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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 5/14/21

Guests: Danya Perry, Dan Harmon


Television creator Dan Harmon speaks out. An associate of Congressman Matt Gaetz, Joel Greenberg, pleads guilty to federal charges and agrees to cooperate with prosecutors. A new subpoena is issued in a criminal probe into former President Trump. Congresswoman Liz Cheney blasts FOX News with new comments on the backlash to her purge. Speaker Pelosi says the truth about the riot will come out.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

We have breaking news in the probe involving Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, a major breakthrough today in this federal sex crime probe that involves a Republican official, Joel Greenberg and his ally Congressman Gaetz.

The news breaking is that Mr. Greenberg is not only pleading guilty, which first emerged in a federal filing this week, but, tonight, we`re learning he will cooperate with federal investigators. That`s bad news for anyone that Greenberg has incriminating evidence on.

And, tonight, we know what we did not know yesterday, or last week, or in March, when this volcanic story first broke. Greenberg has some kind of credible information to officer -- to offer, I should say, to offer to the officers involved in investigating this, of course.

The feds think that at least some of this information is credible. There`s no reversing this train. The newest court filing states that Greenberg will cooperate fully with the prosecution of other persons.

I show you that up on the screen. And we just got this filing in our newsroom late today. This is not what everyone knew would happen. This is a big deal. It shows Mr. Greenberg isn`t even fighting some of the most serious offenses, and I will get to that.

So, what does this mean exactly right now? At a minimum, in this sensitive, high-profile political case, it means the feds believe he has something credible on other people. Well, they don`t make that call lightly.

Now, does that mean that we, as journalists, know who the feds think those people are? Well, let me be clear. This court filing doesn`t say. Greenberg`s first court appearance for the plea is Monday. So, while there are understandable clues, we are not, not confirming tonight who these other people are that he may have dirt on, according to the feds, because, at the very high bar of the government`s potential case, the feds aren`t saying yet who they are.

Now, that is the fairest, most precise way we can put the situation, according to the reporting, with this new information.

Having said that, we also know what Greenberg, not the feds, thinks he has, because he has already accused a specific person, Matt Gaetz, of paying -- quote -- "for sex with multiple women," as well as a girl who was 17 at the time, according to that alleged letter obtained by The Daily Beast, which NBC News has not seen or verified.

That`s not all. There`s also reports the feds have spent now hours asking questions about whether Congressman Gaetz or others in his circle had sex with a 17-year-old girl in 2017, and that person reportedly 100 percent talking to prosecutors about Gaetz.

Now, for his part, the congressman denies all allegations. He has not been charged.

And while Greenberg`s plea gets him out of many charges, we can see now for the first time exactly what he is pleading guilty to. It includes serious felonies, such as sex trafficking and admitting to those damning transactions that were reported with the online receipts, over 150 transactions, including payments for commercial sex acts, and paying a minor for part of the time for sex acts -- quote -- "with him and others."

The feds are deploying this case and this brand-new guilty plea to go after those others, those other suspects. Indeed, they have a duty to pursue any others involved in what will now become a convicted felony scheme.

Now, whether those other people are high- or low-profile, whether they`re in office or not, they have to be pursued, under the law, as the feds now have said there was some kind of sex crime conspiracy here, and they have someone pleading guilty to it, which means it`s not even debatable. It`s not even going to trial.

Now, Greenberg is not the only person with potentially incriminating information in this blockbuster development. Gaetz`s ex-girlfriend is in talks for legal immunity for cooperation. That`s according to Politico.

And the Gaetz probe has reportedly moved into its final stages, after also obtaining and scouring the congressman`s phone for possible and related evidence.

With all that in mind, we bring in our experts.

Danya Perry is a former federal prosecutor with the famed SDNY, and Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney and MSNBC columnist.

Both of our experts have been covering and analyzing this story with us up to this point.

And so, with that in mind, Joyce, I`m curious what you think of these developments and how they fit into the way we have understood the case, which has started with some of the most sort of brazen, identifiable alleged crimes, now several those of crimes becoming guilty pleas, and then moving to other material that may need more evidence or corroboration.

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: This is the development that we have all expected ever since the news first broke that Greenberg was trying to negotiate a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

It`s interesting that it`s taken such a lengthy period of time for him to get to this stage where they have offered him the plea. It suggests that prosecutors were meticulous about checking out the details in the story that Greenberg told them, because he is not a witness that the jury is going to be, I think, inclined to believe.

He looks, with these 33 charges -- it`s hard to figure out how Greenberg had any time to perform the duties of his elected office, he was so busy criming. But, apparently something has checked out, and prosecutors believe he has value to offer. And, on Monday, they will see us a federal judge will accept that plea agreement and let the case move forward.

MELBER: And, Danya, reading again from the new filings, you have other men who Greenberg introduced the minor to -- quote -- "engage in commercial sex acts with the minor in Greenberg`s presence when the minor was under the age of 18."

These are very serious offenses. I would note, legally, these type of filings are quite precise. This is not like a tweet. This is not like just people talking.

So, when you see, as you have been a federal investigator like Joyce, yourself, a prosecutor, when you see that reference to -- quote -- "men," that would seem to be explicitly plural, which means Gaetz -- excuse me -- that means Greenberg plus at least two?

DANYA PERRY, FORMER SDNY PROSECUTOR: Yes, I think the factual recitation is very detailed, as you say.

And it goes to pains, I think, to make clear that not only is there corroboration, but that there are other targets out there. And, as you said, it doesn`t only have to be Matt Gaetz. In fact, with respect to some of the other charges, at least, there are other possible co-conspirators that fly off the page.

But, certainly, with respect to the sex trafficking, and the sex trafficking of a minor in particular, the filing goes to some lengths to make clear that there were co-conspirators, that Mr. Greenberg was aware of what they did, and, in fact, had watched some of the sexual contact.

So, they are giving a little bit of a road map, I think, of what we can expect to see in the days or weeks or months to come.

MELBER: Yes, and you mentioned the corroboration, which is important. Regardless of how people may feel about anyone caught up in the investigation, this is about facts and what really happened, not anything else.

"The New York Times," dealing with the same court documents I mentioned that have made such explosive impact today, says prosecutors revealing they have evidence they say corroborate Greenberg`s admissions, exactly what we have been talking about -- quote -- "a series of communications and transactions Greenberg had with the girl appeared designed to bolster the credibility of Mr. Greenberg as a witness."

Danya, walk us through that, because it would appear, from the way Mr. Greenberg has conducted himself, that there will be some credibility problems, that he has already said and done things that are misleading, deceitful, untrue.

So, walk us through what you or your team might do at SDNY in a situation like this where you`re trying to then move past that to figure out what you can prove. They obviously don`t want to be on the wrong end of this, only taking his word for it. They are themselves jailing him, the prosecutors, by their own view of him being a very serious felon.

PERRY: Yes, as Joyce said, there`s an incredible amount of criming that`s detailed at length in this in this filing.

And it`s not just -- sometimes, you will see acts of violence or narcotics trafficking. A lot of these go really squarely to his credibility. In fact, one of the charges, the cyber-stalking charge, has him lying about sexual contact by another adult man with another child.

And so there`s a lot of built in defenses or a lot of built-in fodder for cross-examination by a defense lawyer if and when Mr. Greenberg takes the stand.

So, of course, the prosecutors -- and they have made this very clear in this filing -- have spent a lot of time trying to corroborate this. And, luckily, Mr. Greenberg is not just a criminal, but he`s a terrible one, literally left his fingerprints on some documents, literally has receipts, literally wrote out a detailed handwritten confession.

So there`s going to be a lot there for them. They likely -- as Joyce said, they have spent a lot of time, so no doubt, before entering into this plea agreement, have already done a lot of that hard work, have spoken, certainly, with lots of witnesses, including, as you brought up, Ari, it seems, this former girlfriend of Mr. Gaetz`s who is seeking, according to the reports, immunity for herself.

So she could be a very, very bad witness for Mr. Gaetz, should the prosecutors go down that road.

MELBER: So, Joyce, what do you see here on the side of Matt Gaetz?

Because, as we have taken pains to explain here to viewers, there`s a difference between what Greenberg says and what reports like Daily Beast and others that have been all over the story cite from him in his circle. That`s here, right?

And then there`s when the feds actually find something that they want to use. That`s a much higher standard. What`s going on in Gaetz world? What would they say or look at legally here to try to argue that this may still not ensnare him?

VANCE: Well, we know that this issue with Greenberg in at least one other case supposedly lying about an individual who he was involved in a political race with, and saying that he was involved with sexual conduct with a minor, we know that Gaetz`s lawyers have already come forward, his spokespeople, and used that to suggest that Greenberg is unreliable.

So, what they`re worried about now is likely how well the federal government has been able to corroborate charges. And that`s the difficult decision that they will have to face in handling any steps federal prosecutors take.

Ari, it`s worth noting that the Middle District of Florida, where this case is being prosecuted, that is a large and well-regarded U.S. attorney`s office. They have folks who`ve been in that office for a couple of decades, lots of institutional knowledge and expertise.

And though -- they`re well aware of federal rules that require that they only indict if they believe that they have sufficient evidence, not only to obtain a conviction, but to sustain it on appeal.

If prosecutors in Orlando indict Matt Gaetz, expect the case to stick. It`ll be a good one.

MELBER: Yes. Yes, very interesting.

Joyce, I don`t know if you have ever had the experience where you have a witness, say an expert witness, and they`re so good, you want to like hold them over after the jury lunch break? Have you ever had that happen?

VANCE: Every once in a while, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, sometimes you need more from the experts.

What I want to do is ask both of you to stay as our expert witnesses tonight.

We`re going to have our shortest break, which is just 30 seconds.

But our experts stay, because the other big story, a new subpoena in a criminal probe into former President Trump, pressure on a witness.

We`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: We don`t always pick the stories around here. Sometimes, we just follow them.

And when it comes to the big legal news we have been tracking tonight, as mentioned, with my two experts, boy, is there a lot of it, legal pressure on citizen Donald Trump.

Manhattan prosecutors are squeezing some of his closest allies. And the news tonight is that the top DA there, Cy Vance, subpoenaing records from a Manhattan school looking for information about potentially suspicious tuition payments that Donald Trump made on behalf of his moneyman, Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg, because Weisselberg`s grandchildren attend that school.

And "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting, basically, half-a-million dollars was routed there with checks signed by Weisselberg, which might make more sense, depending on the corporate arrangement, or Donald Trump himself, who is not known for doing a ton of children`s charity.

Prosecutors reportedly examining whether the Weisselbergs were actually using this as some sort of scheme, in concert with Donald Trump, to evade taxes, which would not be OK.

And this is all a part of the effort to put more pressure on Allen Weisselberg himself to cooperate with this wider investigation.

Now, Weisselberg`s name may be a little familiar. We have reported on people who turn on Trump, who break with Trump, but he`s worked with him on the money, on the finances for decades. He`s seen as a key, key person here. And that fact was actually confirmed by someone who worked alongside both men and who went to jail after being convicted of crimes on behalf of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Of course, I`m speaking about Michael Cohen, who told us all about this right here on THE BEAT.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: The only few people that -- in the Trump Organization that know anything about the taxes is Mr. Trump, who knows everything about everything, Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer, Don, Ivanka, and Eric.

Those are -- those are your five.


MELBER: Cohen has also said that he thinks Weisselberg will ultimately turn on Trump.

Meanwhile, a very interesting report in Palm Beach County about what is a hypothetical, but a striking one.

Officials there, according to Politico, are already developing contingency plans, so hypothetical plans, for what they would do in the potentially unprecedented situation that the case I just told you about, the New York investigation, could lead to a criminal indictment of Donald Trump while he`s down at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

Danya and Joyce are back with us.

Our viewers, in this case, our citizen jury, may or may not have had a snack in the break. I don`t know, I can`t see back through the box, the television box, Joyce, but whatever we did during the break, this was the big story I wanted to ask you about.

Specifically, anyone could imagine a hypothetical where they`d say, oh, you paid for money for a friend or a friend`s family for something nice, school or whatever. That`s OK, right? That doesn`t have to automatically be bad.

And yet something smells really fishy here, enough for the DA to look at it. Why?

VANCE: So, this has all the hallmarks of tax fraud; $15,000 or less can be a gift in some situations. But this amount of money far exceeds that.

And so prosecutors are likely looking at this situation with one of two scenarios in mind. I don`t think we know which one it is at this point. It`s possible that they`re investigating a tax conspiracy between Trump and Weisselberg to see if that might be a potential charge.

But this could also signify that prosecutors are trying to get Weisselberg to cooperate -- that seemed like a likely path that Cy Vance`s team has been taking -- and they haven`t yet convinced him to cooperate. And this might be the sort of charge against him that would push him over the edge to cooperation.

So it`s an important development. We just don`t know for certain what it means yet.

MELBER: All fair, and I appreciate your careful nuance there.

Danya, I have had some of your other colleagues from SDNY, including David Kelley, who used to run the office. I have said to them what I will say to you, which is your office is sometimes criticized for playing such hardball, that it seems like you`re really beating up and scaring people just so they will cooperate, not for their underlying crime.

I`m not bringing up a specific case with you. But I wonder what you think about the kind of hardball we`re seeing here, because, as Joyce mentions, it looks like they`re really trying to put the fear into Weisselberg and his whole family. Of course, if there was a crime, there was a crime. What do you make of it?

PERRY: Yes, I think we can bring up a specific case, because you just mentioned Michael Cohen.

And he has publicly said that part of the reason he resolved to plead guilty is because the U.S. attorney`s office was putting a squeeze on his family members. It is -- there`s plenty of precedent for that kind of arm- twisting, where you see the prosecutors really going in for maximum hit by looking at family members or friends or people that the target wants to protect.

And so, as Joyce said, we don`t know what the angle is here. But one could certainly imagine a scenario in which -- there have certainly been public reports that they`re going after Weisselberg, that there are mountains of documentary evidence, millions of pages of it, but they really do need a guide to walk a jury through what can be very difficult, painstaking kind of testimony about these records.

And so they need someone like, exactly like Allen Weisselberg, the so- called eyes and ears of the Trump Organization. And one way to get him to flip, of course, is to apply maximum pressure, not just on him, but perhaps on his family members.

And so these kinds of tax evasions, if that`s what they are -- they could be a gift, as you said, as we have discussed -- but, also, it could be, as you said early on, a fringe benefit that should be taxable that may not have been. And that`s certainly one of the angles that they`re going to be looking at.

MELBER: And, Danya, to ask the very basic question, if Mr. Weisselberg is doing pretty well, why take such a big apparent risk just to cheat on some taxes, allegedly?

PERRY: Well, there`s been a lot of discussion about the whole kind of modus operandi of the organization.

And Mr. Weisselberg himself has taken a lot of pride in saying -- trying to get every last nickel for the organization. And so this was Barry Weisselberg who testified that he made something like $200,000, I think he testified to that, in his divorce proceeding, and yet he lived in this multimillion-dollar apartment. His children went to $50,000-a-year -- plus -- year school in Manhattan.

And there were some other perks, according at least to Barry Weisselberg`s wife. So, I can`t guess. Joyce and I have seen it a million times, where you`re surprised that a defendant is willing to do the stupid things that they do that end up getting them in trouble, when there`s a clear paper trail.

But, again, this is some speculation. And the DA`s office is certainly laboring to figure out whether this was a gift or not.

MELBER: Well, and speaking of stupid things, we`re about 20 minutes into the hour.

We handled the Gaetz probe, problem for a Republican congressman there, potentially, the problems for Donald Trump and his moneyman. We haven`t even gotten to Donald Trump`s other lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who`s seen his home raided and has been doing legally stupid things, in terms of speaking out so much.

His son also speaking out, Joyce, take a listen.


ANDREW GIULIANI, SON OF RUDY GIULIANI: It`s actually absurd when you think that the president of the United States` lawyer, where they have privileged information between the two of them, that that iCloud account would be hacked into by the Department of Justice is absolutely absurd.

When you think about that, if that can happen to the president`s attorney, that can happen to any one of us.


MELBER: Joyce, the -- like father, like son there, echoing the idea that somehow the problem is facing the government for their tactics, rather than what`s being investigated.

Is this a good legal strategy for Giuliani? Or is this just kind of P.R.?

VANCE: You know, this is -- if it`s P.R., it`s bad P.R., because that`s the best case I have ever heard for the rule of law.

It says that no one is above the law in this country, and even a former president`s lawyer can be investigated. His iCloud wasn`t hacked. The government had probable cause, went to a federal judge, obtained the necessary warrants to take a look, both at iCloud and later to seize phones and other electronic devices.

This is our legal system working the way it`s intended to, making sure people are held accountable for crimes, if they have committed them.

MELBER: All great points on a bunch of stories.

Joyce and Danya, thank you.

Coming up: Liz Cheney blasting FOX News with new comments on the backlash to her purge.

Also, Speaker Pelosi says the truth about the riot will come out, and she has a plan to ensure it.

That`s next.


MELBER: We know there was a violent MAGA insurrection, but we don`t know everything about it.

And now there will be a full-scale investigation. Everyone witnessed the crimes committed in real time on television. Four months later, though, we have to remember this was a complicated, multifaceted, highly planned attack, and there`s much we don`t know.

Now, a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot will happen. Did you know that Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security chair, and the Republican ranking member, John Katko, came together on this one, at least on the vision?

And, today, they have this announcement, a commission, 10 members, five from each party. No current government officers or employees may serve, which is designed to give it extra independence, given how the executive department`s conduct is also under review. Members will have significant experience in cybersecurity, of course, in law enforcement intel, and civil rights, an issue we have discussed on this broadcast regarding how law enforcement dealt with those particular rioters.

This will have subpoena power, the commission. So that makes it legally potent. It will issue a report by the end of the year.

And now, four months after January 6, we have seen why this matters. You hear this a lot in Washington. When people want to -- quote, unquote -- "move on," it`s usually a bad sign. There are times in life where you do need to move forward with life.

But government has to deal with big things that happened in the past, obviously. And yet Republicans have said not only move on, but move on while they lie about what happened, downplaying what the rioters did. Take a look.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And we have to establish a commission for January 6. Why? It was just a normal tourist day. The denial about what happened that day, that denial for the need for more security to make sure it doesn`t happen again, and the denial of finding the truth is what we have to deal with.

And we will find the truth.


MELBER: A normal tourist day, Speaker Pelosi reporting on the instantly infamous comments that we also aired on this broadcast, and a fact-check, as Republicans tried to say that nothing was amiss, there were no crimes, that it was a tourist day.

As for finding the truth, that`s what Speaker Pelosi says this is about.

Congressman Liz Cheney also urging her former member of fellow leadership Kevin McCarthy to join the process. She says in a new interview that he should even testify before this very commission.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): He absolutely should, and I wouldn`t be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly and he said publicly that he`s got information about the president`s state of mind that day.


MELBER: A subpoena might be uncomfortable for Mr. McCarthy, but Cheney is right about at least the broad facts that we know, because Trump called McCarthy while the riots were taking place.

This was an issue in the impeachment probe as well. What was said? What do we need to know about that? What Does McCarthy know? These are fair questions for what is a bipartisan and very real commission.

The federal investigation is also continuing. We have been keeping up with that in our accountability reports. And there`s newly filed documents that say the Proud Boys formed a special smaller group on January 6 that they called the -- quote -- "Ministry of Defense."

And that group was so secretive, it would not have contact with other Proud Boy members. A person who is involved in this so-called ministry also has spoken out and is now blaming Donald Trump.

This individual complains that he`s facing jail time because he followed Trump`s lead, never questioned it, adding that Donald Trump abandoned them and pardoned -- quote -- "a bunch of degenerates, leaving us on the battlefield bloody and alone."

Apparently, this individual who was willing to potentially commit crimes for Trump is learning how Trump rolls.

And I also want you to know the first active-duty service member, a Marine, arrested for allegedly keeping a door to the Capitol to open and shoving police officers who tried to stop him, is also facing accountability.

There`s more than one road here, the public facts, which we`re seeing politicians in denial of, the criminal process for those who did things that are so bad, they should actually go to jail -- and we have a system for that -- and then this third new road today that also matters, when you think about 9/11, or past assassinations, or other big tragedies in American life.

Yes, we will know a lot more about what happened if and when this government commission, bipartisan or not, does the work.

So, we wanted to give you that update, because these stories matter.

I`m going to fit in a break, but when we come back: Liz Cheney blasting FOX News` role in so much of the problems today during an interview on FOX News.

Michelle Goldberg on that and much more -- when we come back.



REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I also want to thank President Trump for his support. I support President Trump. Voters support President Trump. And we look forward to working with him.

CHENEY: He`s unfit, you know, that he never again can be anywhere close to the Oval Office.

It`s a real betrayal now that he`s willing to try to unravel the democracy to get back into power.


MELBER: And that is the face of the new Republican leadership transition.

I`m joined now by "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg. Her latest article is how Republicans could steal the 2024 election, looking at the wider plan or conspiracy to potentially abuse the machinery of government at multiple levels.

Definitely want to get to that, but first your thoughts on what we see in this shift to what is still -- call me old-fashioned -- a co-equal branch of government that is supposed to do its own independent work, but is really just living in the shadow of the president who lost the last election.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I mean, there`s no one in American life that I can think of who is more craven than Elise Stefanik.

This is someone who was vocally anti-Trump in 2016, in the run-up to the election, who used to be -- she used to sort of pride herself on her moderation. And that`s what`s so interesting here, is that she`s somebody who had a very moderate voting record, particularly compared to Liz Cheney.

But none of that matters to this party, right? The only metric, the only ideology that is relevant is absolute fealty to this man who`s no longer in power, so it can no longer be about fear of Trump. It is about support and obedience, sort of an active choice on the part of this party that this is the direction that they want to keep going in.

MELBER: I think you have put that so -- so well, and it`s important, Michelle, because we used to talk about single issue voters, who do exist people, who vote on one issue.

But this is about zero issue leaders, zero issue. Not a single issue, policy priority, conservative, liberal or otherwise, is at stake. As you said, it`s all fear towards Trump.

There is a moment from Liz Cheney that`s getting a lot of attention, for good reason. I will let viewers take it in themselves. Let`s roll Cheney.


CHENEY: FOX News especially, especially FOX News, has a particular obligation to make sure people know the election wasn`t stolen.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: And we have said that numerous times.

CHENEY: FOX News -- FOX News -- Bret, I`m going to answer your question.

FOX News needs to make sure that the American people -- they need to make sure that the American people...

BAIER: No, but if you are mentioning FOX News, you have to know that this show has said that numerous times.

CHENEY: We need to make sure that the American people recognize and understand that the election wasn`t stolen.


MELBER: Straightforward statement, immediately created some tension there with the FOX News anchor.

Your view on what she`s choosing to do, what she wants people to understand, and FOX viewers are going to see that for themselves, at this pivotal time, when more and more Republicans are migrating towards a very damaging election lie that undermines democracy itself?

GOLDBERG: I think that there`s some debate over whether this is really a stand on principle or whether this is kind of her -- this is her particular niche.

If she`s going to run for president, it`s obviously not going to be in the Trump lane, so she`s trying to stake out a position as the anti-Trump figure.

I don`t really care. She -- I mean, I think she`s someone who`s -- she`s a right-wing fanatic in most ways. I`m not someone who thinks that Liz Cheney is a great heroine of democracy in any other respect.

But what she is doing here is really taking a stand for a transcendent principle. And I don`t know what why kind of none of Donald Trump`s other anti-democratic antics never pushed her over the line, what it was about the experience of January 6 that has sort of flipped a switch and made her suddenly understand the existential threat that this man and his movement and his systematic erosion of the kind of various levers of democracy in America.

But I think she gets it. And she`s decided to go all in on it.

MELBER: Yes, she`s going all in on it.

As you say, you don`t need to throw a parade for people who are simply pro- democracy. It`s a low bar. And yet, in her party and in her politics, she did make professional sacrifice.

And I think, as a bookend to where we started the interview -- you mentioned how craven other Republicans are being -- she is a contrast to that. So, that`s notable.

Michelle, now I have to say that we ran out of time. So, all I can do is say, I`d love to talk to you about your democracy article the next time you come back on THE BEAT, if you`re willing to do so.

GOLDBERG: Of course.

MELBER: All right, we will look for that next week.

Michelle Goldberg, as always, great to have you.

Up ahead, we fit in a break, and we turn to a story that I haven`t hit at all this week. And it`s a big one, why Bob Mueller was right about hackers and what to do about it, with new pressure on Putin from Biden -- when we come back.


MELBER: Turning to an absolutely huge story that we`re only hitting for the first time right now, there`s this Russia-linked extortion cyber-plot that actually shut down an entire American energy pipeline, a group reportedly closing down after high-level pressure from the U.S. government.

Now, what happened is, you have a relatively new, apparently Russian criminal group that uses a kind of cyber-hack -- it`s called ransomware -- to attack computer systems of even fairly sophisticated or big companies.

And they forced a shutdown of fuel distribution. The company, Colonial Pipeline, was basically stuck with this extortion plot, and a lot riding on it. So they went ahead and let themselves be extorted to get out of the problem. They paid $5 million through cryptocurrency in ransom just to get out from this problem.

President Biden addressing this big story and discussing the fact that, while this may have emanated out of Russia, the place, he doesn`t think Putin was involved.


QUESTION: Are you pretty confident that Putin was not involved?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident that I have read the report of the FBI accurately. And they say they were not, he was not, the government was not.


MELBER: There is probably more credibility right now for the Russia-U.S. relationship out of the White House than in recent history.

Putin, though, did infamously deny all of the 2016 election interference that he was busted for by Mueller and others. In that case, intelligence agencies in the U.S. said it did happen.


QUESTION: Is Russia, as Robert Mueller alleged, attempting to influence the 2020 elections in the United States?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I will tell you, in a secret, yes, we will definitely intervene. It`s a secret, so that everybody can laugh. And so we will go big.


PUTIN (through translator): But don`t tell anyone, please. Please don`t tell anyone.


MELBER: That`s how Putin trolls, not unlike the former American president, who was so supportive of all of that, who took Putin at his word.

But this is serious stuff. And it`s clearly not going away, whether it comes from a government or random cyber-criminals.

Five months ago, Russia also perpetuated one of the largest cyberattacks on U.S. systems, including the government, different agencies, data breaches. And that time -- again, we have the receipts -- they were denying that just the same.

But government officials have long warned about how this works, whether it comes directly from a government or cutouts and intermediaries, or sometimes, yes, from random cyber-criminals.

We should heed what Robert Mueller told America in 2019.


FMR. REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): In your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence to suggest they will try to do this again?

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Oh, it wasn`t a single attempt. They`re doing it as we sit here.


MELBER: They were doing it as they sat there. They were doing it this year, even if not this month, according to most recent attack.

And when you see American companies in a matter of days send millions off to anonymous cyber-hackers, obviously, it shows the power they have and the risk of this type of conduct occurring again.

Now, we`re going to fit in a break, but, up next, we have something very special for you to end the week. I believe BEAT viewers will appreciate it, a discussion that gets into online extremism, culture, capitalism, and a whole lot more.

That`s next.


MELBER: We`re all putting quarantine life behind us.

That may include all the surge and binge watching, as people got into classic shows, like the pioneering Donald Glover hit "Community," or the transgressive cartoon series "Rick and Morty," which now rivals "The Simpsons" for its passionate following and its takes on American culture and politics, including whether life itself has a point.

The common thread right here is one of the most rebellious creators in Hollywood, Dan Harmon. He was fired from "Community" at one point, and he brought his weird energy and some lessons learned what is now that runaway cartoon hit, given the creative green-light with this 70-episode renewal. That`s considered massive.

And, tonight, Dan Harmon makes his debut here. We sat down and talked about many things, including his evolving views on the darker parts of Internet fandom, the interview airing right now for the first time.


MELBER: You have spoken out about people who may like your work and do things you disagree with, which anyone with a large following is going to have to deal with.

But do you see anything in particular about people who feel somehow disaffected, and some of your work speaks to them, but they`re still out there online doing things that are bullying and hateful?


I mean, it -- I was what we might have called an incel when I was 27. I look at my early, like, bloggings and things, I`m -- I am the kid that annoys the hell out of me on my Instagram.

MELBER: How do you define that term?

HARMON: The guy who is angry at women because he feels entitled to company and is wondering when the world became a big illusion whose job was to deprive him of that which satisfies him

Like, this isn`t how cool people think. Like, if you were in control of your life, which I am now, you`re not going to think that way. The big question is, are you an honest person? Are you a person, or are you a collection of reactions?

The truth is, in any objectively measurable sense, we have become creatures that believe in humanity and systems. And we struggle between those things. And we can`t blame our problems on boogeymen that live in the clouds or a tree branch. We have to either blame ourselves or we have to stare into a void.


MELBER: And, if we have to face ourselves, how does Harmon, this talented writer, face his own work and clashes, including, by the way, with NBC entertainment executives?

He got candid about that as well.


HARMON: I have the potential to get intensely involved.

And I guess the idea of somebody exploding all over a room would be an apt metaphor.

MELBER: Do you care too much?

HARMON: Too much to be broke.


HARMON: Talk to the Emmy.

I cared too much for Sony Television. Shout-out to them, still in business with them. Cared too much for them in the era when I was producing a broadcast NBC sitcom. I was at my office at 3:00 in the morning with a glass of booze in one hand and a dry erase marker in the other in an empty office literally crying as I broke a story for episode three or four of season one of "Community."

That was caring too much. But, from my perspective now and from their perspective then, it`s hard to say whether or not I should have done it differently. No, I don`t want to cast The Situation from "Jersey Shore" in an episode of "Community" on the off-chance that that`s somehow going to cause a spike that`s going to keep someone from getting fired.

MELBER: Was that a corporate pitch?

HARMON: I don`t want to say yes, but yeah.

I felt like we were living in an industry in decline, and that I probably wasn`t cut out to be a prime-time broadcast show runner. I had lucked into the job. I had done my best, tried my best creatively to execute a show that my benefactors recognized as being the job done right.

I wasn`t good at that creatively for me to continue to break stories about credit cards and haircuts, when what`s happening in my head is, I want to tell a story about loneliness, or the difference between reality and not reality.

MELBER: But that -- but that goes to something in your work.

You want to tell different stories, but you use a method that says all stories follow the same arc, which sounds like a paradox.

HARMON: There`s a shape to run-on sentence, and there`s a shape to run-on sentence that turns into a story.

And when those shapes start to take on the approximation of something that`s more digestible to us, you can feel the click.

MELBER: Is the click familiar or is the click truth?

HARMON: Familiar. It just feels right.

And it`s difficult to tell the difference between, oh, this feels right because it reminds me of "Star Wars" or an episode of "Friends" that I saw. That can be very hard to tell from, this feels right because this is real.


MELBER: Harmon is all about that real creative process.

He also made waves, inviting the controversial Kanye West to write his own episode of "Rick and Morty." Now, it hasn`t dropped. But they did hold a long meeting in the writers room.


MELBER: What did you learn about him?

HARMON: He is an incredible listener.

His reputation as an icon, which resonates with me a little bit, is sort of like, oh, he will just talk and talk and talk. The interesting thing about Kanye is, he lacks, in my opinion, the very uncharismatic quality that usually goes with that personality trait, which is not liking being interrupted.

I think that when TMZ shows a story about him going into the Oval Office and talking for 40 minutes and saying crazy things, it`s because Donald Trump is not on his level.

And I had a conversation with this guy. We talked for four hours, and I think we talked as much, everyone at the table did, because...

MELBER: What about "Rick and Morty" speaks to him?

HARMON: Sorry, Ari, please don`t interrupt me.


HARMON: It`s annoying and unprofessional.


HARMON: OK, take it again.

So, what were you asking?



MELBER: A reminder to never tangle with comedians. They always win.

Now, this new interview is one in our in-depth digital series of interviews we post online. So, there`s a lot we didn`t air tonight.

But, before we go, a few of our other favorite highlights. Consider it maybe weird and weirder.


MELBER: What is the point of life?

HARMON: You`re a taste bud on God`s tongue?

MELBER: This is exactly what I thought this was going to be like.


HARMON: It`s not what I thought it was going to be like.


HARMON: Our job is to create new content. And we have to do that not by writing television as we perceive television.

They have changed everything entirely, fundamentally. Rick is right, I think, about half the time.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, welcome to the club, pal.


HARMON: Just smiling at my own writing. Sorry.


HARMON: You can edit that out.

So, why am I even here? I could have put that above, I got to get an "ARI MELBER." There`s only so much stuff I have to do to prove my mom wrong.

Who would be made comfortable by affirmation?

MELBER: I would say a well-adjusted person who is proud of the work they do, no?

HARMON: Tom Cruise is the answer. So you`re wrong.

MELBER: Success means?

HARMON: You have done it wrong enough. I really believe that.

MELBER: On that note, very inspiring...

HARMON: Very sarcastic, Ari. Duly noted.


HARMON: Bad interview. Worst guest you have ever had. Got it.



MELBER: Bad interview? Well, you can decide for yourself.

If you`re interested in seeing the full conversation, I invite you to go to @THEBEATWITHARI Twitter page. It`s the top link. Or you can go right to YouTube right now. Search "Melber Dan Harmon" -- that`s "Melber Dan Harmon" -- and you will see that entire 20-minute interview, if you can handle that much sarcasm and weirdness.

I certainly enjoyed it. Dan is an interesting and unusual person.

Thanks for spending this show or this week with me. I hope you have a great weekend.

I will see you back here Monday 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But don`t go anywhere right now, because, of course, "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.