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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/16/21

Guests: LaTosha Brown, Eric Swalwell, Juanita Tolliver, Michael McFaul, Libby Casey


A new intelligence report details how Russia tried to help President Trump win reelection. President Biden tours the country to promote the COVID relief bill. A new progressive strategy aims to fortify voting rights. Congressman Eric Swalwell speaks out.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We begin with breaking news. A new intelligence report out today has details on how Russia tried to help Trump win reelection. We have this report, brand-new. It is from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence overseen by one of these new Biden officials, Avril Haines.

And it traces what we know to be the sequel to Russia`s 2020 meddling. It traces it all the way to the top, stating that Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations aimed at denigrating Biden`s candidacy. The goal was supporting Trump with a strategy of using intermediaries or proxies to get misleading attacks on Joe Biden over to people in Trump`s circle.

The report identifies them as people close to Trump and his administration. Just as in 2016, this new report out now documents how the Democrats` White House bid had to contend not only with its own campaign rival, like usual, but also fight on two fronts against a well-funded, armed, independent country with its own agenda.

Now, there are differences as well, this time, many voters maybe more on guard against foreign propaganda. Well, the Russians had a plan for that, too. Again, reading from this new report, they tried to get prominent U.S. persons and media conduits to launder their narratives against Democrats, so that Russian attacks on Biden might seem more American by coming through U.S. officials and audiences.

And then there is this:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rudy Giuliani debunks the impeachment hoax and exposes Biden family corruption in Ukraine. Watch top Ukrainian officials testify under oath, the side of the story Schiff doesn`t want you to hear.


MELBER: That heavy-handed promo is for a piece that ultimately aired on the conservative channel OAN in January, a piece of apparent propaganda built on the foreign coordination plot, of course, that got Trump impeached the first time.

Now, this new intelligence report has put all of this back in the news tonight, with "The New York Times" stating the report appears to reference Giuliani amidst that intelligence network. Now, he was already busted for meeting with pro-Russian political figures in Europe and pushing the Ukraine plot.

But now, in the new report out today, U.S. intelligence appears to cite his wider work as part of this Russian disinformation campaign, noting the controversial movie that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020.

Now, we all lived through, "Russia, if you`re listening." We lived through the Mueller probe. We lived through all the foreign Trump mishegas, to borrow a Yiddish word for total foolishness or clownery.

At this point, I got to tell you, I covered a lot of this stuff. I lived it along with you. It`d be understandable for many people to want to just move on.

But experts say that very emotion is misplaced. President Biden`s new intelligence leaders, they`re not moving on or just burying this, any more than Bob Mueller, who told everyone Russia was at it again in 2020 -- he was right -- and told everyone we need long-term American nonpartisan vigilance to stay informed and defend our democracy.

And even this declassified version of the report has many disturbing details. It also notes that neither Russia nor Iran got near impacting our actual voting systems.

Now, when it comes to an attack on the very information process that we use in a democracy, well, tonight, intelligence experts are saying the best defense is an informed and factual offense.

I want to get right to it.

We have former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and "Washington Post" reporter Libby Casey.

Ambassador, your view of what`s important in this report and, as I stress, why viewers living through so much other stuff right now should care about a nonpartisan process of intelligence that outs this stuff?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, the first thing is that it is nonpartisan. I`m glad you emphasize that, Ari.

This report was actually done before the Biden administration took over. That`s very important to understand. Number two, the report is very clear that Russia intervened to help Trump and hurt Biden. Remember, many times in your program, we have talked for years that in the last time around it was that, yes, they helped Trump, but they were really trying to sow division in American society.

And, most certainly, that was true in 2016. This report is about help for Trump and not against Biden. And the other little thing is, there`s news here about China. We tend to lump China and Russia together. These are our autocratic enemies that we need to deal with, we need to contain.

But in this report, it`s really categorical. Russia intervened very directly. China did not. And the last thing -- you just said it -- but they used new mechanisms, they used new means, including working with Mr. Giuliani and surrogate interlocutor from Ukraine to pry to put out this disinformation in a different modality than they did in 2016.

MELBER: Yes, build on that, Ambassador, because we protect free speech around here. Rudy Giuliani has the right to be wrong. He even, under Supreme Court precedent, generally has a right to lie. There are exceptions.

He`s not accused tonight of a felony. But he is being roped into something that goes beyond traditional speech, which is potentially being a knowing asset or cooperator to a foreign intelligence operation.

Walk us through what that means to you.

MCFAUL: Well, I don`t -- I will let you speculate or others about knowing or unknowing, right? We -- I don`t know that for sure. But the evidence in here is...


MELBER: Well, let me jump in. I will let you finish.

But when I say knowing -- and I appreciate your precision -- when he met with public Ukrainian officials tied to Putin, he knew who they worked for. Now, he could say, in fairness, like other legislators may say, well, yes, you meet with all kinds of people, he`s not signing on.

But he certainly knew that he was getting dirt from people who were pro- Putin.

Go ahead, sir.

MCFAUL: Well, and it`s extraordinarily well-documented in this report.

I`d like to learn a lot more details, right? They obviously know more than that is in the short report. But that`s new. I think that`s important for Americans to understand, what great lengths that Putin went to try to dig up false dirt -- not dirt, not real dirt -- lies, disinformation about now our President Biden, right?

And it`s an extraordinary conspiracy that they did -- to do that. And I applaud the ODNI for doing this. I think, like you said at the top, getting out information about what Putin does to try to intervene and influence electoral preferences, that`s good for the American people to know.

And I hope they continue to do these kinds of reports moving forward.

MELBER: Libby?

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Very important point here, we`re not talking about ballots changed and votes changed. And that`s a narrative, a false narrative, that Donald Trump was trying to put out at the end of last year, pointing the finger at China or Venezuela.

No, this is specifically about affecting the minds of voters, not the votes, and that is very important. And we have talked about this being a nonpartisan report. It`s also -- it`s compiled by career officials.

So, this is outside of the partisan jurisdiction. And that`s another reason why this is so important.

MELBER: Yes. As you mentioned, it was about getting inside people`s minds, not inside the ballot boxes.

And I will read just that part of the report before we move on. There`s some other big news tonight. But, again, from the newly released report, no evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor prevented voting, changed votes, or disrupted the ability to tally votes.

That`s one thing that, again, this nonpartisan report says they didn`t do, a kernel of good news for democracy there.

I want to thank Ambassador McFaul for joining us on this story.

Libby stays with me. And we`re bringing in Juanita Tolliver, an analyst and friend of THE BEAT, and both of our experts will join me for this next story.

President Biden rallying the nation, trying to explain exactly how the COVID relief bill will hit America and affect your life, while also combating misinformation about vaccines. Now, he was visiting a minority- owned business in Pennsylvania, amidst record-breaking 2.4 million vaccine shots now hitting Americans per day; 111 million people have at least one dose, one out of 10 Americans vaccinated.

But resistance has continued. And we`re seeing it along political lines, a third of Republicans saying they won`t get the vaccine, and a quarter of House members haven`t had their shot, despite their elite vaccine access.

Now, vaccine hesitancy is higher among certain groups, like, today, white Republicans. And while people can make up their own minds, medical experts say that some of the politicized attacks on the process are hurting.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: How effective is this coronavirus vaccine? How necessary is it to take the vaccine? There are things we don`t know about the effects of this vaccine. Should this scare you? We don`t know. You`re not allowed to ask questions.


MELBER: You`re not allowed to ask questions in a series of concern- trolling questions.

Now, honest and good-faith questions are fine. They are welcome. But there is a political context here, and it increasingly suggests that some are making what are essentially bad faith partisan attacks because they want to take down anything Biden does on COVID.


MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: here`s the word that scares the hell out of Democrats in the media. It`s called vaccine.

CHARLES PAYNE, FOX NEWS: The key has always been this vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An October surprise where the president is able to announce, you know what, we got a vaccine credit.

PAYNE: Credit where credit is due. President Trump, he really did push hard on this.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: He is definitely the prime architect of this Operation Warp Speed Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump can claim victory and Operation Warp Speed.

RIVERA: Why not name the vaccine the Trump? Make it like, you have you gotten your Trump yet?


MELBER: I`m not even going to get into that last one.

But, as mentioned, Juanita Tolliver is here. Libby is here.

Juanita, your thoughts on this because we put that together to show that, very recently, for some of these folks, vaccine was good, if you could call it Trump. And now we`re seeing a really doubling down on the antipathy.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, I wonder what changed their mind, Ari?


TOLLIVER: Quite frankly, I`m not surprised to see that the GOP voters, the Republicans, are explicitly hesitant, especially after Biden won the presidency, but also after almost a year of drumbeats from Trump about withholding information about the virus, ignoring science, ignoring efficacy of scientific recommendations.

And now we still have a drumbeat of GOP leaders and electeds across the country ignoring all of that data still. So, I`m not surprised to see 33 percent of Republicans hesitant to take this vaccine, which their own party since the Biden has assumed office has been against anyway.

And seeing that number about 25 percent of members of Congress still haven`t been vaccinated is yet again showing that there is a lack of trust here that is translating now into these concerns that we`re seeing from Republicans, which is unsurprising to me as to why they`re not lining up to get vaccinated.

MELBER: Libby?

CASEY: I mean, so dangerous. You know who has gotten the vaccine? Donald Trump and Melania Trump.

And when you see a clip of Tucker Carlson just asking some questions, posing what might be curiosities, it`s signaling to viewers, as this has been happening with a lot of issues, it`s signaling to viewers that it`s not safe. It`s not just asking authentic questions. It`s planting seeds of doubt in their mind that are not genuine. They`re politicized.

A challenge is how the scientists, the health community and the Biden administration respond to that. And my colleague Dan Diamond had this great piece in "The Post" is today about Frank Luntz, a pollster, convening a group of Republicans, talking to them about getting the vaccine.

And by the end, they were saying, I will get the vaccine. But what they needed to hear was not about the politics. It was about the science, and it was about the process. And so the goal of the Biden administration here has to be to push through all that noise and keep people focused on the science and the facts.


And, Juanita, I mentioned this in the program. And I think it`s important, and we do try to keep an open mind for everyone. There`s evidence that older -- older individuals who have every reason to pay attention to this are, even within the Republican Party, pushing back on that kind of attack, and that it`s the younger ones who may perceive that they`re in less danger.

A majority of Republicans aged 65-plus say they have already been vaccinated in this new survey, while most of those under age 45 among the republic group express hesitance.

And so, Juanita, I think we can look at this more than one way, but it certainly suggests that, the more skin you have in the game, the more likely you are to actually be skeptical against partisan attacks on this that are just trying to damage Biden, but older Republicans may be saying, whoa, not if it`s going to damage me.

TOLLIVER: Especially if it`s going to damage me or cause me physical harm, and also contribute to the isolation that we know that older Americans across the country have been experiencing throughout this pandemic, whether that is separation from family, not being able to engage with their friends.

That has an impact on them, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, Ari. So I think you`re absolutely right about who has the skin in the game, thus their willingness to step in and get that vaccine and receive those individual benefits and protections.


Juanita Tolliver, Libby Casey on more than one big issue tonight, thanks to both of you.

Coming up in our shortest break, just 30 seconds, we have been working on one of our special reports. It`s digging into this political fight over your safety and who makes the call, particularly as we reopen the economy.

It`s when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Here we are, one year into this pandemic. We have all felt the great devastation, and the great powers deployed by the government to combat it, strict rules on where you can go, on what you can do, on whether your employer will -- allowed to be open or potentially be forced out of business, forcing you out of business or out of your job.

Now, many have accepted these rules, especially as immediately important to your safety. But, over time, we have also seen many see them as overkill or intrusions, sparking a backlash and protests, remember, in both states red and blue.


PROTESTERS: End the lockdown! Northam must go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe the virus can be dangerous to certain people. But we don`t shut down the country every time a virus comes along and people get sick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Putting all of these workers out of business is just -- it`s a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the governor to know that we have a voice too.


MELBER: The clash is not only about what to do. It`s also about who gets to make these calls.

In the U.S., many of the big calls are made by the states. That premise is so fundamental that Fauci, Biden and Trump have all acknowledged it.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: The tension between federally mandated vs. states rights to do what they want is something I don`t want to get into.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some states will be able to open up sooner than others.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governors, mayors, local leaders, you are all stepping up all across the country, filling the vacuum of leadership.


MELBER: Now, as Biden put it, those leaders in government have been making decisions, trying to balance individual freedoms with everyone`s health and safety.

And that`s a big deal in how we are governed. As for the level of the restrictions, there`s no doubt they`re huge. It`s a point recently made by Supreme Court Justice Alito.


SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.

We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.


MELBER: That is legally true. Many, many people also say it`s worth it, that the ends obviously justify the means with so many lives can be saved.

Now, this is a theme in many classic tales and superhero movies. If you save lives, you can argue you must be on the right side. That`s what Batman believed, while his closest adviser warned of too much power in one person`s hands.


CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: Beautiful, isn`t it?

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Beautiful, unethical, dangerous. You have turned every cell phone in Gotham into a microphone. This is too much power for one person.


MELBER: That`s a real question.

If there are powers to be used and trade-offs to be made, should most of them really be up to one person per state?

But we know that states did begin with a very unilateral approach. They made unanimous, coordinated disaster declarations, first time that ever happened in U.S. history, by the way, and that granted each governor vast powers, which is how we have been living, the power to close down schools and businesses, designate who is an essential worker, compel people to wear masks or stay at home and collect vast data.

Now, those are tough calls, which is why we`re doing this special report tonight on the debate over who wields these powers. It`s especially key with the pivotal stage ahead, as we do try to reopen and rebound.

Now, those rushed emergency declarations gateway to a new reality. This was not special power for some quick, temporary emergency. I think we all know this part. It`s our new normal over a long haul.

So, should it be just your governor making every big call? Or should it be your governor with medical experts? Should that be required? Or should your legislature be involved? Legislatures tend to have more views and more diversity than just one governor.

Well, right now, I can tell you there are more and more pushes at the state level to claw back some of these emergency powers that governors have been using to unilaterally combat the virus over this past year, including now proposals to curb those powers in over 30 states.

Some states are already doing it, limiting the emergency COVID powers of once mighty governors in New York and Pennsylvania. And these battles don`t just go away as the pandemic evolves. Now, I can`t cover all 30 states tonight, but, in the media, sometimes, the national stories get to be the simple ones.

This is a national story that`s important and complex. So we can show you some states that are instructive for the road ahead.

Take Ohio, conservative state, went for Trump in November. It has a Republican governor, though, who broke with Trump over COVID. You may even remember him. Mike DeWine spent two decades in Congress as a strong conservative, with some independent streaks, like gun control.


GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): I have worked to expand access to TRICARE to try to keep the premiums affordable.

Today, Madam President, I come here again to the floor of the United States Senate to honor and to remember another young Ohio soldier.

I`m asking the General Assembly to pass a law that requires background checks for all firearm sales in the state of Ohio.

If we`re going to change the United States Congress, one of the ways we have to do it is to have term limits.


MELBER: Now, as governor, DeWine runs a stay hit hard by this virus.

And when it first arrived, there were many lawmakers concerned about the rules that could hurt the economy, especially on the right, or eliminate jobs, and jobs for people in bars and restaurants who can`t just zoom their way into work.

Now, DeWine talked about that, too.


DEWINE: You know that you`re inflicting pain on people and on small businesses, as you just pointed out. And so these are real people.


MELBER: DeWine discussed that challenge for real people. Seems like he meant it empathetically. But he didn`t use it as an excuse to back down on safety rules. He ordered lockdowns. He told constituents that, while those concerns were certainly very real, they would not justify policies that just let people die.


DEWINE: So, yes, it`s tough. But we made the decision we got to first keep everybody alive.


MELBER: And DeWine soon found top Republicans in his state, like Senate candidate Josh Mandel, attacking him as both an authoritarian and a squishy Republican.

I guess voters can decide what`s worse.


JOSH MANDEL (R), FORMER OHIO SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: With a stroke of the pen, Governor DeWine shut down businesses throughout our state. This authoritarian state, deep state, if you will, not just by radical liberal governors, by Newsom in California and Cuomo in New York...


MANDEL: ... but even by squishy Republican governors like my governor, DeWine, in the state of Ohio.


MELBER: And pressure continued, one conservative lawmaker there demanding DeWine be indicted for those health orders.

But DeWine`s approach put Ohio ahead of many states, cases dropping. And the news tonight is, Ohio`s actually clearing the way for everyone there over 40 to get vaccinated. DeWine is touting the rebound, and experts are encouraged by the high demand for vaccines in that state.

None of this means the governor should just get emergency powers forever. And while DeWine beat back those critics, this is interesting. He`s also addressing the clash over these powers with a compromise based on the science, DeWine saying he will give up some power on the same basis he took it, by following medical facts and saying all his health orders will end when the caseload drops to a less dire level.


DEWINE: So, tonight, I`m announcing that when Ohio gets down to 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks, all health orders in the state will come off.


MELBER: And these clashes do go far beyond red Ohio.

Take the very blue state of Connecticut. Democratic Governor Ned Lamont has seen protests over his emergency powers.


JONATHAN JOHNSON, CONNECTICUT: People want their businesses to be open, they want their churches to be open, they want their schools to be open. They want to be able to make income through their family.

Governor Lamont wants to rule us for 11 months by executive order, and we`re saying no.


MELBER: Those kind of concerns have actually gotten farther in Connecticut than in some other states, Lamont clashing with conservatives taking him to court to limit how he used his powers to shut down bars.

And like the Ohio governor, Lamont insists that using emergency powers was vital to beating the pandemic, to getting testing. And he pushed back on critics in his state.


GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): One thing has come crystal clear to me why it`s important that we have this emergency declaration is, it gives us the opportunity to get more testing capacity faster for all the people of the state of Connecticut.

Look. Whatever I`m doing with emergency powers is specifically related to COVID, nothing else. There`s plenty else we need the legislature to opine in and weigh on.


MELBER: Now, that may sound quite reasonable, but Lamont is finding the concern over one person having too much power forever, well, that matters in our system of government, whether it`s the Supreme Court holding presidents in check, or, at the state level, a Connecticut judge who just ruled partially against Lamont for doing so much through the unilateral powers without the legislature.

The judge ruling Lamont cannot just go it alone indefinitely on COVID orders, finding he likely cannot continue to carry out his emergency orders without some form of ratification from the General Assembly.

The court directed a moderate solution, that the legislature keep the power to ratify emergency orders and there must be time limits for them, with lawmakers voting on it all.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lawmakers will meet tomorrow, in fact, to vote on whether the governor`s winners emergency powers during the pandemic will continue.


MELBER: It looks like those emergency powers will be extended through April in that state, Lamont continuing a mask mandate, while his administration says they are now going beyond the unilateral and consulting with the legislature.


KRISTEN JOHNSON, NBC CONNECTICUT REPORTER: They have been extended before. But the difference is now the legislature is in session. The governor`s chief of staff told us today that he has had informal talks with legislative leaders about another extension.


MELBER: This is complex stuff. It can`t just be boiled down to who`s for or against science.

Indeed, as we`re reporting, some of the clash is about who makes the trade- offs, not pretending like there`s simply no trade-offs to make.

Now, these clashes are different, we should note, from some of the more partisan efforts by legislatures to simply kneecap a governors power when one party loses elections. I mention that because it`s a completely different story. It`s a trick that North Carolina Republicans tried in 2016 to undercut the Democratic beat them, a power grab that overlap with voter discrimination efforts and sparked protests.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people spoke. And they spoke powerfully. And they elected Roy Cooper as our next governor. And now they`re trying to take Roy Cooper`s power away.


MELBER: We saw a similar trick when Republican Trump supporter Scott Walker signed a bill to strip key powers that he had used, but strip them from the Democrat replacing him.

Now, those were just tricks. But during this pandemic, there are also valid debates about who makes these life-and-death decisions. And we`re not out of the woods yet, as states debate ending these emergency powers and the rules on people socializing and rules on reopening schools, and more clashes over how working people will get a voice for when they can work in person, plus the new fights on the horizon.

We may have vaccines, but who decides if you can be required to prove that you`re vaccinated or decides whether vaccine passports are fair? Time and again, as governors in both parties have been stepping up, they do agree on one thing.

From DeWine and Lamont to Cuomo, Abbott and Newsom, they all seem to think they should have more unilateral power, which brings us back to the superheroes. They all brought that Dark Knight energy to these dilemmas, something that both Batman and Harvey Dent were warned about.


AARON ECKHART, ACTOR: When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn`t considered an honor. It was considered a public service.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL, ACTRESS: Harvey, the last man that they appointed to protect the republic was named Caesar, and he never gave up his power.

ECKHART: OK, fine. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.


MELBER: Well, the classics apply, because power still corrupts, especially in life-and-death emergencies. And we need better options than just those two from Harvey Dent.

There will be more trade-offs to come. This will go on longer, but, hopefully, we can lean into some healthy debates about how to reopen and who makes the calls as we get through this together.

That`s our special report.

We have a lot more in the rest of the program, a special guest on this new intelligence, someone in the fight, a Democrat who says there is an important point here about what Trump really wanted to do.

And later: a new progressive strategy to actually fortify this battle to defend voting rights. We have a special guest. And it`s very interesting.

All that ahead on THE BEAT.


MELBER: More updates on this breaking news tonight.

U.S. intelligence says Russia tried to go after Joe Biden and specifically help Donald Trump in the 2020 campaign. This is the first intelligence assessment of foreign influence since the election.

The report also found that no foreign government was able to get close to changing votes or ballots in the United States. It does state that Putin directed this campaign to go after Biden and that Russian actors met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked U.S. persons and sought to use prominent us persons and media conduits to launder their natives -- narratives to U.S. officials and audiences.

We`re joined now by someone at the center of so much of this oversight in Congress, Congressman Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee.

Thanks for being here.

What do you see as what is significant and new about this report?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): They`re going to do it again, Ari.

They are determined. They did this in `16. They tried to do it in `18. They did it in `20. I`m concerned that, just as we saw that the enemy came from within on January 6 in that attack, that Russia is seeking to use U.S. persons connected to the Trump administration.

Even we saw Senator Ron Johnson laundering some of this information through his committees, that they`re trying to use our own representatives against our own country`s interests. So, they`re going to try and do this again.

We have got midterms coming up in `22. There`s voting rights issues going on right now. There`s a lot of opportunities for them to spread misinformation. And so the question is, will we fail the tests that we failed in `16 and certainly when Trump was in office, or will we learn from that, and batten down the hatches and get ready to defend this country?

MELBER: Do you have a view of whether the available evidence suggests that people like, as you mentioned, Senator Johnson, or Rudy Giuliani knew that they were being pulled into this foreign operations effort or not?

SWALWELL: I don`t know if they were given a defensive briefing or not. That`s a great question for them.

But it was public. And Chairman Schiff and I and others on the Intelligence Committee were expressing grave concerns during the summer and fall of 2020 about Senator Johnson and his resurrecting some of the Russian misinformation that had been debunked during the Ukraine investigation, again, in some of his investigations.

So, again, if U.S. persons just chose U.S. interests, this would be a lot easier to defend. But we`re not only up against the Russians. We`re up against people who, for their own partisan political interests, are siding with Russia.

MELBER: On the ongoing accountability hearings that the Congress has been holding regarding the January 6 insurrection, there`s this Army report that they had pushed to deny what was a district request for the National Guard.

But this is before January 6, an internal draft memo. We have reports says the Army said the U.S. military should not be needed to help police with traffic or crowd management.

Do you have a view on the potential culpability of the Trump administration in any of those decisions? Because, on the one hand, the Army may have its own valid reasons for trying to see itself as a last resort of patrolling inside the United States. That`s understandable. On the other, there`s been a lot of concern about whether any of this was slow-walked in sympathy with the president trying to use that event day and march to illegally steal the election.

SWALWELL: It was a spectacular failure by the leadership at the Department of Defense, Ari.

Everyone in my family, many of my constituents were texting me and calling me in the days leading up to the attack, because they were reading what was available in what we call open source.

Second, I think this is a great case for D.C. statehood, that they should be able to make this call as they wanted to early on to send in their own Guard. And so what we have to do now is, again, make sure we can protect this place, as we have presidential addresses and foreign leaders come.

Also, by the way, Michael Flynn`s brother was part of the leadership team making this decision. Michael Flynn, as we just learned today in the news, has affiliated himself with QAnon. He should not have been anywhere close to this decision. He should have recused himself. A failure at all levels at the Department of Defense.

MELBER: You mentioned Senator Johnson, who was, frankly, in the news for more than one thing relating to misinformation.

We covered this. We heard from critics on it, but you`re in the Congress that was attacked. I wanted to play for viewers who may not have seen it Senator Johnson`s comments about January 6 and BLM.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): On January 6, I never felt threatened, because I didn`t. I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law. And so I wasn`t concerned.

Now, had the tables been turned -- and, Joe, this could get me in trouble. Had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.


MELBER: Congressman, your response?

SWALWELL: Hard to believe we were in the same building already.

We have seen hundreds of arrests already from violent individuals. I have spoken with the officers who were beaten and spit on and run over. And Senator Johnson wants you to think that this was some Trump flash mob that was there to give everyone a hug.

Ari, I learned growing up it`s messed up when your mind is playing tricks on you. And that`s what`s happened right now to Senator Johnson.

MELBER: I always appreciate a Geto Boys reference, Congressman, even in these hard times.


SWALWELL: Gallows humor, Ari. That`s what gets us through it.


MELBER: We laugh through the tears, don`t I know it, in your job in mind.

Another item that is a substantive is, you`re on the Intelligence Committee. You do this oversight. There have been reports about an association you had -- this was several years ago -- with an individual who turned out to be a Chinese operative.

What do people need to know about this? What do you say to some Republican critics who are citing this actual history, a factual history to cast doubt on your ability to be on the committee?

SWALWELL: It`s a great parallel to individuals who have chosen Russia.

When my campaign was told that someone who was helping the campaign back in -- starting in 2012 was not who we thought they were, we took the person out and we helped the FBI. I chose America. Others have not.

But I would leave it to the FBI, Ari, because they have repeatedly said there was no wrongdoing and only cooperation on my part. I`d like to see that from some of the individuals like Senator Johnson and Devin Nunes, who have continued to side with Russia over America.

MELBER: And what was the nature of your cooperation? What did you or your team do with the FBI, to the extent you can tell us?

SWALWELL: I can`t tell you, Ari. And that`s what`s so frustrating about this, is that I honored my oath to national security by not talking about a top-secret case, but the three individuals in the intelligence community who leaked this, and Kevin McCarthy, who continues to politicize this, they are not.

But I will just leave it this. Five years or six years ago, the Gang of Eight was briefed on this, including every Republican leader, and no one said a thing, including Devin Nunes. It`s only about payback right now because of my role in the impeachment proceedings and holding the president accountable. And I think people see through that.

MELBER: Yes, well, it`s one of the items out there.

Obviously, as you know, we take all questions here, and I appreciate you spending time with us on a number of topics, from the serious to the wisdom of the Geto Boys, to that issue in the committee.

And I hope you will come back, Congressman.

SWALWELL: Of course. My pleasure. Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you, sir.

We have got to fit in a break, but, up ahead, there is some news about Michelle Obama and the epistemology of mom dancing.

Coming up, brand-new comments from Stacey Abrams about the GOP gaslighting and voter suppression and a new tactic. That`s next.



STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: It is irresponsible for politicians and political leaders to simply pretend they don`t know or, when they learn, to try to gaslight the communities into believing it`s their fault that bad things happen.

Politics is about self-preservation. And it`s about creating the world you want to see. If we don`t elect people who see us in that world, then they - - we should not be surprised that they try to draw us out of the narrative.


MELBER: Turning now to important news tonight in this ongoing clash over the right to vote, which has been escalating since record turnout flipped many states, including Georgia, blue, giving Biden the White House.

Republicans have now pushed over 250 bills in 43 states making it harder to vote. Many rules disproportionately affect minority and low-income groups.

Georgia`s clearly at the center of this fight. Civil rights activists have been pushing a new tack to try to compel change. And they`re seeing results.

I can report for you the state`s Chamber of Commerce has said there`s now concern and opposition to some of these voting restrictions, activist pressuring companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, which all have bases in Georgia, to join, to step up against this voting rights abuse.

And there`s now this full-page ad in the state`s biggest paper calling on these companies to show where they stand.

Now, one of the groups leading the charge is Black Voters Matter.

We`re joined now by LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Many think of politics along electoral lines, like pressuring politicians, which is, of course, relevant.

But Martin Luther King and many other leaders have talked about also doing politics that pressures elites or corporations. Walk us through what you`re doing with this effort.

BROWN: It is important.

When we`re talking about who makes up a community, their corporate citizens are also a part. We`re workers. We work at their companies. We actually serve on their boards, but we`re also consumers.

And so we have launched a corporate accountability and responsibility campaign for those corporations that are based in the state of Georgia, that we want them to stand with us against these voter suppression bills.

Now, even the "New York Times" talked about these bills are some of the worst bills since Reconstruction. We believe that democracy is a responsibility for all of us, and it`s good for business. And so that`s what we`re doing.


BROWN: We`re putting pressure on corporate citizens to stand against this -- these voter suppression bills.


Let me ask you, what do you say to a corporation that says, well, they don`t want to pick sides between red and blue, Republican and Democrat? What do you say to argue that this is more fundamental than that?

BROWN: We`re saying that we don`t want you to pick sides. What we`re saying is to do the right thing, that democracy is the vehicle in which all of us should have access to, that this isn`t a partisan issue. This is an issue about fundamentally access to the ballot.

And we all should have access to the ballot. Who you vote for is your business. Those parties, if they want whoever they want to get to vote for them, that`s fine. But as a civic responsibility, it`s the responsibility of all of us to support to make sure that the basic foundation of democracy, which says that citizens have the right to vote, that people are not discriminated against because they actually exercise that vote, as we`re seeing with black voters in the state of Georgia.

So, we believe that this is not an issue that should be partisan.


BROWN: Unfortunately, the Republicans have been leading the charge to disenfranchise black voters.

But this is really about democracy and having access, free and fair access, to the ballot.

MELBER: And I just have about 30 seconds left.

What do these corporations have to think about if they don`t hit this mark? Do they have to worry about boycotts or disinvestment, in your view?

BROWN: I mean, I think they have to think about it`s going to be hard for communities to support companies that don`t support us.

So, we`re asking them. We`re giving them -- we them we think that this is a prime opportunity for them to actually stand with us and to actually put this idea of many of them had statements around racial equity. This should be low-hanging fruit, that this is really about standing strong for democracy and standing with those consumers and those workers that stand with you.

MELBER: LaTosha Brown, thank you.

Up ahead: Michelle Obama speaking out on parenting in the pandemic, with a surprise.


MELBER: Welcome back.

We have got a couple of news updates involving former first lady Michelle Obama.

The first is a serious one, as she speaks out on "The Today Show" about how she dealt with racial injustice as a mom.


QUESTION: Then, this last year, we watched George Floyd call out for his mom. We watched Breonna Taylor`s mom grieve her baby.

As a mom yourself, how do you come to terms with all of that?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: You don`t come to terms with it, but you do have to talk about it. You have to sit down with your children and acknowledge the truth of the world we live in.

So, how I come to grips with it is to talk about it and to talk about it often.


MELBER: Talk about it, confront it.

The former first lady has a new family show on Netflix. That`s part of why we`re hearing from her.

She`s also discussing being a mom during the pandemic.


OBAMA: Mothers were already hard on ourselves. And this is a time when we have to give ourselves a break.

What`s most important for our kids is that they know we love them, and that we try to be as consistent as we can, but we can`t get everything right.


MELBER: Beyond those heartfelt issues, Ms. Obama will make another lighter TV appearance this week, returning to Jimmy Fallon.

He was tweeting about the news and teasing the prospect of a possible another edition of "Mom Dancing."





MELBER: Still definitely a classic. This is where the Internet`s good. You can go back and rewatch that any time you need to cheer yourself up.

Shout-out to Michelle Obama on behalf of moms. Shout-out to all the moms and the MSNBC moms who may be tuning into some of our programs. We will be watching her return carefully.

Now, we will be back tonight with one more thing.


MELBER: Tonight, the last word goes to Dr. Fauci, who was just discussing what it`s like in this pandemic era to tell people things they may not want to hear.


FAUCI: You have just got to be completely honest and true to yourself and to your principles, even though you`re going to have to tell people some things that might be inconvenient truths.

And inconvenient truths might put you at odds with people, but you have just got to be honest and true to yourself and not be afraid of the consequences.

Once you`re afraid of the consequences of telling the truth, you`re done.


MELBER: Decent advice.

And it fits in with what we explored in our look-backs with the Batman trilogy tonight, the idea that no one should have too much power. Dr. Fauci certainly doesn`t exercise any unilateral power.

Now, my final social media question for you tonight is, what is the best Batman film of all time? I think it is "The Dark Knight." I really don`t think you can go any better than that great Joker story.

But what do you think the best Batman film is of all time? You can reach out @AriMelber on social media. That`s @AriMelber on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Let`s have the all time Batman debate.

And keep it locked. Right now, "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.