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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 12/13/21

Guests: Vicky Ward

Summary

The House January 6 Committee is on track to hold former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt. The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell continues. New evidence emerges of the coup attempt inside the White House.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari. Happy Monday.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Happy Monday. Thank you, Nicolle.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with breaking news today.

Within an hour, the House January 6 Committee is on track to throw the book at Donald Trump`s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows holding a criminal contempt vote within that House committee.

Meadows had claimed he would cooperate initially with this probe, but is now openly defying subpoenas, even filed his own lawsuit against this committee, which has filed its own supporting evidence for tonight`s contempt vote in a damning, extensive report -- you just see some of the pages here -- that depicts Meadows as far more involved in the run-up to the insurrection than he`s admitted or his book, which he sold for money and which may have affected his privilege, far more involved than his book claimed.

That includes personally assuring the National Guard would protect pro- Trump people on January 6. And let me be clear with you. We don`t have all the details about that yet. Indeed, he`s holding back a lot of the details. But it is not the National Guard`s job to protect certain people, based on their politics or their alignment with the president or a plan for the president to steal power.

Indeed, even this sliver of information raises even more questions about the costly controversy during the insurrection as it unfolded about when the Guard was able to finally arrive and secure the area against some pro- Trump people who were committing crimes and attacking the police.

The arrival of the Guard was roughly three hours after those Capitol Police first formerly called for help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM WALKER, D.C. NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: At 1:49 p.m., I received a frantic call from then Chief of United States Capitol Police Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter of the United States Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters.

And then we just waited to get the approval. My timeline has 17:08; 5:08 p.m. is when we wrote down that we had approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was a huge, long, suspicious lag to get the federal approval to go protect the Congress from the pro-Trump people, who we now learn the president`s right-hand person was promising to protect.

Now, that`s the operational side. There`s also the actual plot to steal the election, which failed. The committee`s evidence shows Meadows in the loop about trying to overthrow the election with fraudulent electors. The idea was that, in states where Biden won, Republicans might send fraudulent electors for Trump.

Meadows writing: "POTUS wants to chat with Republicans about that," which they tried late and without success. The report has more new revelations that we will report out for you with analysis in this segment.

But with this vote on Meadows looming right now, I want to first bring in our experts, "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg, and Michael Steele, former chair of the RNC.

Welcome to both of you.

Michael, there`s a legal part of this, which is a kind of a sequel to Bannon. And news viewers who follow that remember Steve Bannon talked tough. He got a contempt vote. It went to DOJ. They have the ultimate call. They indicted him. That trial goes on.

And so we`re going to see some version of that potentially play out here, door number one.

I want to direct your attention here to door number two, which is the facts that are emerging from this investigative process. What do you think it means that Meadows was this involved with the details I mentioned and more that are in the report and that we will get to?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it just speaks volumes about the degree to which he is exposed here legally, certainly politically, with Trump, and why you see some of the backtracking that has occurred in the last week, where the man even comes out and denounces his own book as fake news.

I mean, just try -- you just can`t wrap your head around that level of crazy. But the reality still remains that, legally, the former chief of staff finds himself highly exposed here, largely because of his own doing, not just what he sets out in the book, but, more importantly, what he`s already given over to this January 6 commission.

So they have these documents now. Those documents corroborate and further along the timeline that they have been working on since the commission was formed, putting together with other documents that they have gotten access to.

So not knowing what that is, and knowing what he has turned over, thinking as part of a freeing himself from Trump, which was the -- what the book was about, what about handing all these documents was all about, now finding himself exposed on the back end of this, trying to come down and say, well, I`m not going want to participate, I`m not going to cooperate.

[18:05:02]

Dude, you`re exposed now. They`re going to lower the hammer on you. And what do you do then? Cooperate. And I think that will be the next phase of what you see happen, because there is no place else to go, now that they have got the documents that further along and clarify the timeline, your degree and involvement in it, in perpetuating a January 6.

You at some point are going to try to start talking about, as we say on the street, copping a plea.

MELBER: Yes.

And that really goes to his role as a witness, as an accessory to an insurrection, and the level of involvement that he had.

And, Michelle, he`s the number one person in government who was at that time carrying out what Trump wants, which goes to, how actively and premeditated was Trump involved in the insurrection and what, if anything the country wants to do about that?

I want to show the text messages they have, again, courtesy of the report, so stuff that sounds familiar, but is new, text messages sent regarding, basically, whether Pence could somehow reject electors. This was with a senator.

Direct communication between Meadows and Trump, who thinks the legislators have the power, but the V.P. has the power too, is what Meadows wrote. And, Michelle, we don`t know who that senator is yet.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there`s a lot that we don`t know, which is, again, why it`s so important that many of us testify, and why this isn`t just a sort of procedural gambit.

They really, really need him in there. There`s this incredibly tantalizing, alarming, but also sort of ambiguous bit about the National Guard being on hand to protect pro-Trump people. It`s not clear -- again, it`s not clear what that means, if that means that they were kind of contemplating declaring a state of emergency, if they were preparing for some sort of unrest, if that has to do with why the National Guard took so long to get to the Capitol.

We just don`t know. And that is why it is so subversive of democracy for Meadows to refuse to testify. It`s why it`s so important that -- the DOJ, I think it was probably an easier call for them to prosecute Bannon, right? Bannon`s claim of executive privilege was preposterous. He wasn`t in the White House. He has also just -- he had also just been pardoned, not that that necessarily goes into their calculations.

But Meadows has a more legitimate -- an actually totally legitimate government job. He kind of has some claim, probably, to executive privilege. I think it is really important that the DOJ be aggressive here, because Meadows might be a sort of more legitimate actor than Bannon, but he wasn`t engaged in more legitimate politics.

He was doing every bit as much as Bannon was, from what we see here, in furtherance of what was very clearly a coup attempt.

MELBER: Michael?

STEELE: Yes, I think she laid it out exactly right.

And it goes to the overarching narrative that both the DOJ and Meadows and his team are now having to contemplate and maybe, in some degree, recontemplate how they`re going to do this sort of ballet between both sides to get to the point that the commission ultimately is trying to get to, and that is the truth, the facts.

You -- we cannot deny there was an interaction, right? And we know now, even more so with additional evidence, that there was some degree of White House involvement in that process, in some way. Now, maybe it may have been benign. That`s to be determined. Maybe it was much more active, again, to be fully determined.

But we know there was some level of activity that the most important figure outside of the president was involved in, and that is the chief of staff.

And so the question now becomes, to Michelle`s point, how do all of these pieces begin to fit to answer the very things that we don`t know? And when we find that out, what does that say about the furtherance of this effort to overthrow not just the election, but ostensibly the government?

MELBER: Yes, and you both lay it out. And that`s why the probe is so important, even for people who want to -- quote, unquote -- "move on," to use a tired cliche.

You need investigations to understand the whole picture. And the individual DOJ prosecutions, which continue apace, are and must be about the individual fact pattern in each person`s case.

STEELE: That`s right.

MELBER: So the so-called QAnon Shaman or someone else, it`s about them and only them, that our justice system provides that.

And yet what the Congress is doing here in this partly bipartisan committee is really trying to figure out the rest of it, because there was an insurrection. It was worse than it even looked on that day, which is saying something. It was more premeditated than it may have looked on that day, and it had more coordination to the top of the government than we knew.

[18:10:01]

The legal question of whether Mr. Meadows, separate from the criminal contempt, also broke other laws is similar to the questions in Georgia of whether the president at the time demanding they find 11,000 votes, does that cross a line that a prosecutor wants to charge?

Not for me to say, but I can say there`s mounting criminal evidence that looks really bad and needs to be dealt with. And then you have, of course, Michelle, what you know to be the most important thing, which is whether someone used a private e-mail account.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: As you know, in 2016, that was a national issue in many ways.

STEELE: Yes.

MELBER: Apparently, Mr. Meadows, did, the report mentioning that he used two private e-mail accounts, Gmails, for personal and apparently government business, his personal cell phone as well for official business, and a secret Signal account, which is an encrypted messaging app.

There`s multiple references in the report here to direct communications between Meadows and the president, much of this at odds with Trump`s claim that there`s nothing to hide.

GOLDBERG: Well, and you remember that Meadows said that he wasn`t going to cooperate anymore because people were -- because they were trying to subpoena his communications.

Well, if he had secret communications, of course, they`re trying to subpoenaing it. Obviously, the people who voted for Donald Trump because they were primarily concerned about information security are going to be very disappointed here.

But there`s also -- I think that it`s very possible that this is another violation of the law, right? You`re supposed -- there`s the National Records Act. You`re not allowed to do some of this government business secretly. And so there should possibly be another criminal investigation there.

But, again, I just -- I think it goes to show how almost everything with Trump people, it`s almost always sort of worse than it looks at first glance, which, again, I think we need the investigation, both in terms of to understand what happened, but also to understand what can happen in the future, because, as we have talked about a lot of times on this show, they`re putting the pieces in place so that, next time the Republican Party tries to dispute an electoral vote count, next time they try to get a Republican-controlled legislature to send an alternate slate of electors, they might be able to do it.

And so some of what Meadows did, if it wasn`t illegal, maybe it should be illegal.

MELBER: Right.

GOLDBERG: And so I think Congress needs to understand what happened to understand what sort of laws can be possibly passed to protect our elections going forward.

MELBER: I think you make really important points there, Michelle, particularly with where we`re headed. And we have a report that relates to some of that coming up.

So I want to thank Michelle for kicking us off.

As for Michael, experienced BEAT viewers know, there`s only two ways Michael comes back later in the hour, with a comic Muppet or without "The Daily Show" Muppet but that we love so much. Today is such a serious breaking news day. Michael returns later in the hour without the Muppet, sans Muppet.

So it`s that kind of day, Michael.

STEELE: Yes. We`re ready.

MELBER: Until then.

Coming up, Michelle mentioned something that I want to get more into, which is what we`re learning about how do you deal with this next time, when there`s actual coup PowerPoints circulating, and not just on the Internet, but new reporting suggesting the material went to Republicans in Congress and made it inside the Trump White House.

Also tonight, there is important testimony coming out of the trial of the associate accused of helping Jeffrey Epstein do sex trafficking. That trial has a lot of important stuff and a lot of news. We have an update on it for you tonight.

And we go eventually to the scene of this January 6 Committee vote.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:27]

MELBER: New evidence of the coup attempt inside the White House.

That`s the context for what we`re watching on the Hill, moments away from a criminal contempt vote for Trump Chief of Staff during the insurrection Mark Meadows. The vote comes of its damaging new evidence from Meadows` own e-mails and actions.

And it reveals something that, actually, it was not well understood before this committee began its probe, just how far some of the outside agitators got into the White House, a coup backer who was plotting to overturn the 2020 election making inroads with Mr. Meadows in the Trump White House.

Now, Meadows was doing several things to try to advance Donald Trump`s interest in overthrowing the election. And that included things that sounded really wacky at the time, like baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud, foreign meddling, and this evidence that is now in the hands of the committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: This PowerPoint dated January 5 is beyond insane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty-eight-page PowerPoint.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: This PowerPoint presentation.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: A PowerPoint briefing "Titled Election Fraud, Foreign Interference and Options For 6 Jan."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We have been hearing a lot about the PowerPoint, although some of the reporting is only just come into view.

And it`s a PowerPoint plot to stage a coup to end democracy in America and install Trump as an authoritarian leader without an election to back it up. It is that serious.

So the committee is looking at this. People should understand this. And is one of our guests mentioned earlier in the program, this may be more of the future.

Some of it starts with Philip Waldron, a U.S. Army veteran who was pushing this plot and met with Meadows, who faces this vote tonight, not once or twice, but on multiple occasions, and saying they spoke at least eight times. This was while he was pushing the coup PowerPoint, which had a specific, detailed plan from someone who had his own military government experience to deal with what they were going to falsely claim was foreign interference in the election, and then different options to try to hold on to power, to install Donald Trump, even though he lost the election.

This plot, again, in PowerPoint form, talks about declaring a national security emergency that did not exist, or illegally seizing paper ballots. That would be a crime if you just did it because you wanted to win. And then, ultimately, why Jan. 6 became such a totemic day for so many of these conspiracy theorists and would-be coup plotters, to delay the certification of Joe Biden`s win and use that to somehow suggest there was a quasi-legal question about his coming presidency.

[18:20:09]

Now, there were no documented problems to support those allegations. There was no widespread fraud, nothing that affected the outcome of the votes in any of these states. But this person was with Meadows, pushing these conspiracy theories.

Maybe China took over the entire voting system, and you could just get enough Americans to believe that, or maybe Venezuela`s Hugo Chavez had voting machines that were used. It does look ridiculous on the screen at times, but this was also part of the template that reached the White House.

Then the idea is, Pence would reject electors that went for Trump -- excuse me -- that went for Biden, and install fake ones who went for Trump.

Now, this PowerPoint was going around before the insurrection. We`re going to show you what was going on at the time. Some of this, as I mentioned, it looked bizarre, the type of thing you wouldn`t even pay attention to, let alone take seriously.

And yet this was part of what ultimately got pushed all the way to the 6th by people, some of whom later acting violently, did want to overthrow the U.S. government, which means that`s a floor, not a ceiling, for people who might do it again.

Keep in mind, everything they were talking about back then was false.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our vote is owned by two Venezuelans who were allies of Chavez.

This election was stolen by mail-in ballots. Those are the ballots that were stuck in the machine eight times, nine times, 10 times.

SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: All kinds of massive interests of globalist dictators, corporations, you name it. Everybody`s against us, except President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: All of that wacky talk and those weeks after Trump lost and Biden one, it really did sound like a sideshow, one last spasm of a conspiracy theory-laden administration, and not the most serious lawyers, if we`re being honest.

But it is more than that. And it was not designed to be legally true, provable in court, or factually true, the kind of evidence that the empirical community or whatever you want to call it might look at seriously.

It just needed, according to these plotters, to be enough to claim a national emergency, or to create enough doubt and putative reasons for enough people in Congress to try to delay that certification, or to use violence, which they ultimately tried to do to delay this certification.

So, while fact-checking is important, and we do a lot of that in this business, you can easily lose the thread by thinking about this only on those terms, because you`re dealing with people who aren`t even, in their own private meetings, thinking about it as facts.

China, Venezuela, obviously, if they just sub in and out the countries, some of them at some level know they`re making it up. They know they`re full of it. They don`t care. They just want something that other people might believe or that their side will take as the fig leaf for the attack on democracy itself.

Now, Mark Meadows was meeting with this person. And Mark Meadows is now running from providing more information about how high these things got inside the White House. The committee has this evidence. On Friday, we should note, by the way -- if this sounds different, well, the news moves.

On Friday, the committee itself, through its leadership, was not willing to confirm whether they even had the PowerPoint. In fact, we put some of these questions to one of the key members of the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Does your committee also have this PowerPoint itself?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): You know, Ari, I can`t go into what documents we have.

MELBER: Is this something that originated in the Trump White House or from somewhere else?

SCHIFF: Well, Ari, some of those questions, we`re still trying to determine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s fair. We`re asking questions that may be important. They`re not always answering them. They`re honestly saying that they`re doing the fact-finding to get there.

But, obviously, Mr. Schiff was being careful about something that Mr. Meadows is trying to minimize, and that matters a great deal. What was going on when people who were writing up plots for the illegal overthrow of elections and democracy were getting this high into the White House, getting these meetings, and meeting with Republicans in Congress, some of whom we still don`t know who they are?

Now, as for Mr. Waldron, here he was in December of last year at a state Senate hearing in Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. PHILIP WALDRON (RET). U.S. ARMY: President Chavez designed them for - - they`re designed to control and manipulate votes.

And that`s what we found reviewing these things. We have affidavits in Pennsylvania and Arizona that these machine-printed ballots were injected into the system.

[18:25:05]

GIULIANI: Have you had an opportunity to examine any other Dominion machines?

WALDRON: No, but we`d like to.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That ghoulish off-camera laugh is Mr. Giuliani.

The reference there to affidavits is legal jargon for, they found people who were willing to say things about fraud. It is a type of testimony. But if the people are lying or making it up, it doesn`t get you very far. It is not in any way evidence of the actual election problem.

It`s just saying, hey, I found someone to say this. We wrote it down. It`s called an affidavit. That was about as far as the evidence got. So this matters. And we`re showing it to you in depth because people need to understand those folks were on team coup. They were publicly saying the things I just showed you.

And while Mr. Meadows is now running from this in all sorts of ways, while also hiding from it because he doesn`t want to provide testimony and evidence, we`re learning that team coup kept talking to Meadows repeatedly, got to go to the White House and got to go meet with those Republicans. They were in regular contact.

Now, that tells you a lot about how receptive the Trump people were to them. The evidence also has things that, I want to be clear, might work in Meadows favor uncertain issues. Everything I just walked through with you is going up to January 6. And, as you see, it looks bad for Mr. Meadows.

Now, what happened on January 6 is one thing -- and his book does a lot of this sort of potentially revisionist history -- but it`s one thing that might help Mr. Meadows, because the committee, in its report about him, mentions that a Trump family member was texting with Meadows and said Meadows was during the horrors of that day -- quote -- "pushing hard on Trump to condemn this `expletive` as the violence unfolded."

Now, that`s a secondhand statement that the committee got, essentially, from contemporaneous texts from what was happening at the time. It`s an account of the family. They need, as Congressman Schiff mentioned, all the evidence together to draw conclusions, because, well, it`s also possible that Mr. Meadows told some people he was doing that, trying to get Trump to stop the violence, and not doing it or doing something else when he was in the room.

Now, Meadows also reportedly asked this election denier that I told you about: "What do you need? What would help?" And that individual, Waldron, provided a kind of a list of things, like "I.P. addresses, servers and other data that they wanted to investigate using the powers of the world`s greatest national security intelligence apparatus."

Now, we don`t have enough information where that all went. And Waldron denies, by the way, that he personally sent the PowerPoint to Meadows. But there is also this in the reporting. Waldron, who`s on team coup, says he briefed several members. We can show you this on screen here. He briefed several members of Congress on the eve of the January 6 insurrection.

As I mentioned before, these investigations, they go places. There`s a reason why Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bannon and some of these other individuals are acting so hot under the collar, because there`s a lot of pressure, criminal, legal and otherwise.

And that may apply to Republicans in Congress too who met with these individuals that were pushing team coup. And why are they afraid to get into details or identify themselves? They, of course, have the vote. And they vote for or against certifying those results. And that was all in public.

But, beyond their right to vote, if they took actions to try to steal the election or to furtively try to help people who were coming into Congress who thought they would steal the election, well, that`s a different matter. And we have a coup backer meeting with Meadows multiple times, and a lot more questions here, a lot of questions.

There`s also an allegation that Meadows was the one briefing the lawmakers before the riot. Meadows already could face up to a year in jail if tonight`s vote leads to an indictment and he is convicted. He also could find another way out of this, through cooperation or beating the case.

Where do we go from here?

Well, we are lucky to have someone who knows the DOJ process very well, Neal Katyal, when we`re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:31]

MELBER: We`re back with Neal Katyal.

There`s a lot that`s come out here as we await this vote tonight. I went through some of the factual details, but, dealer`s choice, what stands out to you?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, first of all, Ari, I want to start by commending you on a brilliant presentation of what this PowerPoint is all about and where the investigation is.

I thought it was such a credit to the show and to you and to show this to viewers.

MELBER: Thank you.

KATYAL: Now, of course, Trumpistas are going to their coup plans in something as mundane as a PowerPoint. So that`s what`s happened.

And, in a sense, it`s not news, because we already knew people around Trump are peddling all sorts of nonsense election fraud stuff, like Jenna Ellis and John Eastman both writing their own kind of garbage memos in this.

And so, look, to me, it`s like the first time I think I have ever agreed with Chris Christie yesterday with George Stephanopoulos. He said the events leading up to January 6 were -- quote -- "driven from the top" and that Trump surrounded himself with C teamers who told him what he wanted to hear.

And I agree with most of that, except that I think Chris Christie is wrong when he says C team. I`d give it the F team. I mean, you just played the video, these people, Trump`s lawyers and others. I mean, to call them F team is, frankly, generous. And I put Mark Meadows in that camp too.

And so what I want to know is, who in Congress saw that PowerPoint? Who were they? When did they know it? At that point, 63 different courts, federal and state, including the U.S. Supreme Court, said this is all -- this election fraud stuff is all nonsense.

And yet some of them appear to have given aid and comfort to team coup, putting them on team coup..

MELBER: Yes, you lay that all out. That makes sense.

When the Meadows defense says, well, this actually wasn`t a big deal, that`s why they turned it over, what`s your response to that?

KATYAL: Well, I think they had to turn it over because they had no possible claim of privilege whatsoever, because Meadows said: I didn`t write this document.

So he didn`t really have anything there. I think the concern, though, here among team Trump at this point is that these documents don`t just paint a picture of what happened on January 6. They also lead to potential criminal liability.

And last week, Ari, on Friday, Judge Dabney Friedrich, who`s a Trump appointee, wrote a really important decision, which effectively is a how-to manual for how to prosecute Trump and others in the White House, because what she said is that it`s an obstruction of an official investigation even if you weren`t -- an official proceeding, like January 6, even if someone wasn`t trying to engage in violence or something like that.

So long as they attempted to try and interfere with the counting, and did so by illegal means, violence is not required. She says that`s enough for a serious federal felony. Donald Trump, others in the White House very well may have done exactly that. And this PowerPoint is part of that story.

So this is important not just to figure out what happened, but also to see who might ultimately go to jail.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s vital. And, again, that`s different than the individual case prosecutions that we were covering and discussing.

Amidst all this, "The Times" had quite a headline about something that I know you care a lot about, that we have reported on, but they went in and over the weekend were charting just how many local, smaller election official offices are being filled by big lie Republicans.

And it says -- here`s the headline -- "Dems Losing to GOP in low-level county elections. In races for these offices with direct oversight of elections, Republican candidates coming out of the Stop the Steal movement are running competitive campaigns." And it said, in many cases, Democrats are not even competing heavily in the local races, not state level secretary of state, but the local stuff.

Did you see that piece? What do you think about that development?

KATYAL: Yes, it`s a disheartening, very scary piece.

I mean, I personally would like Democrats to win, but, actually, I just want honest people in those positions. And I think everyone who votes and votes for one of those candidates should just ask themselves, if the political parties were reversed, would I vote for this candidate? Is it all just politics in the end? Or do I still believe, as most Americans do, in the rule of law?

And I know people are disheartened right now and the like, but the solution can`t be to sit on your hands and do nothing. It`s to go and run for those positions and vote for honest people of whatever party who do decide to run for election.

[18:35:06]

MELBER: Yes, so important.

Neal Katyal on a big news night here, thank you, sir, as always.

Up ahead, we are keeping an eye on that committee vote of criminal contempt for Mark Meadows. Indeed, we have our cameras and our colleagues and reporters live on Capitol Hill. MSNBC will have you covered all night, but we will have an update on that this hour.

Coming up next, we turn to the trial of Jeffrey Epstein`s alleged accomplice for sex crimes. The defense is coming after a really strong and brutal presentation from prosecutors. They just rested their case.

Vicky Ward, a reporter who has been all over this, joins me on that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to the trial of Jeffrey Epstein`s associate and alleged accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, indicted on six counts that relate to recruiting and grooming girls for illegal sex acts.

The prosecution just rested in this case, after two weeks and arguments that have become really the only legal forum for many of the horrific allegations against Epstein, who faced up to 45 years in prison, but died in jail before that trial ever took place.

The New York medical examiner deemed Epstein`s death to be a suicide, but there were suspicious conditions, including prison guards skipping work, then crucial video surveillance that went missing, all of this a scandal for the Trump administration that oversees federal prisons. Some questions remain.

[18:40:05]

The current trial, though, is bringing up damning details to light for the first time. Prosecutors say Maxwell illegally groomed underage girls for Epstein, four women testifying in this trial about Maxwell and Epstein recruited them as teens as young as 14, arranging for massages in exchange for money, instructing the girls to participate while naked.

Maxwell pled not guilty to all charges. Her defense begins presenting its case this week Thursday.

But the bad legal news for her is how several other women`s accounts match, which portray her working with Epstein to prey on teens. Other Epstein accusers have gone public with accounts of Maxwell leading them to Epstein.

Here`s how one described it to NBC in 2019.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I follow Ghislaine up the stairs, through Jeffrey`s bedroom and into a bathroom.

And there`s this man laying naked on a green massage table in the middle of the room. And they looked at each other, and I call it the Cheshire Cat grin, because he smiled and nodded as in like approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Legally, the case is about Maxwell`s culpability.

With Epstein dead, the trial is also cracking open wider questions ranging from the circumstances of that death to how he operated for so long at the highest levels of society, from fraternizing with Donald Trump, to Bill Clinton, identified as a guest on Epstein`s plane by a pilot at this trial, to Prince Andrew, a passenger whose link to Epstein has forced him to step down from his duties as a British royal.

Maxwell was also on those plane trips, one of the many sordid details in a case blowing the lid on serious allegations.

I`m joined now by Vicky Ward, an investigative journalist who did one the very first profiles on Epstein for "Vanity Fair." She also knows Maxwell and is the host of "Chasing Ghislaine," the podcast, which has been turned actually as well into a series out on Discovery+.

Welcome back.

VICKY WARD, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: What are we learning from the trial thus far?

WARD: Well, as I think you rightly depicted, we have had four different victims tell pretty harrowing stories.

Two of them were recruited at the age of 14. Both of them say that Ghislaine Maxwell was involved in that recruitment. In one case, one victim has said she was also on planes, because there are also charges of trafficking or enabling trafficking in this trial, Ari.

And the first accuser, who says that Epstein and Maxwell met her when she was just 14, has told really horrifying stories of sort of orgies, of being flown back and forth to New York, of being given presents, and abuse that went on for years and years and years, until she moved to the West Coast.

So the stories have been horrifying. The defense, Maxwell`s defense, however, has sort of really highlighted the fact that there are inconsistencies between what these women said in test -- when meeting with the FBI and the government in recent years, because, obviously, as you rightly pointed out, the government initially were going after Jeffrey Epstein.

They wanted to reinvestigate him. And so these -- and many of these women were spoken to by the FBI and by prosecutors who were originally going after him. And when asked about Ghislaine Maxwell, some of the accusers have said -- well, that they didn`t mention her at all, or they said, no, she wasn`t in the room.

And I think some of the journalists have been curious as to why the government maybe didn`t prepare their witnesses better for questions that would obviously be asked. I mean, the FBI notes, as you well know, would be shared by both the prosecutors and the defense lawyers.

So it`s kind of obvious that the defense would bring up those inconsistencies. Now, their argument is that these women changed their story after Jeffrey Epstein died and a lot of money was available from the Epstein compensations fund and that these women may have been manipulated by greedy civil lawyers.

[18:45:05]

But, again, we have had an expert testify, an expert on sexual abuse psychological expert, who explains that, when you have been traumatized like that, stories can change. You don`t necessarily talk about everything that happened all at once.

But, as you pointed out, the prosecution have rested earlier than was expected. The defense have made a very great deal of these inconsistencies. And the defense`s due to start again -- well, the defense is due to start on Thursday. And we have just heard as of last night that they have given a list to the prosecutors that as many as 35 witnesses could be called, which is many more than the government produced.

MELBER: Yes. Right. So we will see how they approach that.

The entire case, though, has also, of course, had the shadow of Epstein. As you say, legally, that`s where the original firepower was going to go. And in the public mind-set, in that way, there was not a so-called justice or resolution. There was death.

And that death is shrouded in questions. Indeed, Epstein`s family has a forensic pathologist who has his own independent reputation who said this about whether it was indeed, as the coroner said, a suicide. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL BADEN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: The forensic evidence released so far, including the autopsy, point much more to murder and strangulation than the suicide and suicidal hanging.

There were other wires and cords present that it would have been easy to use to hang oneself within a few minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There`s conflicting interpretation of the medical evidence.

There is a scandal engulfing that prison, which at the time was under the federal supervision of the Trump administration. There are guards who, as I mentioned, were curiously not present during what was -- already had been a suicide watch for a high-profile detainee.

Then the video that might have shed light on this now very public scandal goes missing. Based on your reporting, what is the likelihood that this individual committed suicide or died by other means?

WARD: Well, look, even a member of his defense team who met with him the day before he died is not convinced, told me -- and I reported this -- that he is not convinced that Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide.

So I think that that is extremely telling, Ari. I mean, you mentioned earlier on that Jeffrey Epstein was somebody who flew a lot of very powerful men, including Presidents Trump and Clinton, on his plane. We have even heard in this trial that he had photographs of himself with the pope and Fidel Castro.

The last one was news was news to me.

What the trial hasn`t explained or really gone into is why Jeffrey Epstein had such influence with people like that, the men, the powerful men who in a way, you could argue, are the people who propped him up, who funded him, who enabled him to have these Shangri-La`s where he did these awful things to children, they -- they have made cameo appearances, testimony from the pilots, but, otherwise, they are invisible, troublingly so.

MELBER: Yes.

Well, you have done a lot of work on this, and keeping an eye on the trial for us here and our reporting. We appreciate it, a lot of open questions, and we will see what happens in this next phase with defense arguments.

Vicky Ward, thank you.

Coming up on the show, we turned back to the Hill. We`re minutes away from the criminal contempt vote on former Trump aide Mark Meadows. Our coverage continues that.

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[18:53:18]

MELBER: The January 6 Committee is set to vote on the report we have been telling you about earlier in the hour, recommending holding former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress.

We are watching the scenes there unfolding on the Hill.

I should mention, we were going to have Michael Steele on, but we are running short on time. So we`re going to stick to a person in the center of the action, Leigh Ann Caldwell live on Capitol Hill -- Leigh Ann.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ari. That`s right.

Any minute, the select committee is going to convene. And these proceedings are usually very quick. They are going to give opening statements by the chair and the vice chair, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, and then they tend to vote immediately after on this contempt resolution.

This is something that committee has done twice before just in the last couple of months. Of course, Steve Bannon was first. Jeffrey Clark, a former Trump administration Department of Justice official, was second, and now the former chief of staff to the former president, Mark Meadows.

What`s interesting about Meadows is, he was also a member of Congress. He was the ranking member of the Oversight Committee before he became chief of staff, who used to bristle when administration officials and neglected to appear before the committee and cooperate with Congress.

Now he has failed to cooperate. He has failed to come before the committee to be deposed. Meanwhile, though, before he decided not to cooperate, he did turn over 9,000 pages of documents with which the committee says they have received lots of information about his role leading up to January 6 and on January 6.

Of course, he was with the former president on that day. So, this criminal contempt referral could be done in the next 30 minutes or so, Ari.

[18:55:03]

MELBER: Yes, within the next 30. It`s a big deal.

We are watching on our camera feeds the hallways, as I know you will be. And I`m sure we will be checking in with you throughout MSNBC`s special coverage of a big night on the Hill.

Thank you.

When we come back, big news in the fight against COVID, with some big numbers you may want to know.

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MELBER: Finally tonight, a COVID update.

The United States has now surpassed more than 50 million recorded cases. The real number is expected to be higher, because some cases aren`t covered by that. They go unreported, deaths surpassing 800,000. The case count is equivalent to the populations of big states like Florida and Texas combined.

This is a reminder that the fight to combat this pandemic is in full swing. Be vigilant and informed about your own health.

That does it for us.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.