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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 11/18/21

Guests: Elie Mystal, Antoinette Jones


Steve Bannon is back on court on contempt of Congress charges. House Democrats near passage of the Build Back Better Act. An Oklahoma execution is halted just hours before it was set to begin. Testimony continues in the Ahmaud Arbery trial, as the Kyle Rittenhouse jury continues deliberations.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we are tracking a lot of important stories tonight, let me tell you.


We have a few things planned for you, actually.

Steve Bannon was back in court formally. He`s facing potential jail time and a judge that is not playing around. My legal breakdown on that with a special guest later this hour.

Also, new action in Washington, with Biden inching closer to what many people say will be a historic spending plan. If it sounds like, didn`t he just when a spending bill? Well, yes, but they are decoupled now. And we are getting new reports from the speaker`s office just as we came on air -- I just was hearing about this -- that they will move forward on a vote on that second spending plan tonight in the House.

And then a breaking story that we have been reporting on, an Oklahoma execution dramatically halted just hours before it was set to begin today. This is an important story. It is about justice. It is about real people`s lives. And it`s about so much more, as we have explained in some of our reporting. And I can tell you, we have a special guest on this difficult subject tonight. The inmate`s sister joins me later. We will get into all of it and why it matters.

And we begin right now with our top story, which revolves around these two important murder trials that are in key phases right now. This delves into the accountability issues that we have been covering so much in the current era. It also gets into civil rights and race and the national debate that has been brewing over vigilante justice.

Now, these two trials are capturing the nation`s attention. There is murder defendant Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged for murder and other crimes relating to openly and clearly killing on camera two protesters at a BLM event. Then there`s Travis McMichael, among others, charge for murdering an unarmed jogger in Georgia who was black.

That`s relevant to the case, according to many.

Now, the Rittenhouse jury is continuing its deliberations. This is day three. And if you count it up, it`s about 23 hours that these jurors have been sitting together doing what they must in our system, talking to each other, going back over the evidence and eventually trying to reach a unanimous decision.

Today, there were no questions whatsoever, no new clues exactly on what they are thinking or discussing in that secret process.

In Georgia, meanwhile, high drama inside this intense courtroom, Travis McMichael back on the stand facing cross-examination. That means the prosecutors, who say he`s a murderer, are putting him through all of the questions they say the jury must hear to understand why, according to them, he`s a murderer.

McMichael is the one allegedly who pulled the trigger, killing Ahmaud Arbery, this unarmed jogger, after chasing him down the street. Now, that killing itself is not in dispute. These are some of the stills from the damning video evidence.

McMichael has not a defense that he didn`t do it, but rather a defense that he says legally he had to. On cross-examination, the prosecution, again, the lawyers pressing this murder case, they went right after that defense.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: But hadn`t at this point he demonstrated, not once, not twice, but three times he did not want to talk to you?

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: Which -- when I`m at the stop, when I stopped at Burford?

DUNIKOSKI: Right, because you pulled up to him once. He doesn`t want to talk to you. You back up. He doesn`t want to talk to you. You pull down Burford. Your dad`s yelling, cut him off, cut him off.

And all of a sudden, he runs back, he doesn`t want to talk to you. That`s three times he`s demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct?


DUNIKOSKI: He`s also demonstrated he`s no threat to you. He hasn`t pulled out a gun.

MCMICHAEL: That`s correct.


MELBER: "That`s correct." That`s an answer under oath.

But it`s not a good answer for the person speaking, because, as you saw there in just that snippet -- and we have broken this up into pieces to make it as clear as possible -- the prosecutor is going through facts.

And McMichael is not able to rebut or defend them, but, rather, agree with, again, what the evidence and the facts show, that, in this case, it`s going to be hard to claim self-defense if it was the defendant who kept initiating the contact, the defendant who was armed, the defendant who escalated.

And while there was this debate over whether there was an effort to discuss or have a conversation, in fact, Arbery was the one running away from McMichael.


MCMICHAEL: Yes, he did not threaten me verbally, no, ma`am.

DUNIKOSKI: All right. Didn`t brandish any weapons?

MCMICHAEL: No, ma`am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn`t pull out any guns.

MCMICHAEL: No, ma`am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn`t pull out any knife.

MCMICHAEL: No, ma`am.

DUNIKOSKI: Never reached anything, did he?


DUNIKOSKI: He just ran.

MCMICHAEL: Yes, he was just running.


MELBER: He just ran. He was just running.

This is a skillful prosecution there. This is the kind of cross-examination that shows -- I`m going to tell you why so many lawyers, even if they think they`re doing all right, worry about putting a defendant on the stand, and especially a murder defendant, because he`s got to tell the truth under oath.

If he blows that, it`s not only a crime. It also alienates the jury. But in telling the truth there, this defendant is confirming what much of the video and what -- much of what the prosecution has argued happened, that he was the aggressor, that he initiated, that he was armed.


And then you have these claims -- and this goes to the vigilante part that we have been covering and that has become such a tense political issue and at times a racial issue in America -- this claim by more than one person, because, as I mentioned, there`s these two trials, but here that McMichael claims in his mind, even though this was just an interaction that he`s on trial for murder for, but, in his mind, he thought he was conducting a citizen`s arrest.

But was that only in his mind? Did anyone else hear about it?


DUNIKOSKI: You never told the police that you said to Mr. Arbery, "You`re under arrest," correct?

MCMICHAEL: I did not.


In fact, you never did tell Mr. Arbery, "You`re under arrest for the crime of" fill in the blank?

MCMICHAEL: I didn`t have time. I was still trying to get him to stop.


MELBER: That is really bad for the defendant.

If you watch our coverage at all here on THE BEAT, you know I am not here to tell you what to think. And I`m not here to tell you how this ends. In a nation of laws, the jury will decide that in this case.

I can tell you that was devastating. If your main defense is that this was a citizen`s arrest, but you didn`t do anything to even provide the foundation for it to be a citizen`s arrest, then that looks more like fantasy than a factual defense.

And as people know from just about every cop or police drama, well, when the police make a stop or an arrest or they handcuff people, because they`re police and trained, they almost always do what they are supposed to always do, because it`s not a high bar. They tell people when they`re under arrest. It`s just words.

Now, you may say, gosh, if it looks that bad, was there any explanation whatsoever? And we want you to see all the relevant parts as best we can in the time we have. Yes, McMichael does claim that there was a reason why he didn`t do that, why he didn`t go through even the baseline minimum of what might have been a citizen`s arrest.

He says that he felt traumatized, and so he couldn`t articulate it to the police.


DUNIKOSKI: What were you nervous about while giving the statement?

MCMICHAEL: I just killed a man. I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic event of my life. I was -- I was scared to death. I mean, it was -- it was the most traumatic event of my life.

I don`t know anybody who wouldn`t be scared or stressed or terrified or anything. I mean, it was -- it was horrible.


MELBER: It was horrible. It was traumatic. But neither before nor after -- again, this is where the law is different than the emotion -- neither before nor after can he say under oath to the jury that he did anything whatsoever to make this potentially a citizen`s arrest.

And you have Arbery running away, which is, again, not what most people consider a threat. If you`re the person who`s armed and the other person`s running away from you and they`re not armed, well, you have a tough case to make that you have legally justified deadly force.

Now, there was also this issue around the altercation where, three times, Arbery was not only not engaging with Michael, but trying to get away from him. This is the stuff the jury is going to have to think long and hard about. Here`s Michael`s claim yesterday, though.


MCMICHAEL: I shot him.


MCMICHAEL: He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was -- it was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then it was -- this is a life-or-death situation.


MELBER: Now, McMichael is one of three defendants. He has finished his time testifying. The jury will not return until Monday to hear more of the case.

As the trial continues, the nation is also awaiting this jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

We are seeing something that, again, has no formal coordination. These are completely different court systems. They go through their own schedules.

And yet it reflects the broader trend lines that we have reported on, including what the FBI has said, the rising domestic terrorism and extremism, much of it on the right, some of it related to white supremacy, and two vigilante cases playing out where juries will render judgments that say whether or not this type of killing, the armed against the unarmed, initiator against those who, at least initially, were on tape fleeing, is this legal in America?

I want to bring in experts who have thought long and hard about this and worked in the arena.

Joyce Vance was a former federal prosecutor, Maya Wiley a former federal civil prosecutor and mayoral candidate. Maya has been writing about this recently. Her new piece is "Three Trials, One Lesson: Race, Injustice and Fear Still Rule."

I want to get into all of that depth with Maya, but given the way that this was a criminal cross-examination, I will go to Joyce first.

And, again, I will just -- a little background. People know both of you as such experienced lawyers. But, Joyce, you ran one of these big U.S. attorney`s offices. That means you`re literally the top dog with a lot of other lawyers underneath, and you do these cases. And the criminal ones, the murder trials are the most serious.


What did you think first of that cross-examination, how it was conducted, and what the jury might have gotten from it?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It was a very skillful cross-examination.

And something that strikes me as, as you watch an experienced prosecutor do that, is, she understands that she`s not there for drama. She`s not there to create an aha moment in the courtroom.

It`s important that the jury listen, but when she will really drive home the impact of that cross-examination will be when she argues the evidence in closing argument and she`s able to tell the jury, this defense about using this Georgia statute that permits a citizen`s arrest, that was manufactured. There was no effort to arrest Mr. Arbery when this was going on, and she will go through this entire litany of points she elicited on cross-examination, and I expect that it will be devastating.

MELBER: Very interesting to get your view on that.

And, Maya, I want to put up a headline about just one of the issues that`s come up here. This is an issue that really speaks to how close race is to the actual trial. You had many black pastors gathering here. This on the Arbery case there, and the defense lawyers for the killers saying, well, boy bringing high-profile members of the African-American community to the courtroom to sit with the family -- this is clergy, mind you -- during the trial is intimidating.

They lost that very controversial bid to somehow remove or bar clergy, who, again, because it`s the facts, I`m going to mention it, clergy who are from the black community, from being in there.

I`m curious what you think about all of the racial issues that are right at the edge of this trial, in addition to telling us about what you wrote about these cases.

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, well, in addition to what we`re learning in the trial of that -- which, essentially, from the defense is an argument that black people are scared, is that we`re also hearing that from the defense attorneys.

Black people are so scary and so intimidating, even those who are there as comfort and support to the families, because these are national issues. They`re not -- even if it`s a local crime and a local event, as a matter of community, as a matter of racial justice and civil rights, this is something that families across the country who have lost loved ones either to police violence or this kind of vigilantism actually have relationships with one another, create support networks, and organize work demanding justice.

The uncle of Jacob Blake, who was shot and paralyzed in Kenosha, given rise to the demonstrations, has been at that courthouse every day, and they are in contact with families. And the pastors do the same thing. It`s a deep tradition in our community that links religion, community and support for things we experience as a community, no matter where we live.

But to call that frightening is simply to demonstrate the point that fear and racial fear and white insecurity is exactly what is endangering our lives and, frankly, our peace.


And, Maya, take a listen as we talk about that, the wider context of how this has been covered and playing, both these trials, on FOX News.


JESSE KELLY, HOST, "THE JESSE KELLY SHOW": They genuinely believe Kyle Rittenhouse should not have stopped the street animals from burning down Kenosha or any other city. They believe they have a right before God, their communist God, to burn this country down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now they want the guy who was there to defend the community, basically, they want his life to be over and have him rot in prison forever.

MARK LEVIN, FOX NEWS: This kid went on the stand, and he defended himself. He defended his freedom. And he was superb.



WILEY: Well, this goes back to what vigilantism that is countenanced represents, which is those demonstrators were demonstrating against the police shooting of a black man.

That is actually the problem for them. This is not just vigilantism in their view. It`s liberty, because it`s people who are white actually protecting what, in their view, is law enforcement, which is more deserving of protection than we are.

And that`s really the honest conversation that`s happening here, if we`re really honest about what`s being said. And that`s the conversation we have to challenge, which is that, frankly, sure, no one should be violating the law. I believe in that deeply. The civil rights community and movement has always been a nonviolent one.

But the truth is, the reason we have the problem we have is because there is a refusal to acknowledge that justice is not always just, and that the system is not working for everyone equally and fairly. And when that happens, that gives rise to the kind of hate and danger that then the hate groups like we`re seeing in Charlottesville use as a wedge between us.


And that`s very dangerous, not just for democracy, but for our lives. We have got to solve it.

MELBER: Joyce?

VANCE: You know, if I can, Ari, I want to go back to something Maya said earlier, where she talked about the role of the black church, because it seems to me that the issue of race isn`t at the periphery of these cases.

This is the issue. These are modern-day lynchings. Anyone who`s prosecuted civil rights in the Deep South, you just can`t miss the similarity between what happens here, where a car is used to hunt down a black man for the terrible crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the black church is where advancement and equality has always been centered. It`s not a mistake than what, when black people walked, marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, that that march was launched from Brown Chapel in Selma and that they returned to the church after the devastating effects of that march.

And so when you see these defendants` lawyers going after black clergy members who are there to support the family, it says to me a lot about their inability to see the victim`s family as human beings who need that support.

But it also speaks, I think, very loudly to how much they want to ensure a status quo that was the status quo that they grew up in, and how threatened they are by the Black Lives Matter movement and everything it might mean that they would have to acknowledge and change.

I think race is the central issue in these cases.

MELBER: Also important.

Our two counselors kicking us off here on very, very significant trials, as we track how they wrap up and what the outcomes are.

Joyce Vance and Maya Wiley, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, we have some other very special reporting, including our breakdown of the criminal case against Steve Bannon, including a setback for him in federal court today.

And Republican leaders doubling down on the violent rhetoric. Democrats, though, say they`re still going to govern with this key vote on Biden`s spending. David Plouffe is back.

And this is one we have been covering. And, for a family, it is a reprieve, a dramatic decision sparing a man`s life in the final hours right before his planned execution that was tonight. And the sister of that man who was once on death row until today, the sister of Julius Jones, joins me later tonight.



MELBER: Now we turn to our special report, our legal breakdown in this big new criminal case against Trump ally Steve Bannon.

He got some very clearly bad legal news today. While he remains defined in public. I`m going to run through all of it with you right now.

It starts with a hearing that is all about these two criminal counts he`s facing over defying Congress and the investigation into the January 6 insurrection. Now, today, there were proceedings that were not exactly the wild scene from Monday, when Bannon was livestreaming his arrival to the FBI field office and there were people all around.

This was a virtual hearing, a status conference of sorts, a day after Bannon submitted formally a not guilty plea in writing. You can see the second time here, because he`s been a defendant before, Steven K. Bannon, the signature right there, not guilty.

So that legal process continues. And then you have the news we`re going to get into right now. The legal process is quite different, in substance, as well as some of what we`re hearing in the tone and the vibes, than the bravado that Bannon continues to exude outside of court in public.

So, even today, amidst these mounting and serious legal troubles that could land him in jail, Bannon invited a fellow elite MAGA warrior onto his Internet show. This is Trump`s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

We will put this up full on the screen. And, basically, what you have here is Meadows on "War Room" -- that`s Bannon`s show. And he`s right now, what you`re seeing -- this is important -- he`s talking to Steve Bannon here with the background, making media, while he is one of two wanted lead men in this legal investigation, one man indicted -- that`s Bannon -- the other Meadows trying to walk a line to not end up in Bannon`s shoes.

They both know it. Their lawyers know it. And yet they carried on in an effort to avoid that topic, instead dreaming about Trump becoming House speaker.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I would love to see the gavel go from Nancy Pelosi to Donald Trump, as -- you talk about melting down. People would go crazy.


MELBER: That`s Meadows on "The War Room." And they are just talking up, boy, what if the Republicans win back the House and use the powers there to name Trump speaker, which, by the way is constitutionally allowed?

You don`t have to be a sitting member of Congress. What they avoided largely was why they`re both in legal hot water.

Bannon also continued to lean into his familiar talking points, and the MAGA faithful are echoing him.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: During the absolute freefall, you`re going to run the House with 40, 50, 60 seats. I say 100 seats if we get focused.

The death rattle of this Marxist regime, this illegitimate regime.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We only need five more seats to be in the majority. Then we have the subpoena power to bring these individuals in. We have the ability to stop what President Biden is doing. We have the ability to fire Nancy Pelosi.


MELBER: That is the House leader for Republicans, McCarthy, sounding a lot like Bannon, who sounds like Trump.

And so you see the strings that are being pulled. You see that Bannon is not just one more media figure in the right-wing echo chamber. He is actually saying and doing things in concert with the former president, who he`s trying to protect, that may affect the way the House or other things are governed.

Now, Bannon also took some shots at the press. And I can tell you, as a journalist, I have spoken to Mr. Bannon repeatedly, and once at length in an MSNBC interview.

Bannon is keenly aware of the power of the press, which is why he tracks it, participates in it, and then tries to make his own alternative media. Now, on his "War Room" Internet show in these days since the indictment, he actually played some of our recent coverage right here on THE BEAT about his legal woes, trying to claim that it`s all some sort of noisy media meltdown.



MELBER: He will be judged through a system that is not overseen by the president he helped elect.

BANNON: That is all MSNBC noise. We`re going to give you signal. All of this is a complete meltdown of the mainstream media.


MELBER: I don`t know. First of all, I don`t feel like I`m melting down. And I certainly don`t feel like I`m worried about the court process.

But there is something striking there, which is Steve Bannon is trying to play this outside game, and he`s quoting and criticizing the press, and he`s making his own media. And he was even plugging "The War Room" on his way into core.

So that`s what`s happening, the media universe of an echo chamber that, again, he is a skilled communicator. He may have some larger purpose outside court.

But I got to tell you, there are much higher stakes for Mr. Bannon and anyone else who defies subpoenas than headlines back in court, back in the criminal case.

Politico reporting on those proceedings today, noting the judge rejected Bannon`s effort to slow-walk this contempt case. Bannon`s lawyer was arguing could take a while for Bannon to be ready to present a defense, because it has complex constitutional issues. And they asked the judge to basically delay the next hearing all the way out until next year.

And they lost.

Now, why am I showing you this? Because you can see the contrast. This is a far cry from Bannon`s public bravado about smashmouth politics and turning the tables and he`s so confident. Well, it doesn`t really fit with the legal strategy where he`s basically using his lawyers to beg for more time, and they`re not getting it.

How complex is the case? The judge -- we will show it to you -- denying the delay request, setting the next hearing for the first week of December, and reportedly feeling unimpressed with the whole other part of Bannon`s defense right now.

Now, Bannon`s legal team has also impressed on what they are holding back, what they`re essentially hiding from the January 6 probe. Now, we have mentioned this before. I just want to give the context.

Donald Trump was only, basically, talking to certain people at certain times, and thus only requested that Bannon not disclosed privileged information. Bannon`s lawyer, though, went way farther than that, saying to the committee, to the investigation they won`t produce documents or testify about anything at all.

That means they don`t even have an arguable defense for a lot of the material demanded under this subpoena. This may sound like we`re getting into the weeds, but it`s actually important. What it means is that, even if there were arguable or debatable issues about, say, what Bannon said to Trump while Trump were president, he didn`t confine his defiance to those arguable issues.

He just said no outright, which makes his case weaker. It basically puts a giant hole in his case. And Bannon`s own lawyer just did an interview where they kind of admit that.


DAVID SCHOEN, ATTORNEY FOR STEVE BANNON: There are certainly conversations. If Mr. Bannon -- if you`re talking about conversations outside of the executive branch, then, clearly, those are not covered by executive privilege.


MELBER: They`re not covered by executive privilege.

If Bannon`s own team is admitting these holes in public, if that`s their defense, well, just wait until the prosecution gets ahold of this and gives their version of their case.

Is one of Donald Trump`s ultimate architects and loyal allies headed to jail to hide things from January 6? What does that tell us about why they want to hide it? And does this accountability process matter?

I`m going to get into it all with legal correspondent Elie Mystal, when we`re back in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: "The Nation"`s Elie Mystal is here.

Welcome back.

What do you make of Steve Bannon`s lawyers` troubles in court, and how`s this case going?


ELIE MYSTAL, "THE NATION": Yes, I mean, the clip that you played, I just want to really emphasize how ridiculous Steve Bannon`s lawyer just exposed himself in that clip that you played.

The entire theory of Bannon`s is that all of his conversations and documents are covered by executive privilege. The lawyer just went on TV and said, clearly, there are some documents and conversations that are not covered by executive privilege, right?

It`s like if my defense me -- if I was accused of arson, and my defense was like, well, I didn`t have a lighter, and then I went on TV and said, like, so don`t get me wrong, I have lots of matches, but I never had a lighter.

Like, what is he talking about? So, just right there, the lawyer is blowing a hole in the otherwise ridiculous defense that Bannon is making.

There is something called executive privilege. There is nothing called podcaster privilege, all right? That doesn`t exist.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: So, the fact that Bannon was a podcaster making -- talking about January 6 is not covered by any privilege under the law.

And his argument that he shouldn`t have to play ball and -- sorry -- submit to an authorized congressional subpoena is just ridiculous.

But, Ari, can we talk -- can we just talk as adults for a second, right, right?


MYSTAL: Like, just as an adult, like, your viewers are capable of understanding that this argument has nothing to do with the law. This is not -- he`s not making a legal argument. He does not have a colorable legal claim.

There will not be law review articles written about this new crazy podcaster defense. All he`s trying to do is delay and delay and delay and get through the 2022 midterms, because his theory of the case, Mark Meadows` theory of the case, Michael Flynn`s theory of the case is that if the Republicans can just take back the House in November, next November, then they will end the select committee and make all of these subpoenas moot.

And so all they`re trying to do is get to 2022.

MELBER: Right.

And let`s dig into that intersection with the case, because we just showed an effort to constitutionalize it and claim they need extra time for, as you say, law review level issues that don`t exist.

And the judge said no. The judge might put them on a faster track.

MYSTAL: Yes, look, this is a Trump judge. This is a judge appointed by Trump and who clerked for Clarence Thomas, right, so like, not batting my team.

But he has shown -- since he was appointed by Trump, and with that lifetime guarantee, he has shown real I think the word is dismissiveness towards the clown coup operation, right?

He is the same judge, this Nichols, is the same judge that caught the Dominion case, the lawsuit against the election company Dominion. And he threw them out on a rail. He threw the pillow guys out on a rail.

So this judge doesn`t seem -- he might be a conservative. I might disagree with him about tax policy, but it seems like he`s on board with the project of democracy.


MYSTAL: So, I don`t think that he`s going to play around with Bannon here. I think, like, of the Trump judges that you could have got, they probably got -- the Department of Justice probably got a good one here.

But, even so, while dismissing Bannon`s attempts to delay even the pretrial status meeting to the next year, what are we still looking at? We`re looking at the next date for another status conference already now December 1.

Is he really going to get the trial going before the holidays? Does anybody really think that`s going to happen? Or are we going to see this trial leak out into the beginning of 2022, at least, right? And that`s how that delay strategy works, even with an aggressive court, and quick trials and quick justice.

Even if all of that happens, they can still put themselves, if not in after the midterms, very, very close to the midterms.


MYSTAL: And Bannon is just the first one.

As you played in your opening, you have got Meadows out there, who was already in violation of a subpoena, but he still hasn`t even been referred to, to the Justice Department from Congress. So we got to wait for that.

Flynn`s date is coming up. We don`t know what`s going to happen with him or Stepien or any of them. And all Bannon is doing is kind of showing these guys the road, showing these guys the way.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: If you delay and you delay and you delay, they can`t catch up to you before the midterms.

MELBER: And that`s why the public bromance with Meadows is so important, because these are people that are still trying to protect Donald Trump. There`s no doubt about that. They may be doing it illegally. The courts will have the last word on that if, as you say, unless they`re cut off.

And this is also why we go to Elie Mystal, because there`s the so-called formal textbook law, and then there`s what they sometimes call the legal realist view, which is what`s really going down. And you have the knowledge of the former, but the sober clarity of the latter.


And we appreciate you, sir.

MYSTAL: Thank you so much for having me.

MELBER: Thank you.

Up ahead, we have this news coming out of Speaker Pelosi office about a Biden vote. And David Plouffe is here.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Breaking news from the Hill.

House Democrats will vote tonight on Biden`s $1.8 trillion social spending plan. This comes right after the big win on infrastructure.

We`re joined now by David Plouffe, former adviser to President Obama.

What do you see here in what has been a blizzard of negotiations and then talk of spending? If someone`s watching going, OK, is the second one going to get passed or not, what do you tell them?

DAVID PLOUFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Ari, you and I have talked about this previously.

I think the only thing worse for some members than seeing this pass is not having it pass. So now that the House has passed this, I think it`s almost certainly going to pass the Senate in December. And then Joe Biden, I think, has two signature, you could even argue historic achievements.

And I think then the task is to go out and make sure they get executed well before you even get to storytelling. Does everybody who`s eligible for them know about them? Does everybody know the benefits? And then you basically have to do storytelling, because there is a gap between the support of these two bills and Joe Biden`s approval.

And with political polling and data, we know these people are for the most part, and you can go find them and communicate to them and hope you can narrow that gap.

MELBER: Yes, well you just put finger on that gap, which is what the White House is really fixated on right now.


When we hear from Joe Biden that these are great programs that will help America a lot, immediately, you know who agrees with that? The majority of Americans, more Americans than the share that voted for him, which shows that cross-partisan outreach that Joe Biden said was part of his appeal and part of his method of governing.

Then there`s the exact gap you just said, which is the other big problem for the White House, I will put this up on the screen. You don`t always see these kinds of gaps. Here, you have the overall approval on the left. You would think Joe Biden was Donald Trump. OK, that`s 36. That`s not where most incumbent presidents want to be in year one.

And yet the two big things domestically are way up in the high 50s. David, explain why. And is it movable?

PLOUFFE: Well, I will say, there`s polls. While Biden`s approval is lower than the White House or Democrats would like, there`s also polls. I saw a poll in Wisconsin today. Wisconsin, a pretty important state, I think had his approval at 49.


PLOUFFE: So, listen, I think, though, people are not satisfied with the direction of the country.



MELBER: I will let you finish. But I got to push back on you.

As a lawyer, strategist, pollster debate, of course, you can find another poll, but that poll is not great.

PLOUFFE: Well, no, so my point is, I don`t think he`s at 36.

But if you look at all the aggregation of the polls, he`s probably somewhere in the mid -- sort of low to mid-40s. But I do think what`s driving that is people are unhappy with the direction in the country, largely because we`re 20 months into COVID.

MELBER: Right.

PLOUFFE: And I think, once we kind of break through that and it becomes endemic, I think Biden and all of us are going to breathe a sigh of relief.

I also think now Joe Biden`s kind of astride Washington. He`s been able to deliver one. He`s on the precipice of two. I think he will look strong. This is a leader that can deliver. That will certainly make Democrats more enthusiastic, which is an important part of the political equation.

But I also think those are popular measures. And I think you have to look at this as basically an 11-month campaign to reach everybody in America who`s open to voting for Democrats and explain to them what they did, and, by the way, what the Republicans opposed, which is all the bridges, all the roads, all the making the wealthy pay their fair share, capping prescription drug costs for seniors at $2,000.

Like, there is many, many chapters to this book. And I think he will be helped by that. But the biggest thing right now is no individual piece of legislation. I think there`s just a sense people are very tired of being where we are with the pandemic. Washington looked dysfunctional.

It looks a little more functional now. So I`d be surprised if you don`t see those numbers jump in the coming weeks and months.

MELBER: Yes, all really interesting stuff, a man who`s been there at the very top of campaigns and White House politics.

David Plouffe, thank you, sir.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Up ahead, we turn to a very important story with a significant guest, an inmate`s life spared hours before today`s planned execution. Julius Jones` sister joins me next.



MELBER: Breaking news tonight, a dramatic, literally life-or-death decision that just spared a man`s life hours before his scheduled execution for late today.

This is a story we have been covering, former death row inmate Julius Jones. The governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, granted Jones emergency last- minute clemency today, commuting his sentence to life in prison. Jones` supporters gathering in the state capitol. This was hours before the scheduled execution.

Here`s how they reacted when this surprising and unusual news broke.




MELBER: An emotional outpouring capping an intense public and legal process.

Twenty years, ago Jones was convicted of the murder of a 45-year-old father and businessman, Paul Howell.

Howell`s family releasing a statement today saying: "We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make. We take comfort that his decision affirmed the guilt of Jones and that he shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life."

That`s their reaction.

We have documented many issues with the original trial and evidence. Jones, for his part, has always maintained his innocence.


JULIUS JONES, DEATH ROW INMATE: I`m here before you today to tell you what I never got to tell the jury at my trial.

Yes, I have made many mistakes in my youth, but I did not kill Mr. Paul Howell.


MELBER: There were many problems exposed during and after the trial, including a report from a juror that a fellow juror discussed lynching Jones and used a racial slur.


JUROR: One of the jurors said, well, they should just take this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail.

It didn`t matter what happened. This was a black man that was on trial for murder. He did it.


MELBER: Jones` case got national attention both in the press, as well as in grassroots organizing and filmmaking. The details about the issues also got more and more scrutiny.

Kim Kardashian West tweeted to her over 70 million followers today, after having previously advocated for Jones, saying thank you to Governor Stitt and everyone who used their voice to save his life.

Supporters of Jones breaking into song today with "Amazing Grace."




MELBER: We have been covering this case repeatedly on THE BEAT with a range of reporting and experts.

We have a very special guest now for the first time. That is Julius Jones` sister, Antoinette Jones.

I know this has been a very difficult time and day for you and your family. Thank you for joining us.

How are you doing?

ANTOINETTE JONES, SISTER OF JULIUS JONES: I`m doing pretty good. I`m doing a lot better.



A. JONES: I`m doing pretty good. My parents were elated.

My mom, she yelled: "Thank you, Jesus. Hallelujah."

And I felt the same way. But I understand we still have a fight on our hands. So, I`m appreciative to our Pardon and Parole Board for their consistency. And I`m appreciative for our governor for stopping the execution of my brother.

MELBER: How did you hear the news?

A. JONES: We were sitting at a table at Denny`s, and our campaign director, Cece, got the word from our defense team, a few members of our defense team.

That`s how we found out. And then I called my parents, and, over speaker, I relayed it to them.

MELBER: Was it something that you felt could still happen, or, by today, which is the day of the scheduled execution, you had surmised and felt perhaps it was not going happen, that he was going to be executed by the state today?

A. JONES: To be honest with you, my faith compelled me to believe that my brother would not be executed, just my relationship with God.

And I know a lot of people are like, well, that`s crazy.

Well, you have to have crazy faith to be -- to me, to be a Christian, you have to have crazy faith, to go by faith and things that you can`t see. That`s how -- that is my mind-set just going forward. It`s always, I`m going to speak. I speak things, and I pray and ask God for things, and I expect to receive them.

MELBER: There was a lot of interest in the case, we and others documenting many of the problems in the trial. We`re not going to go into all of them at this juncture.

But widening even beyond just your brother`s case, people have learned about it and seen that the justice system, and particularly the capital punishment system, has documented racism in it in America.

What do you think people need to understand about this, since you have lived it so closely?

A. JONES: There is a -- racism plays a huge -- it`s huge. It was huge in Julius` case. It was definitely huge in the `90s, just the layers with which Julius` current defense team had to go through just to find out all of these little loopholes.

And you definitely have to have resources. And my community doesn`t necessarily have resources to have adequate counsel. And in the state of Oklahoma, there are not -- there are not -- there is a significant of lawyers that do not know about capital -- I mean, they don`t have capital murder experience.

So, that was also an issue back then in Julius` case, is, there were not a lot of attorneys that had capital murder experience. So the lawyer that Julius first had, Mr. Albert Barry (ph) -- I hope I`m saying his name right -- he passed.

And so that`s when the DA in the past, Bob Macy, appointed David McKenzie, who was not well-equipped, and he didn`t have resources. So -- yes.


I mentioned in our original reporting and today the victim`s family response. And they have a role in this as well. And they have spoken out. And your family`s spoken out.

What else do you want people to know about your brother, who was apprehended and caught up in this at a very young age, as this has been his life? We showed some video from him as well, which was the one somewhat rare time that we heard from him when he was presenting to the board.

But what else do you want people to know about him now that, today, his life has been spared by the system?

A. JONES: I want people to know that my brother is innocent.

And I`m not just saying that because he is my brother. I`m saying that because I was there. He was at the house with us. Julius was at the house with us during Mr. Howell`s murder. We were celebrating Julius` birthday over a birthday cookie.

And my oldest brother, Antonio, and I took a huge piece of Julius` birthday cookie. And, I mean, when he seen it, he, like -- he was so mad. He was like: "I can`t wait to tell when momma get home. You`re always eating my stuff."

And I won`t forget that, because he passed back and forth through the living room and the kitchen, waiting for mom to come home from taking my oldest brother to work.

So, when he met -- I mean, he met her at the door. That`s something I won`t forget because I was like, ooh, I`m going get in big trouble.

But I want people to know that my brother...

MELBER: And so, legally -- go ahead.

A. JONES: Oh, sorry.

MELBER: Please.

A. JONES: I just -- I want people to know that my brother is not a person that would take someone`s life.

He`s a person that would step in front of a bullet for someone. He is a person that pours in love. He is my greatest -- he is my greatest supporter, my greatest fan.


Yes, sir.

MELBER: Yes, understood.

And, legally that goes to the offered alibi, as well as many other issues in the trial, which we have covered.

I will direct viewers to or YouTube, where we have the longer report we did on the case.

But it was quite a legal development today to see the governor step in just hours before your brother`s scheduled execution there to commute the sentence.

And I -- again, I will just say, not as a journalist, but as a human being, it must have been quite the day and the roller coaster all this time for you and your family. And I know, as you and others have said, there`s a lot more work left to do. But these are important facts and stories for people to know.

So, I appreciate you coming on THE BEAT and talking to us tonight. Ms. Jones.

A. JONES: Yes, sir. Thank you for having us. Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you. Thank you.

And we will be right back.


MELBER: That does it for us.