RACHELL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for being with us on a fairly wild Friday news night tonight. That`s going to do it for us now, but we will see you again on Monday. Now it`s time for the "Last Word" where Ari Melber is sitting in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Watching you I have so many questions, but it`s Friday, I`m going to let you go home.
MADDOW: God bless you my friend. See you Monday same time.
MELBER: I`ll see you soon, Rachel, but enjoying your coverage. We begin with breaking news tonight on these explosive blackmail allegations against Trump ally, David Pecker, by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who of course owns the Washington Post. Now, one of The Daily Beast editor who has been all over the story as a Friday night scoop, is here with me momentarily.
The context of all of this though I want to go through. As you probably know if you`re watching the news, there are serious implications in all of this for Donald Trump because today, Bloomberg News reports the allegations against Trump ally, David Pecker, could blow up his immunity deal. Another source telling NBC the same thing.
Prosecutors probing one of the publisher, the National Enquirer violated his own non-prosecution agreement by trying to blackmail Bezos this week. Pecker`s side is insisting they acted lawfully. And Pecker has one big problem here because Bezos is basically accusing him of a crime.
But this news about the risk of his immunity deal shows a second problem, because as Bloomberg and NBC and as Rachel earlier tonight have all been discussing and reporting, Pecker may have played himself here and blown up his own immunity in the investigation into how Michael Cohen and Donald Trump hid bad stories for Trump during 2016.
Translation -- if David Pecker told the feds about other crimes he committed during those immunity talks, he could now be on the hook for them. So there could be a lot more pressure on this Trump ally. Now, Bezos` published e-mails that he says reveal how Pecker threatened to publish stolen and explicit photos of Bezos unless he publicly backed down, making claims that Bezos says are false.
First, they wanted Bezos to say the tabloid`s coverage was not politically motivated. Why did they care? We`ll get into that. And second, they wanted Bezos to end his investigation into how the Enquirer folks obtained his private messages. And they seem scared of Bezos` theory that now the whole world can read and discuss.
"That certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy. President Trump is one of those people, obviously by his many tweets," Bezo`s wrote.
And Trump did seize on that National Enquirer story about Bezos` divorce writing, "So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozos, given here a nickname, being taken down by a competitor whose reporting I understand is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post.
Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better and more responsible hands." So that is a lot. And there`s plenty one could say about it, but today, the White House laying low.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president aware of the Bezos situation? What`s the White House reaction?
HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not sure if he`s aware of it and we`re not going to get into a conversation about something between Jeff Bezos and a tabloid magazine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: But Bezos already drew attention to an intriguing aspect of this whole story, Saudi Arabia. Bezos, quoting the New York Times from August, reporting that after Trump became president he rewarded Mr. Pecker`s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.
At that time, Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions. Bezos, noting a Washington Post coverage as well of the murder of a person who wrote for them, Jamal Khashoggi. Of course, many remember this. This was in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Now, Saudi Arabia is a huge critic of the post investigation. And now for some reason so apparently is this American tabloid owner David Pecker and this, again, to what Jeff Bezos is asking is a big question because he writes several days ago, "An AMI leader advised us that Pecker is apoplectic about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."
So that obviously is a lot. And a lot of it looks bad even if it`s not all true. In other words, even if not everyone of those things leads to the worst possible inference about the people involved namely Mr. Pecker, Mr. Trump, and anyone doing their bidding.
Now, let that all sink in and then look at a brand new report from The Daily Beast tonight which details the larger patterns here, the inner workings of this tabloid company`s tactics. Private investigators who have literally directly worked for them and the quote, "war of blackmail that goes on" and helps explain their business model and perhaps their brazenness that they thought they could get away with this against the richest man in the world.
Joining me now as promised is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, Noah Shachtman, who can give us a lot more details about this reporting. How it came to you? Why some of these people are speaking now? I`m also joined by Jonathan Alter, a columnist for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst as well as Nick Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times and both have been in Saudi Arabia, I have not, and don`t know that I`m going any time soon or that I wouldn`t pre-judge a whole region.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC ANALYST: You`d like it, Ari.
MELBER: Yes? Good.
ALTER: Well, you may not feel totally comfortable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you`d find totally interesting.
MELBER: How about I might like part of it. I`m sure there is lovely people there. I`m not sure that I would like the way the government plays ball. Certainly, the way they kill journalists. But before we get to that, walk us through new reporting tonight. Most people who heard this story even if you don`t get in on all the details say, wow. Who thinks they`re going to get away with trying to thuggishly take out and intimidate the richest man in the world? These cats. Why?
NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Why, because they have been doing it for decades. We talked to two private investigators today. They are both colorful characters I might add. One is a former porn star turned private investigator. The other guy just got out a joint for a gambling operation.
MELBER: I got to warn you, our viewers can handle it. It`s late Friday night. But, Nicholas Kristof is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalists who cut his teeth doing humanitarian investigations. Let`s keep it at his level of respectability. I don`t want Nick to regret the book.
SHACHTMAN: These two most recently in Darfur helping the refugees there. And they came back to describe what they did for the National Enquirer, which is the same kind of intimidation tactic over and over and over again. Everybody we talked to in conjunction with the National Enquirer today, every veteran and we didn`t just talk to those guys. We talked to others who used the term blackmail. They used it over and over again. And the reason they --
MELBER: This is -- I`ll slow you down but give you the mic back, that this is a criminal business model.
SHACHTMAN: I`m not going to use the term criminal.
MELBER: Your sources are describing basically getting material and making money through repeat crime, blackmail and extortion, allegedly.
SHACHTMAN: Allegedly. And not only that, but sometimes they would work with the very lawyers of the targets of this. In other words, you would get some celebrity. Their own lawyers would have dirt on them, serve it to these private investigators who would serve it up to the National Enquirer and then they would do a kind of blackmail or some kind of trade deal.
SHACHTMAN: And then now, it`s not just what they did to celebrities. It`s also their attitude towards adversarial journalists, which they`ve done over and over and over again. They keep on threatening in various ways the reporters that look into their operations. So, we have a guy on our staff, actually a former Enquirer veteran who joined the The Daily Beast less than a year ago. They tried to hit him with a $5 million lawsuit while we were reporting our story on them.
MELBER: And how did you handle that?
SHACHTMAN: We kept reporting and told them to keep walking.
MELBER: How often does this work?
SHACHTMAN: I don`t know how often it works in other shops. I mean, I can just say with our shop it doesn`t work. But I bet there are shops in which it does work. Look, as we all know, journalism is a tricky trade. The business model is really tough right now. And I can imagine that, you know, for some shops being threatened with millions of dollars in legal fees or, you know, millions of dollars in damages, that could be a big deal for them and that might dissuade them from the story.
MELBER: You look at the multiple theories here and one is that Donald Trump is behind this because he acts like he`s behind this, right. And I want to read for you what Harvard Law professor, Laurence Tribe, who is a big Trump critic to be clear, said in describing that.
"Are Donald Trump and the murderous Saudi prince co-conspirators with Pecker in a failed criminal plot to blackmail and extort Bezos as the owner of the Washington Post? Asking for a friend in the Southern District of New York." That is one unproven but one theory of what this all is about.
ALTER: It`s unproven. I don`t have any evidence for it, but it has the ring of plausibility to it which is an extraordinary thing to say about a president of the United States. What Noah has just been describing a very seemy (ph) form of transactional journalism, which has been going on in the gutter of American journalism for a very long time.
What`s different is that this does not directly involve the president. We know that he was involved in what they call catch and kill at the National Enquirer and then it benefitted him in the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal case. So we know that he`s in this world. We know that he`s very close to the Saudis.
We know that even today the Trump administration is breaking the law. The global Magnitsky Act that requires them to take action in response to the Khashoggi killing and they have not done so. Today was the deadline. They missed it. They are in violation of the law.
That`s how tight they are to the Saudis. That`s much they want to sugar coat this brutal crime that took place. So, we have a (inaudible) now, Pecker, MBS from Saudi Arabia, President Trump. They are all in alignment. They all have a motive to have committed this blackmail.
MELBER: Can you explain why David Pecker, after getting caught up in this federal probe and getting immunity would go back to what looks like such great risk to himself?
ALTER: I can`t except, you know, to know his point, this is the way they play. And they actually thought they could intimidate the richest man in the world. And they had, you know, strong interest in trying to do the president`s bidding. The president just tweeted and he thinks that this disgusting publication would be preferable as the owner of the Washington Post.
It is better. He said it`s a better newspaper than the Washington Post. This is the way despots all around the world are playing now. They are buying up the biggest newspaper in their country to silence it and quell criticism. And that`s what Trump would like to do in the United States and taking us away from democracy. He`s not going the get away with it because he`s met his match in Jeff Bezos.
MELBER: Well, it is chilling because you all have a lot of experience in working for media institutions. Without naming names, there are institutions that have been more or less courageous over the years, right. Depending on who is in charge and what the calls are.
And this is an individual, what every one thinks of anything else about Bezos, who got hit with something that really took personal kind of embarrassment and risk and stood up to it, and other people might not. Alter here, if I can call you by your last name?
MELBER: Mix (ph) between I don`t know. Alter is outlining the Trump theory that (inaudible). There`s another theory that wouldn`t be as bad for Trump but would still go to a very important international intrigue, which is simply that MBS and the Saudis are doing this through the Enquirer to go after American journalism that matters around the world.
Do facts matter? Do stories matter? You bet they do in the case of Khashoggi. Brennan (ph), to continue the last names, from the CIA, is of that theory. And he says, "I have no doubt, given the Washington Post is relentless in appropriate condemnation of MBS for the killing of Khashoggi, that he would try to discredit, embarrass and hurt Bezos financially if he could." That`s the theory that comes strictly from them.
NICHOLAS KRIOSTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: So, I`m a little more skeptical of that because I think that Saudi Arabia is indeed aghast at what the Washington Post has been writing. In my conversations with the Saudis, they haven`t tied that so directly to Jeff Bezos. They`ve tied it very much to the Washington Post leadership directly.
But, you know, I would just emphasize that I think we have to be really careful about speculating here. Essentially, we have a bunch of dots and we should just be careful about connecting them. And lo, what we know is that indeed, as Noah said, that we have sort of this blackmail model on the part of the National Enquirer.
We know as John said that the National Enquirer has previously leveraged the material it has for the benefit, the political benefit of the president of the United States. And we also know that Saudi Arabia has indeed had very close ties with the president -- MBS with Jared Kushner. That the National Enquirer has had very close ties and has wanted to have business ties with Saudi Arabia.
MELBER: There are several dots but there is also lying. And the lying is that these e-mails have come out and the Enquirer is not saying that they are fake or false. And these e-mails outline goals that go beyond the Enquirer`s obvious desire to simply enrich itself or make money. They seem to be a goal that they wanted to cut off Bezos, The Post, finding out where they got the stuff. And if they just got it from a private eye, that wouldn`t necessarily be so bad.
KRISTOF: Well, I mean, Jeff Bezos clearly seems to think that there is a Saudi connection, but we don`t have further evidence of that so I just think we should be careful about a rush to judgment on whether this goes beyond National Enquirer. There are reasons for suspicions for a lot of questions. I think we should be careful about answering them.
SHACHTMAN: Yes. And I think the other thing we got to note is that Bezos` mistress has a brother named Mark Sanchez. He is associated with many Trump world figures, Carter Page and Roger Stone to name two. And he`s also had something of a relationship with AMI over the years or the Enquirer`s parent company over the years.
And so he`s somebody that`s been interviewed in this sort of private investigation that Bezos has funded. So, it may be all of these geopolitical forces or it may come down to something much more personal or some combination thereof.
ALTER: I agree that we don`t have any evidence as I said at the outset, you know, that would lead us to find conclusions, but there are other data points. And one of them is a 100-page publication called "The New Kingdom." It was put out by AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer that just slobbered all over MBS in way that, you know, was reporting that they -- well I guess they did some of the same kind of reporting on Donald Trump during the campaign.
But it was very un-National Enquirer-ish. There were no ads. It wasn`t clear who paid for this. Pecker said he paid for it out of his own pocket for reasons that are a little bit unclear. The State Department, interestingly, last year when this came out, was asked whether there was connection through the United States government and the publication by AMI of this 100-page magazine about how great Saudi Arabia is.
And they sort of issued a non-denial denial like, not -- I think the court was to our knowledge, there is no connection to the U.S. State Department, which raises some real eyebrows. So there`s a lot of reporting yet to be done on the connections between the Saudis, David Pecker and the Trump administration.
MELBER: You know when you look back at Iran-Contra. One of the things that struck people was that it seems to have such a stupid idea from the start. And this stuff just seemed so whacky, you know. If it were a movie, and that this scene in the movie, you know, right after the mid-term elections. The president`s tabloid, you know, killer who hides bad stories as back in the mix with international intrigue, you`d say it`s too much.
KRISTOF: Well, the whole catch and release idea of the "National Enquirer paying for these stories from women, it should not publish them for the benefit of the president, was pretty wild. This is kind of one more layer of the wildness on top of that. But I would just make the point that look, we don`t know exactly whether there was some terrible malpractice or conspiracy here, vis a vis (inaudible).
We do know that there was vast malpractice, vis a vis Saudi Arabia and more broadly. And that the CIA has concluded that the Crown Prince murdered a Washington Post columnist that the president refused to hold the Crown Prince accountable, that Jared Kushner seems to have inquired about whether the U.S. could help the Crown Prince take over the succession.
Meanwhile, the Crown Prince is torturing and imprisoning women`s rights activists and that the U.S. government refuses to even mention their names. So, these are things that are in indisputable.
KRISTOF: And I think we have to, you know, above all hold the American government accountable for that failure to act on the murder of a journalist and on the imprisonment and torture --
MELBER: Well, I think it`s --
ALTER: Well, just this week, one more thing is that the Crown Prince was quoted as saying that he "wanted to put a bullet" --
MELBER: A bullet, yes. Well, look. This is --
ALTER: Surely this is their efforts to distance themselves from that heinous crime, they are not going very well.
MELBER: This is an important point to reflect on because you`re talking about the true stakes and you`re talking about state-sponsored murder and you`re talking about free speech around the world. An that`s why you bring Nicholas Kristof to the table.
And look, you talked about some of the pornographic source that you have and that`s why you`re here.
MELBER: I`m kidding. You know, sometimes I tell jokes so that people at home -- I`m kidding. I know all three of these individuals and they are very talented journalists. And that was a joke. Your story was great.
ALTER: Thank you.
MELBER: My special thanks to Noah Shachtman, Nick Kristof and Jonathan Alter going deep on a story that I think we`re going to keep hearing about. Coming up, we have a lot of other stories including a big wake up call when the acting attorney general goes before the House Judiciary Committee and gets a taste of oversight now the Democrats are in charge.
Later, Roger Stone has been talking a lot about the FBI raid on his home. He says it was outrageous, even an abuse of power. Tonight, if you keep watching, I`m going to show you actual footage of the raid itself. It`s the first time we have seen the feds arrest a Mueller target. You`re going to see that tonight in the "Last Word."
Later, a theory about what kind of case Bob Mueller and federal prosecutors could be working on even though the Trump family has denied they are worried about any legal jeopardy.
MELBER: Bob Mueller is getting a new boss pretty soon. This will be his third during the Trump administration. And today was actually the first time that one of Mueller`s supervisors ever faced a committee backed by Democrat majority. This is a new development.
Members of Congress grilled outgoing acting attorney general, matt Whitaker, who has been widely criticized as both under qualified for his job and not all that serous about Mueller`s independence. Well today, he showed that by not just being combative which is common in hearings.
But being combative an in an unusually rude and even juvenile way, to a degree that the New York Times reported today, Whitakers`s conduct at the hearing was a, "remarkable breach of decorum." Whitaker clashing with Democrats, calling him out for ducking all kinds of questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: There`s no sentence on the U.S. Constitution that says the sitting President of the United States cannot be indicted. Correct?
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Congressman, because that is the opinion of the office --
LIEU: Yes, I don`t actually care what DOJ policy is. I am asking about the Constitution. It`s a yes or no.
WHITAKER: You know, I would --
LIEU: I have it for you right here.
WHITAKER: I have a copy myself.
LIEU: Is this -- is that sent -- right.
LIEU: I`m just going to -- Mr. Chair, I`m just going to submit the U.S. Constitution for the record and say no, that sentence is not in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Democrat (inaudible) confronting Whitaker about his own job qualifications.
(BEGIMN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: This hearing is important because there are many Americans throughout the country who are confused. I`m confused. I really am. We are all trying to figure out who are you? Where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice? So hopefully you can help me work through this confusion.
WHITAKER: All right, well, I mean, congressman --
JEFFRIES: Mr. Whitaker. That was a statement not a question. I assume you know the difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Some Democrats scolded Whitaker for the breaches of decorum noted by the New York Times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Can the clock be restored?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was.
WHITAKER: I`m sorry, what was your -- I don`t know if your time has been restored or not.
LEE: Mr. Attorney general, we`re not joking here. And your humor is not acceptable. Now, you`re here because we have a constitutional duty to ask questions and the Congress has the right to establish government rules. The rules are that you are here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Democrats also looked at pushing Whitaker into any uncomfortable positions that could contradict what they believe his boss wants to hear from him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Is Mr. Mueller honest?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I have been on the record about my respect for Bob Mueller and his ability to conduct this investigation.
SWALWELL: So you don`t believe he -- you believe he`s honest. You don`t believe he`s conflicted. Can you say right now, Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I`m not a puppet to repeat what you`re saying.
SWALWELL: Are you able to say it or do you not believe it?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I am not here to be a puppet to repeat terms and words that you say that I should say.
SWALWELL: Can you say that to the president?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, Whittaker`s goal through a lot of this may have been to evades and try to kind of grind down the hearing into a parsing, petty fogging haze that frankly exhaust the people participating or watching. And we have seen that tactic before. When a witness does that, they can achieve a kind of tactical progress even though they also look bad. They look kind of uncooperative.
And there were, I could tell you from going over this, a lot of moments of petty fogging today, but ultimately, when you get through all that and some of what we just showed you, there were important moments. The Democratic chair, Jerry Nadler marched Whitaker into an explicit claim under oath that President Trump and he never spoke about the Mueller probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It`s a yes or no question. Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing about the investigation to President Trump? Yes or no?
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, as I`ve said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States. But to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the Special Counsel`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Boom. Not talked about it, and that`s under oath. So either it`s true or if it`s something other than true. In the end of the day, Bob Mueller and other people may ultimately provide the evidence on that. So that`s why these hearings can matter. Whitaker also stated under oath that during his admittedly brief tenure, he says he hasn`t had any occasion to make a direct decision about what Mueller would do.
In other words, Whitaker, testifying today that the things that Mueller has done while they were overlapping at DOJ like indict Roger Stone, did not involve Whitaker interfering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITAKER: We had followed the Special Counsel`s regulation to a T. There has been no event, no decision that has required me to take any action and I have not interfered in any way with the Special Counsel`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Getting that under oath also matters. Now, we didn`t show you in all these exchanges the amount of work it took some of those members of Congress to get Whitaker to actually make those statements. There was back and forth. Grand standing and as I call it, petty fogging. So we are left with a question after all of this given that some those answers were under oath and sound pretty good.
Why was it so hard to get Whitaker to say anything? And during his testimony, why did it take so many times to get him to answer basic questions about Mueller? And why did he hold back in some other areas? Joining me now is Matt Miller, a former official with the Justice Department under Eric Holder and an MSNBC analyst and Lisa Graves, former chief counsel for nominations to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Good evening to both of you.
LISA GRAVES, FORMER STAFF, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good evening.
MATT MILLER, MSNBC ANALYST: Good evening.
MELBER: I put the question first to you Matt. Why was it hard when as we showed some of the answers did come through?
MILLER: Well, look. I think he was trying to play this game all day long where he was saying, you know, very clearly, look, I`m not going to talk about conversations the president, but then when it was advantageous to him, when the answers are actually acceptable answers, he would talk about the conversations with the president.
But I think what he was doing there is, you know, you will see this sometimes with witnesses and it`s a tell. When you say that there is, you know, there is a red line in some areas that you won`t discuss and then you breach that line in some areas and you don`t notice it. It`s a clear sign that in the other areas, there`s information that you are trying to hide.
So, I`d take him at his word that he hasn`t discussed the Mueller investigation with the president because I don`t think he would have gone up here looking to lie. He knew that question was coming. But them when you look at his answers about the Southern District of New York trouble (ph), it`s been reported that the president weighed in with him and asked him why more wasn`t being done to control these prosecutors after they named the president individual one in the filings. And he refused to say whether he had conversations with the president about that.
MELBER: Yes. I thought that was a tell. I mean, Lisa, what do you --
MILLER: It`s a confirmation basically.
MELBER: Well, I can`t go that far. But Lisa, what do you think of Matt`s point there? You basically have two big probes, Mueller in D.C. and the Feds in New York. All this crazy stuff we`re talking about, the Enquirer and hush money payments and the immunity deal, that`s all the Feds in New York. And you had a witness today say, look, I can`t tell you anything but I will tell you I didn`t talk about this with the president and on this I just can`t say. Is that to you a tell as well?
GRAVES: I do think it`s a tell and I think Whitaker was very evasive in these hearings. I think that he was clearly trying to run the clock basically knowing that the Senate is moving to confirm pretty soon Barr to be the attorney general, notwithstanding the tremendous concerns people have about him.
And I think Whitaker was, you know, really evasive in other ways. He was evasive about the group that paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars, dark money group that he was at the helm of to try to attack climate change investigations by state attorneys general. He was not forthcoming about other matters.
And so I think he came in to this House in some ways the way he came into the public`s life at DOJ, which is as someone who has proven himself again and again to be unworthy of the position of public trust that Trump tried to install him at the Justice Department and put him in this position of power that he, you know, doesn`t have the, I think the real wherewithal to hold such an important position for our country.
MELBER: And Lisa, did you think, basically, he wasn`t that good at even doing the evading and the ducking.
GRAVES: That`s right. He wasn`t very good. He was rude. He was contemptuous. He seemed in some ways to really misunderstand even the role of the chairman in setting the clock for questions. And so I think he could not --
MELBER: Yes. Did he think it was like a shot clock where like --
MELBER: -- it ends. Because the chairman controls the time. And I know - - I mean I worked in the Senate but I feel like if you`ve watched one of these hearings, you might know that.
GRAVES: Yes. It was really stunning. I mean it was just really an incredible performance. I think that this is certainly, if nothing else, I think it dooms him from any other position of any kind really for the rest of his career.
He shouldn`t have had this position. But his performance today is one that I think is an embarrassment to the United States Department of Justice where I previously worked. I think it`s an embarrassing on the state to have someone who is so contemptuous, who`s so unfit for that roll com and play the way he did before out United States House of Representatives.
MELBER: The flip side to this, Matt, I think goes to the way that we see Mueller`s strategy through what we don`t see. By which I mean that other prosecutors have done this job in different ways. He, obviously, is well- known for not leaking.
But more so than that, he makes sure to have his supervisors out front and never him. So Rod Rosenstein announced indictments, Matt Whitaker gets roughed up here and then is basically out here telling a story under oath. Mueller is not under oath. He`ll have to decide later if he wants to contradict any of this in his own way, maybe could potentially be relevant to obstruction if anyone was lying.
So what does that tell us about the way that Mueller seems to maneuver through what has now been several bosses?
MATT MILLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Well, two things about that. One, that Mueller has decided very intentionally from the beginning of this investigation that he was going to speak only through court. And when he did speak through that mechanism, through court, what he said was going to be bulletproof.
And so you would see indictments with very -- that layout the evidence very meticulously in a way that was very hard to poke holes in and that he wasn`t going to engage in political games.
The second thing I think it tells you because Mueller hasn`t been out and has allowed himself to become a political football, I mean he gets attacked by the president but not with any real justification. It`s hard to see someone like that --
MELBER: He doesn`t have a nickname, Matt.
MILLER: Yes, that`s right. It`s hard to see someone like Matt Whitaker being able to roll him bureaucratically. I know a lot of people and I was one of them. We`re concerned when Whitaker got this job that he was there to quash this probe. He was there to steer it in an untoward direction.
And we`re now at the end of Matt Whitaker`s tenure basically and he hasn`t been able to do that. and I think what we saw today, this is not the kind of sophisticated, legal, and political mind that`s going to be able to win an internal bureaucratic fight with someone like Bob Mueller or someone like Rod Rosenstein.
So as worrying as the Matt Whitaker tenure was and as much of an embarrassment it was for the department and really a stain on this administration that they put someone like him in front of the Department of Justice, I think what we found is that at the end of that tenure, he`s not been able to interfere at this probe in any meaningful way.
MELBER: Right. And you`re saying never underestimate the limitations of incompetence?
MILLER: Yes, exactly. We`ve seen that many times in this administration.
MELBER: Matt Miller and Lisa Graves, thanks to both of you.
Coming up, something I think you should see. Roger Stone has been saying the FBI was out of line in the way it arrested him. Well, we`re going to show you tonight something you may have never been before which is footage from Roger Stone`s house of the entire arrest. It`s fascinating and it`s next.
MELBER: Now, we turn to something you really rarely see and we have never seen before in the actual arrest related to the Mueller probe. We`re about to look at a video of the FBI arresting someone indicted by Bob Mueller.
Now, this is a new video. It`s of Trump Adviser Roger Stone during his morning raid and arrest. And it`s very relevant right now because as you may have heard, Stone has made big allegations about how Mueller`s agents acted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: This was an egregious overreach by Mr. Mueller. These are Gestapo tactics. To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down Bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorize my wife and my dogs, is unconscionable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The raids on Bin Laden and Escobar ended in both of their deaths. Five other people were killed in that Bin Laden raid. The Mexican marines who stormed El Chapo took him alive but killed five other people in that fierce gunfight.
So when Stone says his raid was like those raids, that`s not true. But the new video also allows you to decide for yourself if Roger Stone is accurately describing what happened.
Here it is. This is a video that comes directly from Stone`s own home surveillance system. The video you`re looking at was released to a pro- Trump broadcaster. You can see the FBI agents approaching the house. You see them with their guns drawn.
And Stone opens the door, the lights there in front of their weapons, an agent knocks. Stone emerging. This part here you see he gives up. His hands are up. Then he is cuffed. That`s the moment you`re in right now. Hands behind his back.
And Roger Stone, to be clear, appears to cooperate the entire time with his agents. The video also shows Stone walked out into his front yard by an FBI agent who is there moving him down by the car, checking his pockets. And the video shows walking agents walking a handcuffed Roger Stone back into the house.
And this time, you`ll see right here in the left part of your frame, that`s a t-shirt that reads "Roger Stone did nothing wrong." And he`s walked by that agent there back into his own home.
Roger Stone appeared before the press at a courthouse and gave his infamous Richard Nixon-style salute. But was this "Gestapo" tactics as Stone claims, are "Border cayotes, drug dealers, and human traffickers treated better" as the current president of the United States publicly claimed?
Or was this based on what the experts say and what you could see with your own eyes something more along the lines of a normal arrest of someone charged in a normal process?
What I`m going to do is fit in a break. We have to do that around here. But then I`m going to turn to an expert with more than 30 years of experience to help us understand the fact and the fiction. Former ATF Agent Jim Kavanaugh, my special guest on the Roger Stone arrest when we come right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STONE: They want to intimidate me and they want to poison the jury pool. They treated me like El Chapo. They used fewer men to take down Pablo Escobar or Bin Laden. So by treating me like a drug kingpin, they send a message to potential jurors that I`m public enemy number one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Roger Stone fixating on his arrest to criticize the Mueller probe. Today, as we`ve been reporting, the new video of that actual arrest has come out and let people judge for themselves what the raid looked like.
I`m now joined by Jim Cavanaugh, an MSNBC law enforcement analyst and a retired ATF special agent in charge who have done many of this type of arrest warrants in 36 years of service. Thanks for being on the show.
JIM CAVANAUGH, LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, MSNBC: Thanks, Ari. Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Jim, we have a lot of political intrigues nowadays. I`m not here asking you any politics. A lot of our viewers recognize you for walking us through often these difficult circumstances of police and law enforcement activities, right. We talk to you sometimes during shootings and during manhunts.
And so I`m really just curious, the reason we booked you, is to just walk us through, hyperbole aside, I`m going to put up on the screen now, we`re going to play some of this fascinating video. Walk us through what you`re seeing and grade it for us.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I give this an A plus. This is a textbook execution of a federal arrest and search warrant. It`s exactly, exactly how we train in the federal service, FBI, ATF, DEA to conduct one of these warrants.
You arrive at your residence. Of course, you have your firearms and you have your equipment. You bang on the door and you announce your authority and purpose. That`s because that`s in the federal rules of criminal procedure, Ari.
So you bang on the door repeatedly. Federal agents with a search warrant. You wait. Federal agents with a search warrant. You bang again. And you hope the occupants will come and answer the door as Mr. Stone did.
And then he sees you`re law enforcement. You`re asked to step out. He`s handcuffed. He`s not manhandled or slapped or abused or thrown down, which would be an unjustified use of force. He`s not tasered or gassed or pepper sprayed.
MELBER: And what about -- we`re just going to hit the play while you talk because they`ve done the knock and announced as you say. What about viewers who maybe have less experience and see these big long guns and think it looks scary?
CAVANAUGH: Well, look, we understand that citizens see law enforcement and their equipment and sometimes it can be scary. But just in the past few weeks, law enforcement officers have been killed on search warrants with occupants shooting through the doors.
You never know how people are going to react. Even white-collar criminals can react. They can be suicidal. They can decide to resist.
I mean Stone has been associated with the Proud Boys which as the Southern Poverty Law Center has called the hate group. They`re street brawlers. I mean he has associates like that. He threatened to kill a federal witness.
Now, he`s not an extremely violent guy. And that`s why they knocked and announced.
MELBER: They knocked. And then he, as you credited, and I mentioned this in our earlier reporting, credited him, he complied as one is supposed to. So bottom line, when he says this is excessive, do you view that as partly true, partly false or totally false?
CAVANAUGH: No, it`s so totally false. I mean his attempt is in search of a teapot. If I was the special agent in charge of this operation, I would be extremely proud of those agents at the FBI Miami Field Division. They did it gently. They did it purposefully. They did it successfully.
Nobody in Mr. Stone`s house was hurt. No agents were hurt. No neighbors were hurt. It was a perfect textbook arrest.
MELBER: Interesting. Very interesting to get your view on this and you`ve done a lot of these. Jim Cavanaugh, thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
Now, coming up, the Trumps have all said they are not concerned as family members about these probes. But should they be? We`ll get into it with an expert, next.
MELBER: We`ve been having a nice Friday night. And sometimes we reflect on how busy the news has been this week. You might have missed some pretty important developments in the investigation coming out of the Southern District of New York.
There was the revelation that federal prosecutors there had subpoenaed a wide range of documents from Trump`s Inaugural Committee, the money trail. You may recall this inauguration, despite its size, was actually the most expensive in history.
Now, it also had fewer A-list celebrity performances and some of the other things that are associated with major, major receipts. He did have four guys though who all played the piano at once. We found that video.
Now, the SDNY appears to be following the money and figuring out, well, why was it so expensive. They`re also probing whether or not foreigners might have illegally donated to the Inaugural Committee, which could be a way to get some sort of favor with the new administration.
And as part of our review of what happened this week, the "Wall Street Journal" revealing the existence of even more tapes in a related investigation in New York from Michael Cohen, Trump`s former fixer. The tapes obtained also by the Southern District.
Now, they had their raid of Michael Cohen`s office that includes conversations between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Walcoff, a long-time Melania Trump confidant who was the event producer for this expensive inauguration.
Now, on the tape, she reportedly says that she has all kinds of concerns about how the money was being spent and e-mails from Walcoff which were first published by "ProPublica" show some of those same concerns went all the way up to the Trump family member, including a Trump White House adviser named Ivanka Trump.
Walcoff raising concerns that the Inaugural Committee may have overpaid for event space at, guess where? Trump`s Washington Hotel. That itself depending, of course, on how much they overpaid could be illegal under the tax laws that govern a nonprofit which the Inaugural Committee was. Then, this morning, Ivanka Trump weighed in saying, no biggie, she`s not worried.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, ABC NEWS: Some of the president`s former aides have now been charged and people are saying, look, the walls are closing in. Are you concerned about anyone in your life that you love?
IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: No.
HUNTSMAN: Being involved?
TRUMP: I`m not. I`m really not. I have zero concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We have our next guest joining us who has a theory about why there`s so many revelations coming to the SDNY and what it means, including for Trump`s family members. That`s next.
MELBER: Many critics say that Donald Trump seems to act like the head of a crime family. Could he be charged like one, though? Is this more than rhetoric?
A former Federal Prosecutor Barbara McQuade makes this case in a new column writing, recent developments in the New York federal prosecution investigation suggests they could be building the case against the president and his family under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known colloquially as RICO, a (INAUDIBLE) you probably heard of because it is used against organized crime syndicates.
Getting tonight`s last word is that former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, please explain.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Good evening, Ari. Yes. So I`ve been asked before whether RICO is a possible criminal charge that Robert Mueller might be looking at. And I`ve really thought not, it doesn`t really fit election interference.
But when you look at what the Southern District of New York is looking at, who are the experts in RICO taking down mob families, it does make a little bit of sense. RICO essentially was a statute passed in 1970 to go after the mob, because mob bosses would insulate themselves from criminal liability by having underlings commit crimes.
What RICO says is that it`s a crime for someone to participate in the affairs of an organization either directly or indirectly through a pattern of racketeering activity. So those predicate crimes could be wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, some of the very same kind of crimes that we`re seeing the Southern District of New York look at.
And so could they be building a RICO case? I think there`s a possibility that they are.
MELBER: Did you ever see the Dark Knight Rises Batman movie?
MELBER: So you remember that that`s the, for the legal nerds, that`s the breakthrough scene where they say -- Harvey Dent says, "Well, wait, if they were pooling their money, we can get all of them on RICO."
To use that Dark Knight analogy here, though, couldn`t the defense or the Trump folks, particularly the family members, be like, "Yes. I mean that`s my dad but I`m not in the Inaugural Committee. And yes, I worked at Trump Org but it`s not my money explicitly, specifically." What is the response to that defense?
MCQUADE: Yes. Sure. I mean just being part of the association does not mean that you`re guilty of a crime. There has to be, under RICO conspiracy, an agreement that the group will commit crimes, even if you individually are not part of those criminal activities, if you agree that part of the group will commit at least two of the predicate crimes that are on the RICO list, then that could be sufficient for a RICO conspiracy.
So, you`re right, not just mere association, but an association for the purpose of committing crimes.
MELBER: And just to understand briefly, your theory would be that the feds might look at this and deal with it potentially even after Trump leaves office?
MCQUADE: Yes, for sure. We`d really be looking at the Trump Organization as opposed to President Trump as the president and so I think so. And also the statute of limitations lasts from five years from the date of the last racketeering act. And so long as there`s an act that was committed after January of 2016, it could be charged in January of 2021 when President Trump is out of office.
MELBER: Fascinating. And I guess I have to ask you, a lot of people think that the mafia was able to get tipped off about the raid on their bank because of leaks in Harvey Dent`s office. That`s how the Joker got in there with the marked bills and was able to move their money.
Do you have a view on that? Do we know is this Harvey Dent`s office leaky?
MCQUADE: I don`t know. You know, you never know what kind of evidence prosecutors are looking at. It`s just a possible theory --
MELBER: He`s a fictional character so it`s a hard question to answer but it is late on a Friday.
MCQUADE: It is. And I`ll have to leave that one for you, Ari.
MELBER: You know what, I`ll keep working on it. A lot of times these thoughts I have, people say, you know what, why don`t you just keep that in your own mind.
Barbara McQuade, very interesting theory and a very great sport. You get tonight`s last word.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Ari. Have a good night.
MELBER: Thank you. Don`t go anywhere though. This is the end of the "LAST WORD".
You can always find me at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" on MSNBC. But right now, it`s THE 11TH HOUR, with Brian Williams.