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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/26/22

Guests: Asha Rangappa, Hakeem Jeffries, Mark Leibovich, Jay McInerney


Department of Justice revealed details about unprecedented Mar-a- Lago search, showing how Trump defied requests for over six months to return classified documents. Democratic congressman on the unsealed affidavit behind FBI search of Trump`s Mar-a-Lago estate. Staff writer of The Atlantic Mark Leibovich joins Ari Melber to talk about President Biden warning the new GOP about an actual threat to democracy and some veteran journalists on America`s rolling political crisis. Famed novelist Jay McInerney joins THE BEAT with Ari Melber to talk about his book Bright Lights, Big City and how it reflects it to the people and the government.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: 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. Happy Friday.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Happy Friday. Hi, Nicolle. Thank you. And this is a Friday with breaking news.

Today a judge released the road map to that unprecedented search of Donald Trump`s Mar-a-Lago home, meaning the world now knows more now, tonight about this search than yesterday or ever before. And to be clear with you, we are also learning some things about what prosecutors don`t want anyone to know about the open criminal probe. So we have this information, which we didn`t have until today and that is legally interesting. We`ll go through it.

We also have this not information. A large swaths of redactions, I could even put them like, you know, redact my face. You can`t get much detail out of this. And it was approved by a judge which does tell us something, although not what`s under the redaction. So we have this unprecedented clash over federal powers, over the prerogatives of a former president. The suspicion about criminal evidence.

All of this is here in the ballpark. And if you`ve heard today or tonight, we know everything now, I can tell you, no, we don`t. Obviously have to be careful about what`s redacted. We`re learning new things. So I`m going to go through the facts with you right now. The road map here that`s been released, the affidavit, shows how agent initially recovered these highly classified documents and then based on that timeline and the information they had, they saw a grave need to go back in to do a search to get the rest of them.

They found that Trump had, in the DOJ`s view, stolen material that involves secret clandestine human sources and human intelligence. That`s the kind of material that`s not only supposed to stay on government property, meaning you don`t just get to walk out with it. Even when it is properly held by the government it requires a higher layer of physical security that most government buildings don`t even have.

A formally secure location to protect the human sources which could include Americans or allies in dangerous places, where leaks or bad information getting out even accidentally, even without malice, could involve them getting hurt or killed, assassinated as human intelligence sources for the United States national security apparatus.

What else did we learn? The new material shows Trump was sloppy with highly classified records that were found unfolded, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly identified and some of what appeared to be Donald Trump`s handwritten notes on some of that mixed in potentially secure material which they say he stole.

Now, why is the government keeping this secret? You can see it on the screen. We showed you. You can see it in my hand. Half of this road map just about is completely redacted. Now, until today the whole thing was only seen in secret by the judge. This other half remains in secret. So what we can tell you about that, with all objective caution is that at least the FBI stated its reasons, premature disclosure would jeopardize the probe. It could tip off criminal parties to flee or destroy evidence. That`s the rationale. That`s the reasoning.

Before I go to our experts, the other thing I want to tell you about this that is interesting is it doesn`t tell us what`s underneath and I`m not going to speculate on what`s underneath. It does tell us how much there is. So just imagine with me if you did a -- say you`re in a case with the CIA or in this case you got multiple human intelligence sources involved and the government says, hey, there`s a lot of secret stuff. And by the way in court sometimes they just say that generally, right. Define a lot. That`s a debate.

When you get a filing like this, you move from the general claims to the specific. Is it one page? Is it two? Is it three? Well, we learned today with more detail than we`ve ever had before that it is many, many, many such pages and that means there is a lot of stuff that a judge has independently verified has credibly necessarily to keep secret that relates to what the heck Donald Trump and other people were up to down at Mar-a- Lago. That is bad for him.

And one more thing, the evidence here shows the FBI and DOJ asserting that they were looking at potential criminal activity at Trump`s house. Let me repeat. Criminal activity, suspicion thereof at Mar-a-Lago. Now we don`t know who exactly is suspected of that activity. But again for the first time we have this explicit reference about probable cause that evidence of obstruction would be found at those very premises.

With all caution and all care, that`s what we`re learning and I want to bring in now really one of the most perfect experts you could get on this.


I`m not just saying that because she is our guest, but a former FBI special agent in the counterintelligence division, now a senior lecturer at Yale, that`s the least impressive thing about you tonight, Asha Rangappa. The Yale we put to the side.

Thanks for coming back.


MELBER: Absolutely. I mentioned your credentials because it`s so relevant to an area of what I would call double technicality. There`s all the federal law and Fourth Amendment Rights around search and seizure, and then there is this technical intelligence piece. I want to ask you both questions. First, what do you glean and make of what we did learn? And then second, what, if anything, do you have analysis for all of that we didn`t learn, how much they redacted?

RANGAPPA: Yes. For how much was redacted in this affidavit, I think we have gleaned quite a lot. So there are several things that jumped out at me. The first is that they specify the section of the Espionage Act that they are investigating Trump for. It`s 793-E and this is important because there`s two identical parts of the Espionage Act about possession of national defense information. One is about unauthorized possession. One is about lawful possession.

They are investigating him for unauthorized possession. So they don`t believe he has any legal claim to this. And I think it`s worth emphasizing here that Trump did not have a security clearance. You know, whatever other arguments he makes, he does not have a security clearance.

MELBER: Right.

RANGAPPA: And, you know, that brings me to the second point that jumped out which is just the volume of highly classified information that they recovered just from the first batch, cache, tranche, whatever you want to call it.


RANGAPPA: That was returned to NARA. You know --

MELBER: I call it a box of sloppy stolen documents but you can call it whatever you want.

RANGAPPA: Let`s call it a box of sloppy stolen documents. And I think that`s actually more accurate, Ari, because these documents, the classified documents were haphazardly intermingled with other reports. There was no folder on them. So classified information will always be placed in a folder, color coded by the level of classification that`s both to signal to somebody who might encounter it that, you know, watch out, this is classified, you may not have a need to know, but also, you know, to differentiate it.

And we know that lawyers, aides, people were handling these boxes and, you know, movers, I don`t know, who could have potentially had access to these, and that these were being stored in a room that as far as I can tell from the timeline and this affidavit was not even secured until this past June. In a beach club resort, by the way. So, you know, I think we have to really look at the potential compromise of intelligence, of sources, danger that human intelligence sources could be placed in. So that was the second thing that jumped out at me.

The third is that there is an entire section about the reason to believe that there was still classified information and records on the premises. This is after they served the subpoena, were given the boxes of documents. They`re told by Trump`s lawyers we`ve given you all the classified we have. There`s still some stuff there which the government at this point believes is just presidential records. Tells them to put a lock on it.

Everything is redacted but we then see that they have identified three places that they believe that there is still information that is the Presidential Suite, Pine Hall and I`m not sure exactly what that is, and 45 Office which I assume is Trump`s office. So they`ve learned something in this time to make them believe that there is still stuff there which raises this obstruction part, right, once they`ve told them that they had everything.

And this also gets to the government told them put everything in that storage room. Everything that you have. So by definition, anything that is kept anywhere else at Mar-a-Lago is really evading that directive from the government and potentially concealment.

MELBER: Right, I mean, I`ll jump in to say, yes, they call it a SCIF, the secure thing. They didn`t fully SCIF it. But again, in a matter of deference, they sort of said, well, you know what, it`s like DIY, make a Pinterest board of what your mood board of a secure facility would be, and at least add a lock. We`re trying to work with you. Nobody else gets this type of deference, and it is still involved more defiance and according to DOJ they believe evidence of lying, of misrepresentations.

That`s the other thing I wanted to show you. I was talking to our producers about this today and we put together a very short comparison of what Garland asserted and what now is backed up confirming his prior assertion in today`s info. Take a look.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The department does not take such a decision lightly. Where possible, it is standard practice to seek less intrusive means.


MELBER: That is what he said, Asha, that`s just him saying we tried. Today we learned with the most detail ever that it was at least six months where Donald Trump would not just comply.


RANGAPPA: Yes, and I think even longer. Because it sounds like NARA was trying to communicate with Trump on their own starting in May of last year. They finally got this box, you know, the first set of sloppily, you know, packed boxes in January. And then, you know, we`re trying to negotiate with him through May to get what was left. So it`s been a year and a half and again this is a high traffic area where people God knows who would have access and I think there is reporting now that there, you know, was some person, a Ukrainian person who was misrepresenting who they were.

I mean, you know, this was not a secure place and would be a big target for foreign intelligence services and anyone really trying to get their hands on not just classified documents but even presidential records which could be useful to foreign entities.

MELBER: Yes, it all makes sense as you break it down on multiple levels.

Asha Rangappa, I want to thank you for being our lead guest tonight. We have our shortest break. Just 60 seconds. We stay on this story. I have a lot more details about what we are learning and a very special guest. Our breakdown when I`m back in one minute.


MELBER: Today a federal judge unsealed these new details about the unprecedented raid of a former president`s home. This is not just another court filing. Indeed, this is the first time we`ve ever seen the underlying road map to search any former president`s home. This is that kind of thing that becomes normalized if people go, oh, yes, I heard about that. I learned on my phone about -- no, this is why the FBI and DOJ had to move to this level.

It is a truly momentous thing even at a time where people are sometimes exhausted of these kind of news stories or late summer, kind of not expecting a lot of breaking news. It has been one of the busiest August for breaking news as Nicolle Wallace and I were discussing in a long time.

I can tell you this was just truly a moment today that many were bracing for.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Any moment now you will see the redacted affidavit used in the search of Donald Trump`s Mar-a-Lago residence.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Nothing short of a bombshell. Nearly half of the document is redacted.

PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Redacted means canceled. OK. So they canceled the affidavit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This affidavit that was just released is 38 pages long.

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: The FBI found 184 unique documents with classified material at Mar-a-Lago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Justice Department argued that releasing any portion of this document or the document in full could compromise its investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction is in Mar-a-Lago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human intelligence, the most -- the crown jewel tor the CIA. That information was sitting in Donald Trump`s basement for at least a year.


MELBER: You may be interested in the news, or law or policy. I am. This is a story that as you just saw goes way beyond people who are super interested in this stuff. It was breaking into network coverage during the day, it was on all the different channels. You just saw a former Trump White House aide discussing it on a different channel because everybody agrees this is a big deal. And unusual.

There may be disagreement about what else it shows. But this isn`t a story that people are ignoring. And the unsealing also offers as mentioned, information as well as new questions. Now, some experts are starting to pull on the clues and the questions that come about when you get this kind of hybrid document. Half new information, half redacted making you wonder what`s in it. So the new material mentions something that we hadn`t seen before, a newly disclosed letter from Trump`s lawyer.

One legal expert says that would be bad for Trump as it includes basically a confession there was no legal claim against the National Archives getting the documents in January by the Trump folks.


In other words, quote, "no legal objection asserted about that transfer." What you see on your screen is the Trump folks and that we`re learning for the first time because they didn`t share that in May or June or July for all the talk about release the whatever but at the time privately they admitted, yes, hey, we can`t make a legal objection to the transfer. I mean you could tweet about it if you`re allowed on Twitter, but legally even they knew you can`t just say stuff you stole you get to keep.

And that brings us to this whole question of facts. A lot of different stories can sometimes get spun around and you feel like, well, what`s even the point? Yes, you got new facts but a whole bunch of people won`t even look at the facts.

This isn`t that kind of story. We`re talking about something people understand. Did they steal national security secrets or not? When they got caught did they give them back? Did they endanger people`s lives in the field? Do they care that they endangered people`s lives?

I get it. There are some people that might let Donald Trump proverbially do whatever he wants to do on Fifth Avenue. We`ve heard about all that. But there are other people including hawkish Republicans who`ve had enough based on this story. And that brings us to a supporter of the Iraq war and a hawkish national security state, the Bush veteran Karl Rove, today, responding to the actual facts and details in road map and saying if it shows anything, it suggests the feds should have moved even faster to deal with the clear danger posed by Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: My sense is they were asking for a year and a half, and why he was holding on to these materials when he had no legal authority to do so under the Presidential Records Act is beyond me.


MELBER: It`s beyond him why someone would do something with no legal authority. And that was on FOX News and millions of people heard it, and it is a way of saying, breaking the law. No legal authority. Zero authority. Trying to do something you have no legal authority to do. It is a euphemism for breaking the law.

So the story has a lot of dimensions. It`s not just about the law. It`s the larger question of what happens when America sees an ex-president this careless with national security secrets that could literally get people killed.

I mentioned a special guest. He`s a powerful one. A member of Democratic leadership, Hakeem Jeffries, when we come back.




UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Trump said that he declassified all these documents. Could he have just declassify them all?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just want you to know I`ve declassified everything in the world, I`m president, I can do whatever -- come on. Declassified everything. I`m not going to comment because I don`t know the details. I don`t want to know. I`ll let the Justice Department take care of that.


MELBER: I don`t even want to know, President Biden basically mocking the idea that your defense to stealing government secrets is declassify everything.

We`re joined now by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, and part of Speaker Pelosi`s leadership team.

Thanks for being here.

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

MELBER: What does this newly unsealed road map show in your view?

JEFFRIES: Well, perhaps the most important part of the document from my standpoint is that the Justice Department and the FBI made clear that they believed that there was ongoing criminal behavior that was taking place that also would put in danger the health, safety and well-being of human assets whose job is to help the United States government protect the safety of the American people.

That is deeply troubling. They showed a great deal of patience, as Karl Rove indicated, who knew I would agree with Karl Rove, but a great deal of patience that, you know, perhaps may have not been justified under the circumstances other than the fact that the Department of Justice understood that to raid a former president`s home was an extraordinary step.

MELBER: Yes, you know, we`ve been reporting on this but I haven`t had a chance to discuss it with you, although I know a little bit of your work on civil rights and your real passion for some of these issues of justice. You and I have talked about, we`ve seen people get shot or lose their lives over not complying within 10 or 15 seconds of something, with their kids in the car. This is reality for so many Americans.

When you see today as I mentioned that this is the longest timeline we`ve had of evidence that this individual, who is a citizen, he is a human being in this country subject to the law like everyone else, had six months to just comply and he didn`t. Do you see a real contrast there?

JEFFRIES: Well, there is a real concern that the principle that no one is above the law in America is not actually in practice when it comes to the behavior that Donald Trump has repeatedly engaged in from the moment that he was sworn into office back in January of 2017, and has apparently continued in terms of his conduct that may cross the wrong side of the law, through his departure unceremoniously from the White House.

You know, our country is premised on some basic principles.


Checks and balances, the independent judiciary, the free and fair press, separate and co-equal branches of government and the preeminence of the rule of law over the rule of man. That perhaps is the most important principle of a democracy that is self-government and Donald Trump has flouted it repeatedly which is why it`s important to follow the facts, apply the law and be guided by the Constitution and let the chips fall where they may in terms of the investigation.

MELBER: Absolutely. Before I lose you, I got 45 seconds. The Democrats think the chips they have on the table, as it were, in the midterms are improving. They think the odds are improving. Your thoughts on that and the mobilization coming out of Roe v. Wade right now.

JEFFRIES: We definitively have the momentum. We saw that in the special election with Pat Ryan`s win that was a surprise to many. Not myself but a surprise to many in upstate New York in a seat that was expected to flip. We`re getting things done. We`re lowering costs. We`re improving safety in our communities, we are delivering good-paying jobs to the American people. We are putting people over politics and the other side is extreme and out of control including as it relates to a woman`s right to make her own health care decisions.

MELBER: Yes. Well, it`s very interesting here as I mentioned earlier. A very unusually busy summer with news, with bills being passed, with the search, as we go into the midterm home stretch in the fall. We`ll be keeping an eye on it.

A member of leadership, Congressman Jeffries, thanks for being here.

JEFFRIES: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We got a lot more coming up tonight, including an eye on why corporate profits are booming and is it being distributed fairly? Let me tell you something special, it is Friday and the great iconic novelist Jay McInerney, the author of "Bright Lights, Big City" and many other classics, makes his BEAT debut live tonight. I recommend, I invite you to stick with us at the end of the hour to see that.

But coming up, more politics, more clashes and fascism. The word being raised by President Biden to deal with what he sees as an existential threat to our democracy. A special veteran journalist is my guest coming up.



MELBER: We`ve been talking about doubles -- double standards and just comply. Donald Trump threatening the Garland Justice Department if it continues to investigate why he had so many stolen top-secret documents. We`re talking about things that go to the heart of democracy, and a word that used to really only pop up at protests and the politicians would run from.

The idea that you`re surrounded by authoritarians or would be fascist in your own country. Interestingly, Joe Biden would appear to now think that is a real problem. This was at a closed-door event, but it`s coming out where he compared the MAGA philosophy. The entire thing to being like semi fascism, that in public, he said this at a rally last night.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The MAGA Republicans don`t just threaten our personal rights and economic security. They`re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace, embrace political violence.


MELBER: Republicans pushing back, they say this is despicable. Of course, as for snowflake patrol, this was the RNC that also tried to say the insurrection was, quote, legitimate discourse that shouldn`t be bullied. So, make of that what you will. And then you have the Republicans who basically caught on Trump`s election lies beforehand then condemned the attack and then reverted back to minimizing the attack.

They are some say completely devoted to Trump. Which brings us to our next guest, who said those very words. The Atlantic`s Mark Leibovich, his new book is Thank You for Your Servitude, Trump`s Washington and the Price of Submission. A lot of dominant language there. Welcome to the show.

MARK LEIBOVICH, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Ari, thanks for having me on.

MELBER: What do you think of the president using the F. word of fascism?

LEIBOVICH: Well, he said semi so there was a modifier there. But no, it was interesting, it was a change, they -- I mean, the Biden White House hasn`t really come out and leaned into the ocean of fascism, autocracy, you know, authoritarianism, the big words that to this point if they`ve avoided.

And (INAUDIBLE) I think they are -- they seem much more emboldened about using this language and talking about democracy as not just a concept but as something that`s in danger, and something that`s an election issue in this midterm.

MELBER: Mark, you have a lot of experience as a seasoned objective journalist, as you know, THE BEAT, the category we use for something is so determinative of within what the story is, right? If you say, oh, this is a -- there`s a foreign policy story, and you assign the foreign policy reporter, you go from there, versus a political story, versus a hoax story that goes on.

There was a joke in the documentary about the New York Times once I don`t know if you remember where they were looking at that story about an Iraq operation about whether it was a media story for the media BEAT or the Pentagon BEAT. The idea well if it is a media story, it`s like not important.

LEIBOVICH: Yes. Yes, exactly.

MELBER: Given -- given all that. Go ahead. Go ahead.

LEIBOVICH: No, I`ve been in some of those meetings before and I never have no idea relate to them, but you always want to be in the category where it`s considered to be a substantive story.


MELBER: Exactly, and so I teed that up to you is such a big thinker given what you`re exploring in your book. How have you approached traditional political clashes, which are legitimate? Conservatives say what you want smaller government, less funding of schools at the federal level, a different foreign policy, that`s all legitimate.

And the category when you go, wait a minute, we have a Nixon or Pol Pot level problem of people who want to take power. How do you do that? I`m really curious.

LEIBOVICH: Well, it`s such a great question. It`s a great journalism question. It`s a great news question. It`s a great political question. I mean, I think in my case, I have always -- I`ve never been the insider White House guy, right? I`ve never been someone who was terribly interested in Donald Trump, as someone who`s going to impose this great psychological study on him.

I`ve always been much more interested in the systems, the people who enable that. The -- and in the book, I write about Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell. The fifth people who knew better essentially, who propped him up, who allowed him to rehabilitate himself after any number of violations against -- not just norms, not just, you know, not just normal manners, but against, you know, just basically unwritten rules or written rules in the Constitution that are at great peril to the United States.

So, to me, that was what the focus was on. And I think the larger story here is that the Republican Party has been part of an apparatus that can be seen as very antithetical to the norms, the common norms of our democracy.

MELBER: You mentioned those Republicans and their shift. Let`s take a look.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress by mob rioters. I`ve had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think he`s a kook. I think he`s crazy. I think he`s unfit for office. And I don`t believe he`s a Republican. His policies are really bad for the country. He`s a jackass. And you know how you make America great again, tell Donald Trump to go to hell.



LEIBOVICH: Yes, I mean, look, you saw a repeat of that, you know, through much of -- I mean, there was -- they kept reversing themselves, right? After the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago raid, whatever you want to call it. There was a circling of the wagons, there was none of that, right? I think privately, everyone was really concerned.

And I think what`s been very telling in these last, you know, few days, especially today, once this redaction -- this redacted document came out is that there has not been a run to defend Donald Trump at all. It`s been a lot of quiet, a lot of -- I mean, there`s been some at the margins. I mean, Trump himself has been not tweeting -- what`s the word? Truth socialing (PH), is that a verb now?

Like a madman well -- yes, he`s been posting like a madman all day. But there really hasn`t been a lot of rush to defend him or this. I mean, I think we`re still trying to get our heads around what this means, but ultimately, it shows me that the enabling apparatus is still very much, you know, very much strong around him and will probably continue for the time being.

MELBER: Yes, really interesting. I appreciate your clarity, your approach to taxonomy. And Mark, we`ve known each other around sort of media journalism politics for 20 years, it that fair?

LEIBOVICH: It`s been a while man. Yes, we`ve been part of the furniture.

MELBER: Right, furniture. So, I haven`t had you on THE BEAT much because you`re busy, but it`s great to see you again. It`s been a minute. I want you to know if you can you see the tab on the screen because we wrote this just for your appearance.

LEIBOVICH: No, what does it say?

MELBER: It says all beef -- all beef returned well done. Because it deals with so much drama, clashes beef, that of course is an early Shawn Carter line. I got the Grey Poupon, you`ve been warned.


MELBER: All beef returned well done (INAUDIBLE).

LEIBOVICH: I would -- this is a good thing, right? You`re saying that people should -- it`s a beach read, that`s what you`re saying? Entertaining?

MELBER: Well, I`m saying you`re a special guest, we got a special beef tab for you. That`s what I`m saying. Yes.

LEIBOVICH: Oh, right. OK, look, I`m honored, I`m flattered, and I`m great. It`s great to be here, Ari. I`ll come back anytime.

MELBER: Come back. I`d love to see you. Because you know, you`re one of those writerly guys. Sometimes we try to book certain writers and they`re like, hey, I`m over here writing a book. I can`t -- I can`t do T.V.

LEIBOVICH: No, no, no. I`m happy to do T.V. People watch T.V.

MELBER: Respect.

LEIBOVICH: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Have a great weekend, Mark. Appreciate it. We`re going to fit in break. When we come back, we look at Wall Street greed and the culture with a very special guest. Stay with me.



MELBER: The economy is kind of like politics or relationship, or a lot of other things. There`s how it feels to you and then there`s the actual parts that can be measured as reality. Many people facing rising prices, this painful recession. And there`s a new report that against that backdrop, the actual corporate profit margins of all these big companies are actually the largest they`ve been in 70 years.

Meaning in a very profound way, companies are doing even better than other boom bap explosive times like the Wall Street 80s, which was a time of corporate excess, talk of greed, materialism was all the rage. It was the one of the main pieces of fodder and inspiration for the pop culture of that era in books and film.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever considered getting an MBA?


MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I`m not necessarily saying go into business. No, no. But write about it, that`s the stuff now. Right now, the guys will understand business writing no literature. The money is poetry now.

FOX: I don`t want to believe that.


MELBER: You don`t want to believe it, but that was the environment. That`s a clip about 1980s Manhattan from the classic Bright Lights, Big City, a movie based on the novel by literary powerhouse Jay McInerney. It tracks these themes of greed and excess. What does it mean to make it? What does it mean to make it in a society that measures everything in dollars when you also want to be yourself or have good life experiences? And it has a beloved cast including Michael J. Fox as that kid trying to make it in the big city.


FOX: You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time in the morning but here you are. Do you ever have this nearly overwhelming desire to just spend a quiet evening at home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Easy Jamie you look ready to detonate.

FOX: Whose party is this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, some fast rules fortune.

FOX: So, you think I got some talent? Not just wasting my time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do I know whether you`re wasting your time?

FOX: This is so shabby nobility and failing all by myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You still are holding my hand.

FOX: Use my hand.


MELBER: Yes, I am. That`s the movie, but sometimes they say, you know the book was better. I am joined for the first time on THE BEAT by the famed novelist who wrote the novel and the screenplay for Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney. So, take your pick. A celebrated man of letters. First time on the show. I appreciate you being here.

JAY MCINERNEY, AUTHOR, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: It`s great to be here. I`m -- I`m used to watching you on the screen.

MELBER: Well, now you get to be on the screen with me, which hopefully is a joy for you and the viewer, definitely for me. You were -- really caught up in this whole moment. We went through the archives. We showed the film versions to remind people of what you wrote about and those are your words. But here`s how it sounded when you were talking about it, coming out of that 80s period.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The book was viewed as defining the era.

MCINERNEY: Well, I`ve -- I really didn`t -- I certainly didn`t think of it that way myself. I happen to be there when the curtain came up. And I wrote what I thought was, to some extent the story of my life and the world around me. It just seemed -- I certainly wasn`t planning to write the book about the zeitgeist of the 80s.


MELBER: I hate to open with a compliment. I hate to start with a comment. But you know what I love about that?

MCINERNEY: The trolley segment, what?

MELBER: What you said there is what so many artists and creators say. They did -- they didn`t set out to make the great love song that everyone else would connect with. They just -- they just tried to channel something true that they were experiencing on the greed. What is it mean that you did capture that era?

MCINERNEY: And also, you know, it was very surprising to me when people started to talk about that book as a zeitgeist book and as a kind of document of the 80s because, you know, when I sat down to write the book, I don`t even think that we had a concept of the 80s. You know, decades are seldom neatly sandwiched between, you know, the beginning and ending years.

And to some extent, I was just, you know, I was just trying to -- I was writing an actually a very autobiographical novel about a really interesting moment, particularly in New York history. In New York -- New York was coming out of a terrible period of virtual -- near bankruptcy and epidemic of crime, white flight to the suburbs.

And -- and it was a really interesting moment. There was some question about whether, you know, New York was going to go down the drain or whether it was going to rise like a phoenix and -- and Ronald Reagan was elected. The stock market started to boom. Although I still think it`s kind of quaint when we talk about the greed and the excesses of the 80s.

You know, the Dow at the end of the decade was like 3,500, or something. And a lot of what we thought of as excess then now seems awfully quaint, given -- given where we are in Wall Street where Wall Street is.

MELBER: It only looks quaint, because of what might be even more absurd level of billionaire wealth and greed today. What do you see there then that contrast from then to now?

MCINERNEY: Well, I do -- I mean, I -- as I say, as excessive as the -- you know, some of the behavior of -- the leveraged buyout era was as excessive as some of the overnight fortunes seemed. As excessive as Lincoln and Bowski, and companies seemed -- now, I think that the scale of -- the scale of gain the scale of -- of the financial markets is just -- it`s just so much bigger today. And it would be beyond the wildest dreams of some of those robber barons of Haiti.


MELBER: Right. And part of what you what you captured, and what this generation coming up today is dealing with this social life and culture, being subservient to capitalism, technology, algorithms. What a -- what a profound way that is to try to come of age, which again, makes some of the examples that you have quaint, the well written, not that you need my opinion.

From the novel, you talk about, quote, you`re the stuff of which consumer profiles, American Dream, educated middle-class model are made. When you`re staying at the plaza with your beautiful wife, doesn`t it make sense to order the best Scotch that money can buy before you go to the theater in your private limousine? How does that compare to trying to be an influencer today?

MCINERNEY: Well, I think that`s, you know -- I think in many ways that passage holds up pretty well.

MELBER: Because?

MCINERNEY: Well, I think it`s, you know -- I think if anything, you know, consumer culture has become more of a -- has become more -- all-consuming more powerful, and -- and that -- that passage doesn`t seem very -- I don`t know, I hate to say it doesn`t seem all that interesting now, but --

MELBER: Say it, is that what you feel?

MCINERNEY: Well, I feel like it sounds a little bit on the nose. It sounds like -- this is the world that we live in now.

MELBER: Yes. And it`s a world where what you are offering as a type of wry observation or social critique is now something that is on ironically pursue.

MCINERNEY: Well, yes. I`m --

MELBER: Young people saying I want to be up sponsored brand.

MCINERNEY: I`m not sure if some younger people would - would get the irony of that passage. If you know what I mean. So, it was ironic, by the way.

MELBER: I got it. That didn`t go over my head. I got it.

MCINERNEY: I figured.

MELBER: Let`s look at --

MCINERNEY: Even though you`re a young person.

MELBER: Am I a young person? If you say so. Let`s look at the closing here. Because it`s a story of Germany. We love seeing Greek characters grow. We love seeing them struggle, we know that Michael J. Fox, kind of the -- such a perfect young version of this, let`s look at how the journey hits a conclusion.


FOX: In the dawn`s early light, you can imagine the first ship. And the old world sailing slowly up the biggest river they had ever seen. It was almost how you felt the first time you saw the city from the window of a gram. Like you were looking at a new world waiting to be discovered. That`s how it looks to me now. But you have to go slowly. You don`t have to learn everything all over again.


MELBER: What does it mean? You have to learn everything all over again.

MCINERNEY: Well, in the case of that character, he`s -- he`s made a mess of his life. He`s -- he`s lost his job. He`s lost his wife. He`s put a boatload of Bolivia up his nose. And -- and he really does have to reconstruct his life. I think that the book ends on an optimistic note. Some people would say that he went on to write a best-selling novel.

MELBER: Is he doing, Ok? Is he doing, Ok?

MCINERNEY: I think he`s -- I think he -- I think he made it out of his -- out of his quagmire.

MELBER: Final question, 30 seconds. Is there any great art that`s not based on personal experience?

MCINERNEY: I think there -- I think there are those artists who have entirely autonomous imaginations. You know, the greats like Leonardo and Cervantes and Shakespeare, perhaps, but -- no, in general, I would say no.

MELBER: In general, no. That`s the exception, not the rule.

MCINERNEY: Yes. That`s my -- that`s my opinion. I mean, certainly -- and certainly anybody starting out -- any -- look at most first novels and their autobiographies.

MELBER: Yes. Well, you reminded me of -- it`s something that little baby said on if you know, how many Atlanta rappers. And he -- when he sat here, he said, for the first album, that was my entire life up to that point. And that`s why it felt that way. And then the second I was different because then it was picking up from there and I love learning that from different artists. We have to go to one more thing before we end the show. I hope you`ll come back. This was your first time, Jay.


MCINERNEY: Great to see you, Ari.

MELBER: Thanks for being here.


MELBER: I didn`t want to tell everyone one more important thing, which is about culture, as well. All the "MAVERICKS" we`ve been talking to on our "MAVERICKS" show, which is digital, as well as the highlights you see here. Before we go tonight, I want to share with you some of what we`ve seen this season.


DAVE GROHL, MUSICIAN: I wrote at that song times like these, kind of was like 20 years ago, and that was at a personal crossroads. Where you -- it`s time to learn to live again, you know, and time to give and give again. And recently, in this past year, that song has taken on a whole new meaning.

PHOEBE BRIDGERS, SINGER: And the second record, it was just like, we`re experimenting. Everything is scary. Everything is different. Everything is the opposite of how I wrote it. And I`m so grateful for that.

MELBER: If you hold a long pause, people will say all kinds of stuff.

SAMANTHA BEE, COMEDIAN: They will, but you have to learn to not feel that pause because you feel uncomfortable. Take a decade or two.

MELBER: Do you feel uncomfortable?

BEE: I don`t feel comfortable at all. I can say this all day.


MELBER: Sam Bee knows how to pause. Those are our new "MAVERICKS" interviews from this season. You can go use that Q.R. code like a menu on your screen with your phone or you can go to or search Melber "MAVERICKS" on YouTube. Wherever you find it.

The vast majority of this digital exclusive series is online only. We show you the clips here but we go deeper because we hope you will enjoy the cultural quest with us. You can always find me @AriMelber on social media or I hope you have a great weekend. I`ll see you Monday. "THE REIDOUT" with Joy Reid is up next.