail Khodorkovsky was an oil tycoon and the richest man in Russia. This was back earlier, when Putin was consolidating power in 2003. And that billionaire decided, if anyone was going to draw a line in public, he was the one to do it, and he could do it.

And at a meeting with Putin, he criticized government corruption and other issues to Putin`s face. The image you see there is striking. Khodorkovsky reasoned that he was basically above reproach. He was not a writer or a journalist or an activist who might just be disappeared. He had oil wells. He had planes. He had lawyers. He had high-level links to this government.

Putin reasoned otherwise. The Kremlin orchestrated this swiftest government takedown of a billionaire in the history of the world, collapsing the man`s company, seizing and freezing all his assets, arresting him on supposed fraud charges, and throwing him into court, you see there.

Khodorkovsky was literally whisked from his own plane into prison. He was tried in a glass cage in court in public for all Russians to see. That`s the cage there.

So, think about this. Putin did not proactively plan the billionaire`s show of defiance. He didn`t know that was coming. But, when it happened, he used it, as a strategic dictator, to send a message that he hadn`t been able to send before in that way, that no amount of money or connections can save you if you cross him.

Faced with lemons, Putin made a kind of dictators`s lemonade. And then regular Russians could see that -- and this was in the earlier phase, before some of the poisonings I just showed you -- they could see, if this is what happens to the Elon Musk of Russia, the Jeff Bezos of Moscow, imagine what would happen to you if you went anywhere near any of this kind of talk.

Khodorkovsky served 10 years in prison. He was ultimately able to be exiled after a lot of international pressure. And we have covered this story before. In fact, years ago, he joined me for a rare TV interview on THE BEAT discussing the risks he faced in jail after that Putin sentencing, as well as Putin`s view of life.


MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, EXILED RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN: Could I have been murdered? Certainly. I was knifed in the face while sleeping.

This is a man with a very particular view of life, a view typical of special services operatives or gangsters. If you show willingness to negotiate, that means you`re weak and must be squashed.


MELBER: Khodorkovsky faced that gangster rule, now lives life in exile.

Others continue against all odds. There`s an opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who survived to poisoning attempts that he says were ordered by Putin. To its credit, the U.S. Congress invited him to testify about Putin, using that power and prestige of a committee hearing and putting it on the public record, where he was able to issue some warnings that have only grown more dire over time.

This was six years ago.


VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: After taking over, shutting down independent television networks in the early years of Mr. Putin`s rule, the Kremlin now controls all the national airwaves, which it uses to rail against the outside world, as well as Mr. Putin`s political opponents at home, who are denounced as traitors, foreign agents and enemies of Russia.

Those who oppose Vladimir Putin`s regime risk not only their well-being and their freedom. They also risk their lives.


MELBER: This brutal authoritarian blueprint has been out there for years. Abroad, some can look away. At home, Russians know the score.

The news tonight, the man you just heard there, Mr. Kara-Murza, was arrested today in Moscow, charges still unknown. It`s the same day that he decried Putin`s war in Ukraine and the team behind him as a regime of murderers in a newly released video.

There is a terrible symmetry to all of this, because the worse that Putin`s forces perform in this war, the more urgent his crackdowns, become because his grip on power is based on certain lies. To keep power, he must always prevent the truth about his government from getting out. And yet these people continue to speak the truth, at great cost.


There`s no quick or easy solutions here. But the truth is clearly vital. It may be what still scares this powerful, lethal leader the most. Think about that.

Vladimir Putin has nukes and guns and an army, and he is scared of the truth, scared of these brave people you have seen. The truth is what he takes the greatest effort and risks to contain. And the truth is, Putin is a murderous dictator who kills opponents and launches wars. And now what has been documented and known for so long may finally be taken more seriously, because of this terrible war, because of the more strict international scrutiny.

And perhaps that will just be a start to a world that faces this dictator down better and stronger, and that world leaders might summon perhaps a fraction of the courage that so many less powerful, more vulnerable Russians and critics have already shown.



MELBER: Donald Trump lost the last election. You can keep track of that because he`s not president right now. And even if you don`t follow the news that closely, you might have heard about that.

Everybody knows this to be true. This is the society we live in. He is not president because he lost. And yet his personal need to invest in a lie that it was stolen from him, that it was fraudulent, that somehow the reason he`s not president isn`t that he lost, which is true, but that something else was afoot, which is a lie, has become something of a framework and prerequisite for Republican candidates, which is not only bad for democracy.

It`s also really weird politically. Usually, the losing candidate, like a Mitt Romney or a George Bush Sr., is respectfully pushed to the side, rather than devoting the entire party to pretending that they didn`t lose.

Consider a sitting Republican governor who has her own power structure in her own state, Alabama`s Kay Ivey, releasing this false and misleading campaign ad that says basically there must be widespread voter fraud, because Trump wants that lie to be true. Such claims have been debunked in Alabama and a lot of other places.


GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): The fake news, big tech and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump. But here in Alabama, we are making sure that never happens. We have not and will not send absentee ballots to everyone and their brother.

I`m Kay Ivey. The left is probably offended. So be it. As long as I`m governor, we are going to protect your vote.


MELBER: Where to begin?

If you want your vote protected, of course, you would just want fair and free access to the polls. Limiting voting measures isn`t protecting your vote. There are entire states that vote by mail. And while there`s more than one way to do it, it is a key way people vote.

So, if somebody`s saying to you, Donald Trump will get mad if I don`t lie about the last election, and I`m going to change policy and make it harder for you to vote, then I don`t care how many other sort of self-parody references they make to the big left and the big tech and the big whatever. That governor is not being straight with you.

You could vote for her. Not my job to tell you who to vote for. But when she lies about the absentee voting rules and the level of voter fraud, well, you might want to think about whether she is protecting your sacred right.

It`s all about pandering to MAGA and trying to avoid, well, the fate of Republicans like Mo Brooks, who has very conservative, who has a big conservative following. That`s not in doubt. But when he mentioned that the Republican Party might want to move past years of rehashing its own loss for a candidate Donald Trump who got fewer votes both times he ran, well, then he was, of course, slapped back and smacked around by Donald Trump.

Ivey, though, is bending to this MAGA narrative and joining more than 80 election deniers running for state office this year.

What do we do with this sorry, state of affairs?

I`m joined now by professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University Jason Johnson, quick with a thought and insight and occasionally a bar.

Good to see you.




JOHNSON: Oh, I`m sorry.

MELBER: Well, I got to ask you. You will go.

But Governor Ivey was not always this way.


MELBER: So, I just want to ask you, right, what`s happening to her and the other thoughts you wanted to share

JOHNSON: Well, what`s happening to her is that this is where the money is. This is where -- you can -- Ari, you can always follow the money.

Republicans across the country see that the people who are aligned with MAGA, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump, that is the place where you raise money.

The neck and the wrist don`t lie, right? They see where the cash is. And they say that, if I take on these crazy positions, I will have access to that campaign cash. So it`s dangerous for democracy, but beneficial for politicians like Ivey and people around the country to promote this lie.

MELBER: How weird is it to be this obsessed with the past?

We sometimes reach for lyrics, Neal Katyal went into the "Hamilton" bag earlier tonight. But I`m going to reach for something else classic in American life, which is "Seinfeld."

And when George Costanza is so upset with the clown at the birthday party of these kids that he`s asking about Bozo, and the clown is from a newer generation, what today we might call a Gen Z actor, and he says: I`m my own -- do my own clown work. I don`t know about Bozo.


And this offends George. And it leads to a climax where the clown tells George off and says, what is your problem? You`re hung up on some clown from the `60s, man.

And it`s sort of like, yes, we get the fund-raising, but how can you be a strong leader of a party when you`re obsessing over this past loss, when people do deep down -- I mean, I get the polling that says, oh, people believe that was stolen if they`re a Republican, but, deep down, they know what happened. They do know he lost and they do know Biden`s president.

JOHNSON: So, Ari, this is really my concern going into 2022. There are Republicans like Kay Ivey, like Ted Cruz who do know the truth, right?

Mo Brooks, they -- they will pretend, but they do know the truth. They know that Joe Biden won the election. They saw the numbers. They have made private phone calls. They know what these secretary of states, Republicans and Democrats, have said. They`re just liars, right? They`re just doing whatever is convenient. They`re going to blame big tech, big blue, Big Pun, whatever. They going to blame somebody, right?


MELBER: Shout-out to Big Pun.

JOHNSON: But they know that that`s just for performance`s sake.

What frightens me -- exactly. What frightens me is a lot of the people who you see running now for the midterms, Ari, they believe this stuff. They`re not just doing this for performance`s sake. They really do believe that the election was stolen.

And that is infinitely more dangerous. I can tolerate the people who are inveterate liars like Ted Cruz. I can tolerate the quislings and the weasels who just say, hey, I`m going to do whatever it is I need. But the people who are true believers, they`re dangerous.

People who are at the Stop the Steal rally who now want to be secretaries of state, that is a danger to our democracy.

MELBER: Well, you touch on something we have really -- that is real, that we have gotten into. And to paraphrase Big Pun in the taxonomy that you`re drawing, the people who are just pretending, and they know it`s false, might say, like a Ted Cruz, I`m not really MAGA. I just lie a lot.


MELBER: And that is sort of the, hey, it`s a wink. I know what`s really going on.


MELBER: But then you got these other people, as you say, are, to use the "Scarface" and the other references we make, getting high on their own supply.

And that is something where I will say, shout-out to Obama that sometimes it seemed like he was almost like just pushing everyone and say, oh, I`m so worried about the truth, and how are we going to self-govern. And it almost sounded like this lament.

But being smart person that he is, he really was trying to warn everyone before the Internet had sort of supercharged some of this stuff even worse, that you can`t govern, you can`t make COVID policy in a world where people don`t think COVID is real, or they have to wait six, nine or 12 months for someone in their family to die of COVID...


MELBER: ... which we don`t wish on anyone. So my heart goes out to them. I`m very sorry for them that they were lied to.

But, boy, when you believe those lies to that degree, how do you even have -- I mean, it`s a big question for my last question to you, but you`re a professor. How do you even have self-governance if a significant quantum of the populace is completely confused about what reality is?

JOHNSON: I used to always say, Ari, with any sort of political conflict -- this goes back -- I was saying this during Ferguson.

The country can`t heal if we can`t agree on what the diagnosis of what got us sick. And, at the end of the day, you have a certain segment of the population that has told the Republican Party, we do not believe in a multicultural democracy. So anything that you have to do to make sure that this country stays in the hands of straight white men is OK.

That is the danger. That is what Vice President Harris talked about when she said, hey, the rise of the right and white supremacy.

That`s why I have said I don`t really think there are two parties in this country anymore. One is a semi-governing party called the Democrats, and the other is a dime-store front for a terrorist organization called MAGA. That is the real problem here.

It`s no longer about lies and disinformation. It`s about having our sitting government take an active role in controlling dangerous people who do not believe in democracy anymore. And this election -- it`s a cliche to say every election is the most important one. This one matters, because if these secretary of states get into office, there is no chance they will allow any Democrat to win a state, win that state`s Electoral College votes in 2024.

MELBER: Big question. Strong, important answer. I hope people are listening.

Professor Johnson, always good to see you.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We`re going to fit in a break. When we come back, another story we haven`t gotten to tonight yet, the gun crisis, the NRA, Joe Biden speaking out.

We will explain. That`s next.



MELBER: In the wake of the pandemic and several different economic issues in the United States, we have seen crime rise in many parts of the country. It`s something we have reported on. And there are many ways to deal with it.

President Biden today is taking on the NRA and saying, you have to crack down on the easy availability of guns if you want to deal with this violent crime surge. They`re also pushing stronger rules around the sale of so- called ghost guns. These are firearms that can be assembled using kits, so they may not have serial numbers, which makes them harder to trace.

Again, if you want to get guns out of the hands of criminals, you would think you would want to be able to trace them. If they trace back to a law- abiding person, you might want to find out why they sold the gun to a criminal, that kind of stuff.

So, these rules will help get better serial number tracking and background checks. Biden is taking this step because Republicans have also blocked various efforts at gun control, as well as his own pick to run the key agency the ATF.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The NRA called this rule I`m about to announce, extreme. Extreme.

But let me ask you:, is it extreme to protect police officers? Extreme to protect our children? Extreme to keep guns out of the hands of people who couldn`t even pass a background check?


Look, the idea that someone on a terrorist list could purchase one of these guns is extreme? It isn`t extreme. It`s just basic common sense.



MELBER: There is broad support for these kinds of measures.

Biden also announcing a new nominee for that agency. Republicans already say -- quote -- the "gun grab" is coming from Biden.

Now, as for the support, it`s not even close. We have a lot of polarized issues in America, but, remember, this isn`t one of them. Over 60 percent of people support these kinds of restrictions on the ghost guns, because, again, if you`re a law-abiding gun owner, it won`t affect you at all.

If you are someone trying to hide what you`re doing with your guns or who you`re dealing them to, well, it might affect you, but the vast majority of Americans want it to affect you if you`re dealing guns to killers.

We will be right back with one more thing.