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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 1/19/21

Guests: Keith Ellison, Juanita Tolliver

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Our thanks to Brian and Nicolle, as our special coverage continues right now.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

This is the last full day of Donald Trump`s presidency. It comes amidst a pandemic that has now taken 400,000 lives in the U.S. As we have been covering today, president-elect Biden and vice president-elect Harris lit those candles in honor of those many, many COVID victims, 200,000 flags meanwhile, spread across the National Mall, a nod towards an audience that, just like at this summer`s conventions, will be watching more at a distance than in person at tomorrow`s inauguration.

And in another tangible and disturbing sign of Donald Trump`s failures to protect the nation, these inauguration preparations are unlike any in the recent era. Given that Trump-friendly insurrection which breached the Capitol for the first time in 200 years, tonight, you`re seeing some of the images of a nation on lockdown and under military protection, 25,000 troops deployed, a scene reminiscent of a siege.

But the larger context remains. Elections have consequences. In America, that`s true whether the incumbent politician understands it, or lives in denial, or even tries to steal an election that triggers a second Senate trial on his way out of office tomorrow.

Now, the Americans who rushed the streets and celebrated on November 7, tonight is a time to remember they did so with a certainty about tomorrow. They did so with a certainty that, in this country, the peaceful will of the voters would determine who enters the White House tomorrow.

And while, because of Donald Trump, this path has been particularly strained and, at times, tragically and needlessly violent, let me be clear with you tonight. Those people, they were still right. Power is changing hands tomorrow, in a decision made by the people. And the calendar will be followed, set by the Constitution.

The loser of the election is irrelevant tomorrow, as these two forces, the people and the Constitution, are what matters under the rule of law. Don`t forget that. That`s what matters, not the men or women who temporarily inhabit these offices in our constitutional order.

I can tell you, in the news tonight, on his last full day as president- elect, Joe Biden began his own emotional journey from Wilmington to Washington, a trip he has made many times, when he was senator for 36 years, a trip he made throughout his eight years as vice president.

Today, he is making it for the first time on his way to being president of the United States tomorrow.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I`m honored. I`m truly honored to be your next president and commander in chief, and I will always be a proud son of the State of Delaware.

Excuse the emotion, but when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.


MELBER: We are joined by Juanita Tolliver, the Democratic strategist, and Heather McGhee from Color of Change and an MSNBC political analyst.

Juanita, for many good reasons, the criminals and the terrorists have gotten both attention and scrutiny since the insurrection.

I begin with this point with both of you tonight, starting with Juanita.

What does it mean that those celebrations when Trump first lost, that the premise that people felt and believed, that, of course, no matter what he tried to do -- and I don`t think everyone underestimated what he would have wanted to do -- but the premise held, the rule of law held?

I wonder your thoughts as we reflect on that as well tonight.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, NATIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR, SUPERMAJORITY: I think it`s a reminder about people feeling validated and expressing themselves at the polls.

I think it`s a reminder about people`s faith in the democratic practices and processes which are the underpinning of our nation. I think it`s also a reminder of what people expect to happen, but didn`t expect to be challenged in such a violent way as we saw from Trump and white supremacists as they attacked the Capitol.

And I want to emphasize that that attack was not only on the Capitol, but on our constitutional practices and on our democracy, because here you have Trump demonstrating a reason, like, to really confront that with violence, instead of accepting the will of the people.

And let`s remember that Trump and Republicans put barrier after barrier after barrier in front of voters this election cycle, which occurred during a pandemic. And, essentially, this reaction was a surprise to being kicked out of office, a surprise that voters overcame all those barriers and voters had their voices heard.

And the same voters that went out there to celebrate on November 7 will be celebrating tomorrow with this inauguration, as Biden and Harris are sworn in.

MELBER: Heather?

HEATHER MCGHEE, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, the week where we experienced the whiplash of the night of history not just rhyming, but singing, of progress marking through Dr. King`s church to give this country one more shot, really, because, honestly, if the Democrats had not taken the Senate, we would have lost one of the last shots to make our way out of this pandemic, to recover from the economic crisis, to address the global threat of climate change, to address racial inequality.

There was really one shot, and it was all hanging on those two seats. We can`t let that spirit, the fact that a multiracial coalition, anchored by the leadership of black people, really helped save America.

We had that spirit in the streets in that celebration, the idea that a multiracial coalition had overcome Trump and Trumpism and all that it represents, that nexus of racism and sexism and greed, and we had it again with the special election in January.

And that following day was the last -- it was a dying gasp of a false ideology of white supremacy, which has been from this nation`s founding its Achilles` heel.

My book "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone" is really about the way that you can`t understand why America is still struggling with some of the basic things that the our peer countries are not, why our pandemic response has been the worst and our death rates and our infection numbers the highest, you can`t understand that without understanding the continued role of racism in our politics and our policy-making.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an opportunity to turn the page, to enact real structural reforms, to really create a multiracial democracy in this country, and that has to start right away, not the first 100 days, but the first two days.

MELBER: Yes, and that`s really why this is such a different moment.

A transfer of power is always a big deal. Tomorrow will be a big deal. The nation and the world will be watching. But, as you both just emphasized, this is a transfer of power against resurgent, weaponized, violent racism, and under a siege protection that, by the way I don`t think anyone is knowledgeably arguing against, having seen what was done in the breach of the Capitol.

I want to keep both of our experts with us and give everyone a little update on the news, with Donald Trump also acknowledging that he`s got to go.

So, he recorded a farewell address. We`re not playing any of it, but I will note that, in it, he claims -- quote -- "All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans." He says now: "It can never be tolerated."

Meanwhile, with his powers waning, many are on pardon watch. As a legal matter, Donald Trump does have until noon tomorrow -- and there is a slew of reporting, as well as rumors about who he will pardon. We have more on that tonight`s broadcast with other legal experts.

The top Republican in the Senate also making news, saying Donald Trump provoked and fed the lies that brought the rioters to storm the Capitol. We have more on that as well, while the Senate was holding confirmation hearing for five different Biden nominees, including key picks at Treasury, Pentagon, and the Department of State.

And, Juanita, I bring that to your attention. For all of the reported stalling and interference with the transition, now that it`s getting to this key sense of both vetting, having the hearings and having votes, it`s a fast timetable for Biden, in addition to executive orders that they`re telling the press will be issued tomorrow.

TOLLIVER: It`s a fast timetable, to Heather`s point what they`re going to do on day one, demonstrating their commitments through executive orders and actions, and again moving these confirmation hearings forward.

I think honestly, as you know, my political brain also looks forward. They`re going to immediate to create tangible impact that people can feel in real time related to this pandemic and related to the continued accountability of Trump and Republicans, who laid a foundation for what happened just two weeks ago to happen, whether that`s continuously questioned the election results, whether that`s actively raising a fist to the white supremacists outside the Capitol.

Like, accountability also needs to be a part of their agenda. For every single time that they`re going to call for unity, they also have to call for accountability, because people like me, a black woman in this country, need to see more, need to feel more coming out of this administration, knowing that midterms are not far off.

MELBER: Yes, and I appreciate your scrutiny on Senator Hawley`s move. Some of us are old enough to remember the so-called terrorist fist jab that wasn`t, in contrast to an actual white power symbol hoisted before terrorists entered the Capitol.

You can`t write it, and you wouldn`t want to, because I wouldn`t want to live in the movie that at times we have been living in. We hope -- I say this with full hope for bipartisanship too. I don`t mean it in any political way, but I hope we can all make it forward and do better.

Heather, in that spirit, I want to play something that is pretty newsworthy from our own Joy Reid, who, as eagle-eyed viewers can see, has this special with Speaker Pelosi tonight.

We have got one of the first newsy excerpts. Take a listen to Speaker Pelosi here at the end of the Trump era.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Donald Trump was a stain on our country. I don`t think we could have sustained our democracy if he had two terms in office for what he was doing to our institutions or what he was doing to our Constitution. He dishonored it.


MELBER: Heather?

MCGHEE: Yes, I don`t think it`s very easy to find fault with that, with Speaker Pelosi.

The man will have been impeached twice, and those were for, in many ways, just tip-of-the-iceberg offenses.

We have got somebody who really ran on and governed on the most divisive and corrupt agenda this country has ever seen. Joe Biden said on the debate stage, come on, man, you`re the worst president we have ever had. And he was speaking for over 80 million people, who couldn`t have agreed more.

I think that this -- this is the moment, though, where Democrats have to stiffen their spines and realize that, just because Trump is not in the White House, it doesn`t mean that he doesn`t still have a way to do damage, whether that is about whether he gets access to state secret, whether that`s about whether he, frankly, gets to walk as a free man.

He and his need to be the center of attention and the need to, with zero limits on decency or patriotism, whip up tens of millions of people into anti-patriotic, treasonous actions and attitudes, is going to be an ongoing threat to this country...


MCGHEE: ... as are the nearly the...


MELBER: Well, Heather...

MCGHEE: ... Republicans who voted for his lie about election fraud.


And you just said he fomented that violence. I believe this is a first. Heather can tell me if she remembers otherwise, but she has been a guest here before. I believe it may be the first night where the news has you and Mitch McConnell agreeing on that key point, which brings us to what we`re going to do after 30 seconds.


MELBER: So, as we keep moving through all the news, I want to thank Heather McGhee and Juanita Tolliver for being back with us on THE BEAT.

When we return in just 30 seconds, we have Republican Leader McConnell turning into a very skeptical juror for Trump`s impeachment.

And later tonight, two National Guardsmen reviewed from duty at the Capitol -- removed. We will get into that.

And a special look at why Donald Trump`s presidency went down the way it did.

First, the McConnell news -- when we`re back in 30 seconds.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): ... for our republic.

This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic.


MELBER: That is how longtime Trump ally and self-described Grim Reacher Mitch McConnell first condemned that MAGA riot at the Capitol.

Within hours of the attack, you saw him there bluntly saying what it was, an insurrection.

It was the first sign McConnell may shift from five years of publicly backing Trump. Tonight, the news more ominous for Trump, who leaves office headed directly for a trial for high crimes in the Senate, where McConnell is turning from ally to skeptical juror.

So, amidst everything else going on in Washington today, there are new signs how Trump`s trial may go, as McConnell and Schumer, the incoming leader of the Senate, spoke today about organizing the next Senate and COVID and this trial, with McConnell making news by suggesting Trump may be guilty.

The trial is over one question: Did Donald Trump incite the Capitol riots?

Here is McConnell going farther than he`s ever gone, saying Trump provoked the riots.


MCCONNELL: The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on. We stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation, not even for one night.


MELBER: That`s the sound of Republican Leader McConnell making the thrust of the argument that the Democratic impeachment managers will make: Trump did it.

Here is that key part again.


MCCONNELL: They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.


MELBER: If the Senate does conclude that Trump did it, caused the riot, that is constitutionally enough for conviction. And then a separate vote would be held on whether to ban Trump from running again. That would be game over.

Now, does that mean this is all over? No.

Have you met Mitch McConnell? He is canny. He notoriously keeps his options open.

Now, today, the news is, McConnell did go farther than most elected Republicans have to blame Trump for the violent riot, for the insurrection. But he also carefully used the word provoke, not the word incite from the actual impeachment charge.

If Republicans get the votes and they convict, McConnell can claim he led this march for accountability, including what he said today. But if he backs down and ultimately votes to acquit Trump, McConnell can legally claim that, while he condemned Trump for provoking this, maybe he doesn`t believe that Democrats ultimately proved their case to the high standard of inciting it.

We are joined now by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray and Morgan State University Professor Jason Johnson.

Good day to both of you.

Jason, let`s start with the politics, because it is Mitch McConnell we`re talking about. What do you think he is up to here?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Mitch McConnell is playing the press, he is playing Republicans, and he is playing Democrats all at the same time, because he may be the Grim Reaper, but he is a very smart guy.

By saying up front, OK, Donald Trump was a part of this, Donald Trump provoked these people one way or another, he is giving himself sort of the air of credibility, right? It`s like, look, hey, I can acknowledge the facts. I`m not a crazy right-wing Republican.

He is setting the stage for looking like a reasonable negotiator going forward.

But, as you mentioned, Ari, by not saying incite and using the word provoke, that`s the kind of word a guy like McConnell will end up using. We didn`t start the fire. It was always burning. It was incited by this, it was provoked by that.

That`s the kind of nonsense weaseldom that he`s going to use and that other Republicans will use, because we saw similar things with last year`s impeachment, literally at this point last year. While Donald Trump did something that was terrible, he did something to violate the spirit of his job, he did something to try to overturn an election, he abused his power, but we don`t know if that is quite impeachable.

And that`s what I think he is doing right now. Chuck Schumer would be absolutely foolish to think that what Mitch McConnell did is a sign that 18 Republicans are going to vote to convict.

MELBER: So, you`re skeptical. You also -- I believe you were also throwing in Billy Joel?

JOHNSON: Yes, I was.


MELBER: Strong.

You never know where he is going to go, Professor.

And both of you are professors, but I mean Professor Murray.


MELBER: You never know where he is going to go.

So, whether or not they started the fire will be litigated through this constitutional process.

And, Professor Murray, I now, having done a little bit of the politics, turn to you on the Constitution. What does it mean when House managers say they think there is a high crime committed by Donald Trump in inciting this violence? And is Mitch McConnell on to something by trying to make gradations or, whatever he may later claim, is that not really the point?

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this should take us back to this time last year.

This is a perennial question, indeed one that has long been burning since the worlds were turning...


MURRAY: ... whether or not what the president has actually done has risen to a level of high crime or misdemeanor.

It doesn`t have to be an actual statutory crime. And I think most would agree that there is less gray room here than there was a year ago. Triggering a rebellion against the Congress would certainly fall into the category of a high crime or misdemeanor.

As to whether that`s enough to bring 18 senators along, that`s a very different matter. And, again, this is not like a criminal trial, where the prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, all that is required is for each senator to be satisfied as to her own conscience as to whether or not the standard for impeachment has been met.

So, not only has McConnell given himself some wiggle room. He has given some wiggle room to the rest of his caucus as well.


MELBER: But you see -- just briefly, Professor Murray, you see that wiggle room as going initially right now against Trump, as compared to the last trial?

MURRAY: Well, I think there is much less gray area here.

Last time, there wasn`t a trial. There weren`t witnesses. It was hard to tell if the phone call regarding the events of the Ukraine really did happen as some of the witnesses in the oversight hearings had claimed. And here, we know what happened. We have it on video. We saw the president saying these things. We saw what followed.

There is far less wiggle room here to link the president with what -- with the events that actually happened on January 6. Like, there is a very clear nexus.


MURRAY: That wasn`t necessarily the case before.



And while many people thought it was a bad defense to say last time, oh, the president demanded an illegal probe into his rival, Joe Biden, who is now replacing him, but it never happened, that that was a bad defense if it was still an attempted potential high crime.

But, as you point out, Professor, you certainly have a stronger evidentiary argument when the thing was both fomented, requested, and happened. We all lived through Wednesday.

Another person that`s coming in -- and this could end up being potential evidence at the trial -- is, of all people, Bill Barr. Take a listen.



QUESTION: Perhaps the debate about the integrity of the election was the final straw.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that that was the thing that precipitated the riots on the Hill.

Now, I think it`s always important to remember that most people are exercising their First Amendment rights, but there was a substantial group, obviously, that went far beyond that and broke into the Capitol and tried to interfere with the proceedings. And that`s unacceptable.


MELBER: Jason, what`s important here is not how annoying some of the other word salad is, but that even Bill Barr, who is known as the most partisan and loyal lawyer that Donald Trump could find and install at the DOJ, after many efforts, is saying similar to what McConnell is saying, what Professor Murray just walked us through, which is, that thing happened, and they did cause that thing.

The election lies that others tried to downplay and say, well, let him have his time to absorb, actually, according to Bill Barr -- quote -- "precipitated" the insurrection, Jason.

JOHNSON: Yes. And Bill Barr was one of the people who did an investigation for Donald Trump and say hey, look, we didn`t find any election -- any sort of election difficulties, any sort of cheating one way or another.

He was not going to participate in the silly process afterwards.

And what I think is really interesting is, again, when we look at the notion of this trial, every single person who is voting is also a witness, which is not what you would have in most trials, right? Everyone there is, like, yes, we were in the Senate when this actually happened.

If this were a "Law & Order" episode, there would be a special episode. They would bring in Mike Pence. Mike, did you hear, did security tell you that they were screaming, hang Mike Pence?

So, this is kind of a different situation...


JOHNSON: ... where the senators can try and dance around like Bill Barr and create word salad, but none of them can say it didn`t happen. None of them can say they weren`t afraid.

Only thing that they can say is at this particular point is, they somehow don`t hold Donald Trump responsible. But, unlike last year, where they can say, well, it was a perfect phone call, we don`t know what happened in the phone call, none of these people who are going to be speaking can claim that they were not terrified for their very lives, and that they didn`t see crowds of people outside threatening and building gallows and calling for their deaths.

MELBER: Professor Murray, since we have you here, any quick thoughts on what is rumored to be a potentially large number of pardons that could come down any time before Trump formally becomes an ex-president tomorrow?

MURRAY: Well, I think we`re all bracing for pardon-palooza.

And I think it will be big. To be clear, though, there are lots of ways presidents can wield the clemency power. And one of the ways that they can do so is to sort of indicate policy preferences.

Like, for example, Obama granted pardons to those who were convicted of low-level drug offenses. We`re not seeing that here. There`s no policy agenda being advanced, other than that which suits the president.

These are individuals who have been close to the president, who have access to his allies, and those are the ones who are getting this kind of consideration right now. That`s not the way this was meant to work.

MELBER: Professional Murray with important context on the news that may be coming -- we will have it for you if it breaks tonight -- and Jason Johnson. Thanks for both of you for two angles on the McConnell story.

Up ahead: There is new reporting on the lengths that fringe militias are going to try to affect the inauguration. We have the attorney general of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, here. Donald Trump leaves in disgrace. We have a special look at the end of the Trump era with someone who was right about it from the beginning.


MELBER: We are basically now hours ahead of the Joe Biden inauguration plans, and Washington is on lockdown.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of law enforcement news, two army National Guard members removed from their inauguration duties for alleged ties to fringe militias, while 12 have been relieved of duties due to the zero tolerance policy for any criminal history or other flags that emerge.

Meanwhile, authorities are tracking plots where attackers or would-be terrorists may try to dress in Guard uniforms. And, today, one of the attackers from the Capitol now indicted for conspiracy and -- quote -- "planning the insurrection," while new video shows more of the emerging chaos from inside the attack, as well as how these individuals were blatantly attacking and menacing the outmatched officers.


UNIDENTIFIED RIOTER: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! You`re scared now, mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!


MELBER: We are joined by the attorney general of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, who also has experience serving in Congress, multiple perspectives.

Thanks for joining us tonight.


MELBER: Based on what you can say from the publicly available evidence, what is important for everyone to understand in a complex investigation of what was a riotous and out-of-control scene about what we`re now learning about the extent of this, as opposed to what people were first seeing in those early days?

ELLISON: Well, it is important to understand that there was significant presence of law enforcement and people with military experience at this insurrection.

We know, right there in Virginia, there were two officers. There was an officer from Houston. And, every day, I`m reading reports that there were large numbers, perhaps as many as more than a dozen. And so I`m reading the news on this.

And I think that it really is -- it`s an important thing, because in 2018, Ari, I wrote a letter to the Department of Defense raising questions about a group called Atomwaffen, which is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group, infiltrating the U.S. military.

They responded to me in 2018 that they had about 27 instances in which they had to take action and which they found people involved that way.

I think that, from the FBI, to local police departments, to the United States military, there needs to be a real search into people who are motivated by extremist ideology, because I think that, if you -- if the United States military or any other law enforcement agency has to function, it has to know that everybody`s dedicated to the mission, and white supremacy and neo-Nazism and democracy are completely incompatible.

MELBER: Facts.

I want to read from "The New York Times," which has the headline, "Investigators arrest more militia members from January 6," what we mentioned in our introduction to you. They`re eying specifically -- quote - - "right-wing militias, arresting several people suspected of taking part in the violence."

From a law enforcement perspective, is it important to distinguish between people who may have shown up randomly and then committed crimes, for which they will be held hopefully to account, and others who actively planned, conspired and arranged these crimes and may even have wanted to do more violence, had they been able to?


There is a degree of culpability that may be different. But if you showed up at that rally and you hurt anyone, or you entered the building unlawfully, you need to build criminally liable for that behavior.

If you are found to have planned and you brought in zip ties, with the intention of kidnapping or murdering members of Congress or the vice president, that is a different level of accountability that needs to be brought.

And I think that it is absolutely essential that law enforcement be aggressive.

But, Ari, I may also say that I hope that your listeners...


ELLISON: I was going to say, I hope that your listeners understand that this is not a situation where you just got some bad people and they`re going dealt with.

As a country, we need to come together and have a series of local community meetings about what it means to live in a multiracial democracy. I`m concerned that these white supremacists, neo-Nazi right-wingers are sort of trying to infect various institutions in our society, not just police and military, but, I mean, even the rotary.

We have got say, we`re a multiracial, inclusive, democratic country, and that`s how it is. And we need to discuss it. And I encourage people at their mosques and synagogues and their churches to get together and talk about this stuff. It`s not just somebody else`s problem.

MELBER: I really appreciate what you say in closing there, Mr. Attorney General, particularly dealing with this, which is why we know the truth matters and words matter.

And so people who say this isn`t America or bad apples or these efforts at minimization can easily be normalization.

ELLISON: That`s right.

MELBER: It is who we are because it`s what happened.

There is way too many people still out publicly minimizing or supporting it. And, yes, let`s all get together. I will meet you at the mosque, the synagogue or anywhere in between, sir. And I appreciate you coming on.

ELLISON: You got it, brother. You got it.

Well, thank you. Any time.

MELBER: All right.

ELLISON: Have a good day, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you to Keith Ellison.

Up ahead: Donald Trump is shattering a tradition and getting called out for.

But first: a legacy of lies, crashing approval, and who got it right, something we do around here. We will hear from someone who got it right next.


MELBER: Today is Donald Trump`s last full day in office.

And it is a matter of objective fact, not criticism, to note that Donald Trump leaves in more disgrace than most modern presidents, dogged by more convictions of top advisers in his first term than any president, rejected in real time by Americans, who now, having seen it all, overwhelmingly disapprove of him. You can see the disapproval surging to the worst of his tenure.

He`s also shunned by business and tech leaders, who spent years making excuses for him, and facing his second Senate trial, with far more on the line this time, as Republicans openly mull using it to potentially bar him from public office forever.

To paraphrase the rapper 21 Savage, Donald Trump has some problems here. How many lawyers you got? A lot. How many problems you got? A lot. How many people doubted you? A lot. Left you out to rot? A lot.

Now, as Trump faces this late and rotting backlash, many are asking, what took so long for so many powerful people to just finally confront what he really, clearly stands for and fought for and said he stood for the whole time?

Would these companies like Twitter be enforcing their rules so vigorously if Donald Trump had just won reelection?

As one writer who warned about Trump from the very beginning puts it: "For four years, as Trump has brought ever more havoc and hatred to this country, many have wondered what it would take to dent his impunity. The answer appears to be committing sedition and losing power."

That writer is "The New York Times"` Michelle Goldberg, and she joins us now.

Michelle, your thoughts?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think that we have see over the last four years just how power legitimizes people.

You know, it`s a small example, but one of the first signs that kind of American -- the American establishment was going to adapt to the Trump administration, the resistance aside, despite the fact that there was people who tried to, as we used to say at the beginning, avoid normalizing Trump, you will remember, at the very beginning of this administration or a few months into it, the Harvard Institute of Politics made Corey Lewandowski and Sean Spicer into paid fellows, right?

It was sort of an early sign that, no matter how thuggish, no matter how kind of embarrassingly mendacious you behaved, there was going to be a place for you in the establishment, as long as you had been adjacent to power.

And it`s really interesting that, at the very end of this administration, the Harvard Institute of Politics has jettisoned Elise Stefanik from an advisory board, right, because all of these institutions -- it`s one of many institutions that kind of accommodated itself to Trump. There was always criticism. It`s true that Melania never got a "Vogue" cover, which is a big sore spot.

But, as you see one after another rush to distance themselves, you can then -- every one of these institutions is distancing of themselves now didn`t do so over the last four years.

MELBER: Yes. It`s very important.

I hope you don`t tire of me noting that you were right from the beginning.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

MELBER: But this is a time where it is worth making sure we are listening to people who did correctly warn. And if others want to adjust and learn, great. We`re in journalism. We`re in the learning business. But who should we learn from?

And the other piece that we`re going continue to stay on that you have also written about relates to a special report we did really doing an accounting of all this, those who knew better because they publicly said so, at least on certain Trump failings, and then cynically doubled back.

Take a look at just a piece of this accountability regarding Senator Cruz.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This man is a pathological liar.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think he is a kook. I think he is crazy. I think he is unfit for office.

We should have basically kicked him out of the party.

I`m going to stand with President Trump.

CRUZ: I believe President Trump still has a path to victory.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The decent thing to do is let the president himself take the time he wants to absorb this. You have to allow that to happen.

MCCONNELL: President Trump is 100 percent within his rights.


MELBER: Michelle?

GOLDBERG: Well, and you will notice that Mitch McConnell today, after kind of winking and nodding at President Trump`s delegitimization of this election over the last month, has now come out and said that, actually, all of this rhetoric about a stolen election, all of these lies about a stolen election from Trump contributed to the violent attack on the Capitol.

And, in a way, I think impeachment is sort of -- can be seen as a gift to the Republican Party, because people like McConnell and some of these other leaders are being given a chance to, having for four years ridden this Faustian bargain -- that`s a mixed metaphor -- but worked this Faustian bargain for all it was worth, right, gotten all the judges, had gotten all the sort of maximalist ideological conservative figures and all throughout the bureaucracy, having gotten everything they can out of Trump, are now being given the opportunity to purge the party of him, to kind of whitewash their own complicity.


GOLDBERG: And not all of them see it that way, but I think that, for McConnell, it`s a really good bargain.

MELBER: Right.

You`re hitting on something that is so tricky right now. You also raise the rhetorical question of, if you`re trying to hide your own support for white supremacy, is that even a whitewash, or is there some other term? I`m not sure. I`m just trying to keep up with your rhetoric.

But with regard to the actual point you just raised, if Mitch McConnell is that cynical about it, in a way, he may ultimately think he gets a political benefit out of shutting the door, if he can find the votes, convict Trump, bar him from office.

It might make his life easier dealing with intramural Republican debates. And yet what is the ethical argument about what`s best there, Michelle?

GOLDBERG: Well, look, the ethical question is, obviously, that Donald Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and should be impeached. He should have been impeached a year ago.

And it`s hard to fathom the amount of human suffering that we could have avoided in this country had the Senate taken the steps to remove him a year ago. The country would be in an infinitely better place, and, actually, the Republican Party would probably be in an infinitely better place. It`s unlikely that they would have lost control of the House, the Senate and the presidency all at once.

The Republican Party is in a bind because they can`t -- Trump is -- they can`t win with Trump, right? Trump voters are not enough to win an election, even with all of the GOP structural advantages.

And yet just kind of they also can`t win with just traditional Republican votes, right? They do the best when they get both the Trump vote and the anti-Trump Republican votes. And they have to find a way to keep that coalition together.

But I think it`s obvious that they would be far better off in 2024 if they cleared the deck for another candidate, since Trump -- I think it`s easy to forget what a fluke Trump`s victory was in 2016, especially because he ruled as if he had an overwhelming mandate.

And in 20 -- until 2020, I don`t think we knew for sure whether that really was a fluke or whether it was the beginning of some sort of realignment in American politics.

I think the way this has played out has showed us that, in a lot of way, this was all really a terrible accident, that if it hadn`t been for those few thousand votes in those few states that allowed him to take office, despite being overwhelmingly rejected by a majority of the American people, Trump has never at any point in his tenure had the support of a majority of Americans.

MELBER: Yes. Right.

I have to fit in a break. But, Michelle, it goes to the broader point that life is truly bizarre.

GOLDBERG: It`s bizarre, and yet, in the case of Trump, has a strange sort of symmetry.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

GOLDBERG: You have this man who goes into office who wants nothing more than celebrity respect, and ends with celebrity disgrace.

MELBER: Yes, and a lot of other things that backfired, and that story is not yet over.

Michelle Goldberg, thank you.

When we come back: There is something normal you will see tomorrow, and something that is not normal, and we shouldn`t pretend it is.

I will explain next.


MELBER: The United States is now officially about 17 hours away from Donald Trump losing all federal power.

And after trying to literally steal the election, Donald Trump`s also breaking traditions and skipping the inauguration, where, for many, he would be a reviled presence.

It is the first time, we should note, that an outgoing president will not attend since our Civil War. Now, some Trump advisers have been pleading with him, for his own self-interest, that it would look better if he at least placed a quick call to president-elect Biden or left him the traditional note in the Oval.

Now, these are traditions that obviously are fluid. They`re not required. They encase the more formal ways that our Constitution requires a peaceful transfer of power.

Historian Michael Beschloss has been sharing some of his favorite and quite iconic photos to show everyone how it typically looks, regardless of even bitter partisan debates.

Here was President Carter with president-elect Reagan in the Blue Room ahead of that inauguration. In 1993, when the Clintons arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day, President George H.W. Bush told them in no uncertain terms -- quote -- "Welcome to your new home," something they shared, an American moment.

There`s a photo of Laura Bush and her daughters giving the Obama daughters a tour of what would be their housing, Jenna Bush leading a tour of the White House family quarters.

Or take the very divisive 2016. Within two days of that election, Barack Obama was setting the tone, welcoming Donald Trump, regardless of their history. And you see Joe Biden right there bringing Pence into his office, while Michelle Obama hosted Melania Trump at the White House, a contrast to this:


QUESTION: Has your mom heard from Melania Trump about doing the traditional protocols?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I don`t think they`re doing the traditional protocol, which is unfortunate, but I think we`re all OK with it.


MELBER: Donald Trump and his administration`s rebellion against those customs is not as important as his attempts to illegally steal the election, but it does overlap with an autocratic and lying bent.

It is not normal. It should not become normal. That is a nonpartisan point that every American can keep in mind tomorrow.


MELBER: We are bracing to be busy tonight and tomorrow, whether it`s covering potential pardons or the inauguration itself, so I did want to remind you can always find me on social media @AriMelber, where we may be weighing in or doing some live legal reporting.

That does it for us on THE BEAT tonight.

I do want to tell you to make sure you check out the special hour at 10:00 p.m. tonight, Joy Reid`s exclusive with Speaker Pelosi.

And up next is "THE REIDOUT" itself.