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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 2/9/21

Guest: Richard Blumenthal, John Flannery, Russ Feingold, Libby Casey, Emily Bazelon, Elie Mystal, Chai Komanduri, Alex Padilla

Summary:

Senator Alex Padilla speaks out. Senator Richard Blumenthal discusses the impeachment trial of President Trump. Arguments in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump begin.

Transcript:

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The time has come at the top of the 6:00 hour Eastern time to welcome in our colleague Ari Melber, who continues with the next hour of our rolling news coverage -- Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Really enjoyed being on with you, Brian and Nicolle. And I will see you again tomorrow. And thank you very much.

I am Ari Melber.

Our coverage of this impeachment trial continues. We have a panel of experts joining us shortly.

And we begin right now with a newsworthy guest, Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat from California, a juror who was in the room today inside a Senate chamber that served as both a crime scene and the jury box.

Thank you for being here after a busy day in the United States Senate.

What came across to you on day one of this trial?

SEN. ALEX PADILLA (D-CA): Thank you, Ari.

And you hit the nail right on the head. This wasn`t just Senate chambers. It was the scene of the crime not too long ago. And as those images were being replayed, I sensed a lot of my colleagues reliving the experience of January 6.

As horrific as the images were, I have been saying over and over again it`s equally horrific that the violence did not come as a surprise, if you have been listening to Donald Trump not just that morning, but for years now.

MELBER: When you saw the video -- and we will play a bit more of it shortly -- what did it feel like in the Senate chamber to you? What was the level of interest of your colleagues during what was a quite graphic and understandably disturbing, at times real-time presentation of what happened on January 6?

PADILLA: Yes. I mean, I guess another word that comes to mind is very sobering. The images were compelling.

Truth be told, Ari, I was not in the Senate at that time. I was sworn in a couple of weeks after.

But even seeing the events...

MELBER: No, but I`m -- to be clear, though, I`m just very curious, today, what was it like?

PADILLA: Exactly.

And so I will tell you my other observation. The trauma is still very fresh, not just for the members of the Senate, not just for the members of the House, the managers that were there to present, but no doubt to the American people across the country. .

MELBER: What was it like, though, in -- with the jurors there? You have all these senators sitting in that room, and the video is playing.

Just take us a little bit inside of that. Indeed, it may seem slightly mundane to you because you`re just at work, but for the rest of us who weren`t in the chamber today, we can only see the overhead video. I`m just curious what that felt like and what you observed of your colleagues.

PADILLA: Yes, again, it was anything but mundane. You could hear a pin drop, senators riveted to the images, the video, the screenshots playing over and over again, the words coming from Donald Trump`s mouth that, without a doubt, incited the violence and the fatalities on January 6.

Hours later, the question about the constitutionality has been answered. The trial begins again tomorrow, and just can`t wait to take the steps we need to take to hold Donald Trump accountable.

MELBER: Having heard from you on that, I want to play this for viewers.

A warning that it is graphic. People who may have been following this all day may have seen some of it, but it was much earlier in the day when Democratic managers first took the floor.

We`re going play a little bit of that video that was offered for the first time as evidence in the trial. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.

RIOTER: There`s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) billion of us out there. And we`re listening to Trump, your boss.

PROTESTERS: No Trump, no peace! No Trump, no peace!

PROTESTER: We need to have 30,000 guns.

RIOTER: They`re leaving!

RIOTER: They`re leaving!

TRUMP: When you catch somebody in a fraud, you`re allowed to go by very different rules.

PROTESTER: Pence is a traitor!

PROTESTER: Traitor Pence!

TRUMP: Go home. We love you. You`re very special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What does it mean to you and to other potential Senate jurors` votes here that all of that was shown, and then President Trump was still praising and touting those individuals?

PADILLA: Yes. Again, unlike any other trial that I can think of, on this one, the evidence is clear. It played out on television in real time for the whole country and the whole world to see.

Yes, we`re asked to be -- we`re asked to keep open minds, but if you keep open eyes and open ears, there is no doubt. Trump`s words incited, not just a protest. This was not a riot. This was an insurrection, a violent, fatal rebellion in our nation`s capital.

MELBER: Senator and juror in this trial Alex Padilla, thank you, our leadoff guest here on a newsworthy night coming out of the United States Senate.

We turn now, as promised, to Emily Bazelon, a legal writer with "The New York Times Magazine" and a former federal prosecutor who has also been counsel to congressional investigations, John Flannery.

Good evening to both of you.

John, have you ever seen an opening argument quite like the way the Democrats began today?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Oh, it was powerful.

And, in fact I kept thinking, going back to my jesuitical training of Aristotle has two books on logic and argument in the rhetoric. The first one is to use logic, which was the first part of Raskin`s speech.

But the second book that he wrote was about how to use the emotion of people to communicate to them the significance of something. And he did both. He gave a first-class constitutional scholar`s argument, but he also intertwined with the facts, so it would be hard to deny.

And then he took it personal. Like, you and I have both served on the Senate, so we have been in these hallways when there weren`t crowds charging down there willing to hurt or kill or worse, take over the government.

And he brought it home to his family. And how anybody could hear that and not personalize it for how terrible the offense, and any senator who would vote to acquit would ally himself with the notion of an autocracy, not a democracy. It is impossible in my mind for any responsible public officeholder to vote for acquittal and not to be against our basic form of government.

And that`s the thing that kept coming. And when you were just interviewing with Senator Padilla, I had the feeling that, though he wasn`t there, it was as if he felt it. He held this communication with the people. The silence in the room, I think, took the hard facts and took the emotion and blended them together and said, this cannot stand. We cannot have a person like this affirmed by us by acquitting him and risk the whirlwind of him coming back.

The center does not hold unless we stop this kind of conduct.

MELBER: And you mention what comes through in the video. I want to play a little bit more of this trial evidence. Take a look.

FLANNERY: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): My youngest daughter, Tabitha, was there with me on Wednesday, January 6.

The sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram, the most haunting sound I ever heard, and I will never forget it, the kids hiding under the desk, placing what they thought were their final texts.

She said: "Dad, I don`t want to come back to the Capitol."

People died that day. This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: John?

FLANNERY: Well, it`s moving, as I said.

And we`re a nation that -- you know, I have a red tie on. And when I was putting it on -- I get kidded about the bow tie -- all I could think of was the blood that people spilled so we`d have the right to vote.

And these guys would supplant the right to vote of the millions of people who voted, no matter what their color or their origin or socioeconomic background, and they would come in and replace it, because they want this amoral man to lead America.

I can`t imagine anything more base and a greater failure of the oath of office under the 14th Amendment and common sense in the laws outside the Congress than they would support this man still. It`s terrible, and it`s a shame and a disgrace.

And I think, in the midterms, we will deal with it, if we don`t deal with it during this trial. But the important thing about this trial is to get the message out about what happened. Whether or not we convict this person, we have to send out the message of what this crime was all about.

MELBER: Yes, what happened and who is accountable.

And, Emily, I was getting at that with specific questioning of the senator, because it`s not often that about 100 senators sit there for hours together, certainly not quietly to take in the evidence. We know a lot from our own reporting about the different information diets that they have, just as people across the country have.

But this isn`t about who you like to get your news from or which sources you find have different interesting analysis. This was all documentary footage. Again, I`m going to play a little bit more, I believe, we have some of some of that chanting and some of what happened for your response that was played as evidence today, one more piece of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PROTESTER: USA! USA!

RIOTERS: Break it down! Break it down!

RIOTER: Break it down!

(SHOUTING)

RIOTERS: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Emily, it`s not our jobs as reporters to prejudge the trial or the process or the outcome.

But I don`t see how anyone who is an American watching that wouldn`t feel renewed disgust and anger at what went on there. I`m curious your thoughts about opening the trial this way.

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Well, I think there is a clear emotional appeal here and a sense of reliving a national trauma.

That`s different, of course, from whether President Trump should be impeached and convicted for the role that the Democrats and the people managing the impeachment trial are going to argue that he had.

But I think the gut level response that a lot of people are going to have to watching that footage is to remember what a difficult day January 6 was, and that is important for the Democrats trying to make their case.

MELBER: Yes. Very well put. And it is the one thread that, substantively, the Trump lawyers have, and they may make that case more tomorrow -- excuse me -- probably the day after, when it`s their turn, as the merits arguments begin tomorrow, which is the difference between what happened and the high bar for trying to tie that to one individual, even someone who has fomented violence as much as Donald Trump.

BAZELON: And...

MELBER: Go ahead.

BAZELON: No, exactly.

And I think it is important to remember two things at once. If this were a criminal prosecution -- it is not -- but, if it were, there would be a high bar for actually convicting President -- former President Trump of incitement.

We have a high bar for those kinds of convictions, based on speech, even when it foments violence, because we worry about making it too easy to prosecute dissidents. That`s the same standard that applies here.

We`re not in a courtroom, a regular courtroom. We are in an impeachment trial. And so Congress can use a different lower standard of incitement. It can, for example, decide that, rather than having to prove that Trump had specific intent for people to do violence in the Capitol, that he was reckless in his words. That could be enough, right, to persuade Democrats and maybe some Republicans to vote to convict.

MELBER: Right.

BAZELON: It would not be enough in a criminal trial. And I think it`s important to keep that distinction. These are actually quite tricky questions we`re talking about.

MELBER: Right.

And although, part of it -- I`m going to bring in Garrett from the Hill in a moment, but the other part that you mentioned there that is important, Emily, is, the founders put forward a different standard precisely for that reason, that someone who takes on the responsibilities and the oath of office who has control over the military, if anything, is a different standard.

And we had so much talk about norms and what we`re going to do about it and is it OK or not, and here we are in a new era with newly elected officials, including a new White House, and the question remains, what do you do about someone who publicly tried to steal the election?

Everybody knows he did. That`s illegal. He tried to do it in Georgia. He tried to do it through the DOJ. He tried to do it on January 6. Everybody knows that. And so whether or not the Senate thinks that, in isolation, he also deliberately hoped that people would be killed on January 6, right, is a part of, but not the only question.

Our experts stay, but, as promised, NBC`s Garrett Haake has been all over this story from the start. He is live on Capitol Hill.

Give us, as a front-line reporter, your takeaways, especially for some of our viewers who may not have watched every hour throughout the day.

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have been running around just these last 20 or 30 minutes or so trying to talk to the Republican senators who voted on this question of constitutionality.

And not one that I have spoken to actually thinks that the president`s attorneys, the former president`s attorneys, had the better of the argument today. There is just no debate about this. But there are a lot of these Republican senators, like Marco Rubio, who I talked to, Rob Portman, who I spoke to, are just dug in on this constitutionality question. They don`t want to go there.

They don`t think it`s appropriate. Maybe they just want to be done with this, all told. And so that`s kind of where we end the day. But, working backwards, there was also widespread praise for the way the managers conducted their case.

They thought Raskin`s presentation was incredibly powerful. Joe Neguse`s presentation was efficiently lawyerly and hitting kind of the scholarly marks, without being dense, without sort of beating these issues over and over and over again.

But I mentioned this earlier in the day. This sort of was a proof of the Donald Trump shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue argument here. Politically speaking, the Senate was immovable on this point. And we will see where it goes from here.

I think, now that the constitutionality argument is done, though, we will see an argument that will be more sort of historical in nature. Lindsey Graham has been telling reporters for a couple of days now he thinks it will be up to history to hold President Trump accountable.

(LAUGHTER)

HAAKE: Now, you could argue that`s an abdication of his own personal responsibility, but I think that`s what the arguments are going to be focused on now, marking this for history.

MELBER: Well, I hadn`t heard that one, Garrett.

HAAKE: I bring you all of the perspectives I can find up here, Ari.

MELBER: As any reporter does.

That`s what we call time travel dodging.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: History, which is being made right now in the Senate...

HAAKE: Right.

MELBER: ... will somehow magically later decide.

But that`s why we have experts on every angle.

I want to thank Garrett and Emily Bazelon. John Flannery returns later in hour.

Right now, we have our shortest break, just 30 seconds, but, coming up, my special report on what is important about today and what to expect in tomorrow`s arguments in the rest of the trial.

We`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT and our special coverage of day one of the Senate trial of former President Trump.

And we are joined by former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who has participated in exactly such a Senate trial, Democrat from Wisconsin, and "Washington Post" reporter Libby Casey.

Senator Feingold, your views of what the Senate and, by proxy, America saw today in this trial?

FMR. SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): Well, it`s obviously a very sad and disturbing day.

But you mentioned history in the previous segment. Something very historical did get done today. This notion that somehow there couldn`t be an impeachment trial after the president leaves office, it`s over. People had to scramble for examples in lesser cases, but now you have a trial commencing on the president of the United States who has left office.

And that`s very important to clarify. The second thing is, the way I look at this is a little bit about history. And that is that 25, 50, 100 years from now, when a kid gets asked, who is the only president that got impeached twice, the answer is going to be Donald Trump.

Just like when I was a kid, who is the only president that was ever impeached, Andrew Johnson. And that gets a child to wonder, well, what was that all about? What did they do? What were the crimes?

And I think it is a terribly important thing, even if this doesn`t lead to conviction, that that stain goes on Donald Trump forever, and I think it`s been accomplished.

MELBER: Yes, and, as you say, and the senator at the top of the hour emphasized, there was a vote today, and it validates the trial. The trial moves forward. That`s the system.

FEINGOLD: Bipartisan.

MELBER: And bipartisan, to boot.

Libby, take a listen to Bruce Castor, the oft-criticized Trump lawyer. Our own Garrett Haake saying that some of the Republican lawyers who are sympathetic to the case found him lacking. At one point, he went ahead and really contradicted Donald Trump`s core claim on January 6 by admitting that he lost the race. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE CASTOR, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The American people just spoke, and they just changed administrations.

They`re smart enough to pick a new administration if they don`t like the old one, and they just did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Libby?

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s not remarkable, because it`s factual, but it is remarkable to hear those words coming out of an attorney representing Donald Trump. And you can imagine that Donald Trump was not happy to hear that.

His argument generally, though, was so unconvincing that you even saw one senator, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, join with other five Republicans and say that this is a constitutionally allowable process.

And as I was looking at Bill Cassidy`s comments after this, he said that if you have questions about my stance here, just go back and watch the presentations that were made by the House impeachment managers.

So, they were able to make a compelling argument. And you could tell, frankly, that President Trump`s two attorneys hadn`t worked together before. This fell in their lap just recently, and the arguments you heard Castor make were, frankly, meandering, until they finally tried to hit home this question of free speech.

And that does give us some sense of what we will hear about throughout the week. But it took him a very long time to get there, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, you mentioned Senator Cassidy.

We actually have some of that. This is one of the Republican senators who did go ahead and join with Democrats in the bipartisan vote to say, yes, the Senate has this power, yes, this trial will proceed, as Russ Feingold was reminding us.

Let`s take a brief listen to Senator Cassidy today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): It speaks for itself. It was disorganized, random, had nothing -- they talked about many things, but they didn`t talk about the issue at hand.

And so, if you -- if I`m an impartial juror, and I`m trying to make a decision based upon the facts as presented on this issue, then the House managers did a much better job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Libby?

CASEY: Yes.

I mean, frankly, though, most Republican senators in that room are not coming at this with an open mind. And I say that in a -- not being overly judgmental about it. That is the case. This is a political enterprise for these Republicans.

MELBER: Yes.

CASEY: And so they`re not listening to this with the open mind of someone who might be truly a juror on a trial.

They want to support President Trump. And this question of constitutionality is a bit easier for them to support him on,if they decide that they can find that legal argument valid, because it`s much easier to talk about that than talk about or try to defend the actions or in any way inch towards those horrible actions that we saw replayed today from January 6.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Senator Feingold, I know you`re squeezing us in before your other obligations tonight, but briefly, in closing, your thoughts on what people should watch for tomorrow?

FEINGOLD: Well, any example like Cassidy, where somebody is willing to stand up and go against their party, even if it`s on a procedural vote, John F. Kennedy wrote in "Profiles in Courage` about those senators that had the courage to go against their own party on whether to convict Andrew Jackson. And it became a legend.

Even procedural votes sometimes can make the history, even if, as has been said, they`re probably not going to convict the guy, but it really does make a difference in the long term in terms of the law and the protection of the constitutional power.

MELBER: Senator Feingold and Libby Casey, thank you very much.

Coming up in the program, a whole different angle. Remember when Mitch McConnell said that he wanted to have this trial for accountability, he was pleased with taking on Trump? Well, some point to his dereliction of duty tonight.

Also, how this all went down, including that powerful video.

Our special report is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back to our special coverage of this, Donald Trump`s second impeachment trial. It will good on after the Senate voted the trial is constitutional today. That is the first order of business.

House managers made the dramatic walk over to the Senate.

And it all began with the disturbing and compelling video of the MAGA attack in the January 6 insurrection, which Democrats say Donald Trump directly incited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We will stop the steal.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PROTESTER: We are going to the Capitol, where our problems are.

PROTESTERS: USA! USA!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Protesters are in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

(SHOUTING)

RIOTER: Let`s go. Come on!

RIOTER: Storm your own capitol buildings!

RIOTER: There`s got to be something in here we can use against these scumbags.

RIOTERS: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is just some of the archival footage that was presented inside the Senate today.

The lead impeachment manager, Congressman Raskin, argued there was no constitutional basis for some sort of temporary January exception for presidents who might commit high crimes during their final days in office.

Indeed, he argued that would be a dangerous precedent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RASKIN: That`s a high crime and misdemeanor. If that`s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.

A January exception. And everyone can see immediately why this is so dangerous. It`s an invitation to the president to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And those managers went on to offer their own version of eyewitness testimony today, even getting emotional recounting what occurred on January 6.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RASKIN: The sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram, the most haunting sound I ever heard, and I will never forget it.

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO): I was on the floor with lead manager Raskin.

RASKIN: She said: "Dad, I don`t want to come back to the Capitol."

NEGUSE: What we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day is the framers` worst nightmare come to life.

RASKIN: This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The future of America and whether this would become further normalized, whether this will be sanctioned and deterred or allowed, and thus tempted for future presidents or would-be autocrats, is the theme that the managers focused today, in day one of their presentation.

Now, Donald Trump`s defense lawyers, which, as you have heard, were panned even by some Republicans for their meandering approach, they made an argument that sometimes contradicted itself.

They said in public that it`s too early to put Trump on trial because there hasn`t been enough investigation, and it`s too late to put Trump on trial because he already left office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SCHOEN, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Anyone truly interested in real accountability for what happened at the Capitol on July 6 -- January 6 would, of course, insist on waiting for a full investigation.

Any civil officer whoever dares to want to serve his or her country must know that they will be subject to impeachment long after their service in office has ended. This is nothing less than the political weaponization of the impeachment process.

The accused is not the president. The text of the United States Constitution, therefore, does not vest the Senate with the power to try him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You heard it right there. That was a claim that the Senate doesn`t have the power to do this. That was the Trump lawyers` claim.

And if there is one headline tonight if you`re catching up on the trial, this is it. They lost that claim. That`s over. The Senate voted that it does have the power to hold this trial.

And while impeachments throughout all of American history, not a new thing, have tended to be quite partisan, with party-line votes, today, several Republicans joined in that Senate vote. And it tees up the big clash tomorrow over the violence and the insurrection and who`s responsible.

On a big news night coming out of the United States Senate, we`re joined now by another sitting U.S. senator, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Cornell Belcher, who worked for President Obama.

Senator, I explained to viewers the news coming out of the body, that you moved forward with this power. What else was important, you think, in the presentation today inside the chamber?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): My heart was in my throat as I watched that video.

And it highlighted for me not only the continuing threat of domestic terrorism, that last line from one of the mob terrorists, "Storm your state capitol," but also the 77 days of Donald Trump`s campaign to overthrow a lawful election and retain power for himself.

This kind of mob insurrection was indeed the founders` worst nightmare. As one of the managers put it, Donald Trump probably doesn`t know much about the framers, but they knew a lot about him. He was their worst nightmare, because of the danger to our democracy.

And the other point that I think came across today as I entered the Capitol, I saw the barbed wire, the troops, the increased presence of our Capitol Police. We have become almost an armed island here, as a result of this continuing threat of domestic violence, and the country as well.

If you read the latest national terrorist bulletin, that January 6 insurrection has emboldened the domestic terrorists around the country.

So, what`s on trial here is not just Donald Trump. It`s the mob that he summoned to Washington, incited to assault the Capitol, stop the vote counting, and even possibly assassinate members of the United States Congress, and to continue this domestic terrorism against our democracy.

It`s a nightmare for the whole country.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Senator, you`re reminding everyone of that. Particularly, those viewers who have been our busy or working and didn`t watch all this during the day and now are coming home to it. And, as you say, those stakes came through today. I thought it was a remarkably effective presentation.

We have heard from some senators who have a vote in this. We have heard from some other legal experts.

Then we have got our friend Cornell Belcher.

Cornell, do you even know why you`re here tonight?

(LAUGHTER)

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because I`m a political hack.

MELBER: I`m going to tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

BELCHER: Because I`m a political hack.

MELBER: No, this is -- I would never raise it without an answer, because we thought of you for a reason.

And that is, the founders did not say that the punishment for conviction would match what happens in criminal law, like jail or even a hefty fine. They merely stated a civic or you could call it a political sanction. You don`t get to be in office anymore.

And that`s true, by the way, of anyone convicted who is met with that sanction. It could be a judge. It could be a vice president. In this case, it`s potentially a former president. That`s what`s on the table.

And so, Cornell, there is a political quality to that, which you are so versed in, having served presidents and done polling and all of that. And I want to get right to the heart of, that because this is where the Trump lawyers got very blunt with it. And they said, while that is a possible and valid sanction, they allege it`s being misused because people are afraid of the political threat of Donald Trump rising like a phoenix back into another campaign.

Take a look at Mr. Castor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASTOR: We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s a political question. Cornell is our political expert.

Your view?

BELCHER: No, and I appreciate being the political hack. I wear it proudly.

But, look, I think, to a certain extent, look, Castor was panned today as meandering. But I think, to a certain extent, Schoen gave Republicans that the cover that they needed. And, as you saw, the vast majority of Republicans did not vote to support this.

And they can go back and say, look, I made a principled stand on the Constitution.

And if you look at that video and see that video, look, they`re in a losing position; 56 percent of Americans think that the president`s guilty, should be convicted.

But the vast majority of Republicans, and particularly those who voted in a Republican primary, think it`s far more important to be loyal to Donald Trump.

So, what we`re really saying to these Republican senators is, don`t act on your political nature. And you know what Republican senators are going to do. They`re going act on their political nature. It`s like making the argument to the scorpion, don`t sting me.

And you know what, Ari? Every time, the scorpion is going to sting you because it`s in its political nature. And, right now, it is Donald Trump`s party.

And I think it is about, how do they lose less? And they can make an argument to the general electorate that, broadly, I was making a principled stand. I`m not defending Donald Trump because it`s not defendable, but I`m standing with the Constitution, which is, I`m sure, Senator, what many of your Republican colleagues on the campaign trail are going to argue.

MELBER: Senator?

BELCHER: And they can go back and not face a Republican primary, because, to the Republican primary voters, Ari, they stood with Donald Trump, which is the most important thing.

And a CBS poll today showed us that 70-some percent of Republicans think it`s more important to be loyal to Donald Trump than to the party. So they`re walking a tight political line.

BLUMENTHAL: I think Cornell makes a very, very good point.

These colleagues are looking to the short term. If they were true to their oath and they followed the facts and law, that would vote to convict. Donald Trump violated his oath.

And in a legal sense, that`s what an impeachment trial is really concerning, that he violated his oath of office, not only by inciting that mob, but then failing to stop the assault on the Capitol, in fact, even reveling in it, calling them very special people and they will have a place in history.

But I do think that this trial is having an enormous impact, and it will historically. First, it airs that powerful evidence, like the videotape, of violence, using the American flag to break windows and batter the walls, and threaten people with all kinds of harm.

But, also, the country wouldn`t be talking about what Donald Trump did but for this impeachment trial. We might not be talking about it. And as painful as it is -- and, believe me, I had to fight back tears during some of those proceedings today -- it is serving to relive for the country a horror story that we do need to relive, so that it will never happen again.

MELBER: Yes.

BLUMENTHAL: And I think this trial will serve a purpose, whatever the verdict.

And, unfortunately, Cornell is right. My colleagues may not do the right thing here, but I can`t be responsible for them. We`re doing the right thing by having this trial.

MELBER: Yes.

Senator Blumenthal, appreciate that after a long day as a senator.

And, Cornell, thank you to both of you.

Up ahead: Mitch McConnell`s impeachment reversal, as Republican senators duck some hard questions.

And what comes next, as impeachment managers try to link Trump to the violent crimes?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Our special coverage of this second impeachment trial of Donald Trump continues. It will go on, with six Republican senators now who joined Democrats today ruling the Senate has the power to go forward.

But that did not include Senator Mitch McConnell. The minority leader voted against the idea that the Senate could even hold this trial, which is just the threshold before getting into guilt or innocence, conviction or acquittal.

Now, remember, McConnell also blocked beginning the trial while Trump was in office, but had made it very clear in public with these leaks to "The New York Times" that he was pleased about any effort to hold Trump accountable through an impeachment trial.

We`re joined now by Elie Mystal, justice for "The Nation."

Elie, it seems like a contradiction.

ELIE MYSTAL, "THE NATION": It seems because it is.

But that no-vote really did, like, make me catch my breath for a second, before I remembered that this is McConnell and it`s what he does.

Again, Ari, like you said, McConnell`s slow-rolled is a process. It`s McConnell`s fault that we`re having an impeachment trial after the president leaves office. That was his idea. So, for him to turn around and say that`s unconstitutional is like an -- it`s an "I shot, but I did not shoot the deputy" level of defense, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: The Bob Marley version or the Eric Clapton version?

(LAUGHTER)

MYSTAL: Let`s go this one.

McConnell let the dogs out, and now he is running around asking who. Like, that`s where he is at.

(LAUGHTER)

MYSTAL: It`s -- even for McConnell, it was -- I think it was a breathtaking level of hypocrisy.

But there is something deeper here. Right? And it`s just -- it`s not exactly -- it`s not just the hypocrisy. It`s the cowardice, right? McConnell is yellow. He is afraid, not of Trump. Trump is largely a declawed cat, from McConnell`s perspective. He is not afraid of Trump. He`s afraid of Trump`s voters.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: He is afraid. The very people that he`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MYSTAL: Go ahead.

MELBER: So, then why even make such a show of saying he was pleased at the prospect of booting Trump out of the party, if now he won`t even pretend to be consistent about saying that his own Senate has the authority to consider this issue, to hold this trial?

Clearly, if he were consistent, the view on that, which is separate from conviction, wouldn`t have changed in a month.

MYSTAL: Because he is a weak man pretending to be a strong man. He is a strong man only in his own eye, right?

Like, I actually think that he did something good on the day of the riot, on the day of the insurrection, and that was bring the Senate back into chamber to finish the work. Right? He wouldn`t let the Senate be bullied by the insurrectionists.

What he`s -- he wouldn`t let the kind of institution be bullied. He is letting himself be bullied. He is so afraid of the actual -- of the people who actually stormed the Capitol not storming his office, but those are his voters.

MELBER: Right.

MYSTAL: Those are his base voters.

MELBER: Well, and that`s -- you raise an important point there, because, if that analysis is correct, that makes him more culpable, which is to say, on the night of January 6, he looked and said, well, this is so bad, even I stand up to this.

And then as the weeks went by, and it turned out -- and "The New York Times" had stories on this today, the embrace of militias and gun groups in Michigan, and Republicans coming around to say, maybe these are our base, too. Then, suddenly, what we know publicly he said was terrible, he also gets into bed with.

Elie Mystal, we`re tracking a lot of stories. Thank you for digging into McConnell on this one.

Up ahead, we have a very special guest, an Obama veteran on where this is headed and what to expect tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The Senate passed the first big question in the Trump trial: Does it have the power to go forward?

Yes, said 56 senators on a bipartisan basis. So, tomorrow, we get to the facts, the merits of the case. House impeachment managers will go first tomorrow. They get up to 16 hours of time to make their case. Today, they didn`t use all of it. The managers` written briefs and plans suggest they will be even more fiery tomorrow, deploying evidence to link Trump to the violent crimes at the Capitol.

Then Trump`s defense team will get its 16 hours to respond on the merits. That could begin probably as soon as Thursday under the timetable. But even after losing today`s vote on the authority to hear the case, those lawyers may continue to press that argument.

And here`s why. There is some precedent here. Past federal officials who faced a Senate trial after leaving office used a similar tack. They encourage the senators to decline conviction on technical grounds and not get into whatever it was they were really accused of.

With that in mind, as we look ahead to a big week for the Senate and for America in assessing the insurrection, we`re joined by a friend of THE BEAT, Chai Komanduri. He`s a veteran of three Democratic presidential campaigns, including Obama and Clinton.

Good evening, sir.

CHAITANYA KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good evening. How are you, Ari?

MELBER: I`m good, Chai.

You`re a keen political observer, and the days ahead will be in this fiery question of the Democrats saying, there was an insurrection, we all lived through it, Trump caused it, and the Republicans, through the Trump lawyers, trying to say, we don`t even want to really rebut that, we just shouldn`t even be here.

Your thoughts on how that plays out for America?

KOMANDURI: Well, this dynamic is going to continue.

What you`re seeing is the Democrats have taken this very seriously. They`re making very good, sound, strong legal arguments. I think you saw Senator Cassidy admit as much earlier today.

The reality, however, is that the Trump team is treating it like a joke. They`re making rambling, incoherent arguments. They`re behaving, quite frankly, like mob lawyers who know that they have the jury in their pocket.

I saw that you had earlier compared this -- I think other people online I had compared this with "My Cousin Vinny," to that movie where Joe Pesci starts out as a very bumbling lawyer.

But, in that movie, Joe Pesci improves greatly as it goes along.

(CROSSTALK)

KOMANDURI: I do not believe that will happen here. I do not expect that we will see any improvement on the part of the Trump defense team. They are treating this simply like a joke. They are unprepared. They are incoherent. They are rambling.

And their only real interest appears to be the hype Trump 2024, mainly to please their client in Mar-a-Lago, who we all know is watching.

MELBER: Well, Chai, you`re one of the first people I have heard in the coverage today to make the link from what seems like they`re incompetence to a type of arrogance that you liken to mob lawyers, or a thuggish attitude of, if you have the jury in your pocket, you have nothing to worry about.

KOMANDURI: Right.

MELBER: Now, you know that`s a little reminiscent of Rick Ross. I`m sure you`re familiar with some of his work.

KOMANDURI: I am vaguely familiar. I know mainly from your discussions with him all here on THE BEAT.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

KOMANDURI: But...

MELBER: But Rick, who also has mob lawyer attitude, because he has a kind of a thuggish persona, I mean, even he would say...

KOMANDURI: Sure.

MELBER: ... he famously talked about walking in the courtroom calmly sipping on a beverage. I know the judge, so I got a lot of leverage.

And while that`s all fun and fine and good for songs...

KOMANDURI: Right.

MELBER: ... it`s not the attitude you would want anyone to seriously approach something as serious as a constitutional trial for supporting an insurrection that left five people dead, Chai.

KOMANDURI: Yes, they`re absolutely not taking this at all seriously.

And something that I realized, quite frankly, in their response, I think the some of the senators who were not really paying attention during that video, that very powerful video that was shown earlier today during the trial of the Capitol riots, was, quite frankly, a lot of Republicans who were not afraid for their lives, because they knew the mob was not coming for them.

It`s something that I think has been painfully obvious to me over the last couple of weeks. We saw AOC talk very movingly about how she really feared for her life during that insurrection. And we have not heard those same testimonies, I think, from any Republicans at all.

And I think that that is very telling, that none of them have really come forward and said...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Let me draw out what you`re saying, Chai, because it`s -- what you`re saying is blunt. It`s not super popular in public discourse.

But I think you`re pointing to the evidence, unsavory and disturbing as it is. You`re saying there are individuals there who do not identify with the threat of political violence because they perceive it, -- whether they ordered it or not, they perceive it as redounding to their benefit, and not going after them.

KOMANDURI: Yes, quite simply, they know it was not aimed at them. So, they take it far less seriously.

And I think that you see that throughout this defense. This defense is not a serious defense. I mean, quite frankly, if you think about the interview that you have done with Boris Epshteyn, I believe twice on THE BEAT...

MELBER: Yes.

KOMANDURI: ... he really does make a real attempt at an argument trying to defend Trump`s actions through his own words.

There was none of that today...

MELBER: Yes.

KOMANDURI: ... in the legal arguments at all, none of that, no attempt to really say, oh, no, Donald Trump did not, with his own words, incite the riot, no attempt to really grapple with the language and the tone that Trump utilized.

Absolutely none of that was present. The entire Trump defense -- and it will be this way until the Senate probably decides to acquit him -- will -- is basically treating this as a joke, as a sham, and as a show, and not really as a serious legal proceeding.

MELBER: Correct.

And I think you just made a legally accurate point. We were discussing this earlier with Nicolle Wallace and Chuck Rosenberg. There are some potentially legitimate defenses that you could avail for someone in this position, the defendant of Donald Trump. They didn`t make it today. They may not make it tomorrow.

And like so many other things in this Trump era, it may be designed to try to bring everyone down to their level, that everything is a nihilistic joke. And yet five-plus people died that day and after precisely because this was dead serious.

Chai Komanduri, thank you, sir.

KOMANDURI: Thank you.

MELBER: Our special coverage continues.

We will be right back with one more thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: A key point that came up on the Senate floor today was raised by our guests. It`s our final thought tonight. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RASKIN: Hamilton in Federalist 1 said: "The greatest danger to republics and the liberties of the people comes from political opportunists who begin as demagogues and end as tyrants and the people who are encouraged to follow them."

President Trump may not know a lot about the framers, but they certainly knew a lot about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And on this historic night, after a historic day in the United States Senate, the framers get the last word.

Thanks, as always, for watching THE BEAT.

"THE REIDOUT" starts now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END