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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/18/22

Guests: Evelyn Farkas

Summary

Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder calls out Republican Senator Mike Lee over engaging with the January 6 plot. New video emerges of Roger Stone trashing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Alex Jones` Infowars files for bankruptcy. Ukraine says they are now facing a new phase of Putin`s war focusing on the east.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we are tracking several stories, including Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, top lawyer in the Obama administration, is calling out Republican Senator Mike Lee, saying he must be held accountable for engaging with that coup plot amidst all of these new texts that are leaking out.

[18:00:12]

It`s not every day that you hear a former attorney general, who knows what the law is, speaking this way about an active politician. That`s a story that broke into the weekend. And we`re going to stay on it for you.

We also have a special report on Trump and the MAGA money, plus new video of Roger Stone trashing the one-time mini-Trump, Ron DeSantis. That`s a big political story with implications. We`re going to get into that.

And, later this hour, we go beyond some of the usual news to get into something I have talked to you about before, which is, is there accountability for political lies, defamation, attacking innocent people? There is free speech, but that doesn`t mean the right to lie in ways that incite violence or defame people. And Alex Jones and his right-wing conspiracy machine, Infowars, are now filing for bankruptcy because of accountability.

It`s a story that might not be everywhere, but it`s on THE BEAT later night because we think it matters.

Now, that is a lot of news, including news in America. And we`re going to bring that to you this hour.

But we begin with the news abroad. Ukraine says they are now facing formally a new phase of Putin`s war focusing on the east, a new offensive coming, as those peace talks are clearly fading, Russia hitting targets in Lviv. That`s in the west part of the country, which had been considered safer. You`re looking at some of that footage here. This is near the Polish border.

Ukraine officials say seven people already confirmed dead. Lviv had been something of a refuge for people trying to flee violence in other parts of the country. Indeed, these are the first casualties in this city that have been formally confirmed since the invasion began what is now 54 days ago.

NBC News reporters were on the ground when a cruise missile hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALCOLM NANCE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE TERROR ASYMMETRICS PROJECT: Smoke.

ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There we go.

NANCE: Stand by.

Three cruise missile, caliber. Stand by. Five, six, eight, nine, 10, 11.

AROUZI: Yes, there it is. There`s the smoke.

(CROSSTALK)

NANCE: Thirteen.

AROUZI: There`s the smoke.

NANCE: That`s three.

AROUZI: So, three cruise missiles.

NANCE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Russia says it hit hundreds of targets in the east, is trying to address what are those separatist regions, Russia seemingly attacking what would appear to be the whole country, which is a shift in strategy.

Residents concerned about finding any place to be safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARINA SVIDERSKAY, KHARKIV RESIDENT (through translator): First, evacuate where? They are hitting the whole of Ukraine. You see, they shelled Lviv and Dnipro today, everywhere.

My friend offers me to go to Kherson, but it`s occupied. I will not go to these bastards. I will not hide in occupation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And in the port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say they are completely surrounded, some Ukrainian soldiers trying to resist inside a steel factory they will not surrender; 90 percent of that city is estimated to be in ruins from what has been constant shelling.

Now, that is critical to Russian war efforts, taking that city, because they want to have an unbroken land corridor that would stretch from that eastern area, the Donbass, up to the Crimean Peninsula. The mayor also says 100,000 people are still trapped in the city, and they don`t have heat water or electricity.

Zelenskyy says all of this is inhumane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLGA, MARIUPOL RESIDENT (through translator): I love my apartment. I love to live near the sea. I was born here. And I adored this city.

Now I don`t know. Foremost, I have just retired. We are scared of the unknown. That is what scares us the most, the unknown and the devastation.

We can`t do the laundry because we don`t have water. We don`t have electricity. Now have to carry water from afar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin spoke out in Moscow today. He claims the Western sanctions are not working, that they`re backfiring.

Moscow`s mayor, though, says 200,000 people could lose their jobs. And the Austrian chancellor spoke with Putin and says that the Russian leader is convinced he is winning this war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Does he believe he`s winning the war or losing the war?

KARL NEHAMMER, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA: No, I think he is now in his own war logic. He thinks the war is necessary for security guarantees for the Russian Federation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined now by Evelyn Farkas, an Obama defense official who specialized in the Ukraine and Russia portfolio, and General Barry McCaffrey, retired four-star Army general.

Welcome to both.

General McCaffrey, when people hear 54 days, it adds up. You start to realize this is a long-running conflict, with Putin really trying to consolidate in those areas.

What do you see in this phase, as Ukrainian Zelenskyy -- Ukrainian President Zelenskyy put in, a new phase to really focus on the siege and the east?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there`s been a bloodshed in a very short period of time.

[18:05:00]

The war, initially, I thought it would go 90 days. This may grind on for much longer time. Time is an enemy of the Ukrainians. The major target of the Russian forces has been the civilian population and their infrastructure. They`re grinding down the nation-state.

The Ukrainian army doing pretty well. The big question at hand, though, Ari, coming up in the coming weeks is the battle in the east. The target is not the Donbass and land area. The target is the Ukrainian army. The Russians will try and encircle it, shallow, deep encirclement. Who knows.

Once the Ukrainian army is destroyed, the nation is lost. I`m betting on the Ukrainians, but this is tough days ahead.

MELBER: Understood.

Evelyn, take a listen to Senator Coons, who talked about the parallels to some other very troubled wars and invasions that we have seen, the fighting.

Well, let me read it actually. Senator Coons basically says: "If Putin is shown how brutal he can be, and he`s allowed to continue to massacre civilians, to commit war crimes, I deeply worry what will happen next is, Ukraine will turn into Syria."

What do you think of that concern and the idea that, however brave this resistance has been, in the long run, we`re looking at these Assad- or Putin-type tactics that will grind down the populace, because they`re willing to clearly kill so many civilians?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

I mean, I think the major difference, Ari, is that you have this Ukrainian military, I think it`s about 200,000-strong, if I have the numbers right. The general can correct me, and, of course, all the civilians willing to fight if they get enough munitions. We are speeding our munitions in.

I understand from the media that the first two shipments of that $800 million, the latest tranche from the United States, have arrived or are on their way, almost there.

But the reality is, Senator Coons, he also went on to say some more interesting things, Ari. He said, we need to be prepared to do more and sort of hinted at even U.S. military becoming involved.

And I -- again, as somebody who really doesn`t want to stand by while we watch innocent civilians be slaughtered and do nothing, I think we need to leave these options on the table, so humanitarian no-fly zones, and even -- again, I`m not advocating for U.S. forces to get directly involved, but I don`t think we should take it off the table, if the munitions that we get to Ukrainians don`t do the job.

And that`s, of course, what we`re hoping will happen.

MELBER: Well, you mentioned the arming and the support of the Ukrainian people.

Take a listen to Admiral Kirby, who, of course, you know, General, outlining what the Pentagon is trying to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: And we think we will be able to start some basic training on that -- on the howitzers outside of Ukraine. It`ll be more of a train-the-trainers environment. So we will be training a small number of Ukrainian forces that will then go back in and train their colleagues.

And we think we will be able to do that in relatively short order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: General, how do you assess this?

We know that you`re hoping for what you view as the best and supporting, of course, these hardworking colleagues. And yet I think an honest appraisal would say, we are deep into the war and the damage in Ukraine for starting up certain efforts, no?

MCCAFFREY: Yes.

Well, look -- and, by the way, Evelyn is correct. The Ukrainians have a quarter-million troops. They`re calling up 200,000 territorial forces. I think the Biden team has done an utterly magnificent job during the first phase of this war.

And it was, I think, one of the dominant reasons, besides Ukrainian courage, in which they achieved victories up in the north, and the Russians had to pull out, and are going to try a new, shorter access from the east.

Having said that, I listened to Admiral Kirby this morning with great interest. We`re going to send 18 155-millimeter howitzers and some radars. That`s one battalion. My division in Desert Storm had cannon artillery battalions firing in support of us the last night of the war. They got to raise their sights.

Ukraine`s need HIMARS, ATACM missile 200-mile range. They got to stripe deep targets. They need a qualitative improvement in armor, the one M1, not the piece of garbage the T-72 Soviet tank that we destroyed 20 years ago in the Gulf War.

So I think they`re going to get energized and decide we`re going to go all in, not engaging U.S. military forces. I agree with the president and his senior people on that.

MELBER: Evelyn, how about that point? I mean, this has been a debate that has played out, that there can be a ceiling or a red line or whatever you want to call it, about not engaging on the ground militarily with a nuclear power? I think people get that.

And yet the general seems to allude to what you referenced earlier what others have said, that there seems to be some other set of pressures that are holding the U.S. back and some European countries, to be fair -- it`s not just the U.S -- and they`re closer to the region -- from giving Ukraine more weapons.

[18:10:12]

FARKAS: Yes, I think General McCaffrey is correct.

There is something holding us back, though some of it is pragmatic. They -- obviously, the Ukrainians would need to be trained on Western equipment that they have no familiarity with. However, as Admiral Kirby said, that can be done.

So I think we need to find -- we need to find a way to provide them with more equipment, because the other thing you said earlier, Ari, is true. Time is not on the side of the Ukrainians. So we need to move fast to get them as much hardware as we can, as much training as we can, as much intelligence as we can, so that the war can come to an end as fast as possible, which, by the way, is something that Vladimir Putin apparently also said to the chancellor of Austria, that he wants war to end quickly.

Well, we do too.

MELBER: Right, and in clearly different ways, being on different sides of the conflict.

Last question, then, on that to you, General, which is, Putin has clearly shown that he`s willing to be brutish. If he has an edge or a superpower, it is clearly operating well below the lines that many other world leaders, including those who are involved in armed conflict, operated under the modern laws of war and the idea of respecting laws of war civilizations, civilians. He clearly does not care.

This is what he`s going to do. We showed viewers the heartbreaking image of missiles labeled "For the Children," which is as much you can telegraph a war crime in the modern era as you can see. Does he also have patience? Will he really see this out if it takes much longer than he wants it to?

MCCAFFREY: Well, look, we shouldn`t be surprised by Mr. Putin. He`s a KGB thug. That`s how he was grown and raised.

He murders people. He poisons him. He uses radioactive materials on -- he imprisons his opposition. He murders them within eyesight of the Kremlin. They destroyed Grozny, killed tens of thousands. They destroyed Aleppo. We have watched what they`re doing inside Ukraine now.

At the highest level, at the strategic level, he has conducted a criminal operation against Ukraine. What surprises me is the brutality of the Russian army at ground level.

This is -- are undisciplined soldiers, free -- acting like savages against women and children. It`s an astonishing display of the danger of the Russians to Europe. That part has gotten through to NATO. And NATO is now reinvigorated. And, in a way, he`s lost the strategic objective already.

MELBER: Yes, it`s a great point. It`s a cold comfort to anyone who`s dealing with the humanitarian side. But, as you say, geopolitically, Putin and Trump are both wrong to say NATO`s irrelevant.

It doesn`t feel irrelevant this year. And you got a lot of other Western countries saying you have to staff up and get serious about dealing with this nuclear power when they act like this.

My thanks to General McCaffrey and Evelyn Farkas, both experts in the field. Thank you both.

FARKAS: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We fit in a break. We come looking back at the home front when we return, Senator Mike Lee`s texting scandal, the talk of coups, and why a former attorney general for Barack Obama is deciding to get involved.

Plus, that new video of Roger Stone absolutely trashing the mini-Trump.

And then the blow to Alex Jones` conspiracy machine, a story I have told you we would stay on, how accountability can work, even in this difficult time. That`s tonight as well.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:15]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Easter is time for basket. It`s time for bunny, and, frankly, bonnet, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And let`s not forget egg.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And you know what? I would love to be bunny. I would be so good with bunny, because I have told America COVID would be over by Easter. I just didn`t say which one, OK? I didn`t say which one it was going to be.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Let`s not forget egg. Facts.

The former president clearly a punchline that keeps working for "SNL." That was new this weekend. But his power and influence in the wider political culture is waning. I`m not just saying that. I`m going to show you some examples right now.

But there are also details about how, despite the fact that he has less juice in all of America, he still has a grip over Republican primaries. "The New York Times" detailing how Trump sits around Mar-a-Lago and has kind of a session of political wannabes and other people who just think maybe their longshot campaigns will go somewhere if they hang out with Trump.

They`re also hangers-on and has-beens, like convicted felon Roger Stone, who did get a pardon for his crime, convicted, from Donald Trump, sharing a video, Trump is what -- basically at what appears to be Mar-a-Lago, from what we can tell, who then trashes Ron DeSantis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. Roger, my man. I didn`t even see you,. How could I not see my Roger?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: How are you? God bless you.

TRUMP: I thought you were doing well. Is everything OK?

STONE: Get this. Ron DeSantis is a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And that`s how that relationship works.

Trump says, "Oh, I didn`t see you." He knows the cameras are on. He pals around for a second. And Stone gets in a dig at DeSantis.

[18:20:00]

But the issue here is that so many people in the Republican right wing are still trying to get something from Donald Trump. Republican candidates come through, some basically begging for an endorsement.

"The Times" article I mentioned details that it`s an effort for Trump to be a modern-day party boss, and he does have over $100 million, which doubles the coffers of the RNC. And voices from within the party note that that is precisely because he doesn`t work like the RNC, representing the whole party or an appealing vision for America, but may actually damage it.

Take Congressman Upton, who was one of those 10 House Republicans that did vote to impeach Trump over the insurrection. In his retirement remarks, he is making sure people know he has a warning for the party he`s long served.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar, is that a different element than you have ever seen before?

REP. FRED UPTON (R-MI): I don`t think we have had so as many folks in that sort of wing of the party elected as we had before, but I think they`re very popular back at home.

TODD: Yes.

UPTON: I mean, she beat...

TODD: What does that tell you about the Republican Party?

UPTON: Troubled waters, I guess you could say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You see the pivot. He first refers to something that is true, some of these people are popular at home.

But, when pressed, he admits this is troubled waters, in his view ,for his Republican Party, and that`s a conservative. So the MAGA bubble can burst when it has contact with the outside world.

And that goes to the point I told you. When we cover politics on THE BEAT, we don`t just kind of ping-pong around or do he said/he said. We try to give you the facts of the story, just like any other, although, admittedly, there`s a lot of lies and crap that circulates in political news, especially involving the former president.

So let me just show you some facts. You decide whether you like them or not, but there are signs that Donald Trump today is not the Donald Trump of even just a few years ago. So, when he launched his big blog, well, it went nowhere, and he had to shut it down, because the numbers and readership was so low as to embarrass him, within a month.

He also tried starting his own entire social media site, which is something that someone with as many followers and as much fame as him would seem to have an advantage on, except that also failed. And in the first year after Biden was inaugurated, we see that the wider interest in what Donald Trump is doing and saying has been plummeting.

The data shows there is just not the interest. The days when Donald Trump could just drive news cycles have definitely faded, which is a sign of less interest in what he has to say and maybe different algorithms, as social media companies try to consider whether they are just reacting to the worst possible impulses, rather than a new or interesting idea.

And then there`s the problem he created for himself. If your entire brand is always trying to do a kind of norm-shattering shock value, if you do that for four or five years straight, then attacking and shattering those norms becomes the norm, and it`s less interesting.

Let me tell you something. We know governing requires a lot more than slogans or tweets. And this former president is not even allowed to tweet anymore. That privilege was taken away from him. But I will tell you, the point here is one that would certainly wound the ex-blogger and ex-tweeter in Florida, because a lot of the data we have shows his shtick has become boring.

Now, what does everyone else do with that? Well, on the Democratic side, Senator Warren has a piece that many are discussing today that ran in "The New York Times," where she says, look, there`s 20 days left, and she`s telling her party, it is time to hit the accomplishments and have a clear governing leadership and message on taking on corporate power.

So, where do we go from here? And is Donald Trump the most boring person in the world right now?

Well, Chai Komanduri, a veteran of several Democratic presidential campaigns and friend of THE BEAT, and David Plouffe, the architect of Obama`s two big wins, are here when we`re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We are back with former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and longtime Democratic veteran and friend of THE BEAT on "Chai Days" Chai Komanduri.

[18:25:05]

Welcome to both of you.

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good to be here, Ari.

MELBER: Great to have you.

David. I`m sure you read "The Times"` piece with some interests and the moderate annoyance. Real party bosses, whatever the party, care about the party, right? There are people who actually care about the Republican Party, its policies, what it wants to do.

We know and I think the audience knows Donald Trump doesn`t care about that. He doesn`t care about policy. He eliminated the platform. So it`s party boss in quotes, but it`s a portrait of his strain for relevance against the metrics I just ran through, that he has become, in some measurable ways, David, boring.

What is the challenge and opportunity there?

DAVID PLOUFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

I mean, I have said for some time -- I may live to eat these words -- I doubt he ends up running, because I think, at the end of the day, you can see the trend lines. In some of the focus groups that have been reported on with Republicans, even people who like him say it`s time for something new, because they think that`s the best route to win.

And what`s fascinating about the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago is, I believe it`s quite likely the Republicans that are most successful this November in true swing competitive Senate, governor, and House races are those that show a little distance from Trump, even if it`s just, it`s time to move on, Joe Biden was elected.

But that`s not where the party is still. So I think the risk will be, what Trump is doing is deeply damaging his party. You remember back in `10 and `12, the Republicans left three, four, five Senate races on the cutting room floor because they nominated people that could not win general elections.

And I think that some of the people Trump`s laying hands on may lose winnable races. So that`s what`s fascinating. I think you see a dichotomy. But I think the folks that are going to end up doing the best with the general election, because I actually think there`s going to be swing voters, Ari, that will want to reward Republicans that show a little bit of separation from Trump.

You saw it in Virginia. I mean, Youngkin tried to dance a very delicate dance. But I think the signal that most voters in Virginia got, if not nationally, was, he was not Trump. He was kind of Mitt Romney 2.0.

MELBER: Yes. And, Chai, I mentioned this. We can throw it up back up on the screen.

I mentioned in the setup that there are signs that there`s less interest. I think we all know that, in 2015 or 2016, a Donald Trump Web site or news center or blog would have felt larger and bigger and certainly would have been boosted by Twitter and other things. This is just clicks.

And you see here -- I`m going to leave this up while you talk, Chai -- this is a crash for Donald Trump in interest in what he`s saying and doing.

KOMANDURI: It is.

But let me take a little bit of a contrary view to this. I totally agree. The metrics are very real. Trump`s influence has waned. It is declining. That is all very true.

The problem is that he is still by far the most powerful person in the Republican Party by a mile. He is the most important and influential member of that party. He is the person who is still most likely to be the GOP nominee in 2024. He`s still that by a long mile.

If you think about it historically...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Chai, are you allowed -- Chai, are you allowed to disagree with the former Obama campaign manager? I guess so.

(LAUGHTER)

KOMANDURI: Now I can, yes. I couldn`t do that before in 2008, but I can do it now.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Go ahead.

KOMANDURI: In addition to that, he also is somebody who`s done something really remarkable historically.

What he has done is, as an ex-president, he has positioned himself really as the leader and putative nominee of the party. Nobody was talking about Bush Sr. running again and being the nominee in `96. Nobody was talking about Jimmy Carter running again and being the nominee in `84.

Donald Trump, what he`s done, as an ex-president who has lost an election, is really remarkable. I mean, people bring up Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote. Donald Trump is a total loser on every level. He should have walked out of here disgraced and humiliated. And that is not what has occurred.

MELBER: David?

PLOUFFE: Well, I think again, he has enormous pull with -- I still think it`s dwindling, but still a large part of the Republican base that drives primaries, and that`s why you see the pilgrimages.

But we`re going to get some sense. I don`t think it`s a completely accurate sense. But I think, is J.D. Vance going to win the primary in Ohio? We will see. We`re going to have a record of people that he supported, and how they did in the primary, number one.

The most important question then will be, how do those people to if they get through the primary in the fall? And did the Trumpiest candidates outperform normal Republicans in swing districts or not? And my strong sense is, they will not.

But, yes, his pull is enormous. It is all about him. It`s not about the party. The reason I say I don`t think he`s going to run -- and I`m way out on a limb here -- is, we saw -- like, listen our democracy is just about ended right now because of his brittle ego.

[18:30:05]

The notion knows that he would run for president and not even get his party`s nomination -- and I think you`re going to see a hunger out there. And what`s interesting to me, Ari, is you have seen more Republicans -- they`re careful about it -- but starting to take issue with him.

But once this election is over, and the presidential election begins the day after the midterms, I think you`re going to see some of the Republican field be a little tougher with him, because this is their one shot to be president. And Trump or no Trump, they know it goes through him.

MELBER: Yes, as you say, the motives of someone like DeSantis or Cruz, who was plenty negative on Trump when he was running against him, that, as the incentives change, you may see that in a harsher, stronger way, because they really didn`t find a way to deal with him when he was ascendant within the party.

As for the mention of potential fringe candidates, this brings us back to the political culture. You can`t make a joke on "SNL" unless there`s widespread understanding of the punchline. And here was sort of their rendering of MTG and how fringe some of these right-wing Republicans are. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Hi, I`m Marjorie Taylor Greene.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I have been saying aggressively to all my Jewish and Muslim colleagues, happy Easter.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: So, happy Easter and God bless Russia -- I mean, America.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: But kind of both, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s funny enough, Chai, for people to recognize the habit, and yet what is serious there is casual bigotry, casual anti-Semitism, casual Putin support at a time that there are mass graves abroad, right, is not where the Republican Party historically has wanted to be, Chai.

KOMANDURI: Yes, but that`s also why Trump is still so powerful in the GOP.

You have a Trumpist base in the GOP. And Trump understands that nature abhors a vacuum. You can`t replace something with nothing. Trump is -- whatever you think of it, is offering him -- offering voters something, GOP base voters something.

The GOP has offered them nothing in return. Nobody has even tried to offer a Trumpian alternative that`s non-Trumpist to the GOP base. The only one who kind of has had been Ron DeSantis. And his solution has to be even -- to be even Trumpier than Trump.

MELBER: Trumpier than Trump, and yet he would argue, I think, behind closed doors that it`s less chaos, that Wall Street and those power bases can deal with a DeSantis, as a Harvard grad and a former Marine, I believe, former military, in a way that`s different than Donald Trump, but he can still do all the other, what`s the word, political crap.

KOMANDURI: Right.

MELBER: I suspect we will be hearing from both of you again as the midterms approach. I appreciate you joining us, David Plouffe and Chai Komanduri.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, Ari.

KOMANDURI: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you both.

Up ahead, an accountability story, Alex Jones in the soup. I will explain.

Also, these revelations about Mike Lee`s leaked texts and why Obama`s former top prosecutor is getting involved. Neal Katyal is here to explain when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:26]

MELBER: New scrutiny of Republican Senator Mike Lee for his involvement and discussions that could have overthrown the 2020 election, these text messages that were sent to the top folks in the White House.

This was in the days after through -- the days of the election through January. Mike Lee`s role in Trump`s attempted coup, reads one headline, "Mike Lee Has Some Explaining To Do," according "The Washington Post," and "Mike Lee Busted For Lying About His Role in the Election Scheme."

Here`s how he sounded on January 6.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Our job is to open and then count, open, then count. That`s it. That`s all there is.

Now, there are, of course, rare instances, instances in which multiple slates of electors can be submitted by the same state. That doesn`t happen very often. Happened in 1960. It happened in 1876. That did not happen here, thank heavens, and let`s hope that it never does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Let`s hope it never happens that there are alternate slates.

This is the Mike Lee you meet in public. That was on television a day when he knew many would be watching, January 6, and you get the impression of an honest conservative very concerned about the state of democracy.

And yet this is what he was secretly texting. CNN first obtained these in their scoop. NBC has verified the texts here for our coverage. Lee told the chief of staff on November 7: "Exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy."

And then referring to one of Trump`s most controversial lawyers, he has really interesting research on this. Now, that`s the lawyer who was pushing the coup plans.

Bob Woodward, who knows his way around White House corruption, has a report that Lee was shocked to receive a memo from Eastman on January 2 about seven states transmitting dual states of electors. But Lee`s texts about the really interesting research was back in November. It`s up to Mike Lee to clarify why he seemed so supportive of going down this road in private.

On December 8, Lee also texted the chief of staff: "If a very small handful of states were to have legislators appoint alternate state of delegates, there could be a path."

Well, a path to what is the question.

We are joined by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal to get back into it.

Thanks for being here.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.

MELBER: I mentioned the two portraits here, because it`s not news to our viewers that politicians say one thing and do another. But rarely do you have it so close together. Mike Lee seems to be pushing the idea that this stuff would just happen and, if it did, it would create a tougher call for Congress to potentially get involved or overthrow the outcome.

[18:40:04]

And yet the texts, at a legal or investigative level, at least, Neal, seem to raise questions about what he was trying to do. Break it down for us.

KATYAL: A hundred percent, Ari.

So I guess it turns out that Mike Lee was for alternative slates of electors before he was against them. And it is so sad, because I didn`t think of Mike Lee as some ordinary politician. I have had a great deal of respect for him. I used to debate him on C-SPAN and stuff on constitutional topics.

His dad was a former solicitor general of the United States, enormously well-respected, and nobody ever doubted that man`s love of the country and Constitution. And what these e-mails depict is something far different, twisted and different. It`s a win-at-all-costs mentality.

Indeed, the texts show the only reason that Mike Lee backs down from this crazy plot, it`s not because it`s wrong. It`s because he can`t get it to succeed, because it`s so harebrained, it can`t work. But that`s the reason.

And it shows what this guy -- what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party, even formally good-meaning people like Mike Lee. And they don`t even really realize it. I mean, Mike Lee, two weeks ago voted against Justice Jackson, Ketanji Brown Jackson`s nomination, because he said that she wouldn`t uphold the Constitution.

My God. I mean, when push came to shove, and Mike Lee was asked to uphold the Constitution at a dark moment, what did he do? He plotted with Mark Meadows and others to try and subvert our constitutional democracy. It`s a disgrace, disgrace.

MELBER: Yes.

Well, I see your concern. I appreciate your candor, Neal. I mean, when you look at that night, I mean, I remember I was -- I`m sure you do. Many people do. It was this terrible day, with deaths and violence at the Capitol. And then they come back to the Senate floor, and you see Mike Lee clearly trying to turn that corner and try to present himself as someone who says, hey, guys, this isn`t how it works.

He clearly doesn`t want to own the violence that occurred on the floor, this -- where he was standing. And yet now it`s all out. And this, again, goes to why these investigations matter. I`m not aware of anyone at this juncture suggesting any criminal liability for Senator Lee. We`re talking about something more nuanced, but quite important.

Your former colleague -- you were acting solicitor general. Attorney General Holder was the person in charge of DOJ for a period of time. This is what he says. And I remind viewers he doesn`t weigh in on everything.

But he says, Mike Lee must be confronted about his -- quote -- "actions to subvert our electoral process and held accountable." And the media, he says, should look at this not as partisan, but as part of the job of getting to the bottom of it.

What do you think of that point from Holder and what Lee owes at least his constituents, if not the nation?

KATYAL: Eric Holder is absolutely right, 100 percent.

I mean, and it may not be criminal, Ari. It might be. But it`s certainly a betrayal of our constitutional democracy, or that`s the way it looks from these texts. Now, maybe he`s got some explanation. I`d like to hear it.

MELBER: Sure.

KATYAL: And I`d like to hear people like Senator Romney, who`ve stood up for the Constitution in these moments, from his state ask some of these questions.

And there`s a really important in our article today are in The Bulwark by Amanda Carpenter. And what she does is, she really goes into an explanation of what Senator Lee was doing, that he was trying to get legislators to try and throw out the popular vote.

And she goes through this in some detail. And I guess you could say, well, nobody`s perfect. I mean, who among us hasn`t made a rush to judgment and realized they made a mistake? But this is really a constitutional betrayal. This is not some minor thing.

MELBER: Neal Katyal all with the democracy is dying dad joke pun. We`re here for it.

Congressman Raskin also speaking out. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): This was a coup organized by the president against the vice president and against the Congress in over -- in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Trump was prepared to seize the presidency and likely to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Based on what he knows.

Your response to that and the fact that, at every turn, Trump never showed the ultimate willingness -- I`m not going to use a word like boldness -- but whatever you want to call it, he didn`t do some of those things when he was alone. He wanted the A.G. or someone to cover him.

Your final reaction there?

KATYAL: Right.

I mean, Congressman Raskin obviously has access to information that you and I don`t, but the information we have seen shows exactly that, that Trump would have done it if he could get away with it. And he enlisted or at least he had the support of all sorts of people, like Mike Lee, who were plotting before, during and after the election to try and hand Trump the presidency, even if he didn`t win the actual vote or the Electoral College vote.

I mean, this is -- it doesn`t get more chilling than this, Ari. And so I know we talk about crime a lot and so on, but there`s a much deeper thing here, which is, the essence of what our democracy is, is giving everyone the right to vote.

[18:45:06]

And what these people wanted to do was literally take it away and give it to the hands of some state legislators, people -- most Americans don`t even know who their state legislators are -- and have them pick the next president...

MELBER: Yes, and steal...

KATYAL: ... instead of the voters. Insane.

MELBER: And steal the election, exactly.

Neal Katyal, thank you, sir.

When we come back, as promised, the accountability for Alex Jones.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Alex Jones is a liar. That has been shown in court.

And there`s new heat on him, which goes to the accountability stories that we have been covering, whether they`re in and out of political news.

[18:50:00]

Jones company Infowars has now filed for bankruptcy. It`s igniting accusations that he is actually trying to duck the very accountability that so many have been seeking, including in lawful cases against him.

The bankruptcy filing comes a week before a Texas jury is assessing how much money he must pay to Sandy Hook families because of his brutal and terrible, heartbreaking lies about their losses. He was found liable for defamation.

Jones` conspiracies led people to harass those grieving families. He at times made outlandish claims, like people were faking the deaths of those children. And it led to this lawsuit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VERONIQUE DE LA ROSA, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: He no longer gets to desecrate my son`s memory. He no longer gets to negate my pain and profit from it.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: With that false news, he doesn`t -- he just doesn`t care who he hurts, the impact that it has on people who already had the worst thing that happened -- could ever happen in your life, to lose a child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s just some of the view of the parents.

This bankruptcy legally could try to let Infowars operate while hitting pause on what they owe creditors, Infowars listing his creditors, the relatives of some of the children and teachers who died in the shooting. That relates to the fact that he will owe money for this defamation.

Jones says that the company is maxed out. His lawyer claims the allegations that this is all a way to hide money are ridiculous. They`re basically trying to say, we really are broke.

Back in March, families rejected the most recent settlement offer of a measly $120,000. They want more accountability. And as we have been reporting this story, we have told you, it can be a slow process, but there are ways to hold these liars accountable. And this suit is a powerful one.

Another update I wanted to bring you today, a Florida judge has struck down the Biden administration`s mask mandate for planes, trains and buses as unlawful, a judge saying the CDC actually overstepped its own authority, that it violates procedures required for any agency rulemaking, basically not saying you could never do this, but they did it the wrong way.

And at, the White House Jen Psaki responding today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The CDC recommended continuing the order for additional time, two weeks, to be able to assess the latest science, in keeping with its responsibility to protect the American people.

So this is obviously a disappointing decision. The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We have covered some of the times where the courts have upheld some of these safety rules.

What`s interesting here is, at the lower court level, this is news of a court striking one down. The Biden administration also saying DOJ will consider whether to appeal this. So that`s an update on that big story.

Now, when we come back, we go in a totally different direction, as I ask, what does Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen have in common with an announcement I`m sharing with you?

The answer is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:13]

MELBER: The music world is marking a milestone for one of its most iconic leaders, the music mogul behind Springsteen, Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel so many other artists, Clive Davis, who`s celebrating his 90th birthday.

And he`s joining me this Thursday for a panel event in Manhattan. You can get tickets at the link you see coming up. Clive`s name may be familiar from all the artists he`s worked with or from our interview where he discussed the 1960s scene, being open to new ideas, and why success only takes you so far. Here are the highlights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIVE DAVIS, MUSIC PRODUCER: Everything there was in robes, and flowers were in your hair. And here was I in khakis and a white tennis sweater.

I was seeing an artist I had never experienced before. Everything that she would do would be history.

MELBER: Clive stays relevant because Clive is open. What does that mean?

DAVIS: Gil Scott-Heron was the first rap artist I was ever involved with. Most people never thought that rap would dominate top 40.

MELBER: You had to take a risk or a bet.

DAVIS: I had a healthy respect for failure.

If you can keep evolving and that your material and your songs can still be appealing after 30, 40, 50 years, that is success.

I don`t think anyone`s going to play my artists` records because I signed Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen. You have got to prove it each time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You got to prove it each time.

And I should mention his recent 90th bash. There were many artists who feel he`s done that decade after decade. Bruce Springsteen sang. Barry Manilow sang. Alicia Keys gave wonderful remarks. Busta Rhymes was there.

In what we might call a party disclosure, I should mention, I was honored to be there too. I caught up with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Clive himself. We will have even more time to talk this Thursday night, April 21.

So I do invite you to join us at the 92nd Street Y here in New York. You can go to the link on your screen to get tickets, or you can check our Twitter page, or just Google "Clive Davis Melber." It will be the first link. We will be talking music, culture, the business of creativity, and much more.

If you come, I`m sure we`d love to meet you. Just go to 92y.org/event/Clive-Davis what you see on your screen. I can also tell you, most of the seats are gone. It`s this Thursday. There are a few left. So, go to the link now if you want to join us. It will also stream online if you`re interested and you`re located somewhere else.

So, thank you for joining us here on THE BEAT. You can also, while you`re online, connect with me @AriMelber.com and go @THEBEATWITHARI, where we have that link posted as well.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.