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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/1/22

Guests: David Rothkopf, Hakeem Jeffries


United States conducted successful anti-terrorism operation using drone strike in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of top al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. New York Democratic congressman on the significance of the death of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri considered to be one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. New evidence exposes the depth of Donald Trump`s coup plot. Watergate veteran Jill Wine-Banks joins Melber to discuss the wider conspiracy case.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Recovering from COVID himself, but the U.S. government has, based on reporting from our news organization and the "New York Times" and others, successfully killed the top al Qaeda leader al- Zawahiri.

Director Brennan, David Rohde, thank you so much for being part of our breaking news coverage. Monica Alba and Kristen Welker, it takes a village when something like this happens. Thank you to everyone who jumped on the air. To Matthew Dowd and Cornell Welcher, to be continued. We will come back to our segment that we had just commenced tomorrow. I promise.

Our breaking news coverage, though, continues right now on THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you very much. Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber. We have several stories for you tonight but we begin with continuing coverage of this breaking news.

United States reporting on this strike, killing al Qaeda terrorist leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Afghanistan. This occurred over the weekend. The news is breaking, confirmed now. Nicolle Wallace here leading our coverage, and I can tell you what you may know, the president will be addressing the nation in about 90 minutes. The White House saying President Biden will speak out on this.

It is a fast-moving, late-breaking story, and for that reason we go directly to some of our experts on this. NBC chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker and retired four-star Army general Barry McCaffery.

Kristen, what are we learning from the White House about something that apparently already occurred but as the way these things go down is sort of breaking news right now tonight?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. First, we learned that President Biden was going to speak at 7:30 Eastern Time to announce an operation against a senior al Qaeda leader, and based on conversations with two sources familiar with the matter, my colleague Ken Dilanian and I, have been able to confirm that that leader was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is the leader of al Qaeda.

He took over after Osama bin Laden was killed. And this is significant. This was a raid that was conducted over the weekend, Ari. Let me just read you something that the White House released, which is, "Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful, and there were no civilian casualties."

So let`s just take a step back and think about how we got here. Obviously the United States withdrew its forces over the summer, last summer. And that was a withdrawal that was widely criticized. It was perceived as being botched. But in the wake of that withdrawal, President Biden said that he would continue counterterrorism operations, that they would continue to track people who were involved with terrorist networks. And so now we see the fruits of that.

"The New York Times" reporting, Ari, at this hours that U.S. officials said the strike was not conducted by the military, which suggests that the operation was carried out by the CIA. Now, the White House is going to be updating reporters in just about a half an hour from now, so we`re going to ask about that and ask about how this operation specifically went down. We will obviously follow up on the claim that there were no civilian casualties, and we`ll try to get the detail of how this all unfolded and who specifically carried this out.

One more note here, Ari, this comes as President Biden is experiencing a rebound case of COVID. Of course last week he said that he had recovered and then he tested positive again, which is something that we do see when someone takes Paxlovid, as the president did. So he was clearly dealing with this over the weekend while he was still in isolation at the White House. He is going to be speaking from the White House Blue Room balcony, Ari. That`s significant because he will be outside given that he`s still testing positive.

MELBER: Yes, as you say, more than one element there on the minds of the people at the White House as they manage that.

General, what is the national security significance of this successful operation?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, FOUR-STAR ARMY GENERAL (RETIRED): Well, I think it`s considerable, obviously. Al Qaeda remains an enduring threat to the United States and our allies. We understood when we withdrew from Afghanistan it would to some extent attenuate the ability of us to collect intelligence. I think it also underscores the fact that the Taliban, now the de facto government of Afghanistan, is still completely complicit with other terrorist organizations. And in some cases, I might add, we think Pakistan is also involved.

So there`s a continuing threat to the American people. This is another brilliant operation that will give us some ability to say we`ve temporarily lowered the threat. But we just can`t drop our guard. We`re going to have to live with this kind of situation in the coming years.

MELBER: Yes. I want to follow up with you on the point that Kristen raised about who was doing this and then go back to you, Kristen, on what we`re going to hear from the president in these remarks tonight, outdoors as you say, and that precaution.


General, as mentioned, the reporting here and the statement from U.S. officials is not conducted by the military, and so there`s discussion about what that would entail, and of course the president may decide what level of detail to get into here. What does it tell you about the evolving footprint, which this president of course pledged to evolve in terms of getting out of Afghanistan in that military way while maintaining these other skill sets, the drone opportunities, the CIA, more nimble footprint, to do things when necessary? What if anything is your view of what this operation says about those capabilities?

MCCAFFREY: Well, it`s obviously tougher. If you`ve got, you know, 30,000 Americans in the country and active U.S. embassy with OGA, other government authorities in the country, you have a human system -- human intelligence spies, agents that of tremendous value. And I`m sure we`ve still got an agent network in the country. But it does underscore the technical expertise of not just the CIA but also the national security agency, our ability to do the signals intelligence to do overhead photography is simply astonishing, never mind reaper drones, which the CIA also flies.

And their ability to monitor a target for a month at a time with unblinking eye on a given person, so they`re still pretty good at pulling all this together and providing a target that was a threat to the United States interest, and I`m very proud of what they`ve done.

MELBER: This is one of those breaking news nights. Our guests here stay, and we`re adding in Ken Dilanian, NBC intelligence correspondent who`s long covered the intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

I`m going to go to Kristen next I mentioned on the speech, but since you`re joining here, Ken, what can you tell us about the intelligence side of this? What is known?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ari, first of all, I should point out that the Taliban publicly acknowledged or disclosed that there was a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan on Sunday, so I think that gives us some possible insight into what happened here. We have not confirmed that this was a drone strike, but the Taliban was saying there was one.

Look, the former CIA officers I have been talking to about this tonight, including former CIA director Mike Hayden, who ran the agency after 9/11, are stunned by this because Ayman al-Zawahiri was the hardest of hard targets, perhaps even more remote and mysterious than Osama bin Laden. He really had disappeared from the scene. The last video from him emerged in 2019, and, you know, as Hayden told me tonight, we didn`t see him, he said, for 10 years.

He really was in deep, deep hiding such that he wasn`t -- you know, intelligence sources would tell me he wasn`t that effective a leader of al Qaeda because he was so removed from the scene. He`s a 71-year-old man. But we should remember, you know, one of the masterminds of 9/11, and he was a target of the CIA in that operation where -- that led where the double agent kind of played the intelligence community that led to that tragic bombing in 2009 where six CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed in coast.

So he really figures prominently in this two-decade war on terror, and CIA officers and former officials I`m talking to are really celebrating this tonight. And they`re looking forward to the detective story that we`re going to learn about, you know, how the agency found him in a country where we have no U.S. presence on the ground, Ari.

MELBER: Hmm. Kristen?

WELKER: And I think that we will hear some of that when President Biden speaks tonight in just about an hour and a half from now. Some of the operational details. And Ari, as you say, it appears as though this was carried out with a drone strike, which is such a distinct contrast from how Osama bin Laden was killed. I mean, think about that still photo from the situation room, former President Barack Obama, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, top officials huddled together, watching that raid unfold, that hours` long raid unfold where they had to find Osama bin Laden who was hiding out in a house with a number of other people.

And it was minute by minute and touch and go until the very end. And so I think we will be very curious to hear what, if any operational details, we learn from President Biden tonight about how specifically this was carried out and how they found him. And I do think he will speak to the significance of this. All of the things that Ken Dilanian just laid out.

The fact that he was really considered the ideological leader of al Qaeda, in some ways he was more responsible, many think, for the operational details of 9/11 than almost anyone else at the time. So this is a significant target. And again, I think you will hear President Biden talk about this as a broader piece of his strategy as it relates to Afghanistan, pulling out U.S. soldiers and shifting into this counterterrorism mode and model in order to counter those who are still with these terrorist organizations.


So I think you will hear all of that from President Biden. And again, it does come against this very fraught backdrop that he is dealing with on the domestic stage, rising inflation. He has had some wins as it relates to his domestic policy as well, but undoubtedly, undoubtedly, this is going to be a significant announcement if it`s what we have all been reporting.

MELBER: Absolutely. Well, Kristen, as you emphasized and for viewers just joining us, we`re reporting on this breaking news of the top al Qaeda leader reportedly taken out. The president speaking about it tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, while he is recovering from second round COVID, while he`s also been working with the Congress and the Senate on what they view as a domestic spending breakthrough.

We have Hakeem Jefferies, a Democratic leader, joining us later this hour. And as Kristen reminds us, it speaks to why a presidency is always this full-time and unpredictable job as they do more than one thing.

And General, we`re careful to say what we`re basing the reporting on and we expect to hear some more detail from the president. But this is a fast- moving story. We don`t know everything about how it went down or even exactly when it went down.

I`m curious, though, given your background, if you could also remind us a little bit more about how this kind of targets are identified and the military planning and intelligence planning process that goes up to the president because we know from the evolution of the drone program under the Obama administration and beyond how this has become a very precise layered process whereby these targets when identified go up the chain.

So without foreclosing anything we may learn later on a breaking story, can you remind us a little bit of how that works and what does it mean when we`re told that the administration from the president on down decided to go try to execute this operation?

MCCAFFREY: Well, of course incredibly difficult political and legal challenge to any administration to decide to use lethal force against a target, and there is a basis of law. The Department of Justice would have had to rule on it. The State Department lawyers, do we have significant justification to go after the target? Clearly in this case, with a senior leading agent of an implacable danger to American citizens, the legal basis was there.

Then there is a forensic investigation that goes on, where we combine the various forms of intelligence we have, and I would not put aside -- I`m sure we do have continuing human sources inside Afghanistan. Some of them probably in the Taliban. But more importantly, the technical means of intelligence gathering now are simply beyond belief, and that`s -- they put them together so you`re looking at overhead photography.

You`re looking at signals intelligence intercept. You`re looking at people for a month at a time, for weeks at a time, they`ll follow a building, a person, who comes, what was their license plate number, which of course was how they eventually got Osama bin Laden. So I think it`s a -- it`s a mark of the incredible capacity of the intelligence community, and in particular, National Security Agency and the CIA to bring together various arms of information.

And then you come up with a target folder. And of course we`ve talked about collateral damage, killing family members, other associates. A challenge probably overdone in my view. When we get a target of such danger to the American people, those who are associated with them have a lesser degree of protection, in my view, than would be the unfortunate death of those children in Kabul just as we pulled out.

So they have to decide, what are we going to accept in collateral damage? And then they executed the process. And these remotely piloted vehicles now, I don`t know where this one was flown from, the Air Force flies a lot of them from Nevada. So you got a 19-year-old airman and a lieutenant colonel sitting next to him. I have been there. And they`re piloting a lethal vehicle 7,000 miles away. And they`ve got incredible clarity, generally speaking, to what they`re doing.

More so than 2:00 in the morning with a J-SOC operative coming down a, you know, wind-swept mountainside in blinding sleet. So normally these operations are extremely exquisitely targeted and get the person they`re after and don`t kill other people.


MELBER: Yes, you`re walking us through the state of modern warfare. We`re speaking at a time where you have an ongoing hot war on the ground in Ukraine, a land war in Europe, where we have the debates over the United States role and Saudi Arabia and those foreign policy challenges for this president. And then as we have been discussing, what does it look like in this technological framework to deal with these threats that are long running, that Americans remember back to 9/11, and how does that work in what Kristen was reporting as a, quote, "nonmilitary operation." But that of course evolves to full national security planning process.

Again, I`m telling viewers we`re in this breaking news mode. Our panel stays. We`re also going to be joined right now by David Rothkopf, a longtime foreign policy expert journalist who now hosts "Deep State Radio."

To David and then Ken, let`s go a little deeper on what we know about al- Zawahiri because there have been times in this sort of post-9/11 terror threat matrix to the United States where people pop up and they seem to recede or in the Iraqi context, you had a whole host of different people doing operations on the ground.

David, this seems to be an individual who actually has a very long track record, who has been in the sights of the American intelligence community for a very long time, who has, as Ken was mentioning earlier, publicly taunted the United States repeated with videos that perhaps not of the bin Laden vintage, perhaps not of that dramatic memories that some Americans have, were nonetheless very serious, celebratory, sort of aggressive, evil, angry videos that, in his world view, were touting 9/11 and other things that were perpetrated against innocent Americans and civilians, I might add.

What can you tell us about this individual, his life and biography, as well as how the United States has viewed him?

DAVID ROTHKOPF, HOST, "DEEP STATE RADIO" PODCAST: Well, as you have discussed here already, you know, he comes from Egypt, trained as a doctor, and was involved in the assassination of Sadat. When he got out of jail, moved into this other orbit of al Qaeda and found himself ultimately at the right hand of Osama bin Laden. He was the ideological brains behind the al Qaeda operation, if you can characterize it that way.

He planned a lot of what was going on. He was seen as centrally involved in the 9/11 attacks. And he`s been on our radar now for 21 years because of all this, and in fact there have been instances where we went after him, thought we had gotten him, and in fact had not. So, you know, in many respects, this is a two decades` long story and a tribute to the fact that the United States has never relented in its search for the people responsible for 9/11.

I would add, though, that, you know, it comes a year after President Biden pulled out of Afghanistan, and, you know, when he pulled out of Afghanistan, there was a lot of criticism that he might not be able to manage terror threats there. President Biden, for a long time, has said that we should be approaching this as Kristen said, from this counterterrorism mode as opposed to, you know, this endless war mode.

And I think in some important ways this is a vindication of the Biden approach, saying, look, we can keep our eye on these people, we can use the technology we`ve got to go after these people. We don`t need to have massive amounts of forces in place, and we can keep Americans safe that way. So, you know, in that respect, this is a juxtaposition of a two decades` long story and of the new chapter in how the United States is going to go after terror threats.

MELBER: Ken, same question.

DILANIAN: Yes, well, I think what my intelligence sources have said in recent years about Zawahiri is that he was not nearly as charismatic as bin Laden, and that he was essentially removed in recent years from operational leadership of what was left of al Qaeda and really there wasn`t much left of al Qaeda core in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years.

The U.S. intelligence officials have said several times in recent years to congressional committees at the Worldwide Threat Hearings and in other forums that al Qaeda and ISIS for that matter are no longer capable of conducting this sort of complex attack on the U.S. homeland that they carried out with 9/11 or even anything close to that, Ari.

At the same time, though, yes, he remained an important figure, and his presence was -- whether he issued videos or not, was taunting the CIA, and clearly there was a team, you know, like waiting in the tall grass, gathering intelligence, collecting and putting together the mosaic to go find him.


And the fact that they did it in Afghanistan, as David pointed out, in a place where it`s difficult if not impossible for any American to be on the ground right now, is a remarkable intelligence feat, and I cannot wait to hear more about the details of how it happened because it`s a very important victory for the U.S. intelligence community.

MELBER: Yes. Understood. What we`re going to do, I want to tell viewers what`s happening. We`ve got busy people on camera. We`re going to go to the congressman, but I`m hoping to bring back several of our experts here. So, thank you, as we track this big breaking news.

We`re now joined by a member of Democratic leadership, Congressman Hakeem Jefferies from New York. He`s part of the speaker`s leadership team.

You know how it is, sir, you were invited here to discuss a range of things but we`re going to begin with this breaking news. First of all, welcome, thanks for joining me.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Thank you, Ari. Great to be on.

MELBER: Absolutely. We can get into all of this. I got to ask you the straight forward question first. As someone from New York who represents New York, what does it mean to have one of the top architects of 9/11 here according to the reporting taken out formally by the United States in this news over the weekend breaking tonight?

JEFFRIES: It`s an incredibly important development, and as you indicated, very personal for those of us here in New York City who, you know, witnessed and experienced the horrors of 9/11, none more than the families who suffered as a direct result of lives that were lost -- firefighters, police officers, others who were heroes on that particular day.

But there was a promise that was made shortly after September 11th that whoever was involved would be hunted down and found whenever and wherever possible, and 20-plus years later, that promise that was made back then continues to be kept. And I`m also thankful for the leadership of President Biden, who made clear a little over a year ago that we were going to pull out of Afghanistan because of the fact that the reality is that we never promised to go to Afghanistan to nation build.

But he also said that we will continue to maintain our capacity to strike out at terrorists who may be given or may seek to find safe haven in Afghanistan, and he said we would do that with over the horizon capability. And that clearly has proven to be the case.

MELBER: Yes, you go right to that foreign policy history, sir, and some of our guests actually were mentioning that, some of our foreign policy experts. There`s no single event that can define anything, but some foreign policy events we all know loom larger given the sort of bookend to that departure, which I think people remember was difficult, and American lives were lost. And the administration was criticized at the time on that with the point you raised, the concern of, well, what does this do to the United States` ability to project force in that region related to 9/11 as opposed to nation building?

Do you view this kind of operation as a validation of that Biden pledge? That you can actually still project force for the reasons you just stated, but you don`t have to be doing nation building for multiple decades in the Middle East?

JEFFRIES: Without question. We clearly did need to go into Afghanistan to be able to route the Taliban and push out al Qaeda and ultimately strike out and identify and find bin Laden. But the promise was also made that any single person who was involved in September 11th would be tracked down and held accountable, and we would work incredibly hard to try to identify and neutralize those individuals who continue to pose a threat to the people of the United States of America.

And with respect to that latter point, the ability of the administration, the intelligence community, and all who were involved to be able to take out al Qaeda`s top leader who was apparently in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the fact that we have no boots on the ground, folks who are in jeopardy in terms of being targets for people in Afghanistan, but can still identify through our, you know, over the horizon capacity.


JEFFRIES: We still have eyes and we still have ears that are listening and we still have the capacity to hold terrorists accountable. That is a victory for America. But a victory, of course, led by President Biden and our intelligence community.

MELBER: Yes. And you have been generous with your time on this news night. I`ve got 30 seconds left. What are you listening for from the president tonight?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think, you know, the president will continue to make it clear that the United States is the leader of the free world, will hold those who seek to suppress freedom and impose repression accountable.


That has happened, and under President Biden`s leadership I expect it will continue to happen, and he`ll point out, it`s a victory for America, democracy, and freedom.

MELBER: Understood. Thank you for making time, and I hope you can come back soon, because we`re going the talk domestic policy as well. And let`s get to that when you can.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you, sir.

As promised, we`d turn back, we have NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchel joining us here on THE BEAT`s special coverage for the first time along with Kristen Welker and General McCaffrey.

Andrea, what do you see as the security implications of this news?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one is very troubling, one factor is troubling which is that he was apparently found in a Haqqani leadership house, a safe house in Kabul, which means that these relationships among the terror groups are still very alive and thriving even after the fall of Kabul, and even after all the protestations by the Taliban leaders that their leaders would not be connected with terror groups.

But it does certainly confirm the U.S. ability, to extraordinary ability to do over-the-horizon attacks, as Congressman Jeffries just said, to do that, and that is something that the president promised after the devastating fall of Kabul, the precipitous fall of the government, and the withdrawal, which led to so much criticism.

So approaching the anniversary of the fall of Kabul, which is just two weeks from today, that certainly is a significant political benefit, certainly, to the president. And it also shows the military capability. This was apparently CIA. To try to give it the protective cover, CIA does have that military capability of a drone attack. Not the Pentagon, per se.

But it certainly indicates, also, the continuing terror threat inside Afghanistan, something that we`ve seen as the Taliban has taken over and has cracked down, and now we see that these terror groups are still very much alive and well.

Zawahiri was not operational per se, we don`t think, still, in al Qaeda, but he is a hugely important symbolic leader. And John Brennan was saying that earlier to you and to Nicolle Wallace earlier today. So the importance of bin Laden`s number two, who was the brains behind 9/11 and other terror attacks over decades, certainly cannot be overstated.

MELBER: Hmm. Andrea, what are you looking to see from the president tonight?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that he will certainly affirm U.S. leadership, the U.S. ability, the military and intelligence capabilities. I don`t know if he will refer to any allied involvement in this because Afghanistan was a NATO operation. But certainly this is a significant way to give credit to the intelligence operations and to talk about the continuing threat that the Taliban do provide -- do create, because there`s certainly no diminution of the Taliban as a terror organization which does justify to a certain extent the U.S. still not unfreezing all of those frozen assets, not deal or recognizing the Taliban government despite the horrific economic burden that that has placed on the poor people of Afghanistan and the way women in particular, women and girls, have been completely segregated and discriminated against in the past year.

So all of this does, to a certain extent, justify all of the criticism of the steps, the sanctioning and the steps that the U.S. has taken, despite all the criticism around the world against the Taliban in the intervening year. And I know that the administration was approaching this first anniversary with trepidation. We`re in a midterm year. There`s political fallout. It was one of the big setbacks. Huge foreign policy setback.

While they talked as recently as this week, secretary of State and others were talking about how many people they did get out, they were on the defensive for the failure of getting all of those who worked -- the Afghans who worked with our military out. The fact that they still have American citizens there who don`t want to leave Afghanistan. And that it`s a very slow process of resettling the Afghan refugees, those who have made it to a third country and still want to come into the U.S. and even those who are here in the United States who were not fully assimilated and put back on their feet.

So there`s been a lot of criticism of that withdrawal, obviously, and of all the events that ensued, the deaths of 13 service members that horrible day at the airport. And so this does mitigate that to a great extent and shows that the ability of the U.S. Military is still very much intact and in terms of U.S. intelligence.

MELBER: Yes. All really important context, which is why we`re thrilled to have gotten you in here, as we are now just an hour away from the speech on this breaking news.

Andrea Mitchell, thanks for joining us. Kristen Welker and General McCaffrey, thanks for joining us in more than one segment as we track this.

We`re going to fit in a break. As I mentioned, there`s a lot of domestic news we have. A lot coming up tonight on this as we count down to the President`s speech on the problems for Donald Trump and Fox News. And our new reporting, as we`ve been tracking the criminal conspiracy case against Donald Trump that now his lawyers are literally prepping a criminal defense in the case of indictment. Special guests on that next.




MELISSA MURRAY, LAW PROFESSOR, NYU: This is incredibly helpful to have this longitudinal look at everything that happened from the time the election was conducted all the way through to January 6, because I think we lost sight of the way in which all of this was linked up.

This is an effort to use the constitution to actually use legitimate legal means for the purpose of overthrowing a democratically conducted elections.


MELBER: That was Professor Melissa Murray discussing a special report we aired for the first time Friday about looking at Trump`s conduct, not through the lens of only January 6 or even only the violence, but a larger illegal coup conspiracy. We have Jill wine -- Jill Wine-Banks -- excuse me -- here live tonight. She has handled exactly these kinds of cases, including the Watergate prosecution.

And we did this special to try to, like, take that broader look through the evidence which had the necessity of taking the time to go through it all, as you know, Jill, which meant that we actually for that entire hour, Friday only heard from one extra live guests. But Miss Wine-Banks is here tonight live to go over a little bit more. And in the spirit of that, I want to mention those eight distinct plots that we discuss began with some that were either legal, or probably defensively lawful while six of the plots turned red by the end were involved in crimes.

In no way can I condense all of this tonight, but for Jill Wine-Banks being basically our second guest on this reporting, I want to show you a few of the key parts from this special.


MELBER: When you actually understand how this started and how many different plots were pursued, thwarted, warned about, and then desperately doubled down upon, that goes to the criminal intent.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have.

JASON MILLER, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I would say that we should not go declare victory.

IVANKA TRUMP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The results were still being counted.

PETER NAVARRO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I think we need a special counsel that we put in place before inauguration day to get to the bottom of this. I think we need to cease a lot of those voting machines.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: You`ve got Ted Cruz, you`ve got - - you`ve got Lindsey Graham, you`ve got Tom Cotton from Harvard Law School. You`ve got some heavies over in the Senate.

MURRAY: You`re finally able to see how all of these things stack on top of each other, and they`re all part of a joint effort, some might say a conspiracy, to bring all of this into fruition.

MELBER: Taken together, well, this evidence suggests the question is no longer whether there are any indictable election offenses here. But how prosecutors would explain a failure to indict and enforce the law and how that does risk letting the close call of this documented and attempted multi-prong coup conspiracy turn into a training exercise that American democracy may not survive.


MELBER: Jill Wine-Banks is here. I give you the floor to walk us through your legal analysis of what it means to widen out from January 6 which is where the Justice Department has been squarely focused and understand there may be a criminal conspiracy case that runs weeks, if not months.

JILL WINE BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I agree with how you presented it on Friday. And I think everyone should watch that you are absolutely correct. I have long said that January 6, is just one of the tentacles of this broad conspiracy. It`s an overarching conspiracy. That was one more way they tried to stop the election from being counted the way it was voted.

Voters vote for electors, which is a silly thing and we should probably get rid of the Electoral College, but that`s how we do it now, they expect that when they vote, that`s who`s going to cast the ballots are the electors they vote for. So, there was all of these attempts, there were lawsuits, which while they may have been legal, were totally frivolous and were thrown out.

Then you started with the pressure on Pence, then you started with the pressure on state legislatures, then you started with the fake electors. And even when they were setting it up, they said it was fake electors. So, you have all of these things, and they were all failing. So, then on the day that it was going to be certified, he invited and unleashed a mob on the Capitol to do its job to delay and to stop the peaceful transfer of power, which is one of the keystones of our democracy.

So, if we can`t count on our votes being counted, and if we can`t count on a peaceful transfer of power, when we the people vote for a particular candidate, then we don`t have a democracy anymore. So, I see this as a very big conspiracy. I see individual parts of it that are also illegal. So, it`s not just a conspiracy which requires an agreement, there are conduct 2383, which is the insurrection, does not require an agreement, it just requires that he have done the violent provocation.

MELBER: Right.


BANKS: And that one is a really good law to use because one of the penalties of that is that you can never hold office again. There`s also part of a Federal Records Act that also says you can no longer hold federal office if you violate the Federal Records Act, something that clearly is --

MELBER: You know, Jill, this is why people say talking to you, in a good way, is like talking to an actual law book but more interesting, because you could just rattle it off. I`m only jumping in to get the other news. I mentioned the conspiracy case that we looked at in that special.

The other news today, two items. One, the longest sentence yet handed down against any insurrectionists or trespasser, seven years in the DOJ, in contrast to some that we announced that that were wanted to go even harder, having them treated as an actual terrorist, domestic terrorist convicted. It`s a hefty sentence, though, for that militia member. And new reporting that Donald Trump`s lawyers are formally working on presenting their defense according to three sources, a legal defense against criminal charges. That means they are at least preparing for the possibility of an indictment.

Jill, I wanted your reaction to that. I want to be as precise as possible with the news here. Lawyers working on something means that it is possible, meaning they obviously view it as more of a concern than they might have, say randomly five years ago. It does not in any way open the door to the secret process in Georgia or Washington. We don`t know what`s going to come out of that and I don`t want to confuse that point. But having given it that care, your reaction to this and the lawyers preparing a Trump defense.

BANKS: I think it`s smart to start preparing. But I think that there is basically no real defense. I mean, the thing we`ve heard, for example, was that it can`t be a lie. And this is what he filed in his civil case -- or not case, but he sent a letter threatening to sue CNN and said it`s not a lie because I subjectively believed that it was true.

Well, that isn`t how the law works. It is a lie if the facts don`t line up with it. And if you know that it`s a lie and if you willfully ignore all the truth that you are being given, it`s still a lie. So I don`t see any legitimate defenses to these things. There are some and I mean, if I were a defense lawyer, I could think of some where I might argue that even in Georgia, he didn`t say, I want you to make up these things. He said, I want you to out of all the false ballots that were cast, just find the right number that will get me elected. Get me one more than I lost by.

And, you know, he can argue that he really believed that. I don`t think that anyone could possibly think that that was true.

MELBER: Right. And you`re partly alluding to defenses that don`t work, which is why they might bring in the real lawyers to prepare some defenses that work better. And as we always say, in the event of an indictment, people are legally presumed innocent. They get their time in court. That`s how that process works. But it is interesting to see some of this all developing at once.

Jill Wine-Banks, as mentioned, we wanted you on Friday, but we got time for you tonight. That`s how it works. Thanks for being here.

BANKS: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely. I`m going to fit in a break. When we come back, how January 6 evidence and facts are leading to a New York Times front page story about meltdowns over Fox News when we return.



MELBER: We`ve been reporting on the Donald Trump-Fox News split. And now it has hit the front page of The New York Times with reporting that Fox is completely bypassing Trump in favor of showcasing other Republicans effectively displacing him from his favorite spot, the center of the news cycle. Trump has noticed complaining even Hannity won`t pay him much attention anymore.

Now, it`s a problem for any candidate, even a P.R. reality show person like Trump if you are being disappeared from social media where he has been deplatformed and television. Now, take Fox`s website, kind of a fusion of both at least TV and the internet, but there`s a video making waves highlighting Republicans who say they like Trump enough to go to his recent rally but are looking for a new leader in 24.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like what he does but he upset to many people and he upset I`m really bad. So, I don`t think he`s good for the party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Chun both times, but I think his time has passed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m thankful for everything that he`s done but I think that our Republican Party needs to be united.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, he`s a little polarizing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`d like to someone that speaks the truth and I really feel like DeSantis would be a good option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 100 percent DeSantis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m a DeSantis fan as well.


MELBER: Republican activist highlighted by Fox News digital, the other logo in the corner, looking for something other than Trump. And then you have what Rupert Murdoch has been leading over there because instead of showing any of that Trump rally, Fox gave 13 minutes of live airtime to Ron DeSantis at the same night. This is a split that doesn`t look like it`s going away.


We`re going to fit in a break, but tonight, we`re continuing coverage of that drone strike to kill the top al-Qaeda leader. President Biden preparing to speak now within the hour, and we will carry that for you live here on MSNBC.




BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who`s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.


MELBER: Now, over a decade ago, when President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden after a dramatic and effective Navy SEAL mission, here we are over a decade later, and it is the vice president for that president who is now president, Joe Biden, who will tonight announce the killing of bin Laden`s formal successor we expect to hear in about 30 minutes from the White House.

The reports are of a successful counter-terror operation that killed Ayman Al Zawahiri, the terror leader, was reportedly killed by a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan. Much of the information is still coming together. We expect to learn more when the President formalizes this. We will have it covered tonight on MSNBC. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" begins after this break.