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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/5/22

Guests: Bill Kristol, Emily Bazelon, Chai Komanduri, Evelyn Farkas


Former President Donald Trump`s daughter and chief White House aid talking to the January 6th Committee, following her husband Jared Kushner relating to the Capitol insurrection. Former President Barack Obama joined President Biden at the White House event celebrating Obamacare. The Ukrainian president blasted Russia as terrorists in an emotional address to the United Nations Security Council. Republican lawmakers in other states pushing bill echoing Florida`s "Don`t Say Gay" law.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much for letting us into your home during these truly extraordinary times. We`re so grateful. THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I`m Ari Melber, and we are tracking a lot of developing news including something that Democrats have been just downright excited about. President Obama returning to the White House for the first time since leaving office to join with President Biden. The two are linked in so many ways. We`re going to get into that with a special guest tonight. So it`s going to be I think pretty interesting and we`ll get to it as big news.

But we start with what might be larger news for Washington right now. Ivanka Trump speaking to the January 6th Committee. Now let me tell you about what she`s doing here because this was a big one. She is basically breaking her silence of sort and addressing the committee about many of the questions about January 6th. Indeed, if you recall the way this has been going, we`ve had these White House aides held in contempt recently all because they say they have privilege.

They say they`re in the White House so much that they know things that they possibly could not possibly reveal to the committee. And yet here we are witnessing something. The president`s daughter and chief aide there in the White House for all four years going out to talk to the committee. So in many ways, let me show you what is in a letter to Ivanka that was seeking the kind of information they want.

I should mention in many ways she`s detonating the privilege claims of people like Peter Navarro. But one of the questions they want to know, the Democrats and Republicans on this committee, is about the conversations she observed between President Trump and Mike Pence that very pivotal morning of the 6th as well as any assistance she provided in trying to make Donald Trump address the violence.

They also have questions about Trump`s state of mind in the days after the insurrection. The committee honing in on Trump`s closest inner circle with a massive cache of evidence as the panel vows to keep digging.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): We`re interested in talking to individuals who were in and around the former president and the White House during this important time, during January 5th and 6th, as well as the lead-up in the many events that were orchestrated by those who were close to the former president.


MELBER: Individuals who were in and around the former president. Take a look at a video, for example, where Ivanka Trump was standing right next to then President Trump on January 6th. This was before he went to stage. You see that? Before he went out on that stage to speak to the crowd of supporters who then marched on the Capitol and that breach.

So she was right there. This is my point. She was there. Not Peter Navarro, not Steve Bannon, who no longer worked at the White House. But Ivanka Trump. There`s of course another family member.

Now she could shed light on what took place in those seven-plus hours on January 6th. Her voluntary testimony puts that pressure on anyone else stonewalling the committee. And that`s the big point that you don`t need to be a lawyer or an expert on to understand. This committee has basically secured the cooperation of the vast majority of people it has summoned, including a lot of people in and around Trump world.

We spoke with one just last week, you may recall if you watched THE BEAT. It was one of the rally organizers. She cooperated. Jared Kushner just recently cooperated. Ivanka Trump now cooperating. If anyone has a potentially valid claim to some White House executive privilege, it`d be people like Ivanka and Jared Trump. They were White House aides to the end. Steve Bannon wasn`t. They were with Donald Trump those days in a way Steve Bannon wasn`t.

And what are they saying and doing? They`re saying well, let`s just cooperate. They`re saying they don`t have any special privilege to shield them from cooperating. What`s Steve Bannon doing? He`s testing this for some other reasons that only he knows. He`s been invited back on THE BEAT, by the way, if he wants to explain them. He is trying to pick a fight with the government, the legislative and executive branch, with this new attorney general to take this all the way to trial, to risk himself going to jail.

And whatever the reason is, because I`m not here to speculate, I could tell you, according to Trump`s daughter what the reason isn`t. It ain`t executive privilege.

I want to bring in our guest, staff writer for the "New York Times" magazine Emily Bazelon and an editor-at-large for the "Bulwark," Bill Kristol.

Welcome to both of you. Emily and I talk a lot of law, and we`ll get to it. But I`ll go to Bill first on the common sense, and as a veteran of the White House.

What does it tell you that where the kids -- I don`t say it pejoratively, but where the kids and the children of Donald Trump, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, the staff, family members are testifying, what does that tell you about these possibly more political fights that the Bannon and Navarros are picking?


BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It tells me that Bannon and Navarro and other people who were involved in the whole conspiracy for two months to overturn the election are much more worried about their legal exposure and maybe their kind of political exposure, too, if you want to stick it that way, than Ivanka Trump who will shed light presumably on what her father was doing that afternoon.

We know a fair amount about that. He refused to make the statement. She went in twice to urge him to do so. She`s was only confirming some of that reporting between those, when he went back from the rally and I think at 10:00 p.m. until he finally put out that video after 4:00 p.m. So that`s pretty damaging from my point of view to President Trump. He`s the president of the United States and he`s doing nothing to stop a terrible riot that`s going on in the Capitol.

So I think that -- but she probably figures, honestly, that`s kind of known and she can dot a few I`s and cross a few T`s on that. She probably wasn`t just questioned about in the actual conspiracy. I`ve talked to people pretty close to the committee and what they stressed is, this was a real plot, the president, it was a Trump plot but it was also a plot of Trump associates in Congress, Trump associates in the activist world, Steve Bannon world, you know, the legal world, the John Eastman world.

These people were all working together to overturn the election, and that raises real legal questions. And if you`re in the middle of that the way Bannon was, that Roger Stone was, you really don`t want I think to be answering all the questions, whereas Ivanka Trump in a way can testify to her father`s dereliction of duty on January 6th, probably was not as much part of this, truly almost more serious part of it, which is the two-month attempt to overturn the election of the president of the United States.

MELBER: Well, it`s very interesting what you say there, Bill, because I made a point of saying I can`t claim to know what`s inside Bannon`s mind and his reason but you say the evidence suggests the reason is culpability, guilt in the actual activity of this, which is why he and Navarro might reach for anything including these thin claims of privilege, how privileged is it if Donald Trump won`t even dash off an e-mail or have someone else do it for him that says, yes, I claim privilege.

He hasn`t even done that as we discussed with Congressman Schiff last week. So I think you make interesting points, Bill, and that really goes to what they thought they could pull off. So I`m going to do a follow-up to Bill and then bring Emily in. But just on the goals, let`s remember, the Capitol police were completely outmaneuvered and overwhelmed with the federal government run by Donald Trump that wasn`t helping secure the building. They did get ordered by that night.

It is not farfetched to imagine that a few more people show up to Washington and a few more people go inside the Capitol or they start torching the place or God forbid do other active physical things, that they could not have returned that night. And then let`s just be clear, you wake up on January 7th, all of these claims are as bankrupt and legally invalid as they were the day before, but the difference is, the certification didn`t happen.

So what Navarro and Bannon and others have said that might sound really farfetched suddenly becomes just a little more inside the overtone window of well, the certification didn`t happen yesterday so it is still technically open. So maybe it does need to go back to the state legislatures. I mean, did the people you talked to see it as they had a method to secure something over those next two weeks and actually keep Trump in office?

KRISTOL: I mean, I think they think it`s much more the case that the riot was the sort of last gasp. They were hoping to delay it and maybe still then it can get, as you just said, back to the states with some fake claim and all that, but their hope was with Pence. I mean, think of the Eastman memo, think of what Bannon -- think of the pressure they were putting on him politically, think of everything with the state legislatures first to say, oh, no, that`s not the right vote from Pennsylvania, then it was with members of Congress and the courts and with Pence all in some different combinations.

Once Pence said he wasn`t going to do it, once it was clear there were only nine Republican senators to do it, however despicable that is, it is my point of view that 140 or so House Republicans voted to overturn, it wasn`t going to be enough. I think that is the core of the conspiracy and I think it`s -- I hate to minimize the riot, it was horrible and terrible in so many ways and it was very revelatory of the resort to violence that Trump world and the alt-right world is willing to engage in.

But I think that was kind of the last gasp of what was a much more serious in a way, much more thought through and developed, for all of its kookiness, you know, attempt to actually overturn, actually subvert the election of the president.

MELBER: Emily?

EMILY BAZELON, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE STAFF WRITER: I think it matters that Ivanka was in the room on the morning of January 6th, when former President Trump is on the phone to vice president, former Vice President Mike Pence asking him not to certify the results. That seems like an important witness.

Now, you know, this is for dad. I can`t imagine she wants to damn him by talking about the idea that he was derelict in his duty but there was another person, a general in the room who has already testified about what that conversation, what he remembers from it.


And so I would think that that would put Ivanka Trump in this position where she has to give some kind of account of what she heard and she has to make sure that it doesn`t put her in a position where she`s lying to Congress about what happened. She`s going to be under oath. You get in trouble for lying to Congress, and so at least in that moment, she can convey a piece of knowledge that seems to matter to the committee for obvious reasons and also she`s going to have to give some kind of credible realistic account of what happened I would think.

MELBER: Right, and that goes to the value of some of those individuals. As for where Donald Trump comes down, Bill, he`s never been all that consistent with his lies but he lied a lot about winning the election and now for whatever reason has a slightly different tune. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: When I didn`t win the election, by not winning the election and then when the election was rigged and lost --


MELBER: You see anything there, Bill?

KRISTOL: I mean, he knows he did not win the election, it`s been a lie all along and what`s so amazing is that we have so many tens of millions of Americans pushed of course by FOX News and by others and a good chunk of the Republican Party, and it seems like almost an increasing chunk amazingly that to stay alive in the Republican Party, you have to sign onto this lie that Trump knows is a lie. And they know, these leaders know is a lie. And that`s so damaging to the country.

MELBER: Yes. So, Emily, how do you contrast as mentioned what you`re getting from some of these individuals who as I have stressed would have executive privilege claims in a way that Navarro probably doesn`t? How does that isolate Bannon and Navarro? What is the legal outlook here for the Bannon trial if by the time it actually comes around, there may or may not be a committee still operating?

BAZELON: I -- right. They`re running out of clock, that`s a good option, tried and true. I still don`t understand why they don`t have to show up. I understand not answering some questions because of executive privilege and arguing over the specifics. Not showing up at all is a different kind of move to make. I just think it puts them -- it makes their position harder to defend in court.

MELBER: Yes, Bill, anything on all of that?

KRISTOL: You guys are the lawyers. Doesn`t the president or ex-president in this case claiming he has the ability to do so have to invoke executive privilege? I worked in the White House. I can`t say I just decided I`m invoking executive privilege. I was just the chief of staff to the vice president. President Bush could have made that -- you know, it`s crazy kind of analogy, but if someone asked me to testify afterwards and President Bush said no, you shouldn`t testify about that.

MELBER: Right.

KRISTOL: So Trump hasn`t really invoked it doesn`t seem to me executive privilege. Trump is just contemptuous about it.

MELBER: No, he hasn`t.

KRISTOL: Trump just think --


KRISTOL: They`re going to run out the clock, as Emily says. They`re going to win the House, the whole thing is going away. No one is ever prosecuting anybody.

MELBER: I think it`s --

KRISTOL: Don`t you think?

MELBER: I think that`s right. I think, Bill -- I`m going to let Emily answer as well but since you reversed it and you`re hosting THE BEAT at least for a few minutes, I`ll answer you because you posed a good question. Yes, I think -- no, but I think -- I`m kidding but I do think it`s deliberately lawless and defiant. And that`s why what you see with Bannon was it`s not saying hey, we`re going to play by the rules which is in essence validating the authority legitimacy of this committee which validates the fact that it was a horrific and violent insurrection, but rather playing into the idea that it`s all made up.

Because Mr. Meadows, what everyone thinks of him, Mr. Meadows has not been indicted, and if that continues, if he is never indicted, that is the Justice Department in a way, I don`t want to overstate it but in a way either siding with him or finding his reservations potentially credible. That`s the legal way to put it, which is different than what Merrick Garland determined about Bannon which is that he is as charged a criminal and a jury will have the final say.

Those are very different outcomes. Mr. Meadows did engage. The second thing I`ll say about Bill, and then Emily gets the last word, is Bill is reminding viewers that he was chief of staff to the vice president, and that`s a very important role because the vice president always picks the next president regardless of the election.


MELBER: We know about history.

BAZELON: I mean, also isn`t it a classic Trump move not to invoke executive privilege yourself and just have your underlings kind of go up there and assert it? You know, in terms of public perception it`s better. You`re not even playing defense, you just pretend the whole thing isn`t there and then you leave it to other people essentially to take the stand. And sure, if you succeed in running out the clock and the Republicans win the House and this never, you know, this investigation doesn`t progress to any kind of real prosecution, then you win.

MELBER: Right. You know, and that`s -- as you say, you`re describing a kind of cynical or anti-legal approach but you`re giving insight into why they`re playing it this way and again why if you`re joining us a couple of minutes into the hour tonight, why you have Trump`s family, daughter and son-in-law, validating the legitimacy of the January 6th Committee, testifying, telling stories while some of these other White House aides who Bill called the real coup plotters, ducking, bobbing and weaving.


So we will see. Emily and Bill, thanks for kicking us off tonight.

KRISTOL: Thanks.

BAZELON: Thanks for having us.

MELBER: Absolutely. We`ve got a lot coming up. I mentioned that in the lead. Well, later in the hour, a dramatic address at the United Nations as we follow this horrific war. Ron DeSantis and that "Don`t Say Gay" law inspiring new echoes and copycats around the nation, but coming up next, our friend Chai Komanduri back on THE BEAT talking about his former boss, Barack Obama back in the White House and they got through all of it from the Obamacare to some jokes.




OBAMA: That was a joke.





OBAMA: Vice President Biden, Vice President --


OBAMA: That was a joke.


OBAMA: It is good to be back in the White House. It`s been a while.


MELBER: It`s been a while, a lot has happened, that`s what it looks like when 44 jokes with 46, the band back together. Former President Obama was back at the White House for the very first time since leaving office. For some reason he didn`t make it there during the last presidency and this was not just a reunion, although it was that and there were some fun parts we`ll show you, but the point was to celebrate and mark how Obamacare is working for Americans around the nation.

Biden also has plans to fortify the law which is something that Obama and Biden always said would be an ongoing process because they were rewiring the private health care markets in America. Now they want to open it up to another five million people and basically closing what had emerged as a loophole. Obama also brought some levity today.


OBAMA: I think it`s been well-documented just how difficult it was to pass the ACA. There --


OBAMA: I intended to get health care passed even if it cost me re-election, which for a while looked like it might.


OBAMA: And let`s face it, it didn`t help that when we first rolled out the ACA, the Web site didn`t work. That was not one of my happiest moments. To quote a famous American, "A pretty big deal."



MELBER: Now, wait a minute, is that -- is that the line? You know, we`re the news, we will fact check a joke, we`re not above that on THE BEAT. Let`s take a look back at what then Vice President Biden actually said.




BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.


MELBER: It might never get old, at least not between the two of them because Obama obviously decided to bring it up today. So that is the reasoning, that is the health care policy and that is also some of the fun when you unite two people, and Joe Biden said it himself, nobody owes more to Barack Obama in politics and public life than Joe Biden.

So Obama also used this time, though, to remind people how he approaches politics. You may recall the talk of hope and bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle. He did that but he also tried to make sure everyone understands that there are differences here and that political leadership means hammering those, too.


OBAMA: Republicans tried to repeal what we had done, again, and again, and again. And they filed lawsuits that went all the way to the Supreme Court three times. So given all the noise and the controversy and the skepticism, today the ACA hasn`t just survived, it`s pretty darned popular, and the reason is because it`s done what it was supposed to do. It`s made a difference.


MELBER: It has made a difference and the Obama plan was basically pitted against a lot of no`s. Indeed, Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare over 70 times. Most Americans now back this law which was initially greeted as a fairly polarized piece of legislation. You see it growing a bit over time, 55 percent, something of a high point right now. At the White House there were warm vibes, there was good energy, there was hugs, and, well, Joe Biden sooner or later was going to get in on it and crack some jokes of his own.


BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden. I`m Barack Obama`s vice president. We just had lunch together and we weren`t sure who was supposed to sit where. Now I`m going to sign an executive order and Barack, let me remind you, it`s a hot mic.


BIDEN: Feels like the good old days. Being here with you --


BIDEN: Brings back so many good memories.


MELBER: Got to watch out for those hot mics. Anyone who works near a mic knows about that. Obama and Biden were often an odd couple at first. Now we think of them as somewhat synonymous politically and the Internet has always enjoyed that. There were memes that showed Obama and Biden becoming a kind of deejay duo, the politicians as the play on the word "lit." You can see how funny that is, or Obama imagining basically that he`d have to tell Biden over and over, stop copying me, and then of course the friendship bracelets because they did seem to have a kinship.


This was the Joe and Barack thing. This actually went pretty viral back in the day, maybe in a simpler time. Biden talked about that back in 2018.


BIDEN: All those memes, they`re basically true.


BIDEN: Except, except I want to make it clear. He made the first friendship bracelet, not me.


MELBER: Now Biden is looking to strengthen his poll numbers right now, Democrats see what could be a tough midterm election, many acknowledge they need a spark, whether it`s what Obama did, said or the example today. Can they get one?

Well, we turn to someone who worked for Obama and some other Democrats, Chai Komanduri, when we`re back in just one minute.


MELBER: Obama`s back at the White House and Obama campaign veteran Chai Komanduri is back on THE BEAT. And if I may compliment them and knock us, your return here far less important than his return there but we`re happy to have you, buddy.

CHAI KOMANDURI, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: It`s a very important return. Glad to be here, though.

MELBER: You know, you look at all this, there`s so many layers to it. You pointed something out that, you know, we might not realize or that passes us by, and I want to you break it down. You pointed out that when Donald Trump was actually in office, no former presidents visited him at the White House. A total break with tradition. Not just Obama. And that most presidents find themselves more popular when they leave the White House.

That`s true in Obama`s case at least compared to some of his lower points, and not true with Trump. You tied that all together. How does that relate to what we saw today?

KOMANDURI: Well, I think there are several different layers to what we saw today. But the first is what you just brought up. The historical nature of this. What Biden is doing and focus of his presidency is to restore the pre-Trump Democratic norms, and one of those is to have former presidents back in the White House, back in the Oval Office. That is something that Donald Trump never did.

It was one of the many precedents, one of the many norms that he broke. One of the things that Trump wanted to always do was break with tradition, break with history, and he did it day by day, norm by norm, precedent by precedent, tradition by tradition, and ultimately that culminated in January 6th, where you keep breaking those norms one by one, one by one, and then finally you have a coup on your hands. And that`s exactly what Trump did. That`s what Biden is seeking to undo and that`s a big part of this.

The second thing is, is obviously midterms are coming up. Barack Obama is the most popular person in the country politically. He is extremely popular among Democrats, he`s extremely popular among independents, and that`s someone Democrats and Democratic candidates want to be associated with, his positivity, his optimism, his forward-looking vision, his intellect. And also the ACA as a sign Democrats are about a government that works effectively for the American people, and really helps to improve their lives.

And there`s a really breakaway from sort of the culture wars you see Republicans engaging with. And then finally, I`ll say there`s a cultural element to this which is, you know, Barack Obama really symbolizes something more than just himself. You know, there is a very famous line in "The Dark Knight" where Batman says, you know, as a man, I can be defeated. As a man, I can be ignored, but as a symbol, I am everlasting.

You know, Trump really didn`t want to just defeat Obamacare the bill or Obama the man. He wanted to defeat Obama the symbol, the symbol of a diverse democratic country. That`s a symbol that Joe Biden and Democrats want the people to carry in their hearts. That`s the symbol that Trump and the GOP want people to forget.

MELBER: How does that relate to dying a hero or living long enough to be a villain?


KOMANDURI: Well, I think unfortunately for Donald Trump I think in many, from the minds of many people, he is already the villain, but I do think that --

MELBER: Really.

KOMANDURI: That one of the things that sort of goes to is the idea that historical legacies can change over time. You know, and Barack Obama, when he was president, and I remember it well, you know, was a very stormy presidency. You know, he wasn`t always the most popular person in the country. You can look at --


MELBER: Right. Which he joked about it.

KOMANDURI: Yes. And he joked about it today, and the ACA is a classic example of that, where this was an incredibly unpopular piece of legislation until the American people actually experienced its benefits and actually experienced having preexisting conditions covered and not having to worry about preexisting conditions in health care coverage, and that has sort of changed. So I would say that what happened with the ACA and with Barack Obama is in many ways a reversal of the famous line "The Dark Knight" about being a hero and living long enough to being the villain. It`s the actual opposite of what occurred for both Obama (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: Yes. You`re dropping real science on several points. I mean, one of them on health care is also as you say a reminder to people, over time, that a government program, and this was again a pretty moderate, private public sector coordination but still a long-time government program can deliver benefits for people over time. That`s what health care does, that`s why it has higher approval ratings than Biden or Trump.

It has high approval ratings because a lot of people are using it even if they happen to be moderate, conservative, you know, Republicans, et cetera. Two, you`re not the only one who can quote "Dark Knight," Chai, and so I think we`ve both proven that here, but the timeless themes of Batman which go back decades, because it starts from the comic book era and all the way up however it`s been rebooted, and I know there`s a new one out now I haven`t seen yet, the whole thing with the Joker is the Jokers of society will test you in criminal, corrupt or political ways.

And they don`t play by your rules, so yes, we`ve talked plenty about Trump and this was a contrast as you say but there are Jokers affiliated with QAnon or the people, you know, auditioning to try to be in their mind the next MAGA figure, and a lot of what they`re doing, as you say, with norm busting is precisely trying to say, look, they can prove their power by showing their side that they can make everything up for debate, nothing matters, nothing is real, nothing is true, nothing is unassailable.

And there`s a kind of an appeal for certain people to that but the way you deal with that is actually proving that things work and that`s a big difference I want to ask you about and play a little bit of Obama because he talks about the health care but that would seem to be a difference between a long-term program and funding. A lot of people think the Biden funding was good and a good start and its popularity, we`ve shown on this program.

Republicans voted against it, claiming that they`re for it because it`s popular, but in five or 10 years, well, the child care tax credit will expire and the other money will be spent and it won`t be the same as the ACA. And I thought that hung over today, too. Take a listen to Obama on the ACA.


OBAMA: I know how discouraged people can get with Washington. Progress feels way too slow sometimes. Victories are often incomplete, but what the Affordable Care Act shows is that if you are driven by the core idea that together we can improve the lives of this generation and the next, and are willing to work through the obstacles and the criticism, and continually improve where you fall short, you can make America better.


MELBER: That was the pitch, Chai. It wasn`t Pollyannish but positive. How does that relate to something you`ve raised, which is that since Obama left the stage, American politics has been sour, divisive, angry, and I`ll say it, and I try to be positive, Chai, depressing a lot of the time?

KOMANDURI: Yes, it`s very depressing, and I would attribute that to maybe three particular figures, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg, and what they`ve all done to make it sour. And the reason American politics has become sour is because a lot of politicians have forgotten exactly what Barack Obama just said in that clip, which is government can make the lives of people better.

You know, politics has become something, it`s become about cultural contests, it`s been about cultural sort of fights. You know, you see that very much with the Republicans today. They really want to fight this midterm on cultural issues. You know, Matt Gaetz today to General Austin or Secretary Austin was talking about woke-ism in the military, you know, Ron DeSantis was talking about the "Don`t Say Gay" bill and his war against Disney.

You know, it`s all about these cultural fights and it`s very important for Democrats to move the message and move the national conversation back to economics, to pocketbook issues and to making the lives of people better.


And how do we do that? We do that with things like the child care tax credit. We do that with things like the ACA.

MELBER: Yes, so Trump, Murdoch, Zuckerberg, you see as the villains driving this. Also would make a heck of a dinner party. I don`t know if you could get a word in, Chai.

KOMANDURI: No, it`s actually very much like "Legion of Doom" for comic book fans. (INAUDIBLE) "Legion of Doom" was, you know, sort of an alliance of all the super villains, you know, exactly what that trio is and the fight that they fight is a cultural fight and that`s why today was very important. We need to move the conversation back away from culture towards economics.

MELBER: Or maybe like an Andy Warhol "Last Supper" of dystopian politics.

KOMANDURI: Yes, that would actually be, and also, I mean, I think the food would probably be terrible considering what Donald Trump`s dietary habits are known to have been.


MELBER: Chai, we`ve been around the world and back and we ended on cheeseburgers, and maybe that`s the light at the end of the proverbial political tunnel.

I will say you`ve given us food for thought, even if it`s unhealthy food that Trump eats. That`s my best ending. Thank you, Chai.

KOMANDURI: Yes. I don`t want to call out a specific fast-food company that he favors for fear of repercussions both for myself and for you. But yes, it was not the healthiest diet that he follows. That`s for sure.

MELBER: Well, now you`re getting personal. I mean, I -- we don`t do endorsements but I do go to Five Guys when I can, just saying. Good to see you, Chai.

KOMANDURI: I love Five Guys. Tremendous, tremendous fries.

MELBER: Peace. Chai mentioned this echo from Ron DeSantis` anti-civil rights bill in Florida. We`re going to get into that later tonight and by the end of the broadcast, we do have an update on the war in Ukraine. Stay with us.



MELBER: We`ve been covering news out of America tonight. Specifically we were just reporting on Barack Obama returning to the White House and news in the congressional investigations into January 6th. Now we turn back abroad and a look at the atrocities in Ukraine which continue to be documented. The West is vowing to hold Putin accountable for what many repeatedly say are obviously war crimes against innocent civilians.

That is distinct and worse than a war of aggression that has targeted initially military outposts and soldiers. Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. Security Council calling Russian soldiers terrorists and demanding some accountability.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): They cut off limbs, cut their throats, slashed their throats, women were raped and killed in front of their children. They were -- their tongues were pulled out only because the aggressor did not hear what they wanted to hear from them. So this is no different from other terrorists. Accountability must be inevitable.


MELBER: A strong plea there, and we`ve become accustomed to hearing Zelenskyy make these pleas from various locations, asking the world to intervene. Now keep in mind, anything directed towards the U.N. Security Council is directly addressing Russia which is a member. He also asked for a stronger response.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): Are you ready to close the U.N.? Do you think that the time of international law is gone? If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately. So where is the security that the Security Council needs to guarantee? It`s not there, although there is a Security Council, and so where is the peace?


MELBER: Meanwhile, there`s more reporting out of Bucha, where these horrors have been documented. The city continues to collect evidence. Sky News was on site as bodies were discovered in a basement. Again a warning, these are images that Vladimir Putin and others do not want broadcast anywhere in the world. We are showing them as part of our war coverage but a warning, they are disturbing and graphic.


ERIN HAYNES, SKY NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Five lives ended in this basement. Their bodies lie face up, hands bound, mouthed contorted. The men all allegedly killed by Russian soldiers.

An official involved in the process said that over the past few weeks here in Bucha, he`s found around 300 bodies. He said about 30 percent of them were women and children, and he believes that more are going to be found.


MELBER: In response, the United States and the E.U. have discussed additional sanctions, including against financial institutions, government officials and extended family members who -- excuse me, who may not have been hit by sanctions up to this point.

Town by town, Ukrainian prosecutors say they will collect evidence because they want to build a case for possible later war crimes trials against the Russians who did this. Europe is now also considering a ban on Russian coal. Countries are expelling some other Russian diplomats en masse who had been still allowed to remain even amidst everything that`s already happened. That includes areas like Germany, Italy and France, combined about 100 diplomats exiting those Western European nations.

I`m joined now by Evelyn Farkas, who was the Defense official in the Obama administration with the Russia and Ukraine portfolio. Welcome back.


MELBER: What does the world do when this war moves from what it had largely or predominantly been for weeks, which was a war of aggression to the kind of documentation we first saw recently of these alleged war crimes, atrocities, torture and rape of women in Ukraine?


FARKAS: Well, Ari, I think this is why many of us or I guess a handful of us Russia-Ukraine hands find a letter calling for the administration to consider humanitarian no-fly zones because essentially we`ve seen the international community starting with the U.S. and NATO deterred by Russia and afraid of doing something to save the lives, to protect these innocent civilians, and we see what the end result is.

So, you know, there needs to be more done by the international organizations. We did -- we have a precedent in the past, Slobodan Milosevic was tried in the Hague and found guilty, and he died in a prison. So we can take war criminals. Obviously it`s too late for the people that he killed but nevertheless justice was found. And if we find the mechanism and we publicize it, it may make the Russian troops think twice and certainly the generals think twice about ordering more of this carnage.

But I am very afraid about the next phase. Because as we know, you know, right now both sides are just regrouping for more war, and I don`t see either side thinking that they`re winning or losing, which again is a recipe for more war, and I don`t see the international community having an answer to the conundrum especially of civilians being targeted.

MELBER: Understood. Let me play a little bit of Secretary Austin today. Take a listen.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Russians thought that they could very quickly move in to Ukraine, capture the capital city and install their leader of choice, and they weren`t able to do that. As they enter this phase, it will probably be a lot more deliberate, they`ll be able to mass fires a lot more and so the violence will probably go up a notch there.


MELBER: He`s giving a military breakdown. I`m curious your response to that because the grim and tragic dynamic that he`s referring to, and we`ve seen it in other wars, is that what they could not compel with force, which is generally defined as military-on-military conflict, they are erecting with violence, also known as war crimes, by targeting the civilians, by wreaking a kind of carnage, torture and brutality that they believe will somehow fulfill their objectives.

FARKAS: Right, I mean, Ari, this fighting that Secretary Austin is talking about is going to occur in urban areas, where people live, and so it`s going to look like Syria, and you know, frankly, shame on the international community because we didn`t do enough about Syria. That`s probably a large reason why Vladimir Putin is continuing.

We didn`t do anything about Chechnya, and you know, there are other, you know, examples in other parts of the world, Rwanda and the Rohingya genocides, where somehow the international community has failed people and doesn`t have enough I guess means or isn`t willing to take risk. We need to come up with some mechanism to protect the civilians who are caught in this crossfire.

MELBER: Understood, and I appreciate, it`s unspeakable, so words can fail, but you are reminding people that there are measures and measures other than boots on the ground that any nation that says they are concerned about preventing the next round of this can take, that`s part of the policy debate. So you`ve studied this area longer than most. We appreciate your analysis, Evelyn Farkas. Thank you.

FARKAS: One other thing, Ari, if I could, just like the International Red Cross, they said they want to go in and provide assistance, then why don`t they get armed, you know, Armed accompaniment? You know, why don`t they take in people with arms to accompany them in with humanitarian assistance? If they really want to provide it, they should be willing to take the risk.

We did it in Bosnia, where we didn`t solve the underlying war but we actually did a lot more on the humanitarian front.

MELBER: Another point. Evelyn Farkas, thank you. Appreciate it.

FARKAS: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: We will be right back.



MELBER: What starts in Florida does not always stay in Florida and that brings up to an update on what many civil rights advocates say is a push by Republicans to not only crackdown on free speech and freedom but really rollback rights that people already have in America. Liberals are highlighting this astonishing statement from a Republican in Nebraska. He pushed this claim about school kids self-identifying as cats or dogs. Take a listen.


STATE SEN. BRUCE BOSTELMAN (R-NB): If you don`t know what furries are, it`s where school children dress up as animals, cats or dogs, during the school day. They meow and they bark. Now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use.


MELBER: Fact check. False. I don`t want to get too deep into it but it was kind of an attempt to actually sexualize children by that right-winger and say that dressing up as a dog would relate to something else, which it doesn`t relate to. In fact we should note that very same lawmaker backpedaled afterward. The "New York Times`" Michelle Goldberg says there`s nothing isolated or random about this. There`s something deeper, quote, "Faced with a gender landscape that they find unnerving or worse, conservatives are trying to use schools to turn the tide.


That is to say injecting their politics into schools. And that`s why we`re seeing the Florida law as a kind of template, what critics called as "Don`t Say Gay" law which prohibits basically discussions of a factual nature that might touch on gender identity or other things that relate to people`s families, and adults, well, they want to ban that and sue teachers over it. And now, in Ohio, Louisiana and Texas, Republicans are looking at similar measures.

Florida`s law already resulted in lawsuits, protests and walkouts about whether it is even legal and constitutional. These other states may invite that kind of debate. That`s an update on what Florida has wrought. We`ll be right back.



MELBER: Thanks for spending time with us on THE BEAT. That does it for us. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.