Congressman Jim Jordan refuses to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. Controversy grows over how to punish the January 6 rioters. Former Senator Barbara Boxer discusses the Democratic agenda. Brand-new Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg discusses the still open criminal probe into the Trump Organization and law and justice.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC HOST: But now THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER, on point all the time, starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Nice to see, John. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I am Ari Melber.
And this new week in this new year is actually kicking off with a bunch of news right now. The calendar is fundamentally an arbitrary way to organize things, right? 2022 not automatically better than prior years in any number of ways.
But places with off-year elections do use a calendar. And new officials are being sworn into office. Last week and throughout this month, we`re seeing them take over and take charge. There`s a new mayor in New York, along with a new police chief and new DA. They`re all beginning their terms.
One of them joins us live later tonight.
There`s also new action in the ongoing probes of the insurrection. That was just one -- just over one year ago. Will Donald Trump ever be held accountable for the rally he led and for what its attendees did?
Well, one case on that actually hit federal court today. This is a case against Trump, with a judge weighing whether he`s legally culpable and whether his conduct amounts to an agreement with rioters and insurrectionists.
Now, this is the case brought by two Democratic members of Congress and a pair of Capitol Police officers who were so injured during the riot by those aggressive, violent and often criminal Trump fans.
And it offers kind of a legal version of the wider debate, where some see it is pretty obvious that Donald Trump backed all of the plot, part one, overthrowing the outcome, which Trump directly said and which his own White House aide recently outlined in more detail, literally defending a so- called bloodless coup, and whether Donald Trump also directly supported part two, the criminal violence.
Now, in public, Trump minimized or condoned it in several ways. But I`m telling you about this right now, it`s in the news tonight, because, in court today, the analysis of the violence part included a judge asking, not deciding yet, but evaluating whether Trump`s conduct that day meant that the courts may infer Trump agreed with the conduct of the people inside the Capitol.
That`s the Trump side. As for his allies, while Congress is weighing the tricky question of how to gather facts on one of its own, Congressman Jim Jordan refusing to cooperate with what he calls an unprecedented and inappropriate demand that he testify. The committee, for its part, says Jordan is trying to hide the facts of January 6.
Now, either it ends there, or the committee can try a subpoena for Jordan. The chairman says they`re checking the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Do you think you`re going to have to subpoena a sitting member of Congress?
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, I think there`s some questions of whether we have the authority to do it. We are looking at it. If the authorities are there, there will be no reluctance on our part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Chairman Thompson sounds ready to act. Congressman Jordan is refusing to provide basic facts about an attack on his own workplace, an attack that pose risks to his colleagues, those brave police who protect them, and really to himself.
He`s also being hypocritical. He was a huge advocate of congressional investigative powers when he was in charge, including on the Benghazi committee. He demanded not only government officials testify, but former officials, then private citizen Hillary Clinton, for example, who did give public testimony under demand.
She did that. And Jordan has admitted to talking to Trump frequently in the post-election period last year, when Trump`s main conversation topic was how to overturn his loss, and also potentially them in contact on January 6 itself.
And all of this comes at a time when people like Bannon, Navarro and Senator Cruz are under scrutiny for these details of their coup plotting. So it would seem relevant to the investigation. It all matters.
Now, whether the courts would make Jordan testify is different. Remember what his new statement says, that all of this is -- quote -- "unprecedented."
Now, is he reaching? Is this more Jim Jordan hyperbole? Well, when you look at his statement, I can tell you tonight, fact-check, true. The legal experts who`ve looked at this say there is no established legal precedent regarding congressional power to enforce subpoenas against members of Congress.
So that means, when the chairman says they want to check the law or look at what their powers are, you`re not going to find at least a very good or recent precedent for taking this all the way to the mat, which means, as I said, fact-check, true -- I will call it however it looks, however accurate, whether you like Jim Jordan or not.
And he`s done some very controversial things here. It is true that he may not have any real court case to worry about. And that means that the lawyers on this committee are likely to say this is not the one to go hard at, in contrast to, say, Bannon, where they went very hard, and that`s why he`s now an indicted man awaiting a criminal trial. And if he loses that, he goes to jail.
So, you take it all together, and what do you have, another January 6 showdown, this one where the facts may be a lot more determinative than the law, by which I mean getting to the bottom of what all these people were doing and their so-called bloodless coup, that matters a lot.
Whether Jim Jordan is right about the law also matters to him personally. This committee, though, is going to have to get to these answers with or without holding every single person in contempt.
I want to bring in our experts for this part, before we turn to another big story we have been covering, which is the jail time for rioters.
But on this story first, we begin with former RNC Chair Michael Steele, who supported Joe Biden, and Julia Ioffe, a Washington correspondent for Puck.
Michael, your thoughts about a time where there`s a lot of effort for accountability, but, as with so many things in the law, it`s not always going to be a clear-cut answer, that you can get every single person to comply.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that`s true. And I thought she laid it out very well, Ari, in terms of what this looks like, not just in terms of the legal aspects, but also some of the politics that sort of buffet the legal guidelines and rope lines here. The truth is two approaches.
One is the chairman`s approach of the January 6 Committee. And that is to get to the facts, right, just the facts, ma`am. We want to find out what they are and expose those to the public.
The second is the defense against that, which is what Jim Jordan is posturing over right now. And he knows that there is no precedence here, which is why he said this is unprecedented. There is no precedence here. There`s no precedence because we have never had members of Congress engaged in this type of action against the government. Whether that is something that we know for a fact or don`t know, it`s something that`s always been off the table.
Members know what their role and their responsibilities are. So he`s going to use that. And I think we need to be aware that he`s going to use that. But here`s the rub. I don`t know if you need Jim Jordan at the end of the day. There`s a lot of other folks out there who were texting and communicating. His name pops up in other ways, in other forms.
They may be able to piece together his level of involvement and role without him, which is something he does not know and nor is it something he can control. So I think that the chairman`s approach that, OK, we`re going to find out what we can legally do is legitimate, and they`re going to pursue that.
But I don`t think he`s going to lose a night`s sleep if he doesn`t get Jim Jordan in the crosshairs, because there are enough other angles and a lot of other documents out there. We have just discovered from the role that was played by the folks over at FOX, how many of those communications actually reference a Jim Jordan
They talked to Jim: Well, Jim Jordan said.
That would be enough as well.
And, Julia, to that point, we have some of that here, the cable cabinet, as it`s called. January 10, you had Hannity texting Meadows and Jordan here -- he`s one of these key intermediaries -- discussing how to actually bring in Trump. "He can`t mention the election ever. I didn`t have a good call with him. And he`s asking for ideas."
And you get sort of a somewhat rare peek, at least in -- you usually don`t see in real time, maybe in the history books, Julia -- of just how these folks are talking at this highest level, Hannity there positioning himself, potentially as the voice of reason, the more restrained member of this kitchen Cabinet.
Your thoughts beyond the law on just what we`re learning about how these people roll?
JULIA IOFFE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: Yes.
Yes, I`m wondering, Ari, when we`re going to find your text messages advising the Biden administration in real time, right? I`m kidding, obviously.
It`s a very strange thing when you have a cable news host that is on one hand, ostensibly fair and balanced and reporting on what`s happening, but, at the same time, advising a sitting president.
That aside, I agree with Michael, but I also think that there are kind of three kind of meta questions. Like, what is this investigation for? Is it for political purposes to gain a political edge in the coming midterms or in the 2024 election? Is it to get some kind of consequences for the people in the very chamber where they serve for helping to foment and potentially aid this coup or attempted coup?
Or is it to kind of set down a kind of historical marker and kind of put down the first brick of the historical narrative that will then get filled out in the course of time, as people come forward and speak and documents are revealed.
And I think that`s really where this fits in. Like, do you need Jim Jordan for any of those things? And if it`s for the first question, right, the political one, does it really matter in a country that -- where such a significant part of the country doesn`t care, doesn`t know about what this committee is doing?
And, if they do know, they explain it away somehow, or they believe that the January 6 protesters were justified in their cause and were peaceful freedom fighters. So those are the questions I`m thinking about as I watch this.
MELBER: Well, Julia, I see your three meta questions and I raise you a fourth, which is, in the best sense -- every so often, some days out of the week, we could be idealists.
In the best sense, can this co-equal branch of government use its powers in this process to help better calcify the backbone of our democracy and body politic to prevent the next coup, Julia?
IOFFE: I don`t think so, because it doesn`t exist in a vacuum. And even if it did, they have a razor-thin majority. That is about to go away in less than a year, in fact, in 11 months.
Republicans -- every Republican I`m speaking to in Washington is counting on not just flipping the House, but a historic majority, the likes of which we haven`t seen in a generation or two. And then what happens to this investigation?
And what does that mean if the voters of this country not only don`t punish the party that tried to overturn a free and fair democratic election, but reward them handsomely for it?
This investigation kind of feels like a Band-Aid on a hole in the dike.
STEELE: There it is.
MELBER: Yes, important.
Well, let me do this. I appreciate that. That was -- we went from idealism to informed skepticism, which is sort of the role of a journalist sometimes. So I appreciate that.
I want to thank Julia for kicking us off.
Michael, I know you have more to say. And I want you to hang with me, because this next story is our other lead story. It`s that important. Let me set it up.
Thank you, Julia.
I`m turning now to the brewing scandal over how to punish these rioters and insurrectionists. Now, we first brought you this news just around the January 6 anniversary, a legal report card one year out from the crime spree.
And we found, along with drawing on the work of others, including a database held by Politico, that of the 74 January 6 criminals who`ve been convicted, the majority got no jail time at all. Only 35 convicts out of the 74 who`ve been sentenced got jail time. And there are several reasons for this glaringly lenient treatment.
Last week, for example, one of our legal experts when we first brought you this story noted that, when prosecutors have been pushing for heavier sentences, judges are frequently deciding on lighter ones. And that`s also true.
This is airing here for the first time on THE BEAT. But "The Washington Post" ran this is an important story, noting that, in the majority of cases so far, the judges go lighter and more lenient, softer or weak -- take your adjective -- than the recommended sentence from prosecutor.
So, a right-wing, white terrorist attack was treated with leniency and a low arrest rate on January 6 itself. Then, after some outrage and a new incoming administration, more indictments did come. But even those convictions are running into an entrenched system that let most of these people walk.
Contrast that to America`s notoriously harsh approach to incarceration, a long-running and bipartisan system that has created the highest incarceration rate in the world per capita. If you do watch THE BEAT, we have covered that a lot, including some of its structural racism.
So, just to take one example here tonight, before I bring back our experts, over half-a-million people in America are doing time for minor drug offenses. And the same judges here have sent people to jail for drug use.
The same judges who`ve done that, sending all these people to jail for drug use, are rejecting prosecutors` recommendation that, if you brazenly stormed the Capitol on live TV, and then you get convicted, and you are a part of an open situation in America where there is an active movement to end our democracy and violently overthrow the government to complete what they started, these judges say those people, well, they should get less jail time than a random drug user. In fact, thus far, about half shouldn`t get any time in jail at all.
It`s a structural problem that runs pretty deep. But, for starters, it speaks to who is on the bench, which is a long-term decision, and whether this new attorney general, Mr. Garland, is going to use the appropriate and independent powers he has to call this out, these facts in broad daylight, and to start fixing them.
Michael Steele is back with us.
And joining us is someone with extensive experience on these very issues, former federal prosecutor Paul Butler.
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Ari, I get that the January 6 prosecutors are starting with the easy cases, including the so-called MAGA tourists who illegally entered the Capitol, but didn`t organize or finance the insurrection.
But these people provided aid and comfort to domestic terrorists. I don`t know how you commit a petty offense when you`re trying to overthrow the U.S. government and stop Congress from certifying an election.
So, of the people sentenced in D.C. for January 6, about half have gotten home detention and probation, and the other half have been sent to prison. But the average sentence is 45 days. Compare that, Ari, to the 20 year mandatory sounds in federal law for certain drug-selling offenses if someone who uses those drugs is seriously injured or dies.
Is a crime more serious if someone gets hurt? Absolutely. But we know that at least five people died as a result of January 6; 138 police officers were injured. So there are serious questions about whether a punishment that`s a slap on the wrist fits the crime, when these terrorists, again, aided and abetted this loss of life, destruction of property, and this profound threat, the viability of our democracy.
MELBER: I appreciate the specific way you break that down.
And, Michael, I`m going to be reasoned -- that`s part of my job -- before I go ham, OK? Is that all right with you, Michael?
STEELE: It`s all good. It`s all good.
MELBER: All right.
The reason part is what Mr. Butler, our counselor here, and what other lawyers we had on last week said. It is true that 75 percent of the pending trials have not occurred yet. And, thus, I do want to be precise about that, because our job here is to stay with the facts.
Having said that, let`s take Mr. Butler`s legal point, that these early cases are technically the lower offenses, and, thus, they are the criminal trespass and the disorderly conduct and the nature of those offenses.
But if you do the thought experiment that ISIS came in and did a domestic terror attack on the Capitol of this nature and a bunch of people -- I don`t care where they are from. I don`t care where they`re what they look like. We`re not supposed to care what they look like.
But if a bunch of people did the moves to get ISIS into the building, or take a domestic example, a Black Panther rally that turned into a Black Panther march, and some people did the criminal trespassing, would they ever be walking with no jail time, Michael?
STEELE: The answer to that is no. They would not.
And I give you -- as I was listening to Paul -- and this goes to the point you`re making, Ari -- I was thinking of Crystal Mason. Crystal Mason. Who`s Crystal Mason? Crystal Mason is a black woman voter in Texas who went to her polling place to vote. They couldn`t find her name. They -- she filled out a provisional ballot.
And there was a caveat there that says, hey, that you can`t commit fraud, et cetera, et cetera. And she signed the thing, but she legitimately thought that she was a registered voter and so forth. She got five years in prison for that, five years in prison.
You have got these folks coming up to the Hill, breaking through glass, destroying property, trying to kill the vice president, attacking police officers, both districts and Capitol Hill police, and the judges are going, well, we know you really didn`t mean any harm.
That`s effectively what voters are hearing them say. And so, yes, this is a very glaring disparity in the system.
Now, one part of my brain, like yours, is saying, OK, these are a lot of first-time offenses. A lot of these folks just were like in the place at the moment and maybe didn`t have the requisite intent, the mens rea, as judges and lawyers would look for it.
But, at a certain point, you kind of realize that this is beyond that, and that the overall impact and effect on the protocols of the day, the system, the process, trying to disrupt the business of the United States Congress, yes, first offenses aside, you kind of knew when you broke through the glass door that this was not going to go as business as usual.
And I think that`s one of the big problems here. They`re trying to strike a balance that shouldn`t be struck, I think, in many respects. And I think the American people are looking at it and scratching their heads.
And at the DOJ, they have to continue to regroup. We didn`t run this story six weeks in, because, like it or not, no serious, complex federal case gets a yield at six weeks. Paul knows that better than anyone.
But when you get to a year and 18 months, and you start processing these things, you have to look as you go. And if you`re doing this for deterrence, which is what we hear over and over from the punitive crowd, deter, deter, deter, punish and deter, then this doesn`t look like deterrence against this active coup movement.
And, Paul, take a listen to an unrepentant rioter, who says he did get an FBI interview, but hasn`t been indicted, and he`s fine with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s ridiculous. All these people keep comparing it to the worst thing since whatever, blah, blah, blah.
There was really no threat to their life, like everybody`s trying to say. Everybody`s just in there and walk around hooting and hollering. Nobody had weapons. Nobody was attacking people.
QUESTION: Do you apologize for anything you did that day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUTLER: This is America.
It`s like that Eddie Murphy famous skit on "Saturday Night Live" when white people get free stuff, and black people don`t. I mean, it`s impossible to imagine an African-American or Latinx person who invaded the Capitol, tried to disrupt the Senate and the Congress from counting votes, and didn`t get locked up, didn`t get arrested.
Again, you want to be reasonable, and you want to also note that, in general, we punish people way too long. But, Ari, domestic terrorists are not the best advocates for sentencing reform. Let`s start with the 50 percent of people who are locked up in federal prison right now for nonviolent drug crimes.
Many of those people are African-American and Latinx. Many are women. And this is a matter of equal justice under the law, as much as it is about public safety, and the future of our democracy.
STEELE: Hey, Ari?
MELBER: Well, I appreciate both -- go ahead, Michael.
STEELE: Can I make a real quick point?
Because I want to relate everything we have just discussed back to our last segment with Julia. She at the end of her comments made the most important statement I thought in all of this, in terms of how the American people look at all of this and what they`re about to do this November, when they, as everything will indicate, reelect Republicans and put them back in charge, without holding them accountable for any of this, without holding them accountable for nothing.
And so, in 2023, when all this ish starts up again, and Republicans start, as we have seen with Kevin McCarthy and others doing retributive legislation against Democrats, et cetera, you all got nothing to say, because that`s what you vote for.
STEELE: And so this piece in the criminal justice part is just an extension of all of that.
STEELE: If the people aren`t holding folks accountable, the justice system will look at and go, well...
MELBER: Right. No, I think that`s very important. That`s why we`re shining a light on it, but it is up to the people and the voters at the end of the day.
Michael and, Paul, I want to thank you both.
Coming up, we have President Biden speaking out today on how to end obstruction in the Senate. Barbara Boxer`s here.
And later night, our live interview with the prosecutor overseeing the Trump Org probe.
And, later, Stephen Colbert getting in on, well, the coup plot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Navarro was on MSNBC last night.
I haven`t seen criminal activity so clearly explained on TV by the criminal since Rachael Ray welcomed co-host Jeffrey Dahmer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now I hear Republicans say today that my talking about the strong record shows that I don`t understand, I don`t understand. A lot of people are still suffering, they say.
Well, they are. Or that I`m not focused on inflation. Malarkey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: President Biden out starting here with his big attack on the Republicans. He`s targeting McConnell.
He will go to Atlanta tomorrow pushing voting rights. And the White House says the president will talk very directly about changing rules to end McConnell`s obstruction once and for all.
Now, McConnell exploits the Senate`s rules to stop action even when he`s in the minority. Many leading voices on civil and voting rights have been calling this out. In fact, Stacey Abrams led the push, first linking voting rights as a way to reform the filibuster early last year.
Now, Biden was against that throughout the year, in the summer, saying: "I don`t want to get wrapped up right now in the argument over whether or not this is all about the filibuster."
But the funny thing about leadership and time, it can make a difference, because, over time, Biden`s begun to shift, as have most Senate Democrats.
Here`s Chuck Schumer today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): These laws are anathema to the very spirit of our democracy. They are Jim Crow two.
If Republicans refused to join us in a bipartisan spirit, if they continue to hijack the rules of the Senate to turn this chamber into a deep freezer, we`re going to consider the appropriate steps necessary to restore the Senate, so we can pass these proposals and send them to the president`s desk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is how the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is starting this week.
The vote is next week. To win, they need all 50 Democrats. What`s going on inside the Senate?
Well, we have a top former senator here for insight, Barbara Boxer, when we`re back in just 60 seconds.
MELBER: We`re joined by former Democratic senator from California Barbara Boxer, as the president, in some sense, goes where Stacey Abrams was.
Your view of this fight ahead?
FMR. SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Well, you used the word fight.
And I think that is important, because I see this president leaning into his fighting side. I think it started with his speech on January the 6th. And I believe it is time. Enough is enough.
My mother used to say, honey, you can catch more bees with honey. And, yes, you can catch a lot of bees with honey, and, sometimes, they don`t want the honey. And that`s where we are right now.
I think Democrats have to be tough. And I would say this. I think Joe Biden is starting to channel Harry Truman. And anyone who knows a little bit about Harry Truman knows that Harry Truman in 1948 was giving a big speech, and he was going through the list point by point of how Republicans were blacking all the good things, they were standing in the way of progress.
And someone in the audience yelled out: "Give `em hell, Harry." And he said -- and I quote -- I`m going to read it, so I get it right. He said: "I don`t give them hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it`s hell."
And I think what we`re going to find out is, this president is willing to go there to talk about how not one of them voted for the rescue bill, but they`re taking credit for it. Hardly any of them voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. They`re taking credit for it. They`re blocking voting rights, which is the people`s power.
I think you`re going to see that side of Joe Biden, and I think he`s going to be pretty good at it, actually.
MELBER: Yes, interesting, especially from your experience.
One of your colleagues here, Senator Whitehouse, was on. He`s on the Judiciary Committee and was discussing the issues with people like Joe Manchin, which, again, will come up if they can try to get to 50 to at least have this part of the obstruction, filibuster, reformed on voting rights.
Here`s what he said more broadly about working with Manchin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): We can no longer go in an indefinite mode of waiting to find what will please our recalcitrant senators.
At some point, when people are negotiating things, they need to put forward their position, something that they actually will agree to. In a negotiation, I don`t think it`s appropriate just to keep saying no, no, no, no, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Does that apply to Manchin and Sinema on the filibuster? Or is there a way to convince them that, especially as a carve-out, as just voting rights, that this isn`t even that big a change?
BOXER: I think Sheldon Whitehouse, who I was proud to serve with, makes a very good point that -- and I have negotiated a lot of bills.
You need to tell people where you are at and what you`re willing to do. Now, I have heard Joe Manchin talk about the filibuster. He said he doesn`t want the nuclear option, but he`s willing to talk about a standing filibuster, which would be a major change.
But we don`t know where he`s coming from. And I would just say to my two colleagues there, you owe it to everyone, to the American people. What can you do? Whether it`s Build Back Better, or whether it`s the filibuster, voting rights, tell us where you`re at?
Because if we don`t know where our own people are, it`s a real problem, because we can`t count on any Republicans, maybe one on voting rights. And, by the way, that`s the big story that`s getting lost. For all the years I was in the United States Senate and in the House, we had bipartisan support for voting rights.
It was beautiful. And that`s gone. And you have to ask yourself, why have we suddenly, meaning the Republicans, decided, our power is more important than the voting franchise? It is very, very, very disturbing.
MELBER: Senator Boxer, always good to see you. And appreciate your points there.
MELBER: We have a lot more coming up, including a live interview with the brand-new Manhattan prosecutor overseeing the still open criminal probe into Trump Organization and talking law and justice.
And later, Stephen Colbert weighs in on the coup plotting -- right here on THE BEAT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Indictments for the Trump Organization and the former guy`s top moneyman, Allen Weisselberg, coming down today from the Manhattan district attorney`s office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was the news when it hit last summer, the Manhattan DA arresting Donald Trump`s top money person in his company, the CFO, which was part of a long-running criminal probe into the company.
And the Trump Org itself was indicted as the company. Now, since that time, this probe has gotten pretty quiet. We haven`t seen any other indictments since then or much other news leaking out after that perp walk, Weisselberg in handcuffs there.
The probe has also changed hands through New York`s democratic process, because it is now overseen by the newly sworn in Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg. And he is still overseeing not only many other cases and transitions, but this somewhat unprecedented open criminal probe into the company owned by a former president of the United States.
Alvin Bragg is our special exclusive guest right now, the new district attorney of Manhattan.
Thanks for coming on THE BEAT. I know you`re busy.
ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Good evening.
MELBER: Good evening.
There`s so much to get into, including some of the new policies you have on law and justice in New York, and we`re going to get to that.
But, for national viewers, I do want to start with that open case. It was a big deal when the CFO and the Trump Organization itself was indicted. After this much time and a handoff between the outgoing DA and you, it doesn`t seem like it`s building to any type of indictment involving Donald Trump himself.
Is that right?
BRAGG: Well, I`m not able to comment on the specifics.
As you said, I was newly in the position of a week. It`s obviously a matter of consequence. We`re focusing on it. I`m focusing on it personally. We have a great team in place. So, even while the democratic process, as you said, has led to me in this seat, we have the two senior leaders who were on the team before continuing at the helm.
So that`s really all I can say for the moment, as I`m sure you can appreciate.
MELBER: I understand that, because you`re not going to preview any indictments.
But does that mean the door is open to the potential indictment?
BRAGG: Well, we are -- I mean, obviously, as you know, it`s an open investigation, and we`re going to go where the facts take us.
I`m now, obviously, a new person looking at those facts as the final decision-maker. And we`re in the process of doing that.
MELBER: Well, something that your office can discuss a bit more is, of course, the indictments that have already been made.
We want people to understand all the facts. On the side of the Trump Organization, they have argued very assertively in public that this is kind of an unprecedented effort to turn payroll and employment issues into a crime.
I want to play for you Trump lawyer Alan Futerfas. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN FUTERFAS, ATTORNEY FOR TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Every expert on the planet will tell you is a gift, at least many of the experts that we have spoken to, if not all of them.
So, these charges are unprecedented. They are unique. People across the country, we believe, have heard of corporate departments, have heard of corporate cars. All of this is on the books and records of the company. That`s how they know about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And then, Mr. DA, "The New York Times" did a review. And I just want to put this up.
They said that lawyers with expertise in tax crimes that they consulted for their reporting said they could -- quote -- "think of no recent example" of such a similar case.
BRAGG: Well, yes, I`m not going to litigate this through the press. I don`t think it`s appropriate as a prosecutor. I mean, obviously, the offense has chosen to speak out.
I obviously wasn`t here for the charging decision. But we`re going forward with that charged matter. And I think the proof in trial, if we end up going that far -- it sounds like from those defense comments there`s not a plea being contemplated at all.
I think the proof in trial will be an opportunity for all watching now at all -- it`s a public courtroom -- to assess the proof. We plan to go forward. And I respectfully disagree with defense counsel`s characterizations.
MELBER: Copy on that.
Let`s turn to some of what you have been doing in these early days. And one of the things is changing some of the approach to what gets harsh sentences. We were discussing that very topic earlier in the program in a very different context.
And so to look into this conversation, I want to show a little bit of the shift in some parts of the legal and political discussion in this country, whether prison is the solution to every conviction or not.
Let`s take a look at that first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People who commit crimes should be caught convicted and punished.
MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: They can completely build community, rather than tear it down. They can save lives, rather than imprison them.
BRAGG: Safety has got to be based in our community and fairness. It cannot be driven solely by incarceration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cut in half the future years of jail and prison that are being generated by the Philadelphia court system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They sold us a false narrative that more police, stiffer penalties, and more people locked up in prison made us safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s just some of what we have heard.
You`re now in office. And I want to show viewers what you have immediately done, because you have new guidelines where you say, in most of these types of cases, without aggravating factors you won`t be going after and seeking jail for marijuana, skipping public fares, trespassing, resisting arrest, prostitution.
Explain to us what you`re doing and how you think this can benefit justice, and still safety, which is your job in the big city of New York.
BRAGG: Safety is paramount, Ari.
Your first civil right is the right to walk safely to your corner store. That`s been the focus of my career. For those who don`t know, I have been a federal and state prosecutor doing the full range, from gun possession to armed robbery. My focus has been keeping New Yorkers safe.
And, for me, this comes from personal experience. Before I turned 21, I have been shot at, had a semiautomatic weapon put to my head, a homicide victim on my doorstep. And so I know this work personally.
And we`re going to give primacy to those kinds of serious crimes I just mentioned, armed robbery, guns, gun trafficking. The things that were just on your screen are not matters that at least the people I`m talking to -- and I have crisscrossed Manhattan in the last couple of years -- are sitting around their kitchen table talking about.
I will drop one footnote. You had resisting arrest up there. And I want to make clear I have prosecuted people who have assaulted police officers. I take that tremendously important, that kind of conduct, and it has to be held accountable. So, resisting arrest is there for the sole circumstance when that`s the only charge, right, the only criminal thing charged is the resisting arrest, which then begs the question, what was the arrest for?
MELBER: Let`s dig in. Sir, let`s...
BRAGG: But people who punch police officers...
MELBER: Yes, let me jump in there.
Let`s dig in on that, because it`s a huge issue right now. And you`re actually trying to be the change. A lot of talk about criminal justice reform. You mentioned your background, and you`re trying to actually both do safety, but maybe, in a different, less punitive way. And I think our viewers understand from the data that might also mean a less racist way historically.
The new police commissioner, who`s your colleague, of course, is zeroing in right in on the arrest part in a new memo to her officers, saying that your new rules will make them less safe.
So, speak to that, because, on the one hand, you just referred to something that a lot of civil rights advocates care about, which is police stop someone, they don`t find a crime, then they get they get arrested for resisting arrest. But what was the underlying crime? And that seems unfair.
On the other hand, you got your new colleague and commissioner here first couple of weeks saying you might be endangering officers.
BRAGG: So, look, I look forward to working with the commissioner. We have been in touch. We`re going to talk about these issues. We share the goal of public safety for Manhattan in my case, all of New York City in the commissioner`s case.
And that`s why I draw this distinction. And I think there was some perhaps misunderstanding in terms of our legal document, which was prepared for our lawyers inside, instead of the public consumption of it.
People who punch and hit police officers will be held accountable. I have done that kind of work. That`s important. But, as I said, when the only charge is a resisting arrest, and there`s no assault, there`s no punch, that`s, I think, different.
And I think the people of Manhattan understand that. I`m profoundly focused on the fact that I sit behind the desk as a lawyer, prepare a search warrant, prepare an arrest warrant, and then our law enforcement officers go out and put themselves in harm`s way.
Their safety is of paramount importance to me.
MELBER: And do you think the new mayor will effectively have your back on some of the changes you`re trying to make, or, as someone who campaigned so publicly as a former officer, that he may be with the commissioner`s interpretation, which, as of right now, just to be clear, has some daylight between what you`re saying?
So, the mayor and I obviously talked a fair amount last year on the campaign trail. And for those who don`t know, his story and my story are sort of cut from similar cloths, in that we had experiences as youths involving police issues, police accountability, issues, force, in my case, unlawful stops.
And then we channeled that early interaction into careers in law enforcement, him, obviously, as a police officer, me as a prosecutor.
BRAGG: And we have talked about those shared experiences, and giving primacy to public safety.
So I think we`re all going to be on the same page. And we`re a week in. We`re going to talk through and get together and collaborate and keep, as you say, New York safe.
And then you mentioned the racial disparities. In fairness, I think that`s also of importance to the mayor as well, as it clearly is to me.
A week in, but clearly busy. And, again, we have covered a lot of these issues in the abstract. This is the work. If I tell viewers, well, who`s doing some of the work, it`s people like yourself and your team, as we keep an eye on what the numbers are and what does it look like to try to balance some of these things, at a time when there`s a lot of calls for change.
So, again, I know how busy you are, Mr. DA. Thank you for coming on THE BEAT.
BRAGG: Thank you for having me. Have a great evening.
MELBER: Yes, sir. You too.
MELBER: When we come back, we will show you Stephen Colbert`s take on all that coup plotting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: The January 6 insurrection, that horrible day, when millions of Americans stared at the TV in shock and grief and said, aw, crap, is that uncle Dave?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: "The Late Show`s Stephen Colbert taking on January 6 in only the way he can.
He also just took on Trump aide Peter Navarro, roasting him for admitting a coup plot here on THE BEAT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Navarro was on MSNBC last night, and he revealed that the White House`s plot to overthrow the election even had a cute little nickname.
PETER NAVARRO, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: This plan we had called the Green Bay Sweep.
COLBERT: Not to be confused with the Green Bay Sneak, which is what happens when you ask Aaron Rodgers if he`s vaccinated.
COLBERT: Navarro explained that what the coup plot had in common with the football play was teamwork, and obviously brain damage.
NAVARRO: And at 1:00 p.m., Ted Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz, and Gosar, a representative, started the Green Bay Sweep beautifully, challenging the results of Arizona.
COLBERT: I haven`t seen criminal activity so clearly explained on TV by the criminal since Rachael Ray welcomed co-host Jeffrey Dahmer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Criminal activity explained on air.
Then Colbert went after the plan itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAVARRO: All this required was peace and calm on Capitol Hill.
COLBERT: And we would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn`t for that meddling mob we unleashed on Capitol Hill!
Damn you, Scooby-Coup!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, coups are illegal. That`s the first big problem there.
But Colbert also noted a second problem with this particular plan, roasting the very idea that Mike Pence would make for an effective insurrectionist leader or quarterback.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAVARRO: The remedy was for Vice President Pence, as the quarterback in the Green Bay Sweep.
COLBERT: Really? Pence is the quarterback in this situation?
COLBERT: He doesn`t really strike me as having the quarterback type of personality.
If I had to pick a position that fits his sparkling persona, I`d go with tackling dummy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Thanks for spending time with us tonight.
And thanks to Colbert for all his thoughts on the interviews.
You can always find me online @AriMelber across social media or AriMelber.com. And you can tweet at me what you thought of Colbert`s jokes. Sometimes, the facts are the joke.
That does it for us.
"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts right now.