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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/26/22

Guests: David Frum, Rick Wilson, Yodit Tewolde


New audio revealed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy feared violent rhetoric from his GOP colleagues following the violence on Capitol Hill, and yet failed to do something about it. Toyota among several major companies that quietly resumed donations to Republican lawmakers who denied the 2020 election results after pledging not to right after the Capitol attack. Rick Wilson joins THE BEAT to talk about major companies' resuming donation to the election. Elon Musk's buyout puts scrutiny on Twitter's impact.


STOHR: And this is what -- and again, democracy depends upon this, so I think there is a way to make it clear to the American people what is at stake here. It's just a matter of whether that message will be made.

WALLACE: And whether we still believe what we see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Charlie Sykes, Jake who we lost to some reporting. Our thanks to all of you for being part of our breaking coverage.

Much more on the breaking news. THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari. What a day.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: What a day. Thank you very much, Nicolle. Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber. And as Nicolle was just saying, we are continuing the breaking news coverage of these newly leaked secret tapes from Leader Kevin McCarthy.

These are the audio recordings that are ricocheting across Washington. "The New York Times" obtained them and they reveal how Leader McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, was worrying that what his far-right colleagues were saying and doing could literally incite violence after the riot and insurrection. This has been a big story, but if you are just catching up with it as it's been breaking, here's the first tape. This is from January 10th.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The other thing that we have to do is these members on either -- whatever position you are, calling out other members that's got to stop. Tension is too high. The country is too crazy. I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don't want to play politics with any of that.


MELBER: That is what sounds like a seriously concerned leader who's just seen the insurrection that Trump led. This was back during that time that Kevin McCarthy has been lying about and hiding that he was privately, secretly, according to now this newer evidence, really concerned that Donald Trump had caused the insurrection, and that worse things could happen, and as you heard just there, the people in his caucus could potentially stoke what was that tense period.

Of course Biden had not come into power yet. The transition of power had not occurred yet. There was all of that concern over what might help over the next 10 days, and that's what he was worried about, what his own side, his own members were doing. Then this other audio, you hear Republican leadership calling out Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, and Gohmert for their rhetoric, worried again in this tense period that there could be more death, more insurrection-type activity, more violence.


MCCARTHY: I just got something sent now about Newsmax, something Matt Gaetz said where he's calling people's names out, saying an anti-Trump in this type of atmosphere, and some of the other places. This is serious stuff people are doing that has to stop.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Mo and Louie's comments, too, a lot of members have said some real concerning things. It's potentially illegal what he's doing.

MCCARTHY: He's putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn't need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol. You know, and these people came prepared with rope and everything else.


MELBER: Prepared with rope to assassinate and hang the vice president among others. You can hear the concern on the tape, and by the way, it also gives lie and hypocrisy to what McCarthy and others have said in public about cancel culture, about the concerns about speech, which of course free speech that doesn't involve violence is protected. But here they are privately saying the obvious, that if you incite violence, if you bring rope, if you break the law, if you storm the Capitol, well, that's not speech anymore, and they were concerned it was going to get worse.

I'm joined now by former U.S. attorney, prosecutor Joyce Vance, and David Frum, a veteran of conservative politics in a Republican White House, writer with the "Atlantic," he was a special assistant to George W. Bush.

Welcome to you both. Before we get to the law, I go to you on the entire context, David. What you hear there in that tense period sounds like people who were concerned more about violence than so-called cancel culture or other political claims of the right. It seems like they were really worried. What do you see as the significance in what's revealed on these tapes?

DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC SENIOR EDITOR: It just travels us back in time to where we were in January after the -- this terrible incident. You'll remember during the second impeachment trial, when this matter went to the Senate, people like Mitch McConnell didn't say, this was fine, nothing doing. They came up with a series of tactical reasons -- there hadn't been enough process, President Trump was leaving office soon any way, but they went on the record about how dreadful what happened was and how Donald Trump was to blame.

McConnell said that on the floor of the Senate. McCarthy spoke less forcefully, but also clearly. Donald Trump was to blame for what happened here, he was morally and practically responsible. That was McConnell's phrase. And what we have seen is a Republican leadership that knows the truth being pushed away from it. Now I don't know whether it's better or worse.


It's a hard question, that they know the truth and don't say it or they're so deluded and crazy and vicious and anti-constitutional that they don't know. But what we do see, and this is the last piece of context is that many people are coming to the Congress in 2022 if the polls are right, who are not at McConnell and McCarthy positions and sincerely believe that Donald Trump was justified in his attempts to overturn the election, first by fraud and then by force.

MELBER: Yes. And Joyce, we heard Scalise there, who knows well about the risk of violence and has lived that. We hear him talk about, well, some of these people are going past a line that could be illegal. Is he correct in that concern? He was talking about allies of the then-President Trump and some of his even Republican colleagues.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: He's absolutely correct in his assessment that it's possible that they're over the line, and Ari, I think you laid out just right, as Americans we have a First Amendment right to assemble and to speak, but at some point if you're involved in inciting violence, you can cross that line. You can be part of a conspiracy, whether you're actually present or not, that's involved in that sort of criminal conduct.

And so Representative Scalise is correct to have those concerns. It's a shame that the leadership of the Republican Party is not the leadership that we hear on those tapes, that rather the leadership or the leaders who emerged, who made apologies, who refused to vote for impeachment, it was leadership that was craven.

The worst aspect of these tapes is that it's clear now, and I think it has been for some time, that the leadership of the Republican Party understood what the president had done, whether it was political crimes or whether it was actual crimes that people can be charged with under the criminal code, they knew that it was wrong, they knew that it was dangerous, but they were more interested in power and party than they were in country. They need to be held accountable now that we hear their own words acknowledging that.

MELBER: David?

FRUM: Yes. It is true they clearly knew, and we saw that in the handling of the first impeachment. Let's not -- let the second impeachment -- you know, let's not distract attention from one scandal by another enormous scandal. Republicans also knew that it was wrong that Donald Trump blackmailed the president of Ukraine, the now embattled president of Ukraine. They understood it then, and we saw that they tried to drive the delivery of arms that Donald Trump tried to stop in order to get political vantage.

And this has been a story I think that people come on shows like this night after night for the past half dozen years to tell you, which you close the door, you open the taps, you listen to the member of the House and the Senate, and they actually are as alarmed as anybody else, actually more alarmed because they spent more time with Donald Trump. They know more of what he's like. The more you know him, the more you fear him, the less you like him.

And yet, and yet, the private selves, their true knowledge does not turn into public service, and that's just enormously depressing. That's I think one of the reasons why so many Republicans are trying to find a way to ramp up Ron DeSantis. It's a way to maybe solve this problem from their point of view, but it doesn't solve the problem from the national point of view.

MELBER: Enormously depressing. David Frum, gifted with words giving it to us straight. Eight minutes into the hour, you know, you may make people want to just throw their hands up. But as you say, it's deeply depressing because there aren't more benign interpretations. And if you're an optimist, and that's part of the sort of traditional American spirit, you look for well, improvement or maybe they could learn.

But it's worse when they knew and then back slid and got worse since the insurrection. I don't know if on Jan 10 or 15 this is what even the very skilled Washington insider types, people who really think they know these folks would have seen coming.

Our panel stays, I want to play something else, which is this was before the new audio drop, but new. Kevin McCarthy taking heat from another Republican about the lies. Here is House Freedom Caucus member Andy Biggs.


REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): We have our leader that's basically negotiating with Liz Cheney on whether he should encourage President Trump to resign or not. It becomes a huge, huge trust issue.


MELBER: By trust issue, he means that his problem is that McCarthy was critical of Trump, not all the other ways as we were just discussing, that this has got McCarthy in hot water. Meanwhile, here's Mitch McConnell asked about McCarthy today.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Leader McConnell, do you have any concerns over the fact that Kevin McCarthy has so publicly lied about what he said right after the January 6th insurrection?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, I can tell you that I addressed that issue at length on two occasions, on January 6th and again on February 13th.



MELBER: Starting with David, that sounds like a deposition answer if I've ever heard one.

FRUM: Well, it's also McConnell saying a little bit, I play this game better than McCarthy. And I just watch these moves. And lying is for amateurs. The really skilled person evades. That's what McConnell was saying there.

You know, to Andy Biggs and the trust issue, that it -- he and others like him are digging in deeper and making the '22 ballot issue this preservation of American democracy. And the thing that is so mad about this, even from a Republican point of view, is, look, what these elections, when the president is not on the ballot, are asked the American people, have you got any complaints?

And the American people almost always say, well, come to think of it, yes, I do, and they vote against the president to register their complaints. The only way you get in the way of that vote, that says (INAUDIBLE), well, let me make this a referendum on Donald Trump, who remains one of the least popular figures in American life, one of the least popular presidents ever. And then the Republicans themselves want him out of the way except they want them out of the way on the Homer Simpson principle, let somebody else do it.

MELBER: Shout-out to Homer. But he wasn't always the first person you wanted to trust with nuclear safety. If you remember, Joyce, he worked at a -- I believe at a nuclear power plant. And who can forget when Monty Burns bought Twitter?

VANCE: And ate a lot of donuts.

MELBER: And love donuts. Shout-out to all the Monty Burns fans out there.

Joyce, a hard turn to where the investigations meet the time line that David is talking about because Garland, DOJ, they're supposed to just do the work. We've heard a lot in the last election cycles about staying about of that election window in that season, and yet going into these midterms we have -- waiting on a trial for Steve Bannon, whenever that happens. We have a sedition conspiracy case as well as the lesser lower offenders.

And we have the question of whether they go up the line and find anyone else. Do you see any of that accelerating in the next few months and then how will they avoid what would be the midterm season window?

VANCE: So Merrick Garland has consistently said that these cases will proceed at a speed that's dictated by the development of the evidence and that the work will dictate the path, not politics. He reasserted that today as he spoke to Congress in oversight hearings and talked about that, and I take him at his word, Ari, because the prohibition on political activity as you approach an election is about people who are on the ballot.

It's not about people who aren't on the ballot. It's not about Steve Bannon. It's not about the Oath Keepers. It's not even about Donald Trump, who isn't formally on the ballot in 2022. DOJ needs to move ahead full speed, something that I suspect many Republicans have spoken about privately. We've seen reporting in the last few days that Mitch McConnell suggested that he believed the Democrats would take care of their Donald Trump problem, that the conduct was so outrageous.

MELBER: Right.

VANCE: That that time had come and that their problem would be ameliorated. That's never happened.


VANCE: And it's time for accountability. DOJ needs to do its job. The January 6th Committee needs to do its job. It's time for Democratic leadership in this country to match the failure of democratic leadership on the Republican side of the aisle with strong firm leadership that simply proceeds to do the work. And sure, they'll have to show their math to the American people, if they want convictions in criminal cases or if they want folks to pay attention to the political story that the January 6th Committee will tell.

But it's time. It's past time. And these tapes that are so revelatory in the last couple of days make it clear that it's urgent because this issue is on the ballot this year.

MELBER: Right. And then you turn to, as you say, the ballot this year. I mean, David, I did want to get your reaction. We've seen this play out in some of these Republican primary debates where you mentioned it earlier in our discussion how you can focus on what's going on or what's going wrong and make arguments about inflation or war or anything else, and yet here's what the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary looked like last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former president Donald Trump continues to talk about the 2020 election. Is it time for the Republican Party the move forward?

DR. MEHMET OZ (R), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA: I have discussed with President Trump that we cannot move on.

KATHY BARNETTE (R), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA: Absolutely not. There is nothing more important than making sure that my one vote matters.

DAVE MCCORMICK (R), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA: We have a tragedy here that most Republican voters in Pennsylvania don't believe in the integrity of the election.

CARLA SANDS (R), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA: Senator Rand Paul said the election of 2020 was stolen by the "Zuck Bucks."

JEFF BARTOS (R), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA: The 2020 election was a catalyst for what we're seeing now.


MELBER: And before I bring David back, just take one more look at what a Republican is saying in Georgia.


DAVID PERDUE (R), FORMER GEORGIA SENATOR: First off, folks, let me be very clear tonight. The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen.


All the madness we see from the Biden administration, all that started right here in Georgia when our governor caved and allowed radical Democrats to steal our election.


MELBER: David?

FRUM: I'm reminded of a story that Karen Hughes tells in her memoir. My old colleague in the Bush White House, director of communications. She was walking along the beach and saw one of those advertising fliers, planes carry a flyer behind it that said, Jill, come back, I am miserable without you, Jack. And she thought, that message, Jack, too much about you, not enough about her.

And listen, this is Republicans talking to themselves. Now supposing you're a Pennsylvania voter who, you know, voted for Obama maybe a couple of times, tried Donald Trump in 2016, voted for Biden in 2020. You're worried about inflation, you're worried about crime, but Trump is history, and you know, you know. You voted for Biden in 2020. You know that. You're prepared to do something different in '22 as you were in 2016 but you know you voted for Biden, and so did your cousins and so did your neighbors, and the people in your town.

You know that he won Pennsylvania. And now they're trying to tell you let's talk about how you are lying to me about how you voted? That's not about crime, that's not about inflation, that's not about the concerns that actual people will actually decide elections. That is a party talking to itself about its own neurosis in a way that actually its own leaders know is a lie.

MELBER: Fair. Well put. And we're running over on time, but as a follow-up, David, did Karen say did Jill ultimately take him back?

FRUM: I don't think she had any way of knowing that. She just saw the plane.

MELBER: Yes. Well, we do. We take our follow-ups seriously here. So we did want to get to the bottom of that if we could.

My thanks to David and Joyce. Serious stuff, with our notes of "The Simpsons" and whatnot, where we could get that in. Thanks to both of you.

Let me tell folks what's coming up because we have when we look at this January 6th fallout, new reporting on how all these big corporations who said they were going draw a line at the insurrection are not. It's a story about accountability and Wall Street.

Also, fallout from Elon Musk trying to buy Twitter. We have a lot on that tonight. My special thoughts, as well as why he's getting roasted on late- night. Stay with us.



MELBER: We've been covering these brand newly leaked audio recording of GOP leader Kevin McCarthy in the tense days after January 6th, including his concern that Republicans -- these are his own members of his caucus -- could be the ones inciting violence.


MCCARTHY: Tension is too high. The country is too crazy. I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don't want to play politics with any of that.


MELBER: One thing that comes out here is if this was an authentic true concern in that moment at that time then he cared, he was aware of the risk of violence. But the problem, of course, is what happened after that. McCarthy has lied about all this, lied about his concerns about the violence and Trump, and then he has claimed publicly that he had a whole change of heart.

It's thematically similar to another revelation that we're bringing you tonight. This involves major companies like Toyota and others who said that they were drawing a line with the insurrection. But there's new reporting that shows corporate donations going to the election in members of Congress who were part of the you might say procedural part of overthrowing the Biden election.

And what matters here is we talked just earlier to David Frum about the mood at the time, these companies pledged to cut off the donations, a move that hundreds of corporate leaders made in the days after January 6th. And Toyota had said it was thinking of doing the same. It was assessing future criteria for donations in light of the insurrection. And then a few months later you have reporting that Toyota gave $55,000 to 37 Republican who plotted to subvert the election. That's double the amount of any other company.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, FORMER MSNBC HOST, THE 11TH HOUR: Toyota has given to 37 of the Republicans who voted for the big lie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toyota has given more money than any company to the seditious politicians who voted to overturn the 2020 election result.

WILLIAMS: Toyota put out what is to my memory the worst statement. "We do not believe it is appropriate to judge member of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification."

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, THE REIDOUT: For officially caring more about cozying up to power no matter how seditious than about America continuing to be a democracy. Toyota, you are tonight's absolute worst.


MELBER: There was reporting, there was criticism, there was pressure, and there are signs it all had an impact because then just after some of what you saw there in the middle of the year, in July, Toyota said it would stop these donations to what many were calling the sedition caucus, saying in a statement, it was committed to supporting actions that further our democracy, and quote, "recent assertion or claim of principle by that company."

Well, the news here is here we go again. Toyota now under fire for the second time because I guess they don't think anyone's paying attention, they restarted the donations again last month. An independent journalist named Judd Legume broke this story and showed that Toyota was resuming those donations, at least trying to do it quietly to four people, you see on your screen, Republicans who were part of that effort to overthrow Biden's lawful victory.

That includes Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who not only voted to overturn the election results but then also was refusing to impeach Trump and voted against any formation of the bipartisan January 6th Committee.


Toyota is now saying that after a six-month pause, well, they just changed their mind, that they will continue to donate, but withhold money from those who they think create an atmosphere that incites violence. We'll get into how that moves the goal post, but this is much bigger than any single company. Intel, Citi, General Electric, Amazon. All have waivered or changed what was their initial stark line for how they were going to donate to people who are overthrowing democracy.

So what happened here? Well, at a minimum, any of these companies thought this was one of those baselines that might not be political, which is to say, not that they were drawing some huge democracy line, but they just figured this was a line that would hold. They may not have reasoned, as Kevin McCarthy didn't himself reason, how popular supporting aspects of the insurrection would become on the right in the subsequent year.

And now some are also just back in the shadows. They're trying to do this without getting caught. This is one of those fights that matters and also tells you not about the past but about the future of what is going to be the baseline in our democracy. For example, supporting it or not.

We have a guest who has been in on this exact fight and is part of the effort to press these companies further, when we're back in 60 seconds.


MELBER: We are back with Rick Wilson, a longtime political operative and cofounder of the Lincoln Project, which has been pressing corporations like Toyota for moving around and now donating to election deniers.

And Rick, I want to just start with the obvious, companies can choose to do what they want in a free market economy and free society. It's not saying that all companies should have some grand set of positions. Different companies do things different ways. But the speed with which these companies went from trying to claim a line to moving their own line and hiding it tells you what about where we're at? And then tell us in addition what you're trying to do about it.

RICK WILSON, THE LINCOLN PROJECT CO-FOUNDER: Well, the thing that's happening here is that Washington is a very comfortable town for lobbyist who go to their corporate sponsors and say, hey, I'm going to go call McCarthy. He'll take care of this. However, there's going to be a risk if we don't. And there's a perception among the corporate world that the Republicans will take power in the fall and there will be punitive action against them if they don't pony up right now.

And this is a very simple transactional nature of D.C. And so it allows these companies to say, well, OK, we're going to give to people who would have overthrown the entire system that allows free market capitalism to operate in the first place.

MELBER: Right.

WILSON: Because the substitute here isn't Republican versus Democrat, it's American versus corporate authoritarianism, where if you're favored by the regime in power you'll get good things for your bottom line. If you're not, you'll be put out of business. And so these companies are afraid that Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell will have power in the fall. They're afraid of the Trump mob. And this dynamic that's happening in D.C. right now, it really shows you that these companies do not share American values.

I mean, companies like Toyota have done enormously well in the American market because this is a free market that protects legitimate lawful practice in commerce. They are backing people who would burn it all to the ground, Ari.

MELBER: Yes. When you put it that way, I think it's important because, you know, we've covered civil rights, human rights, other universal values in our journalism here. This particular discussion is about something much narrower, which is, are you going to have a Putin style kleptocracy?

WILSON: Correct.

MELBER: Where business, finance, et cetera is controlled by a quasi or fully authoritarian system or not? And so we've seen that. It's interesting, we've seen that with Republicans really going against free market capitalism. Now I don't know if you want to call that, you know, proto-authoritarian or what used to be associated with a Cuban style, which is more potentially left.


Whatever you call it, it isn't conservatism. It isn't capitalism. As we understand it with freedom. And that's what we've also seen in Florida with DeSantis, saying companies either follow his political agenda, which is to say he does not respect free markets or free speech.

Companies don't have free speech, even if they are technically people, under precedents, whether people like it or not, no, they have to follow the DeSantis speech, or they pay for it. And so, you're pushing back on that in sort of the public square, let's show a little bit of your ad, Lincoln Project ad on Toyota.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toyota's number one at finding ways to financially reward the very party that took our nation to the brink on January 6, helping finance a movement that violently sought to take votes away from American customers not to mention Toyota's own employees.


MELBER: What are you trying to achieve here with that somewhat tongue-in- cheek yet also serious point?

RICK WILSON, CO-FOUNDER, THE LINCOLN PROJECT: Ari we used all the sort of visual tropes and motifs of a real car ad, but we made it clear that Toyota has decided that they're going to put their customers, including -- you know, look, let's get back to one of the things those people voted for on one-six. They wanted to invalidate the votes of hundreds of thousands of African-American voters in Georgia, and Pennsylvania, and Ohio, in particular. They were trying to disenfranchise their customers. They were trying to disenfranchise America more broadly.

And so, Toyota is decided they're going to be investors in this. They're going to join this edition caucus. And as you noted, about DeSantis, they're part -- they're going to be funding the movement that essentially replaces American free-market capitalism with, you know, Cuban style authoritarianism, or Soviet-style authoritarianism, where winners and losers are selected by not the marketplace, but by the government in power. And so, these folks that made this decision, we're going to make sure that we've got this ad running around the 20, the largest Toyota dealers in the country.

We're going to make sure their clients see it digitally. We're going to make sure they see it in their headquarters. We're going to make sure that folks are aware of this in the markets, because Toyota, we believe -- and many other companies, let's be honest, they're not the only people that are bad actors here. Many of these folks are going to have to face up to the fact that America is watching. People do no. You can file these reports every three months in Washington for your FEC spending reports in your donation reports.

But we know right now, what's happening. We're going to make people aware of it. And there are millions and millions of Americans who do not want to see this country burn to the ground, and do not want to see companies that they want -- you know, you go out and you spend 40, 50, 60 grand on a car with Toyota, you don't want to think to yourself, well, wow, I'm going to be funding Andy Biggs or Matt Gaetz, or Marjorie Taylor Greene, or any these other lunatics who would burn this country down for political power.

So, we believe this is something that millions of Americans are alert to, you know, our group, the union has got over 60,000 phone calls going out to the Toyota in the next 24 to 48 hours. And we're going to push hard on this thing. We're going to make sure that they understand people are watching and listening, and that we're not going to let democracy slip away for political convenience.

MELBER: Yes, it's very interesting. And as you say, these corporations are multinational companies. When they are spending money that supports the people you mentioned, well, it's their investors and customers' money, that's where the money comes from. So, if they get conjoined that way, and people realize that's what happens when you buy a given car. That's pretty striking. Rick, we were interested in the effort, we want to learn about it from the source. So, thanks for spending time with us. Rick Wilson. Thank you, sir.

Coming up, we -- absolutely appreciate it. We're going to get into something that I had been reporting on and spoke to you about last night. What we're learning about Elon Musk's plans for Twitter, why it matters for our democracy. And my special report, that's coming up tonight and then later, an update on the story about why Republican Greg Abbott is under so much heat for how executions work and fail in his state of Texas. The mother, whose execution was just halted more on that later tonight.




JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC: He wants to transform Twitter as a platform for free speech around the globe. And that's a problem with Twitter. No one could say what they think they're holding back.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC: He now owns SpaceX and Twitter. Like Musk is thinking I've seen the heavens. Now on to hell.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL: I obviously don't know why Elon would want to own Twitter, right? It just doesn't seem like a fun place to supervise right now. And I was like buying Jurassic Park after the power went down in the cages are opened.


MELBER: That's just some of the fun people are having about Elon Musk buying Twitter for that whopping price tag of $44 billion. The largest buyout to take a company private in 20 years. And naturally, people are weighing in on Twitter. Musk has been making this hard push that the whole plan here is about his altruistic goals to help free speech around the world. Which has led some to mark him noting that he previously talked about ending world hunger, something he has not spent nearly as much money on and is now just, you know buying part of Twitter instead.

It is certainly possible to run a profitable business and help the world. As we've noted before, Musk is doing that with Tesla wildly successful, valuable company that helps the environment. But few billionaires seriously claim their business projects are motivated by charity.


And if Twitter is returned to wide and open free speech that would make it something like a neutral ground, like a street or park where anyone can peacefully protest and walk down the middle of the street and say what they want.

But the reactions pouring in seem to assume that Musk is not just going for neutrality that he's welcoming something else. Indeed, there's emotional and political excitement that Trump could come back on the platform and use it as part of his rebound. He claims he won't, but he was kicked off forcibly, and he did use to use it to great effect. While over at Fox, they have been salivating over this and are now happy with the outcome.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, FOX NEWS: Elon Musk believes in free speech.

LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS: It's in Elon Musk's hands. Can you believe it? Now, he literally had to come up with $44 billion to make a stand for free speech.


MELBER: The idea there, is using the term free speech to connote, to convey something other than just its original meaning, and Musk is in on this type of rhetoric. He's not just defending abstract values of free speech. He has been baiting and trolling people. He did it again today tweeting this triumphant statement that the extreme reaction from those who fear free speech says it all. He's referring to the reaction to him buying Twitter.

Now, let's listen to this very smart marketer and think about what he's doing because that brief, catchy read tweetable statement positions Elon Musk as a self-anointed principal defender of free speech and that he and he alone is fighting off these fearful unprincipled critics.

What a great narrative for him. Certainly, better than skepticism of the world's richest person consolidating more power, or facing the harder questions about how to respect free speech, which is good. And competing values that also matter, like say, safety, or in some cases privacy. Does Elon Musk know about those trade-offs?

Yes, Musk himself sought to stop or censor a Twitter account that was posting about his private plane travel. He was concerned apparently about safety and privacy. And he may have had a valid point. Although a free speech absolutist might argue that any such speech -- speech or words about his plane, which did not break a law would have to be allowed.

He didn't think so then and he didn't have this power yet then. Musk got where he is by taking risks pursuing profits and building power. Nothing about his record suggests that he is now making the largest business purchase of his life as a sudden, veering turn off into just pursuing charity. Those goals I mentioned animate his work and that's perfectly legal and fine.

But I got to tell you, it has been remarkable to see so many self- proclaimed free-market conservatives swallow Musk's claim that his business will now just prioritize anti-business principles or some sort of academic speech agenda above profits and the pressures of running this giant company.

Now, he may be more free speech-oriented than Twitter's current leadership when it aligns with Musk's profits. And Twitter's recent leadership has been very inconsistent. We've talked about that on the program as well. But let's be real, most social media companies have continually put profits above users who are treated more like a product. And many have put profits above democracy and then claim to course-correct only when the pressure is heavy enough. Well as a private company, Musk's Twitter will be even less subject to public pressure.

And then there's the money. Remember, Twitter still loses money every year, its value is wrapped up in its influence and potential future profits, not its current framework. There is very little evidence that Musk intends to manage this company's finances as a status quo that loses money or loses more money next year than it did before. So, what does it all mean?

Well, billionaires are consolidating more control over the economy, over the government. And over the flow of information more than any point in history, we can measure that. Some billionaires are doing all of that, and then getting millions of people to root them on as also just automatic defenders of the people.

But it is worth being careful. When you find someone, whose life is devoted to profit suddenly telling you they're now devoting everything to be in an altruist to just defending free speech principles. That's their whole new bag. Can a new owner make Twitter more profitable while improving its social impact? Sure, as I mentioned Musk has done some of that at Tesla.


Will a new owner put social impact and First Amendment principles above profits? Well, I'd say Don't bet on it or buy stock on that pitch. But you can. Because for all of Musk's talk about further empowering people, well, he just spent his money to shut people out of owning any piece of Twitter. It's all up to him now, not you. And remember, he's doing this all for you.



MELBER: Turning to the story of Melissa Lucio, a Texas mom who was convicted of murdering her two-year-old daughter. When she was just granted a stay of execution, it was two days before the scheduled execution this week. And even though she won't be executed, she remains on death row.

And there are a lot of doubts about the case how it was handled and her potential culpability. Lucio's lawyers say new evidence includes proof that her daughter's injuries were the result of a fall down steep stairs, not as alleged by authorities, child abuse that resulted in the death. A forensic pathologist who reviewed the case also said the toddler died from delayed effects consistent with a fall, that would cause a head injury.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bruising is the result of brain injury. There are scientific explanations, the brain falls apart. Even minor movement and motion and handling of the child will all of a sudden start to develop lots and lots of bruises. Because the child is not clotting anymore. What the doctor did in this case, she saw a horribly bruise child. And she concluded that this had to be child abuse.


MELBER: Courts will hear evidence on that aspect for possibly really the first time in full. There's also evidence withheld from the jury during the trial, including an interrogation of one of Lucio's children, who said he saw his sister fall down those steps.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know why you came to talk to me today?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your sister. Has she had any accidents or had anything happened to her or anything like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She fell down some steps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did you see her fall or did somebody tell you that that's what had happened to her?



MELBER: Legally, one question is whether that kind of reasonable doubt that might be inferred from the child saying that is something the jury should have been able to consider in the original trial. This is a big story in Texas and around the nation and we're joined by criminal defense attorney, Yodit Tewolde. Thanks for being here.


MELBER: We have covered the way the death penalty works in America. There's so many issues around inequity. I would just separate from the abstract question of whether you think the government should take a life in these instances or not. When you see this come down to the wire and the local D.A. and the governor, I mentioned Republican Greg Abbott. We're going to let this happen. I mean, that was what was on track, it took the courts intervening. What do you see here and do you think there is reasonable doubt that should pause or delay such an execution?

TEWOLDE: I mean, absolutely. You have five of those jurors (INAUDIBLE) and Lucio's initial trial who said that had they known that some of this evidence existed, that they would have considered not convicted for much less giving her the death penalty. Listen, I'm seeing all these articles, Ari. They're saying that this is another chance for Melissa Lucio to prove her innocence. But that bothers me because she was never the person who had that burden, the state did. They have the burden to prove that she committed murder, and they did so by violating her constitutional right to a fair trial.

Now the four grounds of her attorneys laid out in their effort to try to get her murder conviction overturned was one that the prosecution they use misleading and false evidence. For example, the medical examiner as you mentioned earlier, had testified that the bruises and injuries on Mariah's body could only be been caused by abuse bled for autopsy, Mariah's autopsy had shown signs that she had a blood disorder that could have caused severe bruising.

There was scientific evidence that wasn't available at the time of trial that could have proven Melissa Lucio's innocence, for example, the medical examiner testified that the bite marks on Mariah's -- or there were marks on Mariah's body that were bite marks. A bite mark analysis has since been discredited because there's no scientific basis and because of that there's been a statewide moratorium in Texas. That has been the use of bite-mark evidence in criminal cases. Also, Ari held up that Melissa Lucio's actually innocent. Not only has she maintained her innocence for 14 years on death row, but she asserted her innocence a hundred times during that police interrogation that was five to six hours long. Right?

In that interrogation, she is mourning -- she's mourning the death of her daughter just two hours prior, they gave her no water, no restroom break, no food, and she was a woman who had suffered physical and sexual abuse since the age of seven that made her more vulnerable to falsely confessing under those coercive conditions. So, all of that put together not to mention the optics of it, all right, the D.A. that was in charge of this case is now serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for taking bribes or hate and paying off judges. So, all of it just looks really bad and there's enough there -- there's enough doubt to most certainly give this case another look and (INAUDIBLE) of the death.


MELBER: Right. And as you say, we've only reached this point because of the looming execution, which gives basically more of a legal track for courts to intervene. The open question is does she stay incarcerated here for life? Or will any of this come out in a different format or trial, especially when you have jurors saying, well, if I knew this or that. It's the story, we're going to stay on Yodit Tewolde. Thank you for joining us.


MELBER: We'll be right back.


MELBER: Thanks for spending time with us on THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER. "THE REIDOUT" with Joy Reid starts now.