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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 12/9/21

Guests: J. Smith-Cameron, David Kelley


Brian Williams` NBC career is remembered. Donald Trump faces a formal legal demand to go under oath in New York. Does the reality of President Biden`s match the perception? Actress J. Smith-Cameron speaks out. A jury delivers a guilty verdict in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. I appreciate what you said. I bet a lot of people do. I will let Brian speak for himself.

We have something about him and so much that he`s contributed to journalism here at the end of our hour. But it means we`re coming from you because we have seen a lot of nights, late nights, with the two of you just go four, six, nine hours.

WALLACE: He used to call it tonnage, like the amount of live on-air coverage.

And I remember, the first time he said it, I was like, what? It`s so inelegant. But, as you know -- and you and I did that first impeachment together, and we did some tonnage of airtime.

But I`m going to say this, because I might not get to it tonight. But watching him cover some of the greatest tragedies that we have all lived through and cover things like the Las Vegas shooting, and hearing just the simplicity of his questions has been the most instructive.

And I remember him asking someone who was still afraid and still hiding, how are you? And I can`t even tell the story without crying, but it just cracked her open. And she gave all of us the benefit of knowing the horror that she and so many people were going through.

And it was just this simple question, and then his singular ability to listen.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate that. I do.

Really well put. And it`s what we`re thinking about. As you mentioned, we will be watching later tonight.

Good to see you, Nicolle.

WALLACE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

As mentioned, we have more on Mr. Williams later.

We begin, though, with the breaking news, as Trump faces two legal setbacks.

Donald Trump now facing a formal legal demand to go under oath in this big investigation that New York Attorney General Letitia James has been leading. She is subpoenaing him to testify. The goal there, to get him to sit down for a deposition on January 7 and answer for allegations of corruption and lying to authorities about his business, as well as the view that fraud permeated his company, which he denies.

This is a civil probe. James has said state laws apply to Donald Trump like anyone else.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: President Trump cannot avoid justice in the great state of New York. My investigation is civil in nature. However, in the event that we uncover any conduct or activities which would suggest criminal activities, then that would change, obviously, our investigation.


MELBER: Attorney General James has been probing some Republicans like Trump and some Democrats like former Governor Cuomo. She was actually beginning a run for governor, which would be the job that he did vacate, but today announced she`s dropping out of that race.

That is sort of New York campaign news.

In this case, Trump denies any wrongdoing and has yet to signal how he would face these new calls to testify, although we have a track record of delay and dodging with these kinds of situations. That`s not all, Trump also hit with more bad news.

New York`s not the only place where there is this push for accountability. Late today, a top federal appeals court dealt Trump another loss in his attempts to hide evidence from January 6. And that leaves him with one more legal Hail Mary, which is his right. And that would be to make moves in court to get the Supreme Court to try to bail him out.

I can`t tell you yet whether they will do that. It is an option his lawyers say at this hour they are still considering.

It`s breaking news, so let`s get right to it.

We are joined by former SDNY chief David Kelley, also, full disclosure, my former boss, and former RNC Chair Michael Steele, who did support Joe Biden in the race.

David, what does it mean, when you look at these developments, one from the New York A.G.`s office and the other about evidence?

DAVID KELLEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, look, I think he -- she`s put him in a really tough -- bit of a pickle, because, from a legal perspective, the way to get out of the deposition is, say, to invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

From a public perception, from a political perception -- and I`m sure Michael has a lot to say about this -- whether or not he wants to come out and say that I`m going to incriminate myself if I testify truthfully. So it`s an interesting dilemma for him.

It`s not a complicated legal issue, by any stretch. I think it`s more of a political issue for him than anything else.

MELBER: And, David, you have been in all kinds of cases on both sides. As mentioned, you ran the famed SDNY.

You have also been in clashes with the government on behalf of clients. Scuffling over evidence is part of it. The news tonight, though, seems to be that the scuffling is not working for Trump, which is to say, there`s nothing wrong or prejudicial about lawyers and clients trying to say, well, you don`t get this or that`s out of scope.

But I want to read from this new federal appeals court ruling which says: "January 6 exposed the fragility of democratic institutions that some may have taken for granted. The president, the current president, Biden, makes the judgment that access to these presidential communication records is necessary. Trump has given this court no legal reason to cast aside President Biden`s assessment."


David, what does that mean to you about the prospects of reversing that in the last shot, the Supreme Court?

KELLEY: Look, this -- from any legal -- somebody, any lawyer looking at this case from the get-go, no one really expected that there`s a legal basis to rule in Trump`s favor here.

It`s just -- it`s pretty silly. And what this is, is really...

MELBER: Because -- let me slow you down.

Because he`s trying to invoke something that`s the president`s to invoke, and he`s no longer the president, regardless of what QAnon or somebody else says?

KELLEY: Exactly. Among other things, yes.

And this really -- I mean, this whole thing is Trump`s typical M.O. of trying to put this into a four corner press and slow it down and try to run out the clock. And, obviously, a court of appeals today ruled that, well, that`s not going to work here.

Question is, how much more clock does he have to run by going to the Supreme Court? I don`t think this is -- it wouldn`t surprise me if the Supreme Court denies cert. I mean, it`s a really controversial legal issue, I don`t think, although it, because it turns on the executive privilege, which is pretty high up there, obviously, the court -- the Supreme Court may take it, but I don`t think they`re going to let him run the clock too much longer.

MELBER: And when you say not cert, you just mean that the court might not even look at this as worth hearing, and they might just leave the loss in place for Trump.

KELLEY: Right. I meant certiorari, which means granting Supreme Court review.

Did you know that`s what that meant, Michael? Just kidding.



STEELE: Absolutely.


STEELE: But I`m still a lawyer.

KELLEY: No one`s ever accused me of throwing around too many legal terms.

MELBER: Hey, David knows a lot more, I could say this, than either of us about these intricacies, having run the entire Southern District of New York.

But all jokes aside, Michael, your name and judgment was invoked by the counselor. So go ahead.

STEELE: Yes, no, I think counsel has put it out there exactly as it is.

And this is what a pincer move looks like, to put it in political and military terms, if you were, if you will, between the state of New York and the court of appeals. You have this pressure now, this legal pressure at the state and federal level, that have boxed the Trump into a corner.

But here`s the question, is, does that pincer move latch on to something real and substantive that forces Donald Trump to not only appear, but then to either invoke the Fifth and go through the process, or does it latch onto Jell-O, in which case, it just slips through the legal process, it`s delayed, there all these other hurdles that are put out in front of it?

I don`t think that is so much this in this case, but that`s something you also have to look at and be concerned about, as is -- and that`s where the Supreme Court is going to come in. I think, at the end of the day, counsel is right. It probably -- and the Supreme Court will likely deny cert, but, at the same time, there is a chance -- and Maya Wiley made this point on Nicolle`s show -- that, because the conservative wing of the court is so hell-bent around an augmented executive branch, that they could see this as an opportunity to tinker and to explore.

But I think, at the end of the day, the precedent and, quite frankly, the politics would say, don`t touch this. The last thing the Roberts court wants, particularly after the abortion fiasco that they have now found themselves in, is to further politicize the court.

They have opened that now. They have taken on these cases that have high political drama to them. And this is one piece they don`t want to add to that, particularly for those three new appointees of Trump, who could then be blamed as, oh, OK, yes, sycophants just doing Trump`s bidding.

And that`s not a stain that Roberts wants on his court.

MELBER: David?

KELLEY: You know, what Michael says reminds me of an old legal saying: Bad facts make bad law.


KELLEY: And the facts here really are not the type of thing I think the Supreme Court wants you to start tinkering with the law with these facts.

MELBER: Yes, you put that so well.

And, as Michael always, said, not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good, in which case it`s not the road you want to go down.


STEELE: That`s right.

MELBER: Run-D.M.C., baby. But ...

STEELE: I was going to say, run, run, run.


MELBER: But, to that point -- and I don`t mean this to be overly unkind to Donald Trump.

But what David is referring to is, this is not a typical problem between presidents of different parties who disagree on many things. There isn`t -- and, David, you can speak to this. There`s not a lot of history of case law where the Supreme Court has to actually deal with a former president who says, I still want to hit the nuclear button.

Well, dude, you`re not president anymore. I still want to declare a foreign policy. Well, you`re not president anymore. I want executive privilege. Well, again, you could come up with other minute examples that have more to deal with the Archives that are a little more particular, presidential papers.

But the idea that the active power, David, would be overruling the current president`s position for the former president, they don`t even usually get asked to do that.

KELLEY: Yes, the executive privilege rests with the executive, not the former executive. And that`s his big challenge here.

I`m not a constitutional scholar. But I don`t think that`s so difficult to comprehend that the Supreme Court is going to feel like they need to take that issue up, particularly under these facts.

MELBER: Well, David, I`m saying this not because I learned law from you, but I think viewers might agree. You keep it very clear and concise.

So it`s a real good breakdown of those two legal issues.

Michael, we have to deal with something later in the hour, and it`s going to be less serious than this segment. And that`s all I`m going to say for now. I will see you later.

STEELE: All right.

MELBER: Thanks to both of you.

KELLEY: Good to see you.

MELBER: Good to see you both.

Also, a programming note on these issues. Tomorrow, Congressman Adam Schiff is with us on THE BEAT live tomorrow night discussing these developments in the January 6 probes. I want you to know about that, obviously relevant.

Coming up: Joe Biden overseeing a great jobs record. Why aren`t more people hearing about it? And what does it teach us about the Pottery Barn rule in American politics? David Plouffe is here.

And fact-checking a bizarre Republican claim about mouthwash.

And then, before we`re done tonight, we have something very special, an interview with the iconic Gerri from HBO`s "Succession" ahead of one of the most eagerly anticipated season finales of the year.


J. SMITH-CAMERON, ACTRESS: We are in a proxy war. The plane has just been hijacked. All the engines have fallen into the sea, and the pilot`s hair is on fire.


MELBER: J. Smith-Cameron, her BEAT debut tonight.



MELBER: Before Barack Obama became president, there was a big moment for him.

Longtime Republican Colin Powell threw his credibility behind Obama, endorsing him in 2008, and specifically citing what it would mean to have Obama on the world stage, which is where Powell built his own standing as a top general and diplomat. He`s been credited with a simple principle for policy, the Pottery Barn rule. You break it, you own it.

It was a warning about starting wars and other policies.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What I did say to him, once you break it, you`re going to own it. And we`re going to be responsible for 26 million people standing there looking at us.


MELBER: What the U.S. government does, it owns, true in war, where the obligation continues even as presidents change. So the U.S. owned Iraq and Afghanistan, which started under Bush, but it also fell to later presidents to handle what the U.S. owned.

Later Democratic presidents withdrew in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Obama and Biden that had to end what the U.S. owned, which Bush began. It`s a policy pattern that actually goes beyond war. There`s something of a kind of a recurring theme here, where some Republican presidents preside over the beginning of crises, which voters, for a range of reasons, might then reject that Republican leadership.

The Democratic presidents come in and inherit the leftover of the crisis, like how Bush and Trump were president during huge financial catastrophes that would saddle future administrations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a manic Monday in the financial markets. The Dow tumbled more than 500 points.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The signs were everywhere, but now it`s official. We are in a recession.

LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: The stock market in freefall, the Dow plunging over 2,000 points, the worst day since the 1987 crash.


MELBER: Yes, COVID in March was even worse than that `09 crisis.

Now, later presidents would have to deal with that, whether they were GOP or Democratic. And I want to be clear. Those crashes had all kinds of causes. But the fact was, for Obama, he had to begin his entire presidency with that reaction focus, addressing the crash, spending his political capital on getting the stimulus spending passed, while also trying to develop a broader agenda.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While our economy may be weakened, and our confidence shaken, we will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.



MELBER: We will rebuild.

You saw then-Vice President Biden clapping. That goal was clear. It was about the "re," not build, rebuild, because things had come crashing down under the predecessor.

And now, years later, tons of things have changed, but Obama`s number two from then has exactly the same challenge. Biden aides view 2021 as a rebuilding year to repair the damage from Trump in foreign policy, as Politico reports, plus other areas. Biden must rebuild an economy that took hits under Trump.

Democrats insist that, had Donald Trump just followed more science, that rebound would have started earlier. And Biden has to push domestic spending for the problems in this country`s markets and jobs and everything over Republican obstruction.

But he has gotten some spending done. He is pushing out a COVID plan. And it`s driving new numbers like this today, job gains that break a 52-year record for unemployment. "The Washington Monthly" reports, this is a Biden boom, and no one has noticed yet.

Now, real problems like inflation and the supply chain still impact people. And, by the way, if the government is supposed to help people, it has a role in trying to address those problems, which includes pressure on the Biden administration.

But that same report I just showed you notes that, in real time, those issues can obscure how Democrats are actually overseeing the -- quote -- "strongest two-year performance on growth, jobs and income in decades."


Now, you can call it a boom, or you can call it a Biden boom. You could even call it a not-Trump boom. Some people might say, well, anyone would have inherited this. It`s nothing special about the current president.

But whatever you call it, it`s a measurable boom that isn`t really being counted as a boom yet. Why is that? Does it matter?

Obama adviser David Plouffe on it all when we`re back in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: Joining me now is Barack Obama`s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe.


And we just ran through some of those memories. Do you feel OK? Are you haven`t bad economic flashbacks?

DAVID PLOUFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: A little bit. Got better, though, Ari, so -- but definitely had a trough there that was painful, most importantly for the American people and our businesses, but also politically.

MELBER: Sure. Yes.

And you look at those two cycles, it is complicated. But do you see a point that some Democrats are raising, that there has become over these four presidencies a boom-bust cycle, where they argue the Democratic presidents are saddled with cleaning up a mess, and they preside over job growth, and they say Biden not getting enough credit?

PLOUFFE: Oh, there`s no question.

I mean, how many times have we been lectured on deficits and debt by Republicans, who simply show that all they basically do is blow it up? They starve social spending. They give tax cuts to the wealthy. The economy underperforms. We get in there and have to do hard things.

And even though people might say in a poll they appreciate the hard thing, when you actually do it, sometimes, that`s politically tough. So, yes.

But I think, for the most part over the last couple generations, Democrats have believed in responsible government, being truthful and not treating politics as simply performance art, and trying to deliver for the American people and do it in a responsible way. It`s deeply frustrating.

MELBER: And reading again from that "Monthly" piece I mentioned, they say: "Given this year`s remarkable gains in growth and employment, why is Biden`s approval on the economy underwater? It`s not mysterious. Americans` perceptions of the economy lag economic conditions, when those conditions have recently changed."

Add to that if what you`re buying costs more and makes you feel that you can`t afford as much, that`s how people process a tough economy, feeling poorer than last year. That`s a real-world situation, is it not?

PLOUFFE: Oh, absolutely, Ari.

Listen, the vast majority of American citizen voters, they don`t pay any attention or view the economy through the lens of statistics. It`s all my paycheck, what`s coming in, what`s going out, the cost of goods. Do I know people who`ve lost their jobs? Do I know people who`ve gotten raises? It`s all very, very personal.

And so I do think that, at the end of the day, I expect that, over the next nine to 10 months, not just will the statistics continue to grow. But I think people will feel better.

Now, we have economic inequality in this country. We have almost half the country lives paycheck to paycheck, can`t afford a $400 unanticipated bill. So for a lot of those people, they`re -- it`s going to be a long time before they feel better.

But I think the personal situation will catch up. But what is overhanging Biden`s polls numbers is the pandemic. And once people feel that we have finally escaped the clutches of that -- and, with this new variant, maybe it`s going to be longer than any of us hope -- then I think you will see those numbers begin to recover. And that will happen at a time where the economy is hopefully really, really continuing to pick up steam.

MELBER: What is your view of the challenge inside the Biden White House, as you mentioned the politics and the communication?

Because, on the one hand, Biden ran on being a much more honest, welcoming leader than Donald Trump`s endless feuds and lies. On the other hand, they have to find ways to emphasize the positive, not just be precise fact-check on all this, but really tell their story.


And James Carville and others have been arguing they should tell it with villains, and going after some of the super-duper 1 percent, because that`s how you get there, or to quote someone that I know is someone that you admire, Jared Kushner, conflict elevates message.

PLOUFFE: Well, there`s no doubt that this first year of the Biden presidency, which is generally what happens -- the president comes in, is trying to get stuff done. It`s all about you. It`s all referendum.

And you have to swing the Republican Party, writ large, and some of those villains. And a lot of that 1 percent, not all of them, but a lot of that 1 percent is going to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try and give the Republicans back control of Congress.

And so I think you can get to motive. It`s always important to have motive when you`re talking about villains, I think. So, yes, there`s no question.

And, listen, I think what Biden hopefully will be able to do by the spring, if not sooner, is, we have gotten on the other side of the pandemic, the economy`s really cooking, we`re rebuilding bridges, we`re giving child care, we`re for democracy. I think that`s a pretty powerful hand.

And, again, you have got to swing then the opponent in the discussion. They want to turn democracy into autocracy. If they get power, they will want to give tax cuts to the wealthy, they will stop building bridges, they will stop giving you child care.

That is a fairly good setup. But the most important thing for Democrats next year and Biden is not message or tactics. It`s reality.

MELBER: Right.

PLOUFFE: And if the reality gets better for people, even though I think people may say, yes, the economy`s better than I hoped it might be, but we`re still stuck in this pandemic soup -- that is the big thing overhanging everything politically.

And Biden has got a great story to tell about what he`s done on the pandemic.

MELBER: Right.

PLOUFFE: That will be easier to tell when people finally think they can breathe a sigh of relief.

MELBER: David, I got to tell you, pandemic soup sounds terrible.

PLOUFFE: Yes, it does, doesn`t it?




But maybe that`s why we change the menu eventually, if we work together. That`s the best I can do.

David, good to see you, sir.

PLOUFFE: Good to see you.

MELBER: We`re tracking another breaking news story.

A jury has delivered a guilty verdict in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett, the former star of the hit show "Empire," charged with staging and fraudulently creating what was deemed as an anti-gay, racist hate crime that was against him, allegedly.

And he was charged with lying to the police about it.

NBC`s Meagan Fitzgerald has been covering this, is live in Chicago outside the courthouse -- Meagan.

MEAGAN FITZGERALD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So, Ari, yes, just within the last couple of minutes here, the jury foreman reading off those six counts that Jussie Smollett has been facing.

And she found, they found, this jury found that he was guilty on five counts, not guilty on six counts. So I want to break this down to you. The first five counts are connected to that incident in January of 2019, a statement that Jussie Smollett made to police officers. So jurors found that he lied to police officers on those five counts.

But on another day, a separate day, weeks later, is when he was charged with that sixth count, found not guilty. Now, jurors have been deliberating for the last two days now, more than six hours deliberating. And we know that -- from covering trials throughout the years, that jurors usually will go to the judge and ask questions.

But this jury has been very quiet, only asking the judge one question. Now, of course, this was the prosecution`s case approved. They showed evidence trying to make the point that, in January of 2019, Jussie Smollett staged this entire attack, where he says that he was attacked by two people, and they hurled racist and homophobic terms towards him, put a noose around his neck, telling police that he was a victim here.

But this trial, lasting seven days, prosecutors really went in going after his credibility. And just moments ago, jurors reading off their verdict, finding Jussie Smollett guilty of five counts of lying to police. We know he`s going to be sentenced coming up here.




MELBER: You have been covering this. People heard a lot about the outlines, but you have been covering it.

What do you think was the most compelling evidence that led to this guilty verdict?

FITZGERALD: So, for the prosecution, they were calling these two brothers, and they called them to the stand.

And the brothers admitted that they were paid $3, 500 from Smollett to orchestrate this attack. There was surveillance video that showed the moments that they were doing this dry-run, according to the prosecutor, in Smollett`s car riding around the area where this attack happened.

So they were given a lot of evidence from the prosecution. And the defense, obviously, all they had to do was try and sow doubt, and, obviously, they weren`t successful today.

MELBER: Really, really interesting to get your perspective, particularly on what moved, we believe, based on the case, these jurors.

Meagan Fitzgerald, thank you for your reporting.

FITZGERALD: Absolutely.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up, we have a very special guest, as we look at the 1 percent and the enduring power of Rupert Murdoch and why he keeps getting Tucker Carlson`s back. And Tucker Carlson, for his part, well, he`s been pushing the kind of COVID misinformation you may hear about from other people.


We have a fact-check and a very special look at mouthwash -- you heard me, mouthwash -- with Michael Steele in a special edition of "Early Late Night." That`s next.


MELBER: We`re very excited about our next segment drawing on some important history.


JON STEWART, FORMER HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Live via satellite, please welcome Michael Steele -- Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s how we do it in the street, lunch meat. Hold the phone.


STEELE: So, he is my boy. He is on the desk over there.

Yes, I am. Yes.

MELBER: There`s no Steele like late-night Steele. And that brings us to our BEAT segment "Early Late Night With Michael Steele," the Steele you know with the Steele you want to get to know.


MELBER: Whoomp, there it is.

Hi, Michael.

Now, I see him. I can`t hear him.

Can you hear me?

STEELE: You got me?

MELBER: Now I can hear you. I don`t know what -- I think -- whatever you did was so dope, it melted down our tech here. You took tie off, baby.



MELBER: Amazing.

Let`s get right to it, because some things are too stupid to be taken too seriously. And that`s why we have a segment where we can just let loose.

Behold Republican Senator Ron Johnson.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): By the way, standard gargle of mouthwash has been proven to kill the coronavirus.


Even if you get it, if you -- you may reduce viral replication. There`s all kinds -- why not try all these things?


MELBER: Fact-check, false.

Here`s the time. This is real news. I now will read for you the statement from the Listerine company, which says: "Listerine Antiseptic is not intended to prevent or treat COVID and should be used only as directed."


STEELE: Yes, I mean, this is just a whole new bucket of stupid here.

Look, we have gone through hydroxychloroquine and Clorox. And, look, at this point, none of this is serious. None of it can be taken serious. It`s still, though, very dangerous. And it just boggles the mind that these so- called leaders, senators, get up and say stuff like this, when they know it`s not factually correct, because here`s the thing, Ari.

Everybody knows that if you`re going to try to deal with relinquishing some viral outbreak, you just suck on a lemon. I don`t understand why he`s going to a bottle of Listerine, when you can just stick in a lemon...

MELBER: Yes, stay natural.

STEELE: ... in your mouth, and, baby, you`re good.

MELBER: Can I ask you something?


MELBER: Why do you think these Republicans, some of whom who you know, and you used to work with, are so obsessed with finding some other fake miracle cure?

It`s not like it`s Christian scientists or some separate belief system that might have consistency, where you say, I don`t want any treatment, and OK. It`s like the vaccine works, but you want to find something else. Why?

STEELE: Well, because it`s an easier narrative. It`s easier narrative to just go out and put something out there to create confusion, to create doubt.

And, again, it`s what I have been saying since March, April of last -- of 2020. Leadership matters when you`re in a crisis. And what you`re seeing right now are not leaders. They`re grifters. They`re punks. They`re people who throw out a lot of noise. They`re not about anything. So that`s why you need to fact-check. You need to inform people.

We get the good doctors on programs like yours to come on and explain to people what`s going on. You don`t have to deal with all the (INAUDIBLE) baby. You can just deal with the real.

MELBER: I got one more for you.

STEELE: What`s that?

MELBER: And it combines ignorance with a kind of reverse toxic masculinity.

Tucker, hit it.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: The virus itself -- this is true -- does tend to take away the life force in some people, I notice.


CARLSON: I mean, it does feminize people. I -- no one ever says that, but it`s true.


MELBER: No one ever says that, Michael. Go ahead.

STEELE: Dude, I don`t know what`s up with poor little Tuckums. I have no idea why he has this fixation on the feminization of men.

He and Josh Hawley been running around here worrying about all these feminine men. Is this a form of projection that we don`t seem to know about? What`s going on?

Because, again, another bucket of just absolute crazy. COVID is feminizing men? Tell that to Donald Trump, OK? Just -- so you`re telling me that Donald Trump is now more feminine because he got COVID?

MELBER: Because he had it, yes. Yes.


STEELE: This is how crazy it is out here.

And, look, Tucker is going to do with Tucker is going to do because his advertisers and sponsors continue to pay for it.


STEELE: FOX continues to pay for it. The audience continues to tune in.

But the reality of it is, both of these topics point out how dangerous these narratives are.

MELBER: Yes. No, and I -- yes.

STEELE: And, America, it`s not going to get any better.

You know it, Ari. We are going into next year. And it`s just going to be some hot pickles, baby.

MELBER: Well, what`s a pickle if not just an old cucumber? That`s not a saying yet, but it might become one.


But I`m really concerned about the feminization of pickles and cucumbers. So, I think you need to...


MELBER: If anyone turned on their TV just for that quote, I will just do a public service and be like, that`s a callback.

Michael, good to see you, sir.

STEELE: All right, bro. Take care.

MELBER: Absolutely.

So, why does Tucker Carlson get to be on TV? Because of Rupert Murdoch, who backs this stuff to the end.

We have a special guest on that and the backlash next.



MELBER: Of all modern media, FOX News plays one of the largest roles in politics really over the years.

You have got controversial anchors of the past like Bill O`Reilly, powerful enough to net presidential interviews before he was fired over sexual harassment allegations. Then there`s the political partisans like Sean Hannity, who campaigned for Trump, outing himself as an operative, not an independent member of the press, or FOX`s most watched figure today, Tucker Carlson, who pushes racial conspiracy theories that are more extreme than what was even on FOX five years ago.

Well, they all have one thing in common, the backing of the powerful right- wing billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who oversees a business empire, with his own children jockeying to take over, which is part of the inspiration for the hit HBO show "Succession," depicting a stubborn aging billionaire who owns a powerful right-wing cable channel, and whose children jockey to take over.

It`s a storyline about and against the 1 percent, their odd lives and amoral habits, amidst rising U.S. inequality. And it`s a hit, a smash hit, according to the critics, the best show you will ever experience, say some. And Americans agree, powering it to huge viewership on HBO, as people may root for and against the aging mogul, who`s often in battle and surrounded.


BRIAN COX, ACTOR: I am surrounded by snakes and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) morons!


JEREMY STRONG, ACTOR: He didn`t have fire me. He said it was just going to take a little longer.

KIERAN CULKIN, ACTOR: What I think he meant to say was that he wished that mom gave birth to a can opener, because at least then it would be useful.

ALAN RUCK, ACTOR: I`m not saying I would make a better CEO. That`s unsaid.

STRONG: It`s not unsaid when you say it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You`re the number one trending topic, ahead of tater tots, and the pope followed you.

SMITH-CAMERON: The government does have an unbelievable amount of leverage at its disposal, dad, the law.

COX: Yes, the law. The law is people. And people is politics. And I can handle a people.


MELBER: Like Murdoch, this Logan Roy character is hypervigilant about wielding his power.

The last exchange shows him rebuffing the traditional advice about yielding to a legal boundary. He thinks he has enough power and people at his disposal to move the boundary.

It seems to work, until it doesn`t, as the feds crack down on his company for corrupt practices and grave misconduct against women, an ethical business and legal crisis that vaunts forward the mogul`s longtime lawyer and protector, the general counsel named Gerri Kellman, one of the highest ranking women in this company, who becomes acting CEO during the crisis, navigating misogyny and politics.

She often seems like one of the most cogent, levelheaded characters, even likable, until you remember that she too is deploying all her skill to protect and to perpetuate business as usual.


SMITH-CAMERON: We are in a proxy war. The plane has just been hijacked. All the engines have fallen into the sea, and the pilot`s hair is on fire.

I can`t actually in this station yet, sadly, halt the publication of a book.

And I`m not kidding myself about anything. I need family support. So, I`m very open to cooperation and input.


SMITH-CAMERON: And you have good instincts.


SMITH-CAMERON: You also have horrible instincts.


MELBER: Gerri is fascinating. She channels a kind of technocratically craven, relentlessly effective figure in the peculiar legal and business climates of multinational late-stage capitalism, where nothing is sacred, everything has a price, and surviving the rat race is deemed better than getting eaten by the rats.

We are joined now, making her BEAT debut, the actor who plays Gerri, J. Cameron, joins us now.

Welcome to THE BEAT.

SMITH-CAMERON: Thank you. It`s nice to be here.

MELBER: What do you see in your character? How do you relate to her?

SMITH-CAMERON: How do I relate to Gerri?

MELBER: Mm-hmm.

SMITH-CAMERON: Well, I mean, I guess that show business also is a place where there`s ruthless misogyny and a lot of struggling to keep your toehold.

And -- but I think, actually, women in all businesses relate to that. So, yes, I mean, and then, beyond that, I think there`s a lot of things about Gerri that are really satisfying to play. I don`t know that I relate to it so much, but it`s wonderful to -- awful as all these characters are, it`s wonderful to play a woman who`s so canny, and is such an expert at dodging -- staying out of the line of fire and is so clever at her craftiness.

That`s sort of satisfying.

MELBER: She`s surrounded in the story by voluble people. How is she so effective without using that same approach all the time? And how do you get into -- get into that as a character and imagining someone maneuvering that way?

SMITH-CAMERON: Well, I mean, I guess I would have to say that she is someone who very carefully is studying the score at every second and knows exactly how she fits in and what is needed of her.

And she`s very -- she`s very clever about managing Logan, who is the -- sort of loosely based on Rupert Murdoch, although they say not really. But it`s pretty -- pretty clear comparisons.


SMITH-CAMERON: So I think that she`s -- she makes up in craftiness what she does in volume or in power.

She`s kind of clever at getting her way.

MELBER: You reminded me the Beastie Boys. She`s crafty. She`s always down. She`s a very crafty character.


MELBER: And I want to play a little bit more, because in journalism and any responsible field that`s factual, there are sometimes things that seem to be true, but, until you prove them, you can`t just go out saying them.

This show is not burdened with that. And it depicts government, law, politics on the take in a way that, I think, is largely a concern of people in the real world. Let`s look at a scene where we see how a big company has direct access to the president and his advisers, which changes the game. Here we go.



SMITH-CAMERON: So, off the record, what`s the temperature at main Justice? Any danger of them or Southern District going Batman on this?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: The attorney general is very smart. It`s just the deputy A.G. likes to think she`s something of a straight shooter.

Marilyn is prickly, so that`s your only issue, Marilyn. Well, maybe you should just fire.



MELBER: Hah, hah, hah.

How did you study or learn about giving that some reality, some vigor, in an environment where we`re told both administrations, by the way, both parties would deny this kind of stuff goes on? And yet every so often we get the clues that it does.

SMITH-CAMERON: Well, I mean, I don`t know that I can prove that happens.

But the writing is so clever. And it`s just what you imagine if you follow the -- if you follow politics, you follow the news. You kind of imagine the deals that are being made and the friendships that are being courted and how things happen.

I have been reading Robert Caro`s master of the Senate, which is all about LBJ`s incredible, incredible politicking that he did to pass the Civil Rights Act. And it`s just amazing. And it`s very much like our show, like the incredible behind the scenes.

He was one person to some people and a completely other figure to other people, never -- not a man for all seasons. They`re all...

MELBER: Not all seasons, certainly not. And Robert Caro is brilliant.


MELBER: You talk about the type of writing that brings you into a room you wouldn`t otherwise be in.

We also saw that this character you play was originally written in a casting decision where they imagined or planned it to be a male character. Tell us about that and how, if at all, that affects the way you play it?

SMITH-CAMERON: Well, they -- yes, they`d written it originally, I think, as a man. And it was spelled J-E-R-R-Y, not G-E-R-R-I.

And then I think they had the idea they would see some women for the role. And I was one of those. And they -- I think what happened is, they didn`t have time to rewrite the audition script with a woman in mind. So the scene had all this kind of vulgar stuff that Kendall and Roman was saying to the Gerri character that was just locker room talk, that was just glancing off the Gerri character with no trouble.

And for me, being a woman, I had to figure out how to play that. So I tried to be unflappable. But, also, I was just wincing and rolling my eyes and disgusted too. And I think that became a fun characteristic that got revisited and revisited and is now a permanent part of the character of being this kind of like -- able to take it, but just disgusted all the time with the Roys.

MELBER: Right. Yes.

I`d love to do a lightning round with you. This is in a word or a sentence answers.

Your favorite character actor to play off of.

SMITH-CAMERON: Roman. Kieran.

MELBER: Which character would you have the hardest time dealing with in real life?


MELBER: The "Succession" fan or viewer that you have met that struck you most, because they love the show or they`re famous or for whatever reason?

SMITH-CAMERON: Steven Spielberg.


MELBER: Final two questions.

One, was that Logan calling, in which case we understand if you need to take it.

And, two...

SMITH-CAMERON: You know who it probably was?


MELBER: And, two, final question, who will take over the company?

SMITH-CAMERON: Well, we know who should take over the company.


SMITH-CAMERON: But I don`t know. And if I did know, I couldn`t say.

So, I don`t know. I mean, I think that I have a feeling it`s something we haven`t thought of yet. But I don`t know why I say that.


SMITH-CAMERON: I think because the play is considered -- I mean, the show is often spoken about like it`s Shakespearian. And, often, big Shakespeare dramas end with someone coming in out of left field and taking the crown at the end.

So that`s all I base it on, which is nothing.

SMITH-CAMERON: Jesse -- nobody tells me anything.

MELBER: Or my kingdom for a horse.



MELBER: J. Cameron-Smith (sic), thank you so much.

SMITH-CAMERON: My pleasure.



MELBER: Finally tonight, we honor a valued colleague.

Brian Williams anchors his final broadcast of "THE 11TH HOUR" tonight.

Throughout an iconic career, Brian has reported on some of the most significant events of the last 30 years.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: We have received word from the NBC television station in New York that a 747 aircraft has exploded.

The Florida secretary of state says 300 votes separate Bush and Gore.

Terrorists today crashed two hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center.

It was a catastrophic breakup in midair, on board, seven shuttle astronauts, some of the best and brightest this country has to offer.

Barack Obama did it, it looks like with 284.

Over and out, the war in Iraq officially over.

Donald John Trump has been elected 45th president of the United States.

We now have a special counsel to head the Russia investigation. He is Robert Mueller.

On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


MELBER: The news, first and foremost, is always about what`s happening out there, not in here, which is how Brian approaches reporting and anchoring.

Well, tonight, we salute him for his extraordinary contributions to NBC and MSNBC. So many of us have spent so many years getting the news from him. He`s paved the way in more avenues and aspects than I can certainly capture with words right now.

So, I will just say at the end of our broadcast, thank you, Brian. And we will be watching tonight.

That does it for THE BEAT.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts right now.