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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/31/21

Guests: Asawin Suebsaeng, Renato Mariotti, Nancy Erika Smith, Chai Komanduri, Yodit Tewolde, Timothy Williams


President Biden proposes a $2 trillion infrastructure package. Congressman Matt Gaetz faces allegations of sex trafficking. Testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin continues. Some police officers sue Donald Trump, saying he caused the insurrection. Republicans push back against the idea of COVID vaccine passports.



Hi, Ari.

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

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We have a lot in tonight`s program.

President Biden going basically full FDR, with a $2 trillion package.

Congressman Matt Gaetz confirming this DOJ probe, many aspects of it, into alleged sex trafficking, while also mounting a defense.

But we begin with breaking news in the Chauvin murder trial.

We have seen day three. And it has been incredibly emotional testimony today, a witness to George Floyd`s killing breaking down in tears on the stand after watching the body camera video footage of the incident, which now becomes evidence in the trial.

This witness, 61-year-old Charles McMillian, who you can also see here at the scene, recounting what he thought, what he did, how he told George Floyd in those last moments to try to comply further with the cops.


CHARLES MCMILLIAN, WITNESS: I was telling Mr. Floyd: Mr. Floyd, just comply with them. Get on in the car, because you can`t win.


MELBER: Now, Floyd could be seen on camera there. And he could be seen responding. He had said that he couldn`t get in the car and he could not get up.

Officer Chauvin seemed calm during the incident. The witness broke down emotionally, sobbing on the stand, while also trying, endeavoring to do what I have told you happens in these trials, to bear witness, to participate in this justice process, however hard it can be to participate and/or to watch, this individual, as you`re going to see, trying their best to answer the questions.



MCMILLIAN: Oh, my God.

ELDRIDGE: I know this is difficult.

Can you just explain sort of what you`re feeling in this moment?

MCMILLIAN: I can`t -- I feel helpless.


MELBER: You could hear the prosecutor they`re saying, "I know this is difficult," and trying to elicit this accurate testimony. And you can see what we`re dealing with here.

I said this last night. I will repeat it tonight. It`s not content. It`s not material. It`s not just a story here. It is the legal process of accumulating the evidence to bear witness, so this jury will decide the fate of the defendant, Officer Chauvin.

It`s hard to watch. You can imagine it`s harder to witness. This is literally a witness. But it`s also so important, because, even if it requires the trauma of reliving what he observed, which was a killing, a slow and clearly brutal killing in public, it is for the jury and for the justice system to hear this, to bear witness, and to decide what, if anything, to do about it, to find the facts.

That`s what juries are supposed to do.

Now, we have shown you just a little bit of that difficult moment, difficult being the word of the prosecutor. The court then did take a 10- minute recess just to give the witness a little time to compose himself.

Officer Chauvin was taking notes during this exchange. We should note that again the defense made a strategic choice. Our experts tonight can weigh in on it. But the defense declined to cross-examine that witness, McMillian, at all.

We also heard from a store worker who had sold Floyd cigarettes before this encounter. There`s new video we are seeing in public for the first time that shows Floyd in that store. And the store worker thought that the $20 bill Floyd gave provided for payment was counterfeit.

He testified, though -- and this was interesting -- when it comes to what that counterfeit bill`s intention was, he said, this individual, under oath, their testimony, they didn`t think Floyd knew it was fake, and that Floyd was sort of chatty and -- quote -- "friendly," but then also he appeared perhaps inebriated or high, and the witness expressing guilt at the scene that unfolded steps away from that encounter.


MATTHEW FRANK, MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR: We saw you standing there with your hands on your head for a while, correct?


FRANK: What was going through your mind during that time period?

MARTIN: Disbelief and guilt.

FRANK: Why guilt?

MARTIN: If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.


MELBER: Could have been avoided.

We turn to our experts, as promised, Yodit Tewolde, a former prosecutor and host of "Making the Case" on the Black News Channel, and Timothy Williams, former LAPD detective and expert on the police use of force.

Yodit, first, your view of both the legal impact and the humanity of Mr. McMillian`s deeply personal, very difficult testimony.

YODIT TEWOLDE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, that`s extremely hard to watch, Ari, even still.

But to watch this man break down the way he did, one of the more sympathetic witnesses so far from the prosecution, didn`t know George Floyd at all, was a stranger to him. But when you watch this video, you notice how he tried to comfort George Floyd in those moments where he`s feeling the most stress, how he -- in fact, the video that was shown while Mr. McMillian was testifying, we heard for the first time Derek Chauvin try to defend his conduct to Mr. McMillian.

And that was definitely telling.

There was no way the defense was going to cross-examine Mr. McMillian. It just would have been a lose-lose situation. There`s just those witnesses that you just don`t touch. You let them do what they need to do on direct and you let it go. And this was one of those -- for certain, I mean, Mr. McMillian was one of those witnesses.


As an attorney, you`re referring to on direct. You`re saying that initial testimony that`s provided. And it sends an implicit message to the jury that there is no factual issue. There is no even possible way to dispute what he said under oath. So, that sort of sits.

Now, we`re a long way from the end of this case. But it was powerful.

Before I turn to Timothy, Yodit, take a listen to this other part of Mr. McMillian talking about when he knew it was over for George Floyd.


MCMILLIAN: So, I`m trying to tell him, just cooperate with them. Get up, if you can, get in the car. Go with them. You can`t win.

ELDRIDGE: And did he say "I can`t" to you?

MCMILLIAN: Yes, ma`am.

When the paramedics arrived for Mr. Floyd, I knew then, in my mind and my instinct, it was over for Mr. Floyd; he was dead.


MELBER: Yodit, as a former prosecutor yourself, what are they trying to convey to the jury in this exchange?

TEWOLDE: How extremely traumatic this was for these witnesses, how incredibly real it was for these witnesses.

You had juror number seven have a stress related moment, where the judge had to excuse the entire jury and have to talk to her. Now, imagine her being so stressed just by listening to testimony, by seeing these recordings.

Imagine now Mr. McMillian`s and all the other witnesses that the prosecution brought and how they felt watching George Floyd die in real life right there before their eyes. So, what they`re trying to convey is that this was something that was a common -- a commonality with all of their witnesses, the bystanders, that they came from a place of humanity, something that these officers lacked.

And so I think that`s very powerful.

MELBER: Timothy, your view three days into this trial on what the prosecution is presenting and their argument that this was not defensible use of force?

TIMOTHY T. WILLIAMS JR., FORMER LAPD DETECTIVE: Well, the thing is that you look at the totality of everything that has been presented thus far, and I`m kind of anticipating the police procedures expert getting on board.

You have to analyze every aspect of it from a police procedural aspect, from the time the police were called, based upon this $20 counterfeit bill, how they handled that. And you have got to teach the jury, walk the jury through procedurally what should have been done or what could have been that.

If it was done properly, all the other underlying facts and other issues that we have seen may not be in place as we see them today. This is something that could have been dealt with very easily. A crime report could have been taken, the $1 bill -- or the $20 bill booked into evidence, given to the detectives the next day for them to investigate.

And it could have been -- the whole thing could have gone away.

MELBER: So, what do you think the prosecution is getting across in these first three days?

WILLIAMS: Well, the prosecution is laying out the foundation of what happened.

They are showing that there was a major -- it`s a major example of excessive force. It is a major example of procedures or force that you`re not trained to do. It is a major example of an individuals or officers just doing something until the paramedics arrive.

And even when the paramedics arrive, they are still not acquiescing from their use of force that`s been displayed. They`re going to -- the prosecution is going to -- has shown through the witnesses that were there, they had -- which was compelling. You had a martial arts expert there.

That was a -- that was compelling as to what this use of force that was applied to Mr. Floyd would do and what it would do in the arena that he was from. You had an off-duty paramedic that was there, and who wanted to lend her expertise to try to save the -- Mr. Floyd`s life.

So, what they`re doing, they laying out a strong foundation. And when they get to the experts, when they get to the experts -- it`s going to be the battle of the experts. When they get to the experts, then you will see the whole case come together. The jury will have a foundational focus on the case, and they will build from there what it should look like procedurally, as far as law enforcement goes, what the medical experts will have to say as to what caused his death and so on and forth.

MELBER: Yes. Yes. Let me -- I`m going to I`m only jumping in because I want to make sure to hit a couple points.

Take a listen, Yodit, to the cashier here discussing what he witnessed.



MARTIN: The other person that had come in, it kind of seemed like he was trying to scheme, like he knew it was a fake bill, and he was trying to get over.

I thought that George didn`t really know that it was a fake bill. So I thought I`d be doing him a favor.


MELBER: Yodit?

TEWOLDE: So, what`s really important with that testimony is that, one, he`s saying George Floyd may not have known that this was a fake $20 bill.

But even if he did, this was an offense that could have been handled through a citation, I mean, simple as that. And so what the prosecution is trying to show is that the use of force was so excessive from the second that they came into contact with George Floyd. There was no reason to have guns drawn for, again, a $20 bill. They never even investigated it was either fake or that George Floyd actually knew that it was fake.

And so use of force is evaluated moment to moment. It could be necessary in minute one, and not necessarily in minute two. This was unnecessary from the very -- from the very second that they came into contact with George Floyd. It was absolutely excessive.

And so officers are precluded from using any more force than necessary to bring a person under their control. They had control from the very second that they came into contact with George Floyd. So, that is where the prosecution is winning right now.


Yodit and Timothy giving us expertise here on day three.

Thank you very much.

We have our shortest break of the show right now, 30 seconds.

President Biden with a big jobs plan -- what it means for you when we`re back in 30 seconds.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we`ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.

In fact, it`s the largest American jobs investment since World War II.


MELBER: He`s not playing, President Biden stacking himself up against some of the greatest and most expensive programs of all time there in Pittsburgh.

And it`s true. What he`s trying to get passed right now after that big COVID relief bill would be historic, a multitrillion-dollar jobs plan. The White House says this will address inequality, but also, at a general matter, help everyone, because it will rebuild America`s infrastructure with jobs for all kinds of industries.

Biden unveiling what is essentially the first half of the plan, hundreds of billions for roads, manufacturing, as well as broadband. And he`s going to pay for it by basically rolling back the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy, also upping corporate tax rates, something that`s quite popular right now, ending other tax breaks for the oil industry.

And he says he will get more money out of actually enforcing the law by the IRS.


BIDEN: This plan is important, not only for what and how it builds, but it`s also important to where we build. It includes everyone, regardless of your race or your zip code.

Too often, economic growth and recovery is concentrated on the coast. Too often, investments have failed to meet the needs of marginalized communities left behind.


MELBER: Behind people can debate the price tag and whether this is a good idea or not.

There`s no debating the fact that it has indeed been many decades since there was this kind of major investment in our national infrastructure. And it shows.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Across the country, bridges crumbling, even collapsing, 54,259 bridges deemed structurally deficient. If placed end to end, they would stretch nearly the distance between New York City and Miami.

The driver of this car could have been killed when this piece of a bridge smashed through his windshield.


MELBER: These are real needs in America. A lot of experts say you got to tackle it sooner or later.

Republicans look skeptical in Congress, but they`re increasingly at odds with their own constituents. This is a theme we have reported on before, but it keeps happening on different topics.

New polling shows a majority of Americans are game to raise taxes and corporations to pay for this kind of jobs program.

We`re joined now by Jason Johnson from Morgan State University, an MSNBC analyst, and Chai Komanduri, a Democratic strategist who`s worked on the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

Good to have both of you.

Jason, I`m going to start with the big softball, because, sometimes, that`s just how it is. Do you know how many times the last president talked about actually doing something on infrastructure? I`m going to put it up on the screen here.

We had infrastructure weeks in June, in August of his first year, February, both `18 and `19, April, May, January, February, March. The guy was a marketer.

And the reason I bring this up, Jason, is, Donald Trump may not have cared about doing anything actually on infrastructure, but he was good enough as a con man to know that infrastructure can be a popular issue.

Your thoughts in that context for what the new president`s laying out?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Ari, everybody loves infrastructure because it`s shovel-ready jobs, right?

There`s not a politician in America who doesn`t want to stand near people with a hardhat on and a suit and some rolled-up sleeves and say, this is what we`re doing, this is what we`re building.So, symbolically and practically, it`s great.

The issue is whether or not Joe Biden you get such a big package through. Like, this is massive, right? If you look at Obama`s stimulus in 2009 that was like $831 billion, what Biden is talking about now is $2 trillion. Like, this is a whole `nother league, shoot new baskets, paying new taxes. This is huge. He is trying to spend money that we haven`t seen outside of wartime.

If he is successful, he will be a transformative president.

MELBER: Now, I got to stop you.

JOHNSON: But if he faces...

MELBER: I got to stop you right there, Jason.



MELBER: I don`t even know if Chai knows -- I don`t know Chai knows what you just did.

JOHNSON: He may not. It may have gone right past him.

MELBER: He may not.

JOHNSON: It may have zoomed right past him.

MELBER: You`re quoting Shawn Carter "The Blueprint 3."

You`re implying that Jay-Z`s admonition to lesser emcees is the way that Biden is backhanding Trump and saying, we`re not in the same bracket, we don`t shoot at the same baskets.

I just want to make sure that Chai knows what you`re saying. Go ahead, Jason.


JOHNSON: Always, of course.


JOHNSON: And the idea is, like, if he accomplishes this, I mean, this will this -- again, it will be the blueprint for rebuilding America.

But what we saw with Obama and what we might see with Republicans and Joe Biden this time -- I remember, I was living in Ohio during the last big stimulus. In the northern part of the state, where you had Democratic representatives, they redid Highway 90. It was huge. It went through Cleveland.

But the busiest bridge in America is actually Highway 75, goes all the way from Detroit all the way down to Atlanta, right there in Cincinnati. And they couldn`t get substantive changes because Republicans in that part of the state didn`t really want stimulus money. So it`s going to be a real challenge for Biden.

But if he can knock it out, he will be the man politically, not just for this administration, but for administrations to follow.


CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I mean, Biden has never been known historically as being a cagey political operator.

But what you saw in Pittsburgh was, quite frankly, a master class in throwing shade at a political opponent. The Trump infrastructure weeks, which you just detailed, I mean, they were farce. It was a running gag. Late-night comedians made fun of them. He always flailed around and lost the thread of this.

And this is despite the fact that, for the first two years, he had the entire Congress, the House and the Senate. He had a secretary of transportation who is the wife of the then Senate majority leader, now the Senate minority leader, and he, himself, Donald Trump is a -- or played, at least on TV, a billionaire genius real estate developer.

I mean, if anything was ready-made for Donald Trump, it was this. And he never succeeded. He always failed at it.

And this is like opposite day. Guess what? We have an actual president who has put forward a plan. It`s paid for. It`s well-thought-out. It actually has a real chance of being passed in some form or other. It is extremely popular with not just voters, but also Republican voters.

Now, that doesn`t mean anything, because Republican elected officials are on a very different page when it comes to infrastructure or any kind of domestic spending, period.


I mean, you both lay out why this is a bold and potentially sweeping move for the new president.

Seeing him, Chai, appeal to not only past presidents in history, but really progressive heroes, is interesting, because I feel like we`re continuing to watch...


MELBER: ... I`m not even going to call Biden 2.0. Maybe it`s Biden 3.0.

When I worked in the Senate, he was well-known as a moderate centrist kind of senator. Now he`s saying, hey, I`m the new FDR, deal with it.

And so we like to look back here and steep ourselves a little bit in the history. Chai, take a listen to who he`s trying to measure up against, FDR.


FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The startling industrial changes has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder, what will be a lot when they came to old age?

The man with a job has wondered how long the job would last. This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to 30 millions of our citizens.


MELBER: Chai, walk us through what`s important to understand when people say something`s too big or we can`t afford it, because that`s what they said to FDR.


MELBER: Some at Wall Street and elsewhere saw him as a -- quote -- "radical."

The things he did to make life slightly more secure and fair have become mainstream, Chai.

KOMANDURI: They did. They have.

I mean, George Will famously said that the American people are conservative, i.e., they want to conserve the New Deal. And that`s a fact. Americans do like infrastructure spending. They do like programs that provide them with a social safety net. And there is, by the way, is one progressive hero that people kind of forget who was a great champion of infrastructure.

It was a Republican president, Eisenhower. Eisenhower was known in his lifetime as the father of America`s highways. He built the interstate highway system. There was a time when Republicans were really on top of these sorts of infrastructure projects.

They understood that this was not just spending that you`re never going to see any return from them. They understood this was good for business. It`s good for business that you can get in the car, perhaps an electric vehicle, and go to a business and do business. That is very, very good for commerce, for business, for the economy.

That`s something Republicans used to understand. Now the only thing they think is good for business and the only thing they really sort of care about are tax cuts for the rich, which is really why, despite Republican support for this infrastructure plan, I would be very doubtful if you see a single Republican vote for it.

MELBER: Jason?

JOHNSON: Yes, that wouldn`t surprise me at all.

They`re going to resist this, just on principle, because a Democrat came up with the idea. But it is really functionally the only thing we can do.

And to add something, part of what Eisenhower was able to do, why he was able to be sort of the father of American highways is because he made it a national security issue. He said, look, we have got to have highways throughout this country in case we`re bombed, in case we`re attacked. We have got to be able to move supplies and resources.

If Joe Biden can continue to be on this theme of like, hey, we`re fighting this war, we`re winning this war against COVID, he might be able to get some local members of Congress, no one in the Senate, but he might get some Republican congresspeople to actually go along with this.

Look, infrastructure has long been overdue in this country. We see bridge collapses all the time. We see difficulties with roads. But what he also might be able to sell people on is wireless and getting Wi-Fi into rural parts of the country and giving those sorts of things to people who desperately need them in order to farm, in order to work, in order to be in rural areas.



MELBER: Well, and, Jason, was it not Meek Mill who said -- Chai, I just have to finish this briefly because it`s Jason -- talk is cheap, free Wi- Fi?


JOHNSON: Yes, exactly.

MELBER: He said that. He did say that.

JOHNSON: Biden knows what he`s doing here. He knows how to put this together.

MELBER: We`re running over on time.

Chai gets the last word.

KOMANDURI: Yes, and just to piggyback on Jason`s point, one important component of national defense that we -- that this plan addresses is climate change.

That is an increasing area that we do need to defend against and prepare for. And that`s something Joe Biden does. Another thing he does is make sure and ensure racial equity as an important component of this plan.

Well, I want to say to Jason "Blueprint" Johnson and to Chai, "Ph.D. History" Komanduri.

JOHNSON: The Blueprint.

MELBER: ... we`re both...


MELBER: We`re both rich -- yes, and the blue -- hey, you`re right. You know what? And it`s all -- it`s kismet, as we say.

KOMANDURI: It`s all good.

MELBER: Jason, Chai, thank you very much.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MELBER: We have a lot of other stories later in the program we haven`t gotten to yet, including police officers suing Donald Trump, saying he caused the insurrection. Important story up ahead.

And Republican Matt Gaetz`s real big investigation problems at DOJ are mounting, including Tucker Carlson rebuffing him for what Tucker called a weird interview. We will break it down next.


MELBER: New developments in the absolute scandal hitting Republican Congressman and Trump ally Matt Gaetz. He`s admitted, basically, that he`s under federal investigation.

He`s been in defense mode, and it`s now exiting -- igniting, I should say, a separate probe. "New York Times" had broke this story that Gaetz is under investigation by the DOJ. It began in the Trump administration. And one of the issues is probing the possibility of a sexual relationship with a 17- year-old and the possibility of the sex trafficking of a minor.

Now, Gaetz denies these things. His lawyers say he`s a subject and not a target of wherever this probe is headed.

Now, there is a broader DOJ probe of an individual, former local Florida official named Joel Greenberg. He`s basically an associate or friend of Gaetz, and he was indicted already on charges that relate to harassment, fraud and sex trafficking.

You can see Greenberg with Gaetz and Trump associate Roger Stone in this photograph.

Now, Greenberg, for his part, as we always report what people`s defenses are, he`s denying all of it and pleaded not guilty to each of the charges I mentioned.

Gaetz was online today, saying he and his family, he thinks, are victims of an actual extortion plot by a former DOJ official. He also claims that he continues to cooperate with the FBI.

Now, the whole ordeal is the result of a leak to expose the alleged extortion. He claims his own father wore a wire. There`s all kinds of dueling claims here.

Now, as for this part of it, Gaetz basically made this defense in an interview with Tucker Carlson that Tucker went on to call weird.

Take a look.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): On March 16, my father got a text message demanding a meeting, wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange for making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away.

We went to the local FBI, that they asked my dad to wear a wire, which he did, with the former Department of Justice official.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: First of all, who is this Department of Justice former employee who`s trying to extort the money from you, you say?

GAETZ: His name is David McGee.


MELBER: Now, That individual has not worked at the Justice Department in decades. McGee, WE will show you what he`s calling the entire situation. We will put this up here.

He says this is completely false and an attempt to distract from any of the underlying facts.

Meanwhile, a Democrat, Congressman Lieu, says Gaetz should be removed from the Judiciary Committee.


GAETZ: Just tonight, Ted Lieu, a Democrat, is calling on me to be removed from the House Judiciary Committee. And I believe we are in an era of our politics now, Tucker, where people are smeared to try to take them out of the conversation.

I`m not the only person screen right now who has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act.


MELBER: Gaetz There trying to bring Mr. Carlson into it. Carlson would later respond, refuting some of that, and saying this is one of the weirdest interviews he`s ever done in his long media career.

We`re joined now by civil rights attorney Nancy Erika Smith. She represented former FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson in a harassment suit against Roger Ailes. And also with us tonight, Asawin Suebsaeng, House reporter for The Daily Beast.

Asawin, walk us through why Matt Gaetz is talking about so many other things, which, whatever their veracity, aren`t fundamentally a response to how he figures into the DOJ`s sexual trafficking investigation.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, something that broke earlier today makes the story even wider.

We have now found out that Matt Gaetz is apparently in possession of text messages or documentation that show what he and his family have characterized as this massive extortion scheme. And it has to do with getting $25 million to try to get an American with the last name of Levinson out of an Iranian prison.

So, in a very short period of time, this has morphed into at least, as the way that is coming out of the Gaetz camp, into one of the weirder Trumpier interpretations of the Iran-Contra scandal that I have ever heard of in my time on this planet.

But back to what you mentioned earlier about McGee, when we reached out to him yesterday, he did tell us in a brief interview that this is categorically false, and whatever Matt Gaetz is pushing is...

MELBER: Right.

SUEBSAENG: ... an attempt to shift focus away from this federal investigation that involves him as perhaps not a target, but a matter of investigation.

After these documents and text messages came out, first revealed today in "The Washington Examiner," we haven`t been able to get McGee on the phone yet. So, there seems to be a lot of layers of this story still to peel back. There seem to two independent federal investigations.

MELBER: Let me jump.

And for context -- for context, let me play a little bit of that other exchange with Tucker last night.


GAETZ: Actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago. Your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine. You will remember her. And she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that, if she wouldn`t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that she could face trouble.

CARLSON: I don`t remember the woman you`re speaking of or the context at all, honestly.


MELBER: So, he seems to be flailing around.

What is the actual heat that he faces in the DOJ probe?

SUEBSAENG: Oh, what was that question for, please?

MELBER: You want me to repeat?

I was saying, what does he actually face? What`s the heat he faces in the real DOJ probe, as best you understand?

SUEBSAENG: Oh, it`s an investigation where he allegedly participated in a sexual relationship with an underage girl, who he, again, allegedly, paid to travel with him.

These are allegations that Matt Gaetz has categorically and repeatedly denied. But those are the current stakes. And, again, this -- these tales of an elaborate extortion plot and this ongoing federal investigation that has ensnared Matt Gaetz...

MELBER: Yes, I`m done -- I`m done -- hold on. Let me be clear. I`m done with extortion.

You`re -- I`m asking you about the DOJ probe.

SUEBSAENG: Right. What would you like to know about it?

I`m sorry.


MELBER: Well, let me bring in Nancy.




MELBER: I think we may have a little bit audio -- let me bring in Nancy. I did want to fact-check that.

But I`m moving forward and say, what do you think of what kind of legal exposure he faces, Mr. Gaetz, in the probe, and what, if anything, is relevant to that?

SMITH: Well, it`s 10 years in prison, at least, if you transport someone, any person under 18, for sex, though when Gaetz told Axios: "From my single days, did I pay for flights, did I pay for hotel rooms? Yes, I did."

Well, that`s transporting somebody under -- if she was under 18, for sex. There are pictures of him with high school girls in August of `17 where he`s sitting, saying "Best lunch table ever." And there`s a bunch of very, very young girls at the table. He`s 38.

So, if he is dating somebody who`s 17, you`re talking about somebody who`s in high school. That`s why we have a federal law that prohibits transporting a high schooler to have sex with her. So, he has -- it`s a very, very serious case; 10 years in prison is the minimum. It`s serious and a fine.

It`s notable that he`s the only member of Congress who voted against the anti-trafficking law in 2017, the same time that he was photographed -- that he posted a picture of him at the lunch table in a high school with only girls.

It`s also notable that he brought Joel Greenberg, who has been indicted for sex trafficking children between the ages of 14 and 17, to the White House. So, who -- who among us has really good friends who are sex traffickers, other than Donald Trump?

It`s -- he`s in very, very serious trouble. And I think the flailing around and the throwing stuff out is really showing the trouble he`s in. He`s being extorted.

Now, that is a common thing now, that they say that if somebody calls up to try to settle a case. So, I don`t know anything about that, but all the time, especially when you have a sex crime, sometimes, in order to compensate the victim, and not make her be public, you attempt to settle her claims.

That`s possibly what he`s talking about, but I don`t know.

MELBER: And, Asawin, I wanted to get your view more widely on the role that Congressman Gaetz has played. You cover this story, but you have also covered this whole Trumpian Washington.

That ex-president is gone, but there`s still this whole environment. And he really had tried to present himself in his telling, in his making, as kind of a next generation Trump. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Gaetz seen here wearing a gas mask as the House passed a multibillion-dollar funding bill to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

GAETZ: What we see from this Marxist movement in Black Lives Matter to totally overturn our country.

The left in America has incited far more political violence than the right.

What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court, and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.

There was ballot laundering going on here.


MELBER: Asawin, for those who have not spent all their time tracking him, I`m just curious if you could walk us through politically who he`s become, because he had a relatively fast right-wing media rise. And now he`s in these turbulent waters.

SUEBSAENG: Well, he would be one of the first people on Capitol Hill to say that, of the congressmen and congresswomen who are huddled there, he is among the most MAGA, the absolute Trumpiest.

And he`s also someone who, over the years, back when Donald Trump was president of the United States, would be someone who would tap to just get informal policy and messaging advice fairly frequently.

When Donald Trump was trying to figure out whether he wanted to attack Venezuela, he would ring up someone like Matt Gaetz to ask him, what should I do?

And nowadays, as Axios first reported, he -- even before this scandal broke, he`d already been reaching out to people, including honchos at Newsmax, to try to explore if there would be a conservative media gig available for him in the aftermath of whenever he decided to end his political career.

We have reported earlier today at The Daily Beast that that actually extended significantly farther than just Newsmax. It went away to OAN, FOX Business, FOX News. And one of the interesting wrinkles of that story is that, when we reached out to the CEO of OAN today, he told us: We`re not hiring anybody right now. Thanks, but no thanks.

And when we reached out to FOX News, they gave us an even more pointed statement, saying: We have zero interest in hiring Matt Gaetz at this moment. If he says that he spoke to anybody at FOX News about a potential job here after his congressional career, it was no one of any significance at FOX News.

At least, that is the FOX News line at this moment. So, it`s not just Tucker Carlson at FOX News trying to put distance between themselves and Matt Gaetz at this particular moment.

MELBER: Really interesting, that extra context as well.

Asawin Suebsaeng, who has been reporting all over this, and Nancy Erika Smith, who`s joined us on many similar cases in the past, thanks to both of you.

SMITH: Thank you.

MELBER: Up next, a big story that is a legal headache for Donald Trump: Capitol Police officers themselves now suing the former president over causing the riot.

That`s next.


MELBER: Turning to a new legal headache for citizen Donald Trump, two Capitol Hill police officers now suing the ex-president. They allege he calls the January 6 riot. And they`re taking him to court.

The officers are seeking damages for their injuries. They cite Trump`s words to allege he -- quote -- "inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, aided, and abetted the insurrectionist mob."

That`s the case. It`s straightforward.

And we`re joined now by Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.

Do they have a strong case in civil court?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, they have some really great things going for them, Ari.

First of all, jurors are going to love these plaintiffs. There`s no one that`s going to question whether or not, for example, the officers were actually injured here, whether or not they have standing, that sort of thing.

They also -- I think there`s a very good argument to be made that Trump was behind this riot, this insurrection at the Capitol. I think the real question is going to be, was it foreseeable to Trump that there would be some violence, an altercation towards these officers?

So, I think that is going to be the question. Was he directing the mob to do that? And that sounds like a fact question to me, which is a very good thing for these officers, because that might get them passed a motion to dismiss and get them into discovery.

MELBER: Yes, as you say, they have got hurdles to clear.

But they are very relatable plaintiffs. If you are a plaintiff that seems like you`re inserting yourself or, to use the colloquialism, ambulance chaser, that can play very differently than when you`re a public servant, showed up to work to do your job, and found the president, as they put it, had incited a mob to come get you.

Here`s how some of these officers describe what those MAGA fans were like that day.


MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: They were screaming out: "Kill him with his own gun."

At that point, it was just like self-preservation. How do I survive? I just remember yelling out that I have kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was able to rip away my baton, beat me with it, and he was practically foaming at the mouth. These people were true believers in the worst way.

HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: If I can imagine what war is like, I would imagine it was like that.

I said to my friend, "Is this America?"


MELBER: Those are some of the officers who have spoken out and answered interview requests.

These are different officers, though, but, Renato, could they end up getting their day in court to make those claims under oath against the former president?

MARIOTTI: Well, sure.

And if I was on the defense side, I would not want them to get to trial, right? A jury is going to want to reward those officers. They`re going to want to compensate those officers for what they went through. There can be no question whatsoever that they were injured.

And so I also have to think that Trump is not going to want to have discovery, is not going to want to sit for a deposition. And this really seems to me like a -- the sort of suit that is going to potentially force a favorable settlement on behalf of the officers.


I`m running out of time, but you think that the legal advice Trump may get is to pay these officers, rather than have a full trial?

MARIOTTI: Yes, I don`t think you`re going to want to fight this out in discovery.

Could you imagine the deposition of Donald Trump on this subject? I think - - I think we`d have a lot of segments on this program about it. That`s for damn sure.

MELBER: Fair enough.

Renato Mariotti, with your perspective, always good to have you back on THE BEAT, sir.

Up ahead: There is conservative pushback on something really important that you may want. It`s called a vaccine passport. It can help keep people safe.

We will explain coming up.


MELBER: Sometimes, there is good news on the pandemic, and we`re happy to bring it to you.

Pfizer with new information: Their vaccine is 100 percent effective in young adults from 12 to 15 years old; 29 percent of adults have at least one dose of the vaccine. Records continue to be broken daily.

And so we return to a bit of a series we have been doing here, taking brief looks at how we get back to normal. What does fully vaccinated life look like?

Well, the White House says this week it`s still a work in progress.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.

A determination or development of a vaccine passport or whatever you want to call it will be driven by the private sector.


MELBER: Talk of vaccine passports has hit America, specifically the White House.

And if you watch THE BEAT, you may recall you probably saw this first on THE BEAT. Over a month ago, we were reporting, looking ahead at how other countries, including Israel, launched some of the very first vaccine passport apps.

They use a green pass, and it allows those who`ve been vaccinated special access to gyms and theaters and hotels. It makes those places more likely to be only inhabited by vaccinated people. And it incentivizes people getting vaccinated.

The E.U. has a version that they plan to roll out in June. China has opened up and is using a similar program, digital certificates for travelers.

So, there`s a lot of evidence that this can be a technological answer to help improve public safety and allow vaccinated people to congregate. It also allows people to choose to opt in. You don`t want to get the passport, you don`t want to go to that place, you don`t have to.

And yet now we are seeing a major backlash. We mentioned a month ago that there are some valid aspects to this, but we`re also seeing a kind of political freak-out because people want ammunition against the new president.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An unprecedented, undemocratic power grab.

NAOMI WOLF, AUTHOR, "THE END OF AMERICA": This is literally the end of human in liberty in the West.

TOMI LAHREN, FOX NATION: The idea of a vaccine passport is un-American. It`s likely unconstitutional.

WESLEY J. SMITH, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE: It really is, I think, an unprecedented threat to our freedom.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We will not have COVID vaccines mandated in Florida. The flip side of that, though, with these vaccine passports is, it`s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.


MELBER: Let`s all take a breath.

The purpose of these programs, which are being used in many different countries with different ideological frameworks, is to medically confirm who`s vaccinated for public interest and public safety. That`s the goal.

Now, there can be legitimate debate, but it doesn`t need to be demonizing. And we are seeing evidence that some countries are able to reopen much faster using the technology. You don`t have to use it, but let`s have a rational debate about it.

When we come back, I have a special announcement I want to share with you. It`s right after this.


MELBER: Before we go, a programming note. We`re doing something special tomorrow on THE BEAT.

We`re gathering several generations of civil rights leaders to reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., "THE BEAT: MLK`s America: The Road Ahead."

I hope you will join us for that special program tomorrow.

"THE REIDOUT" starts now.