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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/5/21

Guests: Melissa Murray, Fatima Goss Graves, Earl Graves Jr.


Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testifies against Chauvin, on prosecutor`s excessive use of force argument. GOP Florida congressman denied reports of drugs and sex crimes, as he`s being investigated in sex trafficking case. Trump campaign allegedly used money bomb scam and tricked MAGA supporters out of millions. Some business leaders are speaking out against GOP voter suppression, and black business leaders demanding corporate America condemn it. Donors allegedly got vaccine deals after giving money to Florida governor.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much for letting us into your homes during these extraordinary times. "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicole. Thank you very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber. Tonight we are tracking several stories including Republican Congressman Gaetz`s ongoing scandal. He`s denying all allegations while also saying that he expects more allegations to come out publicly.

And later tonight, the con exposed. New evidence on how Donald Trump`s grift scheme sought an edge in the 2020 campaign. It`s a big story which hits as he`s under investigation for other 2020 actions.

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

New damning testimony came today in this trial of Officer Chauvin who killed George Floyd. With his own boss, the Minneapolis police chief, a superior who fired this defendant one day after seeing the now infamous video. Well, this chief is testifying about why the force caught on that tape was excessive.


MEDARIA ARRADONDO, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE CHIEF: Once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy. It`s not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.


MELBER: What you hear there in that testimony is conveying to this jury why Chauvin was fired. That`s a factual matter. He got fired for mistakes on the job. But it goes further. It shows the jury while well beyond simply violating policy or the police rules, how that excessive force, according to the chief, could be criminal.

Now Chief Arradondo is now the third to testify that Chauvin`s use of force was excessive. The third. And we are just six days into the trial.


ARRADONDO: The defendant violated our policy in terms of rendering aid.

RICK ZIMMERMAN, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE LIEUTENANT: Holding him down to the ground face down and putting your knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for.

SGT. DAVID PLEOGER (RET), MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.


MELBER: In our reporting on this trial, we`ve endeavored to show you what`s happening in it and what`s important about it. And it`s different, trials and the evidence presented to the jury always differ in some key ways than just what`s out there in the world. So what the jury is hearing, especially that really damning testimony today is important because it`s the chief speaking under oath in the context of whether his former employee may or may not be a murderer. It`s a big deal. Full stop.

Now what we know outside the context of the trial is this isn`t the first time the NPD chief had spoken out against Chauvin. Indeed, after firing him for that conduct he did say, quote, "This was murder."

We`re joined now for our special trial coverage by NYU law professor Melissa Murray and Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women`s Law Center.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

Professor, I`ll start with the straightforward question. What was the evidentiary and testimonial power in your view of the chief`s words today?

MELISSA MURRAY, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: I think this is very powerful testimony from the chief of police of Minneapolis. And again, this is his employee that he`s weighing in on. And he said repeatedly that he thought that the conduct that Derek Chauvin undertook that day was far in excess of what was necessary to restrain Mr. Floyd, that as soon as Mr. Floyd was subdued, the kneeling on the neck should have stopped.

And I think the image of this law enforcement officer, the chief law enforcement officer of Minneapolis in his uniform, backed up by all of the testimony we`ve heard from the other first responders over the course of last week and this morning, really amplified for the jury that this was not a reasonable use of force. And in fact, it was far outside of what is required and what is taught to officers in Minneapolis.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s well put. And Fatima, to the professor`s point, I want to play a little more from the chief because, again, while regular citizens or viewers might say, well, you saw the video, it`s very clear what`s wrong with what happened on the video, this jury to do its job under the rules is instructed to look at each element of the potential crime, to evaluate whether or not this was in or outside of the rules, the proper force.

And so that`s different than just having what I think any human being would have which is a human reaction to the horror on the video. To that point, let`s play a little bit of this is the chief talking about Mr. Floyd`s state during all of this.


ARRADONDO: I did not observe Mr. Floyd to be actively aggressive during that short video.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTOR: Could you even say that he was passively resisting at that time that you were shown those exhibits?

ARRADONDO: No. As a matter of fact, as I saw that video, I didn`t even know if Mr. Floyd was alive at that time.


MELBER: Fatima?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES, NATIONAL WOMEN`S LAW CENTER PRESIDENT AND CEO: So I think what the chief`s testimony confirms is that the layperson`s assessment of the nine-and-a-half-minute video, the non-responsive and continued use of force, that that was not at all a thing that we could expect to be typical practice from a police officer, not typical to their training, not typical of something that the chief would usually see.

And so I think, you know, all of the testimony that we saw last week with people being shocked and calling the police on the police, they were right in doing so, and it aligns with what the chief said.

MELBER: Professor?

MURRAY: I think that`s exactly right. And more to the point, he is anticipating the defense`s affirmative defense that Mr. Chauvin was acting within the scope of his duties, that what he was doing was reasonable. The chief today made clear that this amount of force was not necessary to restrain someone who was being arrested for a counterfeit $20 bill, nor was it necessary to keep a knee on his neck for as long as it was, nine minutes and 29 seconds, that as soon as he was subdued, they could have stopped.

And again, as Fatima says, this confirms everything that the other first responder said. It confirms what was said by those bystanders. And again it makes clear that this was a climate in which Officer Chauvin knew that something was going -- this was untoward and he refused to stop.

MELBER: Yes, and you mentioned the affirmative defense. And again, we are in the prosecution phase of this trial. If it seems like the prosecution is building a lead for folks who`ve been watching this, it`s because they are. That doesn`t tell where it ends nor what will happen inside that jury room. But six days in, three officers condemning this as excessive force is quite damning testimony to say nothing of the video evidence, the power of that, the humanizing of the other witnesses.

What we are also going the see, Professor, I want to get your view on this, is an argument by the defense to say, well, even if it looks bad, quote, unquote, or even if you don`t like what you saw what the officer did, you can`t, quote, unquote, believe your own eyes about just what happened because sometimes deaths are caused in all sort of other ways. And you have to look at that totality. We saw that previewed in the opening.

And I think that`s important here given the underlying facts of the case and the drug history. This was a preview of that here on cross today. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was your leading theory then for the cause of Mr. Floyd`s cardiac arrest oxygen (INAUDIBLE)?

DR. BRADFORD LANGENFELD, PROSECUTION WITNESS: That was one of the more likely possibilities. I felt that at the time based on the information I had, it was more likely than the other possibilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Doctor, is there another name for death by oxygen deficiency?

LANGENFELD: Asphyxia is a commonly understood term.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That would still be considered asphyxiation, agreed?


NELSON: Drug use. Certain drugs can cause hypoxia. Agreed?


NELSON: Specifically Fentanyl?

LANGENFELD: That`s correct.

NELSON: How about methamphetamine?



MELBER: Professor, I wanted to showcase this as we follow the trial for you to walk us through. This is a part that can seem more technical. But it seems like part of the debate here is what did he die of and what caused that? And is there a way for the defense to put in some sort of doubt around whether this was really caused by the officer?

MURRAY: So this is absolutely critical to the question of causation. As you say, the government has the uphill battle here. It has to prove beyond a reasonable that Officer Chauvin`s conduct was a substantial cause of Mr. Floyd`s death. All the defense has to do is to inject doubt, that there were other substantial causes here. So his drug use, the fact that he may have had a pre-existing medical condition.

The prosecution`s witness today was put on the stand specifically for the purpose of rebutting the medical examiner`s testimony that the contributing cause of death was cardiac arrest. They wanted to show that asphyxia, basically choking him to death, was the cause of death. And the cross that we just saw was again the defense seeking to inject doubt, that there were other ways that you could show, drug use could be a potential cause of losing oxygen.

Cardiac arrest could be a cause of losing oxygen. That simply asphyxia was not necessarily the work of Mr. Chauvin and his conduct on that day. But again, we are seeing the causation question come up and then we`re seeing this rebuttal of the affirmative defense over and over from the prosecution.

MELBER: Yes, Fatima, your view on the same issue because it`s important to say if somebody is strangled to death via knee, if they`re asphyxiated, that`s where the jury comes down, that`s about as simple as you can get. It could be like a bullet through the brain. You say, OK, this is what happened. If you get one or two jurors saying, well, I don`t know, I`m confused, there`s doubt. What if this was related to this other stuff? I heard a witness say well, you can be asphyxiated by drug use so that could be a contributing cause. Your view of all this, Fatima.

GOSS GRAVES: Well, I also think it`s important to recognize that this is a sort of typical approach. The typical approach is to paint him as someone who has engaged in bad conduct. And so if you would rather see him as someone who was engaged in drug use, someone who had other things and not point to the nine and a half minutes of effectively choking him to death, that`s what they`re trying to pull out in this moment.

And I think, if you go back to the affirmative testimony, it is hard to see. His original testimony was that it was basically asphyxiation.

MELBER: Fatima and Melissa, thanks to both of you for kicking us off here tonight. We have our shortest break right now, just 30 seconds. But coming up, Matt Gaetz has a new defense on these sex crime allegations against him. And Neil Katyal is here. We`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Prominent Trump ally, Congressman Matt Gaetz continues to play defense in a scandal involving reports of prostitution, sex trafficking, and possible sexual acts with minors. Congressman Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing and he did a damage control interview on FOX News that FOX`s Tucker Carlson called one of the weirdest interviews of his career. And now there`s more. The Republican congressman is trying to come out publicly and make it clear that he is, quote, "absolutely not resigning."

He says these charges are false and specifically denies that he ever, quote, "paid for sex or slept with a 17-year-old," end quote. Gaetz also uses this as a time to add that he does expect more leaks from the investigation which he referred to as stemming from the, quote, "corrupt Justice Department."

This probe actually began when the DOJ was under Republican control, reportedly signed off by Trump DOJ AG Bill Barr himself. And white Gaetz may try to turn this into some sort of partisan brawl, very few Republicans have been coming to his public defense later. Gaetz`s own former staffers are speaking out on his behalf, one attacking the probe while conceding they don`t know the facts involved.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What of the investigation do you know that can lead you to -- would lead you to discredit the investigation?

NATHAN NELSON, FORMER REPRESENTATIVE GAETZ`S STAFFER: I don`t have any specific knowledge on the investigation or any of the facts that are involved with the investigation.


MELBER: I`m joined now by former acting solicitor general for the Obama administration, Neal Katyal.

Neal, this is a scandal here. It appears even before there are charges against Congressman Gaetz, other individuals as we`ve reported have faced scrutiny and indictment. What do you see in his response today and where would this likely go based on your knowledge of these probes in general?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, I mean the accusations suggest to me that the congressman from Florida has learned a wee bit too much from Donald Trump. He`s, of course, innocent until proven guilty and no one should rush to judgment. And so in that sense, I agree with that one point in his article. But having said, you know, precisely because he`s innocent until proven guilty, what in the world is he doing talking to Tucker Carlson and writing this ridiculous op-ed.

I mean, at one point he says the girl doesn`t exist. Then he says Tucker Carlson met her. Another point he says these allegations are about one girl but then later he says it`s about multiple. I mean, we`re not exactly dealing with Albert Einstein here. And so my strong advice to him, my professional advice to him is to shut up. I mean, you know, and there`s been a, you know, this demonstrates there`s been a culture of impunity around Republicans over the last several years.

They thought they could get away with anything. But there`s a real Justice Department now, and they can`t. And, Ari, you mentioned that article that he wrote, the op-ed in his defense. And the two words you don`t see anywhere in that article are Bill Barr. This investigation was opened by Bill Barr. He thought it was credible enough to continue the investigation. This is not a guy who was shy about shutting down investigations against Republicans.

Bill Barr did repeatedly. But even he kept this thing going and now it`s under Merrick Garland`s control. And I don`t think there`s anyone more fair or honest than Merrick Garland.

MELBER: Yes, and as you say, it really does have that Trumpian echo. And it`s -- I suppose a bit of a testing ground for how the system, by which I mean the Justice Department but also everything else around the institution deals with these things because he`s doing a witch hunt playbook. Reading again, as you mentioned, from the op-ed, he says, quote, "I`m sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland`s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me. I will not be intimidated or extorted."

Again, as you say, and we`ve reported, he`s legally innocent. He has not been charged, but if he thinks the facts will acquit him, then obviously he can move forward in that standing. He sounds more like someone who was girding for a bigger battle with the Garland Justice Department. If he thought they were going to say, hey, we didn`t find anything, we looked into it, he wouldn`t need to criticize them.

And so what do you make of where the Republican Party has to line up here given the Trumpian playbook that`s being trotted out again?

KATYAL: You refer to this having a Trumpian echo. And that`s true in a sense, but it`s also not true in a sense. I mean, even Donald Trump is not defending Matt Gaetz right now. And Donald Trump is so desperate for attention, he`s stuffed an entire Twitter thread into -- on the 2020 election into his Easter tweet -- his Easter statement. So, you know, I think it is pretty remarkable here and I think it`s really hard to attack Merrick Garland.

I mean, they can try. But honestly, if I were accused of a crime, the prosecutor I`d want is Merrick Garland. He`s balanced, he`s fair, he has the respect of every conservative jurist in this nation, every serious conservative jurist. So, you know, this isn`t like you can, you know, run the same playbook and the same kind of attack machines. And, you know, the fact is, these crimes are serious that he`s been charged with.

I mean, Section 2423 which involves bringing a minor or traveling for sexual intercourse with a minor, has a punishment of 30 years. And, you know, sometimes the personal is not political. But here I think Gaetz faces a problem because he was the only member of Congress to vote against a bill that bolstered human trafficking investigations, and I don`t think you have to be a member of QAnon to connect some dots with that one.

MELBER: And what do you think about him more broadly the way he`s conducted himself in Congress? Because this is someone who really was of the school of using the government post to try to go on FOX News and right-wing media. We showed him with the gas mask, a protest of masking in the early COVID era that didn`t age well. And there were so many other things. And I wonder how investigators parcel this out.

Obviously, his political views are protected and they are what they are. But the notion that he was a person who seemed to be acting reckless, making a spectacle, how if at all do they look at the facts of how he`s conducted himself, if any of that relates to the conduct under scrutiny in Florida?

KATYAL: Well, I mean, Congressman Gaetz does not exactly distinguish himself as a serious member of Congress. I mean, he is most famous for wearing as you say that gas mask. But having said that, I don`t think the Justice Department should consider that in any way, shape or form and I don`t think they will. He`ll be treated just like everyone else. If he really did cross state lines to do the things he`s possibly accused of doing, then he`ll face the same punishment as everyone else who`s accused of that.

That`s the beauty of the rule of law under an administration that actually applies it even handedly. And I know we`re just into the first days of this administration, but this team at the Justice Department, I have full confidence in that they`re going to do the right thing, whatever that is. It might be that he didn`t do it and then they would -- I don`t doubt for a second that Merrick Garland would end this prosecution.

MELBER: Right. And I appreciate your measured point there, which is good for everyone to keep in mind. We all have the right to our opinions. The fact that someone may be a really annoying troll is separate from the legal process that they`re entitled. And we`ll see where that goes.

Neal Katyal, good to have you as always.

I want to remind everyone you can go to for this and other segments that we get from Neal. We call it "Law School on the Fly."

We have a lot more on the program tonight. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis accused of this vaccine-pay-for-play scheme. We have new reporting on that. Georgia meanwhile facing this pressure on voter suppression with Mitch McConnell digging in. But first, this is important, up next, Donald Trump caught scamming and fleecing his own supporters. We`re going to show you why it adds to the legal heat on him next.


MELBER: Donald Trump is under fire for conning over $100 million from his most loyal supporters. "The New York Times" busting his re-election campaign for a scheme mixing some of Trump`s oldest con artist tricks with a desperation in a general election where he was clearly trailing Biden in the polls and in the money race.

Now this story matters for several reasons. Sure, there`s the blatant hypocrisy and ethics of conning your most fervent supporters, but there`s also the ongoing heat on Donald Trump`s reelection effort which ranges from those cheating allegations under criminal investigation in Georgia to the insurrection that has now open civil suits against Trump including by police officers, to this scheme which shows how Trump tried to make up his deficit in funding by tricking his own supporters who thought they were donating once to then be suckered into donations that were double, triple or over five times the original when they became monthly.

The Trump campaign using this money bomb strategy to bilk people in the campaign`s final weeks. And the campaign then spun those donations which basically skirt the line of fraudulent inducement into a narrative of, they claim, public success. They even bragged they got a record $14 million in donations after the first so-called money bomb.

The campaign was so desperate, it took the con to very blatant lengths, automatically enrolling donors into weekly recurring donations which ensure that way more MAGA fans would notice and they did. And they accused their beloved president of overseeing a fraudulent operation which forced Trump and the RNC to refund over $122 million. You can see there when they started the tactic and how it soared to have these demanded refunds, and it`s over six times the rate of the Biden campaign.

Now we can take this story in tonight. And what do we have here? Donald Trump announces a big new project and he touts his own skills for winning and making money. Then he uses the very people who believe in him to take or steal their money. And when the project fails, he runs off, leaving them to have to work to get their money back from him. And some do. Others don`t. So he still manages to hold on to some money that he took from people who, of course, have far less money than him.

If it sounds familiar, almost exhaustingly so, it`s literally the playbook for the now infamous Trump University which, remember, was a business that gave out business advice which went out of business. Embarrassing. And like so many cons, it didn`t prey on Donald Trump`s critics or his detractors or the journalists he wants to give a hard time. No, it focused squarely on the people who like Trump enough to become his own financial prey.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: At Trump University, we teach success. That`s what it`s all about. We`re going to teach you better than the business schools are going to teach you. I think the biggest step towards success is going to be sign up at Trump University.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Students say Trump University didn`t deliver. Today walking away with a $25 million settlement. The university used high- pressure sales tactics and never taught real estate success.


MELBER: Trump U went bust just like the Trump re-election campaign. Now while Trump lied and he claimed he`d never pay those students back, as you saw reported there, he ultimately was forced to in court for $25 million. Just as "The New York Times" reports, this scheme finally ended with Trump and Co. forking back over $100 million. But with Trump, some of the people in the most danger are his loyalists because, well, that`s how these cons work.

To paraphrase Stephen Stills, with con artists, they always con the one you`re with. And this is broader than just those people because Trump used this trick to basically get around campaign finance rules with a $100 million cash infusion in the very campaign home stretch where every dollar counted and he and Biden were at times seemingly in a close race in many states. And so as with so many other things over these past four years, the question is not only just about what happened, but whether the nation and our rules and laws want to do anything to prevent this type of thing from ever happening again.

We have two special guests tonight to dig into this and the implications. We`re joined by Max Boot, "Washington Post" columnist with Republican experience in the party pre-Trump, and Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation."

Good to have you both here.



MELBER: Joan, I quote Stephen Stills with no disrespect to the transmutation of the original song because it is dangerous to be a Trump supporter. It is actually dangerous to your pocketbook and a lot more, whether you realize it or not. And so what do you make of just the sheer scale of this fraudulence and then what about the fact that you can even do this in American politics. Is that fair? Is that a good idea?

WALSH: It`s not fair. It`s not a good idea. We all know that sitting here. But I just have to say, this makes me so relieved that he`s gone, Ari, because I can actually feel outrage at this story, whereas I fear that six months ago it would have been another case, well, what do you expect? Con the one you`re with, Trump University, nothing matters.

And I think this will matter. I mean it does matter. Just ethically it matters. And it matters also as the Republican Party is making this alleged turn to embrace its blue-collar roots. We need to call out at every moment that they have this blue-collar set of lies, but they`re always scamming blue-collar people. And, you know, as a reporter, and I know you felt the same way, when you read a story that starts with someone in hospice care being scammed out of his money and he dies before he can get it back, that`s a really good story, both as a narrator and also as a truth teller. It`s abysmal, it`s disgusting, it`s also not terribly surprising, but we still have to be outraged.


BOOT: I mean, that`s completely right. On one level it is shocking and horrific, but on another level, what do you expect. To me what is the most shocking and horrific thing here is that Donald Trump has been at this for so long, we all know his game. I mean, you think about how many exposes have been published about what Trump is up to. They were published before he became president, while he was president, they`ve been published since he became president. None of it makes any difference.

There was just a new poll that came out in the last day showing that 80 percent of Republicans continue to approve of Donald Trump. And I can guarantee you, even if you force-fed every single Republican in America to read this "New York Times" expose of his shoddy, unethical fundraising tactic, it would not make one iota of difference. It would not dent his support. As he so famously said, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn`t make any difference.

So, you know, in some ways he is truly the most successful con artist in American history because it doesn`t matter that his con is exposed. It`s exposed repeatedly and he maintains his support. I mean, the level of gullibility, the cult-like following he has built is truly something with very little precedent in American history. It`s deeply troubling and it suggests he could actually stage a comeback in the next election.

WALSH: OK, let me just say Max knows way more about this than I do, about this party than I do. But I just want to say at some point he had like 95 percent or 97 percent Republican support so getting down to 80 percent is progress. We`ve really got to appreciate -- we`ve got to take the small wins. We`ve got to appreciate the progress when it`s made. And I just -- I don`t know, I`ve said this so many times before, so I hate to say it again.

But I do have to feel like somebody in hospice care who loved this president and got scammed by him and his relatives and the other people in that story, and then the many, many people who are not in that story who are telling their friends, and now perhaps going back to credit card statements because they weren`t entirely on top of it, and being like oh, my god, this happened to me, too. I don`t know.

I just -- I keep holding out hope that we`re going to get -- we got the 95 down to 80. And we`re going to get the 80 down to 55? I don`t know.

BOOT: 75 percent.


WALSH: OK. All right. All right. I`ll take it.

MELBER: Well, Max is shaking his head, and we welcome dialogue here, Max. So go ahead and explain your disagreements.

BOOT: (INAUDIBLE) A, we have just seen Trump`s cult following will not desert him even after he`s presided over 400,000 COVID deaths during his last year of office and the storming of the U.S. Capitol. In fact this recent poll just showed that more than half of Republicans blame Antifa for what happened on January 6th. So this is a party that is very deep in denial, very deep in an alternative reality.

The other point that I would make here about these shoddy and fraudulent fundraising pitches, it`s not just Donald Trump. The whole Republican Party is doing it in many ways since the 1970s.

MELBER: Right.

BOOT: The Republican Party has become the captive of the fundraising industry, initially with direct mail, and now with Internet appeals. And the more incendiary the better. This is a lot of what`s driven the Republican Party to the right. Mickie Edwards, who is a longtime Republican congressman from Oklahoma, founded CPAC, founded the Heritage Foundation, he had a great expose on this in the "Bulwark" about a month ago where he talked about how in the 1980s he has consultants working for him.

His fundraisers were always trying to put in these cultural war pitches into their fundraising letters because that`s what got the cash registers ringing. And he would always take them out, he said, no, I`m not about cultural war, not about lower taxes, I`m about being strong in defense. Those are my issues. But the cultural issues have won. And a lot of the reason they won is because they get the money. They loosen people`s wallets.

That`s why the Republicans are in a froth about Dr. Suess, that`s why they`re in the froth about the All-Star Game. These are the things that excite donors and get them to part with their money. And so, you know, Trump is basically -- he didn`t invent this scam. He has merely perfected it and taken it to new levels of unethical conduct.

MELBER: Well, you`re really talking about the part that carries over. And, Joan, let me bring you in, but just, to Max`s point, you know, this goes to that question of who is really running the priorities, right? And Max, I know you once upon a time advised Romney and others on policy. But it seems that there isn`t even a pretense, Joan, of people getting up and talking about policy on the right, whatever it might be, whether you look at the example of the literally not putting out a policy platform for the first time in the modern era under Trump because you didn`t need to because policy wasn`t important to the dog whistles, the racism, the examples for fundraising given there.

And Joan, I guess that goes to, we`re hearing now from John Boehner who`s not a very credible person on this but who`s now saying, oh, gosh, you know, we just couldn`t even keep the party together anymore because it was all about these base issues. And the last point I`ll make on that, Joan, is the group company that was working hand in glove with Trump on this was just another for-profit company. They didn`t care one way or another. They`re just trying to get a commission of every trick that gets a fundraising donation, Joan.

WALSH: Right. And they did this raising money for other Republicans. You know, Max is absolutely right. This is where policy just went away because policy, lower tax rates, you know, business deregulation, whatever it was, does not ring the cashier, does not ka-ching the way that these culture war things did. And so that became over time the platform, obviously. I mean, the other -- the tricky thing with this is voter suppression is both a ka- ching fundraising issue and also a policy that is very dangerous.

And that -- and I think that is what they`ve now resorted to because it both helps with the bottom line in terms of not having lower income, voters of color turnout and the bottom line in terms of MLB, how dare they? You know, Coke, we`re going to revolt against these big multinational corporations and, again, pretend we`re populists. But that -- I mean, that is the agenda. The agenda is keep people from voting.

And that -- so we have to tease those things out. That`s actually policy as well as culture war and bottom line fundraising.

MELBER: Yes. Well, I think you guys have broken down a lot of it. And I think it is important as well to look at policy and whether campaign finance rules which have many holes should even allow this kind of trickery in the final days to get $100 mill that you then give back but they spent it campaigning meanwhile as we`ve emphasized in our coverage.

I`m out of time, but, Max, we haven`t had you in a while and I do -- I do want to say it`s great to have you back on the program. And you are that rare thing. You are that rare thing, you are a high energy pessimist, and we appreciate you.


BOOT: Thank you, Ari. Pleasure to be back.

MELBER: Max Boot and Joan Walsh, good to have both of you.

Coming up, new signs Mitch McConnell may actually be worried about something Joan was just mentioning, some of the backlash to this voter suppression. We have a special guest on that. It`s an important story that we`ve been staying on.

And later tonight, Florida`s Republican governor with new allegations about vaccine-pay-for-play.


MELBER: There are over 200 corporations that are now condemning Republican voter suppression efforts to some degree. It has top Republicans in Congress and around different states on defense. Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is now upset with Major League Baseball. He says he won`t throw out a ceremonial opening day first pitch because MLB pulled out of the All- Star Game in Georgia. That`s now become something like ground zero in this 2020 backlash and debate over voting rights.

Mitch McConnell saying this today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I found it completely discouraging to find a bunch of corporate CEOs getting in the middle of politics. My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don`t pick sides in these big fights.


MELBER: Don`t pick sides. McConnell also says some of these corporations are acting like a woke parallel government, telling them to stay out of it. Of course, it`s a bit of a false paradigm. McConnell is reckoning that if he can get away with the Republican Party cracking down on voting and call Republicans basically the neutral ground, stay out of their neutral thing, then he benefits.

Of course, CEOs, especially depending on their worker base or their customer base, are find that sitting out voter suppression doesn`t work very well either. The "Times" detailing how they face a head spinning new landscape. Executives are under pressure from civil rights leaders, their own employees. And Georgia, of course, is a big, big feature of all this. The governor signed that voting crackdown. We covered that. And Delta`s airline CEO found a ton of people reaching out including from employees who were African-American at the company. And that makes up 21 percent of their workforce.

That is apparently, according to the reporting, part of why the CEO did come out and condemned Georgia`s bill as unacceptable. Meanwhile, over 70 top black business executives are pushing for more action. They say that new law is undemocratic, un-American, and when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to vote, there simply can be, quote, "no middle ground."

If you follow THE BEAT, you know we`ve been following this story from its inception. And we`re joined now by Earl Butch Graves, Jr., president and CEO of the media company Black Enterprise, a co-signer on that letter to business leaders. He`s also, we should mention, a former basketball player with a stint in the NBA, relevant as we`ve seen some of those leagues play a bigger role.

Thanks for being here.

EARL "BUTCH" GRAVES, JR., PRESIDENT AND CEO, BLACK ENTERPRISE: Thank you, Ari. Appreciate it. Appreciate the invitation.

MELBER: I think people can understand why some companies would start from the premise that they don`t want to get involved in every, quote, unquote, political issue or debate. They may donate to politicians in their home state or elsewhere, and look for advocacy on their business issues, but they don`t want to be in every so-called, quote, unquote, culture war.

What do you say to them and in rebuttal to Senator McConnell about why this is a place where they can`t just sit on the sidelines?

GRAVES: First of all, I think Senator McConnell`s line of argument is a false narrative. All right? This is not about corporate America needs to stay out of politics. This is about the fundamental right to vote. Voting is fundamental to our democracy. As we have said before, there really is no middle ground on this. Anything, any law that goes into play that tries to suppress voters, whoever they may be, is not a fundamentally fair law.

And it`s not a coincidence that the law that they move forward to very quickly happened in the state of Georgia. The state of Georgia is where, in fact, the state of Georgia turned blue from red under Trump in this most recent election as well as, it was the place where the two Senate seats flipped and became a 50-50 Senate thing. So it`s not a coincidence. It`s not an accident. If you look at the people who even signed and moved forward this law, just take a look at the photo of who signed and who fought that law.

MELBER: No, I mean, I think -- I think that`s clear in Georgia.


MELBER: Yes. Let me play for you a little bit -- we had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on. Let me play for you what he was saying about these issues.



KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, FORMER NBA PLAYER AND ACTIVIST: Voter suppression is not what democracy is about. Major League Baseball making a statement like that, they`ve shown that they are concerned and that the people, that so many of their players are people of color. They probably are worried about it also.


MELBER: What are the group organizations where you think it`s the most leverage, be it sports organizations or these companies? Who do you think should be targeted since you`ve been part of this effort?

GRAVES: Well, there`s no question that corporate America has a role to play in making sure that voter suppression does not happen. You know, the African-American market is way too important to corporate America for them to ignore this. And you can`t just be writing pledges and put things up in your office and say that we love and embrace diversity. Diversity, equity and inclusion is important to us. You have to live the pledge.

Corporate America must live the pledge with its employees and must live the pledge to African-American-owned businesses. They must in fact find and provide opportunity. And what they have seen now is that many of their employees, much of their market share are, in fact, made up of people of color or African-Americans in particular, and they`ve got to do something about it. They have to live that pledge if they have up (INAUDIBLE) and say we embrace diversity. If you embrace it --

MELBER: Any specific companies come to mind?

GRAVES: I mean, you know, the list is too large to go through and say, is there anyone in particular -- I think all of corporate America, I mean, the greatest deficit, trade deficit we have in this country is between corporate America and African-American market. That is the greatest trade deficit we have in this country. And so let`s begin to address that trade deficit, that trade imbalance. That trade imbalance and that trade deficit can be made up by demonstrating, living the pledge, walking the walk, demonstrating that you care, corporate America, and you want to see that the people who are working for you have opportunities, that the people that you`re doing business with have opportunities, that there is, in fact, an equity.

The most important of the three words is equity in this thing. And why would people spend so much time trying to suppress the black vote? All right? The only reason why is because you must be frightened of what, in fact, that vote would say. All right? One person, one vote. That`s a very fundamental thing, and I don`t think we should do anything of any effort that would suppress that vote.

MELBER: Earl Butch Graves Jr., working on these issues, thank you for joining us tonight.

Coming up, we have a story I mentioned earlier. Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, in a lot of hot water over vaccine favoritism. That`s next.


MELBER: New pressure tonight on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, facing allegations of steering the vaccines towards the wealthy and to his own Republican donors. "60 Minutes" reporting on the governor basically setting up these vaccine sites with a grocery chain Publix and then rich individuals who also were giving money directly to his campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So why did the governor choose Publix? Campaign finance reports obtained by "60 Minutes," showed that weeks before the governor`s announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis.

One of those communities was Lakewood Ranch in Manatee, County, just south of Tampa. In February, the governor announced he was giving 3,000 doses to the community but what the governor didn`t mention was that Lakewood Ranch developer Pat MELBER: Neal has donated $135,000 to the Friend of Ron DeSantis PAC.


MELBER: As far as correlations go, it doesn`t look good. Now we report Publix denies any link between their donations and that vaccine partnership. DeSantis also pushing back as well when he was confronted by reporters with "60 Minutes."


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The criticism is that it`s pay-to-play, Governor.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It`s wrong, it`s wrong, it`s a fake narrative, I just disabused you of the narrative and you don`t care about the facts because obviously I laid it out for you in way that is irrefutable.


DESANTIS: And so it`s clearly not.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Isn`t there -- the nearest Publix is 30 miles away.

DESANTIS: No, no, no. You`re wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: That`s actually a fact.


MELBER: "60 Minutes" also highlighting many of these vaccine centers were also specifically placed. They didn`t just pop up all over the state. They were in mostly wealthy and white neighborhoods. Even if most of the people living in the wider area where you might have distribution of vaccines on just a uniform or fair basis have more people who are poor as well as people of color.

DeSantis is a prominent Republican. He`s been linked to Donald Trump. He`s also up for re-election in Florida next year.

We`ll be right back with one more thing.


MELBER: Turning to some news out of the Senate tonight. There are implications here for Joe Biden`s agenda moving forward with tonight Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer indicating that the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that they will allow Democrats to use a key legislative tool that could further bypass that 60-vote threshold that Republicans have been forcing with all those filibusters we`ve been reporting on.

It`s called reconciliation. Democrats have already used it for certain things like COVID relief. What`s new tonight is Schumer saying that there are other things like potentially infrastructure plans or other bills that under these rules could also be passed with just plain majority.

We will see how they go forward on this. But it`s an interesting development. We wanted to give you that update tonight before we go.

I will be back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. You can always find me online @arimelber, on social media, @arimelber on Instagram, Twitter, et cetera.