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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/6/22

Guests: Steven Hassan


Former Trump White House aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino facing contempt after defying January 6th Committee subpoenas, even as Trump`s own daughter and her husband voluntarily testified to the committee investigating the Capitol attack. GOP senators smeared Judge Jackson of being soft on drug criminals and even called her defenders of Nazis, while some lawmakers and conservative pundits accused the Democrats as the party of pedophiles. Cult expert who knows Ginni Thomas saying she`s embraced QAnon. Congress voted 220 in favor of contempt, 203 against on contempt charges against Navarro and Scavino, and will be endorsed to the DOJ for indictment.


WALLACE: Thank you so much for letting us into your homes during these extraordinary times. We are grateful. THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thanks so much. Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber, and we are tracking breaking news.

We`re watching the House where there is a vote coming this hour on holding Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in criminal contempt of Congress for defying lawful subpoenas issued by the January 6th Committee. Ignoring or defying those subpoenas, refusing to hand over documents, refusing to even coming in and explain why they might have or claim to have any legal argument for defiance is what this is all boil down.

So these Trump aides face what many expect to be a party line vote which means they will lose and potentially be held in contempt if the Democrats tonight, and that leaves a big decision over at the DOJ. The pressure is ratcheting up in many ways. Committee chair Bennie Thompson speaking to exactly this issue within the last hour.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We`re here for this contempt process today. But the president`s own daughter complied with the wishes of the committee. And I would think that if his daughter complied with the wishes of the committee, everyone else should. Even the people who worked for him.


MELBER: Call it the Ivanka rebuttal. If it sounds familiar, it is a contrast that we`ve been reporting out here as we followed all of this because there really is a tale of two batches of witnesses here. You have Donald Trump`s own family and many aides and allies testifying. Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, both voluntarily appeared, which would seem to really cast doubt on if not completely blow up the so-called privilege claims from people further away from Donald Trump than those staff and family members.

So Navarro and Bannon don`t have nearly the access or the roles of these family members who testified. Ivanka, for example, as we showed you, was right there next to her dad on January 6th, according to that footage. Jared Kushner was there the whole time through the campaign and all four years of the administration, unlike Steve Bannon.

So here`s where we are as we track this vote tonight. Former chief strategist and counsel to President Trump Steve Bannon already held in contempt of Congress. That was, you may recall, all the way back in October by the full House, like the vote coming up tonight. Then there`s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, who partially initially cooperated then pulled back. They held him in contempt on the House floor.

And right now, tonight, to put it all in context, you have these votes coming up on Dan Scavino, a digital aid, for contempt, and Peter Navarro who worked as a White House adviser. The January 6th Committee, at the committee level, has already issued those contempt charges for both these men, Scavino and Navarro. Tonight, you have the question over whether the full House will back them up as expected.

We don`t do predictions, but that is what is expected. While Bannon is the only one who has gone further now and been indicted, criminally, by the Justice Department on two counts that`s why he awaits a criminal trial. All four aides could of course face potential charges. Bannon is looking it up to a year in jailtime, $100,000 fine depending on what happens, and he got another setback in his own case separate from this vote that we`re going to get to a little later.

But all eyes are on Navarro and Scavino, as they break away from the Trump family members and the other cooperators to somehow argue that they don`t have to show up, that, as the committee put it, they think they`re above the law.

We`re going to get right into it right now with former RNC chair Michael Steele and justice correspondent for "The Nation," Elie Mystal.

Welcome to both of you. These men are familiar in different ways. I`m going to get a little more into Navarro in a minute, but big picture, Michael, before we do that deep dive, what does it mean that this committee says that, and our sources say that it will get the backing of Pelosi and the Democrats, they`ll win this vote tonight they say, and put this pressure on?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR: Well, it says I think a couple of things. One, that the committee meant what it said when it indicated from the very beginning of this process, that they were going to take every step afforded to them, to bring those who were somehow in whatever way involved to the committee. To make them account and answer for what happened on January 6th to spell out their roles. These early efforts with Bannon and others have now borne the kind of fruit that has led to a Justice Department indictment.


But it`s also says I think is a recognition that the clock on this effort is ticking. There`s a major election coming up in November. At which point, everyone in this town and outside of this town is anticipating Democrats losing control of the House, thereby this committee goes away. One of the first acts of Speaker McCarthy will be to banish these members of this committee to whatever hinterland they can if they don`t draw the men for prosecution themselves.

So the work now becomes even more accelerated and more important. And I think that goes back to a conversation we had last week, Ari, puts greater pressure on this Justice Department to --

MELBER: Right.

STEELE: I want to say get their act together, which they have. I don`t want to infer that they don`t. But to really tell the country what they`re going to do with all of this evidence that is being amassed by the committee.

MELBER: Yes, and the DOJ has a big job here. But they`re not at 100 percent, even by their own metrics. And I can into get to that. Before we get into that, you know, Elie, I work within the confines of the news so I want to get to the other piece of the Bannon story for your reaction, and then we`ll do Navarro, because this broke late in the day.

To be clear with viewers, this is coincidental, unrelated to tonight`s vote because they`re on different schedules. You have a judge limiting Bannon`s attempted defense, Elie. I`m reading here for some coverage. Bannon cannot even argue, that is to say, cannot even claim a trial under the rules that he`s somehow not guilty, acting on the advice of his lawyer, who told him that because of executive privilege he should not respond to the subpoena.

Just on that story, how does that continue to narrow Bannon`s options at trial, Elie?

ELIE MYSTAL, THE NATION JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Bannon`s legal argument has always been what the scientists would call stupid. It has always been a dumb argument. He has no executive privilege.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: He was not working for the executive during the coup. So he`s got nothing to stand on, and the judge is simply saying, you can`t make stupid arguments in my court, Mr. Bannon. And so that`s all it is. Like -- but it goes to Michael Steele`s point, does it really matter? Because when is this trial actually going to happen?

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: Is going to happen before the midterms or after the midterms? Bannon`s entire thing is to play it out, play it out, play it out.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: Get to the midterms, get to some point where this committee becomes moot, right?

MELBER: Yes, and Elie --

MYSTAL: And so he`s still on track to do that even as the court is knocking on the stupid arguments.

MELBER: As the great Justice Learned Hand used to say, I`m going to let you finish. But I want to tell folks because we are tracking the breaking news. The House vote is now under way. This is the C-SPAN style video that you see on your screen. But it`s a big deal because we`re past the committee level and we`re passed the process. Technically, eight, eight-plus minutes left, although they often run a little longer. But the voting is under way, whether or not to hold these men in contempt, Democrats have projected that they have the votes. We will get the real numbers.

I`m going to come back to Elie and our guests, but as promised, Elie and Michael, I want to show just what happened with Peter Navarro because he was not on the first, second, or third list of witnesses. And yet as he began to explain and speak out what he thought he was doing under questioning, he appeared three times here on THE BEAT, and pushed what he called a sweep plan that was going to somehow overturn the results of the election. Here is some of what he said to me on THE BEAT.


MELBER: The question for the start of the interview -- yes, it is fine. But the question for the start of the interview is -- I just want to make sure here that we`re kind of going by the rules of the road. The question is, and you`ll get time to talk --

PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I know you got to say that. And what I`m saying is that --

MELBER: I don`t have to say anything, sir. I`m asking you the question is, do you realize you`re describing a coup?

NAVARRO: No. I totally reject many of your premises there. Ari, look, you`re doing your prosecutor thing. How about you give me a chance to talk now? Is that OK?

MELBER: It would follow from your contention that you think Vice President Harris will ultimately have the call over who should be president, regardless of the results in the next election?

NAVARRO: See, you misconstrued the whole Green Bay sweep plan.

MELBER: It seems like it`s making you stretch when we just changed the name from Pence to Harris. Are you --

NAVARRO: No, no, no. No, no, no.

MELBER: Are you holding the -- if you say all those things out here, why risk a legal battle or going to jail to refuse to discuss them with the committee under oath?

NAVARRO: Because I have a loyalty to the Constitution and a loyalty to the president. It`s not my privilege to waive.


MELBER: So he claimed and Navarro did take the questions as mentioned. He also defied the lawful subpoena.


He also claimed that he thought he was entitled to privileges as I was discussing with the guest. But there was a clear shredding of aspects of the privilege claim by discussing all this in public. And then the January 6th Committee used some of these interviews you just saw as evidence for the case for contempt.


REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): At the same time he was refusing to comply with our subpoena, Mr. Navarro made multiple media appearances, during which he discussed his various roles in the events that culminated in the January 6th attack. I`d like to play a media clip right now.

NAVARRO: I have so much knowledge to share with you about what I was involved in and what I know.

MURPHY: He has so much knowledge to share with a journalist, but he refuses to share that knowledge in response to a lawful subpoena.


MELBER: That`s how the committee put it in their evidence and vote for him in contempt, Elie, and here we are, 6:10: p.m. on the East Coast in Washington tonight and now the actual culmination of all this is a vote to hold him in contempt. What is your view of what it means to get Mr. Navarro on the record to have some of these individuals who are clearly willing to discuss what they think they can get away with, while still defying the lawful process to say the same remarks or the same explanation to the Congress that actually has the power to investigate this?

MYSTAL: Yes. All Navarro is doing is denying that Congress has a right to investigate this issue, right? Because he`s willing to come on your show and talk about it. So he`s willing to violate whatever privilege he thinks he has, he`s willing to break it to come talk to you. He`s willing to break it when the cameras are on. He`s just not willing to break it for Democrats in Congress because he has some ridiculous view that Democrats in Congress are not legitimate.

So one of the things I don`t understand with some of these Republicans, Navarro, being a great example of it, but, Bannon, too, to some extent and certainly all the Republicans who are going to vote against the contempt proceeding tonight, what do they think is going to happen when the shoe is on the other foot? Like in what universe does any Democrat ever again submit to any congressional oversight over anything, ever? Like why would that ever happen again?

MELBER: Right.


MYSTAL: Like what --

MELBER: Well, and you`re speaking --

MYSTAL: What`s the end game here, right?

MELBER: Right. And, well, you`re speaking to the -- that`s something we heard so much about in the last five years. Norm-busting and the cost of that.

Michael, I put the same question to you, at a time when people are skeptical, we showed the graphic that Mr. Bannon was indicted. But other people who`ve been held in contempt have not been indicted yet. What do you see as important tonight in this vote that we`re tracking right now for contempt for two Trump aides?

STEELE: Accountability, accountability, accountability. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable and important that is to the people in this country who give a damn about the honesty and the truth about what happened. Finding out who is culpable. The country is not looking at this through a partisan lens as much as Republicans would like to believe, that they`re going to go out and showboat the way they have on this issue.

The reality of it is, it goes exactly what Elie is saying, that you have people out here pretending there`s a privilege when there is no privilege. So even if you had the privilege, guess what, it ended on January 20th when the new president was inaugurated. So if you even had it, up until the 19th, even up to 11:59, you didn`t at 12:00 or 12:01. So these claims are false and phony. The American people know it which is why I go back to the first point, the emphasis at this point is twofold.

One, what is the committee doing that brings out and holds accountable those individuals? And two, once held accountable by the committee, what is our criminal justice system, our Justice Department going to do about that?

MELBER: Well, you bring me to the next point, Michael, and that might be because you and Elie are sharp thinkers that take us forward. And again, I`ll tell viewers we`re watching the vote. You can see most members of Congress have not voted yet, but this is the open vote to hold two Trump aides in contempt.

What`s next, as Michael asked? Elie, well, here`s reporting from NBC that the FBI actually has now gathered hundreds more suspects, would be the legal term, but doesn`t have enough lawyers when it looks at who was there on the 6th. More than 500 active cases that need to be resolved, and that includes tapping online sleuths who identified to the FBI hundreds of additional January 6th rioters.

And Elie, trespassers and rioters is sort of the minimum, if there`s video of them because that`s like smoking gun evidence of that.


Whether once you get into the case, and you put some heat on as we all learned, some of them may have, quote-unquote, "trespassed" as the only they did, fine. Others, if you put the heat on 500 other cases, you and I know, Elie, statistically, you`re going to find people who had a weapon. You`ll find people who had e-mail thread. You`re going to find people who were thinking that they could steal the certification. So they`re in on the civic -- citizen coup efforts. What does it tell you, and how do you feel, Elie, and this is a question I may know where you`re going to end up, but I`ll tell you say it. How do you feel that over a year later, this FBI and this DOJ are struggling to get the resources for cases that are half-done by the internet?

MYSTAL: Yes. Start at the bottom, and we`re still here. We`re still at the -- we`re still at the intake point. All of these people should have been arrested on January 6th. There`s no reason for Chris Wray, the director of the FBI, to let these people walk out the Capitol. They should have been walked out the Capitol into the paddy wagon, taken directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and that should have happened 15 months ago.

So, yes, I am distressed that we are still lacking the resources to prosecute all these people. But I do have an idea, Ari, because the other night I heard Tom Cotton praised former Justice Robert Jackson for going in Nuremberg and prosecuting Nazis in the Nuremberg trial. Maybe Tom Cotton who has a Harvard Law degree should volunteer, should go down to the DOJ and prosecute the insurrectionists like his hero Robert Jackson.

Do you think that that could work? I mean, they clearly need the help, and it`s not like Tom Cotton is doing a whole lot right now. I think that`s a good idea.

MELBER: You put it out there. People can hear you. Like Peter Navarro, people can hear you when you speak on television, Elie, so that idea will go out around Washington.

Michael, Elie has the vim and vigor of someone who cares deeply, doesn`t take himself too seriously, but has the concern that I know you and so many others do, Michael, which is if people can publicly stage this kind of trespass insurrection violence, chanting hang Mike Pence, and there`s video of them, and they`re not picked up, what message does that tell them for next time?

What is the risk of Merrick Garland here basically doing, and again, these are the numbers. I`m not offering an opinion. Everyone has got opinions. That`s not really the best use of my time. I`m offering reporting, Michael, it`s a half-done project by their own numbers of open cases, uncharged or unresolved. Some of them might not be charged, but they`d be declinated. But either way, it`s not done because they`re not getting it done.

STEELE: Well, here`s the vinegar to my friend`s sort of vim and inspired thinking. Vinegar is, this sucks. This just sucks all around. We watched this. We watched people create, engage in criminal activity. And those in certain communities around this country know that when stuff goes down, you don`t get to go home. Right? So all of a sudden, you got people getting back on their buses that were chartered for them by a political party to get them here to storm the Capitol. They get to go home, and here we are, as Elie says, 15 months later, and our Justice Department is saying, well, we`re just finding out we don`t have enough people to prosecute.

We`re finding more people who committed wrongdoing. Well, if you had your television on, on January 6th, you knew what those numbers were, you knew what this was going to be like. I don`t think there has been a very serious ramping up here to understand exactly what this moment meant for the country because it`s all been clouded by the politics. No one wants to threaten the structure of things because, oh, my god, it involves a former president or involved the former chief of staff, or, oh, Lord, be Jesus, what we`re going to do, because it`s part of the political family of Donald Trump?

Call those people up and get them in front of a, you know, a lineup and do what the criminal justice system requires you to do. You`re not going to think about it when there`s a riot over in Watts or over here southeast D.C. Nobody is going to say, OK, y`all go home, we`ll call you back later. That`s not how it works. And we watched that. And so the part that sucks for so many Americans is how frustrating it is to hear people parse and pretend, and elocute the craziness and just act like we`re not watching them do that.

So, yes. The vinegar is January 6th will die this November on the first Tuesday in November, when the country decides to give power back to the party that caused the damn insurrection.


And what do you think they`re going to do with it? Think about that over the next six months, folks, and decide what kind of country you want, and what direction you want the criminal justice system to go in. Because the other answer to Ari`s question is, don`t come knocking on me with warrants and subpoenas, because I have now learned from the whitest of the best and the best of the whitest to know it don`t apply to me no more. Because they can get away with it, so can I. And if you want to open up that Pandora`s box in this country, have at it and just reap from sows from it.

MELBER: On a night when Congress is working on accountability, a historic night in the investigation, Michael Steele making some points that I hope people really listen to, as well as Elie.

Elie Mystal, Michael Steele, thanks to both of you.

MYSTAL: Thanks a lot, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate. Absolutely.

Coming up, we take a look at the Judge Jackson confirmation. Why she has momentum? And a fact check. Also we have a special interview tonight with someone who makes their BEAT debut. It`s a cult expert talking about why QAnon itself may be a virtual cult with a grip on the modern Republican Party.

And later, an update on the warfront and the how the U.S. is going to help arm Ukrainian troops. And as you know from watching thus far, we are keeping an eye on that open vote on the House floor. Accountability contempt and more. We`ll give you the final numbers when they come in. Stay with us.



MELBER: Biden`s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is closing in on confirmation to the high court. There`s been these Republican attacks on her and her supporters that have actually turned more extreme even after Republican senators have helped her get close to clinching the win and after those hearings finished. There`s QAnon theories, there`s sliming the far right`s opponents as child abusers and, quote, "pedophiles." And today, Mitch McConnell used the slur that had dog whistles of racism for many saying that Jackson is also soft on drug kingpins.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The fentanyl kingpin will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you thanks to Judge Jackson.


MELBER: Then there`s Senator Cotton, who was cited by a guest earlier in our program, suggesting somehow that Jackson might be some kind of Nazi sympathizer.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): You know, the last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson may have gone there to defend them.


MELBER: You will notice zero evidence of any kind offered there. The ADL, a nonpartisan organization that looks at anti-Semitism, denounces Cotton`s comments. He attacked Jackson for the representation she did for people at Guantanamo that was part of her service, and it was something that was discussed at length in the hearings. Indeed, fellow Republican Lindsey Graham even went out of his way to say that kind of service is a good thing.

In the confirmation hearings we also saw Republicans pushing debunked attacks on Jackson. And the whole emphasis, the whole obsession even at times with a set of cases that are no different in her record than anyone else`s, meaning the senators you`re about to hear are talking about her record differently than other judges who did the same thing became this sort of QAnon obsession with the idea that there is secret support for pedophilia in the government. Now, one so-called Q rep taking it even further.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The Democrats are the party of pedophiles. The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney. The Democrats are the party of teachers, elementary school teachers trying to transition their elementary school aged children and convince them they`re a different gender.


MELBER: As always, there is a question about how much effort, energy, attention, and oxygen this kind of stuff should get. We try to fact-check and give you context. But we also in the news have to show you what`s going on out there, just like the MAGA support for Donald Trump pre-election was something that you want to understand if you`re interested in facts, which is separate from whether people believe things that aren`t facts or are lies.

And so as we get into this and we have an expert to break it down tonight, you have to understand, even if you don`t consume some of the other internet radio and right-wing media out there, this stuff is no longer only, quote, "fringe," in the sense of being rarely pushed. It is getting more and more common.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She`s definitely a pedophile sympathizer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don`t know why the left can`t stop tripping over themselves to support pedophiles.

MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: This guy is a sicko, if you want to know the truth. Maybe that`s why he nominated Judge Jackson and her weak sentencing. Truly a pedophile.


MELBER: Or take Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose office has been dealing with quite a backlash including from big corporations as sometimes leaning to the right, over these so-called "Don`t Say Gay" law. Now, the DeSantis office says that if there are critics of his anti-free speech rule for schools, well, they`re probably groomers. That`s just a disgusting and potentially defamatory attack on a whole bunch of people.

I guess if you`re in Florida Governor DeSantis` office, you think everyone who works at the Disney Corporation is a groomer, helping commit sex crimes. Again, in libel and defamation law, you can get a lot of trouble for just throwing that kind of stuff out there.


But in the Republican base, this is taking hold. Fully half of Republicans think it`s, quote, "definitely or probably true" that top Democrats are involved in, quote, "sex trafficking rings," which is a QAnon conspiracy theory that is going around the nation.

Michael Steele already made some very important points tonight. This is a different topic, but we`ll go to him on it when we`re back in one minute.


MELBER: We`re back with Michael Steele. Welcome back, sir. Before we get into it, I`ll say it`s always good to see you.

STEELE: Same here, my friend. Absolutely. So what you got for me?

MELBER: Here`s what I got for you, exactly. Sometimes the sheer ugliness of some of these attacks betray a vulnerability. There are political signs that Florida`s attack on free speech in schools as I put it didn`t go that well. You`re fighting with Disney. And now they`re just trying to double down and scare Disney and saying, well, hey, you think you know how politics works, we`ll show you how nasty we can get. And sort of, you know, badger them back out of it. But the larger point is that this has been mainlined in a way that if people are not consuming this stuff or in these circles, they may not be aware of it. Take a look for example at Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: They have a sexual agenda for 6-year-old children. You`d think that`s illegal in some way, it`s certainly immoral, it`s creepy as hell.

JESSE WATTERS, FOX HOST: These woke changes aren`t coming, they`re actually already here.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST: Why not just rename the roller coaster, you know, sex mountain. Come on, kids. It`ll be a blast.

WATTERS: "Turning Red" is a new movie that looks like it`s about a cartoon panda but really it`s a sex ed lesson.

INGRAHAM: This isn`t programming. This is propaganda for grooming.

CARLSON: It sounds like the behavior of a sex offender. I mean, normal people don`t sexualize underage children, period.


MELBER: Michael?

STEELE: OK. Two things. First, y`all need to get out a little bit more over there at FOX because clearly there`s some pent-up stuff going on there that you guys are fixating way too much. Two, aren`t the Republicans in Tennessee, I think it is, passed a law that allows underage children to marry, you know, as young as 12? I mean, you`re throwing this stuff out there, in this space, real time. And people are seeing it and hearing it.

And I think, you know, that poll was majority, almost interested in Republicans, it`s not resonating with the rest of the country because they know that`s not the case. So what you find is many inside this particular chamber talking to themselves more and more. And it spills its out with the Marjorie Taylor Greene kind of crazy that comes out of her mouth, and then Tom Cotton has some crazy.

And again, Ari, it goes to a key thing, there`s nobody in the leadership that puts a pin in it. There`s nobody in the leadership that will go on FOX and say, Laura, no, that`s wrong. And Tucker, you are way out there on pedophilia, as well as Putin. So -- but absent that, it continues to fester and grow. Just like anything that`s dangerous to the body that you don`t take care of.

MELBER: Yes. A metastasizing kind of vile set of misinformation.

STEELE: A metastasizing.

MELBER: Absolutely. Michael, on more than one topic, thank you, sir. Always good to see you.

Let me tell folks watching, we are watching the congressional vote with you. We`ll bring you that when we get the update. But I mentioned a special guest and it`s another part of this that we want to share with you. A cult expert, who`s never been on THE BEAT before is going to walk us through why he now sees QAnon as a type of virtual cult and how this goes all the way up potentially to Ginni Thomas and the Supreme Court, when we come back.



MELBER: The Supreme Court is in the news a lot, including for things that most justices don`t want to be in the news for. That includes this Ginni Thomas scandal and calls for her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas, to recuse from any January 6th cases because of her conduct. There are texts between her and Donald Trump`s chief of staff Mark Meadows when they were in office in the White House that shows efforts essentially to support overturning the 2020 election.

Thomas also appeared to invoke conspiracy theories and lies that have been widely debunked, including the QAnon idea that basically the left was committing a heist in the fact that Joe Biden won and that the Biden crime family, quote, "will be living in barges off Gitmo to face military tribunals for sedition," and asking Meadows, make a plan, release the Kraken, save us from the left.


So Ginni Thomas is now in the news because of her own conduct. You may relate to her husband but it`s her words and deeds, and what she did related to the election. And all of this has renewed scrutiny on these two very powerful people, and specifically Ginni`s history, including her direct involvement, something she doesn`t deny, with what many have called a cult. Indeed there`s a newly released video from back in 1986 that shows her discussing her struggle after leaving that cult.

The video was shared by Dr. Steven Hassan. He`s a mental health professional. He`s an expert on cults. He works to get people out of them, which is what she did. He knew Ginni Thomas in 1986, and he`s here to discuss all of this in the wider context of our cultural and political extremism. I`ll mention that the "New Yorker" has also reported on this prior coverage before this latest scandal, noting that Ginni Thomas flunked the bar exam and fell in with that they called a, quote, "cultish self-help group Lifespring, whose members were encouraged to strip naked and mock each other`s body fat."

Now what everyone thinks of that reporting and that group, Thomas did break out of it a very long time ago. She even became a public advocate and critic of these cults. Speaking out and what she says was an effort to help people avoid this risk, this fate. As we learn about all of this connection potentially some of what we`re going through today, not only in her life but as a nation, we`re joined by Dr. Steven Hassan himself.

He has over 40 years` experience in this area including what he calls the undue influence tactics and tacks basically that are used by these cults or authoritarian leaders. And I should mention he has a book out that does close the circle on the politics of some of this called "The Cult of Trump." Welcome.

DR. STEVEN HASSAN, CULT EXPERT: Thank you so much for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely. You`ve worked in this field. I went out of my way to be very clear about what happens and what we know and don`t know because the fact that somebody got caught up in this is not a rejection of everything they ever otherwise do in life. Indeed let`s begin there because you`ve called to this and how she spoke out. So we have a little bit of this video that`s you`re the source, just to tell viewers, of her speaking out after the break. Take a look.


GINNI THOMAS, WIFE OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS: When you come away from a cult, you have to find a balance in your life, as far as getting involved with fighting the cult or exposing it. What was it that made you get into that group, and what open questions are there that still need to be answered. I`m really trying and struggling with the balance between that. I still have so many questions and so all those things that got me to Lifespring are still there.


MELBER: So let`s start there. How did you come to meet her and how did she strike you at that time?

HASSAN: I was an activist for 10 years at the point of that meeting which was a focus support group meeting. I was a national coordinator of that for a time. Essentially I had warm feelings towards her for years. She was involved in cult awareness briefings, was invited in 1998 to do one of these congressional briefings. We were trying to do an anniversary of Jonestown actually and make cult awareness week because Congressman Leo Ryan was assassinated at the orders of Jim Jones, and so many people and children died unnecessarily.

And so she was wonderful. She introduced me to Clarence Thomas in 1992. I shook his hand. And that`s the last time I remember interacting with her. MELBER: Did she -- at that time, did she strike you as fully out or over that experience? And thus, sort of back to whatever baseline there might be? Or did she strike you as still processing in or caught up in some of it?

HASSAN: Oh, I think she evolved dramatically from 1986 to 1992. But, you know, I don`t know what caused her to go down the QAnon rabbit hole. But I can say that there are some very bad actors who want to undermine America and democracy and human rights, and women`s rights to choose, and I, you know, people are telling me that Trump was controlling Ginni Thomas. I don`t think so. I think somebody else was kind of giving her the ideas, and she was going to Trump and telling him who to fire and who to hire, and other things like that.

MELBER: And I mentioned the "New Yorker`s" reporting, that article states that at one point, Donald Trump, according to the "New Yorker" said that he thought she was too far out for him.


People could take that for what it is. A separate article has a similar theme and they said, quote, "The lists that she was pushing were, quote, `so insane and unworkable,` a lot of them were dripping with paranoia and read like they were written by a disturbed person."

So that`s, again, that`s inner circle Trump criticism. That`s where I`m curious given your knowledge whether you this is a coincidence. Someone who had this long-ago history goes on to get involved in politics, or do you see any linkage here like you explore in your book, the idea that some of the allure of certain organizations, lies, conspiracies, ways to explain the world, overlap into some people`s chosen politics.

HASSAN: Yes. So, how I see it is she was involved with this large group awareness training that did a lot of hypnotic techniques and behavior modification techniques aimed at breaking people`s egos down. She described one exercise where members were told to strip naked or, I mean, excuse down to panties and bikinis, and then were body shamed about it. They did a lot of things like that. Confront your fear, somebody was afraid of drowning, and he jumped into a moving river and drowned because he didn`t know how to swim, and they got sued heavily.

MELBER: There are politicians who talk about issues that are hot button for QAnon, who based on their record and background we have evidence to believe that they know they`re trafficking in lies, and they`re doing it for political reason. Shocker, not the first time that`s ever happened in politics. It seems something different if Miss Thomas or Justice Thomas actually believe some of this stuff. Do you think there -- there`s an overlap of this or is that too far because someone else could push back and say, hey, Ari, a lot of people believe in horoscopes, a lot of people believe in all kinds of stuff?

HASSAN: No, I actually have done a deep dive researching QAnon and its religious underpinnings. And I see it as a cult and a psychological warfare operation.

MELBER: You do. You see QAnon as a kind of a virtual cult, even if they don`t all meet up?

HASSAN: Exactly. That`s what the age we`re living in as people can be radicalized online. I learned this when I was studying ISIS recruitment online. Screens are very powerful. And especially with the pandemic, people get even more susceptible. But I want to be clear. I definitely have the impression she`s a true believer when she was sending those texts. And that`s why I surmise that she`s been indoctrinated and somebody is pulling her strings around these things.

MELBER: Yes. It`s really interesting when you look at it in that context and how we understand our politics. We`ve only just scratched the surface of your work, Doctor, but I appreciate you coming on.

HASSAN: Sure. My pleasure. Thanks so much.

MELBER: And now we turn back to the story we`ve been tracking with breaking news. The House now voting moments ago here, just in the last few minutes, to formally hold the two men you see on your screen, Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, in criminal contempt of Congress. This is what Democrats had projected. They did hold together. In the final vote, you see here, 220 in favor of contempt, 203 against.

And that updates to now four former Trump aides who served in the White House here or were otherwise former White House officials at the time of the insurrection in the case of Bannon. These four have all been now held in contempt by the full Congress. One of them has been indicted. Steve Bannon is the only one to face that indictment. If you`re wondering about the process, we do know the men you see on the right side of your screens, Scavino and Navarro held in contempt tonight for the first time by the full Congress.

That contempt case now goes to the DOJ, which will decide whether or not to indict either of them. We will be right back.



MELBER: Turning to an update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are no Russian forces in or around Kyiv right now. The mayor says the city is essentially trying to come back to life. The AP calls Russia`s failure to capture the capital, quote, "a defeat for the ages." It`s by no means an end to the war or the violence. U.S. officials say Russians are basically using the time to regroup for what they expect to be a new attack focusing on that eastern part of the country.

And there`s more evidence of these atrocities that have been reported across the week. New video from Bucha shows a cyclist riding down the street fired on by Russian armed vehicle. The person presumed dead.

NBC`s Richard Engel is reporting and taking testimony from the survivors left in the city.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: She`s saying one of her neighbors was so frightened because the Russian soldiers were banging on his door that he jumped out of that window on the third floor and came landing on the ground. Didn`t die. Hurt himself but managed to escape. He thought the Russians were just going to shoot him dead. Desperation.


MELBER: As Ukraine braces for a further Russian attack, NBC`s Andrea Mitchell also spoke with Secretary of State Blinken about this ongoing update to U.S. military aid.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Put this in perspective, between the United States and other allies and partners, for every Russian tank in Ukraine, we have provided or will soon provide 10 antitank systems, 10 for every single Russian tank.


They have the tools that they need. They`re going to keep getting them and we`re going to keep sustaining that.


MELBER: That`s an update on the war. When we come back, we have an update on another story we brought you. This big win for labor against Amazon and what does Joe Biden have to say about it, next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rebuilding America with union labor is smart for business in American public. Unions provide in one word democracy in the workplace. By the way, Amazon, here we come.


MELBER: He looked like he meant it. President Biden today, he was speaking to workers at a Labor Union Conference in Washington. This comes right after the historic vote for the first ever union at an Amazon warehouse in America. That was in New York. We heard from the victorious union leader of that effort earlier this week. You have Biden there basically making it clear where he stands and taking on the powerful company of Amazon.

We`re going to get into that and a whole lot more tomorrow when Nobel Prize winning economist and "New York Times" writer and celebrated author Paul Krugman comes back to join me live on THE BEAT.


That`s Paul Krugman tomorrow on THE BEAT on all of this. I encourage you to DVR or tune in.

That does it for us. "THE REIDOUT" with Joy Reid is up next.