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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 5/27/21

Guests: Jack O`Donnell, Daniella Gibbs Leger, Emily Bazelon, Pete Buttigieg, Nick Akerman, Daniel Alonso

Summary

A witness linked to Trump`s moneyman now at the center of a criminal probe says she is facing retribution for her speaking out. A former Trump casino executive discusses the criminal probe into Trump Organization. Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks out. Republicans are set to kill a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection. A UFO whistle-blower claims the Pentagon is now retaliating against him.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER, who is always...

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I couldn`t -- I couldn`t hear Nicolle. Just being transparent. But I think we`re starting the show.

Thank you, Nicolle.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

And we are tracking developments in the New York DA`s newly convened grand jury probe here. This is why there`s so much riding on what faces the Trump Organization in this criminal probe in the days ahead.

Now, tonight, there`s no way I can report this without mentioning our own reporting on this very show, because it has become part of the legal news itself.

Today, a witness linked to Trump`s moneyman now at the center of this probe, Allen Weisselberg, is saying that he, Weisselberg, is behind a push to evict her that is retribution for her speaking out.

The witness, you may recognize, his former daughter-in-law, who made news with her detailed comments in an interview on THE BEAT this week, which came on the eve of the bombshell news that there is a new grand jury, signaling the risk of indictments or jail time in this very case.

She went on to explain that -- quote -- "I spoke about the Trump Payroll Corporation THE BEAT."

Weisselberg saying that, after she spoke about those issues on THE BEAT, including describe potential or alleged crimes, she was threatened with a sudden eviction notice. Now, remember, investigators have spoken to Michael Cohen and her as they gather evidence in this case.

Here`s some of what she told me in that interview she just referenced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER WEISSELBERG, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ALLEN WEISSELBERG: Started immediately hiding money in escrow.

Tax fraud. Tax evasion.

When Donald says numbers are certain things and then Allen says numbers and certain things. They don`t -- they`re not adding up.

Confidentially having them cut checks that would make him vulnerable to tax evasion, tax fraud, compensation, gift taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is some of what Weisselberg was telling us.

Now she says those allegations that her speaking about what she says is her truthful knowledge of the situation got the attention of the man at the center of this probe.

So, here are her new comments today:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEISSELBERG: Allen Weisselberg is on my lease. Yesterday, I was served to leave my apartment within the next seven days. So it`s a threat. It`s a threat.

QUESTION: You were served to leave your apartment within the next seven days?

WEISSELBERG: Yes. They`re kicking me out.

QUESTION: He`s trying to force you out of your apartment?

WEISSELBERG: Yes.

QUESTION: What was it specifically, do you think, that you have done or said that has caused this to happen?

WEISSELBERG: So, Monday night, on another network, I appeared with Michael Cohen. I spoke about details about the Trump Payroll Corp on that show.

And so I spoke about how I know he`s hiding money in escrow and confidentially having checks cut, hiding tax crimes. There`s definitely tax fraud. There`s definitely tax evasion. And I think that there`s just a lot of -- for the first time, they seem really nervous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is just wow. I mean, she`s an insider. She says they seem really nervous. She alleges this direct retaliation for what she said right on this program this week. This is a key witness.

We interviewed her, journalistically, to learn what she is telling these prosecutors, who are now newly fortified, strengthened legally, if you will, by this tool of the grand jury.

And now we know she`s telling them that Trump`s moneyman did crime for Trump. I can`t confirm for you whether that`s true yet or not. I can tell you, though, from our reporting, from what we have gathered, and what she now is making news about what she already told us, this is a big deal.

This is what she`s telling investigators. If she or someone can back up that allegation that they`re doing crime over at the Trump Org with evidence, well, this thing is moving fast.

Now, I want to just run back the key part there of the kind of claims she`s making. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEISSELBERG: There`s definitely tax fraud. There`s definitely tax evasion. And I think that there`s just a lot of -- for the first time, they seem really nervous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: "There`s definitely tax fraud. There`s definitely tax evasion."

Those are her claims rooted in what she`s lived through and what she knows. And it`s certainly not making her life any easier, because she says she`s already facing retaliation for the comments she made on the program here.

Now, we contacted Allen Weisselberg`s attorney about all this. We`re always ready to learn anything they want to say. Mr. Weisselberg come on the program. But, in this situation, he may not, but perhaps the attorney wants to give context or even a denial of the allegation that they are trying to evict her or have some sort of retaliation for her free speech rights to talk.

I can tell you, the Weisselberg attorney had no comment at this time.

When you take this all together, you see why we have been following the case this way. If you happen to watch THE BEAT regularly, you will know that we were on this, this week because we saw signs, evidence that this was escalating.

Then we reported and confirmed what "The Washington Post" had first reported, the grand jury, which changes everything. And now you see in a matter of days the level of response to that, I will say the level of response, allegedly, although, again, the Weisselberg side not denying or rebutting any of what his former daughter-in-law is saying, that, when she came out and said words about what goes on at Trump Org and what he`s doing, she says he retaliated to silence her.

We`re joined right now by someone who worked directly in this powerful Manhattan DA`s office, Daniel Alonso, Nick Akerman, a former Watergate special prosecutor who also worked at SDNY and has extensive experience with these kinds of complex cases, and Emily Bazelon, a legal writer with "New York Times Magazine."

Thanks to each of you for joining us.

I`m going to start with you, Nick, because some of this playing out with hardball and public back-and-forth is reminiscent of some of the kinds of high-profile cases you have had to handle.

What do you think of what Ms. Weisselberg says is alleged retaliation for the comments she first made on this show?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, it very well could be witness tampering or obstruction of justice.

I mean, Allen Weisselberg is the guarantor on her lease, the lease that she`s being evicted in seven days, which is unheard of in New York. It is so rare. You can`t -- I don`t think you could actually do it, because a court wouldn`t evict somebody in seven days.

But the idea that he`s trying to do this amounts to witness tampering. It amounts to obstruction of justice. And what it comes down to is whether he`s doing it with a corrupt intent, an improper purpose, meaning that he`s doing it to silence her or to somehow influence her testimony.

And that is what this looks like. Now, we need more facts. We need to know exactly how this directive came forward, what was said. How did she get it? What was the notice that she received? Who is responsible for sending that notice? These are all questions, as a prosecutor, I would be asking.

But on the surface, it...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes.

Nick -- Nick, let me ask you something very straightforward. And I`m not trying to be overly simplistic here. But if you`re accused in the public square of these kinds of type of crimes, tax evasion and other malfeasance at the Trump Org, and there`s an open grand jury investigation, if you have evidence to rebut it, wouldn`t the best course, even though many people will tell the client to stay quiet, why wouldn`t the best course be for the lawyers to start explaining why it`s not true?

I mean, why aren`t we hearing that?

AKERMAN: Well, at least the lawyers could do it.

But, again, I mean, they`re sitting back, waiting to determine what their defense actually is here. I mean, they don`t know what facts yet the government has. They don`t know what they have to rebut, really. If they go out there and try and rebut every single allegation that comes forward, they`re just going to tie themselves in knots, and make their client look a lot worse.

So, as a general matter, at least in my practice, I never make statements to the press concerning a client`s matter or try to...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: So, you wouldn`t -- you wouldn`t read -- and I say this also in fairness -- you wouldn`t read much one way or the other into the fact that, although we gave the Weisselberg side an opportunity, that they`re not saying anything?

AKERMAN: Now, I wouldn`t read much into that.

But I would read something into the fact that this woman is saying that she`s being retaliated against, that she`s being evicted from an apartment where Allen Weisselberg is the guarantor on the rent.

I mean, that just, on the surface, smacks of obstruction of justice and witness tampering, which are both federal crimes and state crimes. Witness tampering in the federal system carries a sentence of 20 years in prison.

I mean, it is more serious than the tax evasion. This is clearly one of those cases where the cover-up could wind up being much worse for Allen Weisselberg than the actual crime that he`s being investigated for.

MELBER: Spoken like a Nixon prosecutor.

Let me play a little bit of Michael Cohen talking about the prospect of cooperation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What is the word or subject that investigators asked most about?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Allen Weisselberg.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: They`re going to flip. They`re going to flip on each other like it`s going out of style.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Daniel, you have done these kinds of investigations out of that very office. There`s much we don`t hear in the public realm, but these witnesses told us the kind of people that were being asked about, Weisselberg, the Trump kids, less so -- we were told at least by Jennifer, less so questions about, say, Giuliani or Jared Kushner.

So, we were sort of getting the outline of at least some of the topics. What do you think of everything we just discussed, her new comments, as well as what investigators are looking at?

DANIEL R. ALONSO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think we`re maybe getting ahead of ourselves.

For one thing, there is no such crime as obstruction of justice in the New York state system. There is witness tampering. But, based on the facts that we have laid out here, it`s not even close to made out.

It`s possible that Allen Weisselberg had something to do with evicting her, and then, if you can connect the dots that that`s in order to prevent her from communicating information, if she`s about to be called as a witness. But the New York laws are not very broad in this area. They`re nothing like the federal laws that Nick was talking about.

So, I don`t think there`s -- I mean, there`s a reason to ask questions, sure. I mean, who -- why did that happen? Who made it happen?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Let`s -- no, let`s pause on that.

ALONSO: Yes.

MELBER: Daniel, let`s pause on that point, which is you`re talking about -- again, to remind everyone, there`s a lot of different probes. There`s a probe down in Georgia. There were federal investigations in the Mueller probe. That`s where Cohen was handed off to SDNY.

You`re making an important distinction that, in your view, because this is in the local side, the DA`s office, and that because the eviction, however unsavory it may sound -- it may sound like a bullying tactic.

But you`re making the point that, if it is an otherwise lawful proceeding, under your view of New York law, that wouldn`t rise to the level of tampering?

ALONSO: Well, without many more facts, including that she`s about to be called as a witness, that Weisselberg was behind this, that he did it in order to somehow prevent her from communicating what she knew to the proceeding, which would be the grand jury in this case.

So we`re a long way from that leap. That said, sure, anything`s possible. I think the more serious thing for Allen Weisselberg to worry about is what Michael Cohen was talking about. It`s -- they`re obviously looking at the Trump Organization and its accounting.

They`re not looking at Trump as president, really, except for the fact that the Stormy Daniels payment happened during that time. But they`re really focusing on the Trump Organization. And who`s the most important person in an accounting fraud investigation? Allen Weisselberg.

Will he flip? Michael Cohen knows him better than any of us. But I think that the pressure is being put on. And, in my view, there`s more pressure from the fact that his son might be in the dock, might be a target, based on the cooperation of his ex-wife and other things, than there is about how much jail time Allen Weisselberg might do under New York law, which is not as tough as federal law.

So I think that that`s the pressure point that I certainly would focus on in this case. It`s perfectly legitimate, as long as it`s done fairly and aboveboard. Most famously, it was done with Michael Milken many years ago. He made a deal to have his brother not prosecuted in the Southern District.

So I think that that is where they are probably focusing right now.

MELBER: Emily, what do you think about all of it?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think the point about corrupt intent is really crucial in terms of this eviction of Jennifer Weisselberg.

And that can be really hard to prove. The timing of the eviction is suggestive, but we don`t really know more than that at this point. And I think that focusing on Weisselberg`s role in the Trump Organization and the risk to him through his kid, that seems to me to make sense.

I mean, prosecutors will pull levers to try to get witnesses to flip when they`re really after someone else. And going after somebody`s family member, or threatening to, for better or worse, is a tried-and-true tactic.

So we`re going to see -- I feel like we can only just start to see the pieces of this puzzle come together. They`re not clear yet. We don`t know the details. We`re just kind of watching the sort of basic form start to hover out there in this tantalizing way.

MELBER: Now, you say tantalizing, Emily.

There is an overlap with the Mueller probe, where there`s asymmetric information, and only Donald Trump knows what he did when he was solo or with one person in the room. Only he knows whether there`s a pile of evidence of things that do look corrupt or not.

And throughout the Mueller probe, there were various tells, where it seemed like whether he -- you can search his mind -- and thought he was being evil and immoral or illegal, he knew other people would think that, which is why he would clear rooms, and why he wouldn`t put things in writing, and why he would just show his approach.

And I wonder what you think, Emily, as someone who`s followed many legal controversies in this recent era, about what Donald Trump knows about what happened at the Trump Organization over all these years.

BAZELON: I mean, I don`t think we know the answer to that yet. I don`t find his public comments super illuminating, because he says lots of things for lots of reasons, and it`s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

One thing I think we have seen over and over again with Donald Trump is, he`s very good at making his wishes clear without being explicit in a way that we would -- that anyone would catch him on tape, or even through a witness, actually doing a crime.

So, find the votes for me in Georgia wasn`t, well, go out and fraudulently change the count. It`s just always left kind of vague. And I think that has been really helpful for him in kind of dodging prosecution up until now.

And the question is whether, at this point, this is going to come back to bite him anyway, because there are enough investigations, there`s enough proof. Both the district attorney`s office in New York and the attorney general`s office are looking into like lots and lots of documents. Those aren`t the kinds of allegations that are easy to deny.

MELBER: Nick?

AKERMAN: Yes. No, I would agree.

I mean, what we`re really talking about, to a great extent, is a document case. I mean, a tax case is always a document case. But, as in any tax case, in order to really prove the specific intent that you need to show, that the taxpayer actually intended that the falsehood be on there, and intended to evade paying the rightful tax, you need that kind of proof.

And the best proof is always in a cooperating witness, somebody who was a co-conspirator with that person. Now, you have got the tax preparer. And I think as I have said before, if you don`t have the tax prepared, if Donald Trump was indicted for tax evasion, the first person he would blame is the tax preparer.

He`d say, Allen Weisselberg did it. I didn`t.

So, it`s critical, absolutely crucial that the prosecutors, if they`re going to go after Donald Trump, have Allen Weisselberg`s testimony, absolutely critical.

MELBER: Well, let`s take that to Daniel, because this is the weird part of having so many of these controversies play out in public.

Cy Vance famously clashed with the Trumps over other issues. The New York attorney general had clashed over the misuse of the Trump charity. They have seen the play called in before, Daniel. What do you know about this office and Cy Vance`s ability to have it end different?

Because Michael Cohen did get in trouble, and our viewers have heard him recounted all, but, at the end of the day, even though the paper record showed him doing crime for the benefit of Donald Trump, which is what was agreed to and certified in court, it didn`t get Donald Trump.

If the idea here is to get the beneficiary of what may or may not be here alleged crimes, they got to do more than have another staffer, right?

ALONSO: Well, these are excellent prosecutors. And so, I anticipate that they will be able to do what excellent prosecutors do, is to weave lots of different pieces of evidence into place and try to use that to establish intent.

Unfortunately, New York tools are not as good as federal tools. But what Emily said is exactly right. Trump is -- goes out of his way to insert plausible deniability, a cover story into everything he says, like on the day of the riot, like with the Michael Cohen testimony before Congress.

But that doesn`t get you off the hook if you -- if the prosecutors can otherwise prove that the person had the intent. So, there`s lots of ways to do that. I mean, a great example is Cohen`s testimony before Congress, right?

I mean, he said, Trump didn`t say go lie. He said, go say X, and he understood that to mean go lie. And then Trump didn`t correct it, right? The world believed that -- I forget if it`s the Trump Moscow tower and the timing of that. The world believed that there was none of that during the election, when, in fact, there was.

And that`s because Michael Cohen lied, because he knew Trump was telling him to do it without telling him. Now, a good prosecutor -- in mob cases, prosecutors do that kind of thing all the time. Listen to an episode of "The Sopranos," and see how often Tony Soprano says, go kill somebody or go stop that witness from testifying in a -- in this impending trial.

That`s not how it works. So, I think they`re good prosecutors. And they will be thinking of all this. So, again, we have a tiny piece of this iceberg. They have it all so far, or at least a lot of it. So, we will have to see.

MELBER: And, Daniel, doesn`t "The Sopranos" also show that doing crime is stressful?

(LAUGHTER)

ALONSO: Yes, I have no information whether Donald Trump goes to a therapist. But I think it`s probably good advice for lots of people who are committing crimes, if, in fact, he is.

MELBER: There you go.

And you mentioned the great points made by Emily.

And, Emily, I don`t know if you ever were a "Sesame Street" fan where they had one of these things is not like the others in our boxes here. But that`s the situation, because we thank Daniel and Nick for their expertise.

Emily is unlike the others in that she`s agreed to stay on with us for another important story.

My thanks to everyone.

We have our shortest break, 30 seconds. When we come back: what to expect in this Senate vote on the commission. Emily joins us for that.

Also tonight on THE BEAT, Pete Buttigieg is here, the big speech from Joe Biden naming names, or saying he`s willing to, when it comes to Republicans.

And later, an exclusive. A Trump casino executive joins us with some other bad news for the Trump Org and that probe. We`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Here`s another big story. And, boy, is it revealing.

Senate Republicans tonight are poised to use the filibuster for the first time in the Biden era. And it`s not for something that would sound super divisive or partisan or a social issue. It`s to block a fact-finding bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on their very place of work from the January 6 riot.

The vote on advancing the bill could happen this hour. Several Republican senators said they do support it, but not enough to overcome the apparent opposition from Leader McConnell, who told lawmakers, this commission could -- wait for it -- hurt Republicans in the midterms, openly admitting the partisanship.

The House has already approved -- you may recall we covered this -- having a commission. And some Republicans, to be fair and to be accurate, did support that, saying that finding the facts on a bipartisan basis is a good thing.

Trump, though, opposes any probe. New polling reveals 85 percent of Republicans say they prefer candidates that agree with Trump, regardless of the issue. Today, relatives of the officer who died after this attack, Brian Sicknick, went to the Hill trying to persuade Republicans to back a search for the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA GARZA, GIRLFRIEND OF BRIAN SICKNICK: It`s been excruciating.

It was very hard to deal with the ambiguity of not knowing what happened to Brian. We want members of Congress to ensure that it doesn`t happen again.

GLADYS SICKNICK, MOTHER OF BRIAN SICKNICK: And Brian had a work ethic, but second to none. And he was just there for our country. This is why I`m here today.

Usually, I stay in the background. And I just couldn`t. I couldn`t stay quiet anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by Daniella Gibbs Leger from CAP, and Emily Bazelon back with us.

Daniella.

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You know, I hear the pain in that mother`s voice.

And the fact that Mitch McConnell won`t allow this to go through because he`s worried it`s going to hurt Republicans in the midterm? Let`s unpack that statement for a minute.

Why would an independent, bipartisan probe hurt Republicans in the midterms? What are they afraid of finding out? Who was involved in stoking up anger and getting these people into the Capitol? Nobody, nobody in Congress should be against finding out what happened on January 6.

And it really -- he surprises me every day with the things that he says and does. But it`s unbelievable to me that they`re going to use the filibuster for the first time, not over something -- a policy issue or anything like that, but over finding out what happened when people tried to storm the Capitol, overthrow a government, overturn an election, and five people died.

MELBER: I appreciate your bluntness.

I mean, Emily, this is a time where everyone knows what happened at the Capitol. Everyone knows that there is a process here that has worked. The 9/11 Commission was a bipartisan effort to deal with something that involves an attack on the United States.

Washington has had many commissions and other such special committees for matters far less serious than this. The idea that even having one is this threatening, that they are going to basically threaten to hold up all floor agendas, right -- filibuster is sort of this word there.

What they`re doing is saying, they would hold up the floor, they would delay everything to prevent an up-or-down vote. They`re allowed to vote it down. I`m not saying -- they`re there to vote on things, but they would do all this to prevent an up-or-down vote on whether to even have a fact- finding commission, Emily.

BAZELON: Yes, I was looking back at my notes from January 6, where I was just jotting down what I wanted to know and understand about what happened that day.

And I think there are still outstanding questions about the role that various law enforcement agencies played, about why there was a better security, about what involvement there might have been higher up the food chain in the Trump administration.

And so the virtue of a commission is that maybe you find some new things out. And, for sure, you end up with a report that has the stamp of Congress, of the federal government on that stands as a kind of official record that we look back on, the way we do with the 9/11 Commission.

But I also think that`s exactly why McConnell sees the politics the way he does, because any attention, any media appetite there is for talking about January 6, how can that possibly help Republicans in the midterms?

I`m not saying that should be the overriding concern. But I think that the political judgment he`s making here is a perfectly rational one, right? I mean, if you are a Republican running for office in 2022, this is probably not what you want to be talking about.

MELBER: Daniella?

GIBBS LEGER: That`s 100 percent correct. I agree with Emily.

And sometimes you have to put your country above your party or your country above politics. And it`s not all Republicans. There will be a few who will peel off and vote with the Democrats. And I think there were 35 and a House who voted with them on this.

They understood what happened. They understood that their lives were in danger that day. But, like, the overarching thing should be that you don`t want this to happen again. And the only way that you prevent something from this like -- happening again is to get to the bottom of what actually happened in the first place.

So, Mitch McConnell has clearly made that -- the political calculation is more important than the safety of his colleagues, than the press variants of our democracy and our elections.

So, OK, I guess we will see how that plays out in the next couple of days.

MELBER: Yes, this is the part that`s so wild, Daniella. If you did the thought experiment, even with how messed up things are, you would say, well, if it actually hit home, where they really had to scurry and run in fear of their own safety, well, then at least for the modicum of self- interest, you would expect this.

But what you actually see is -- and you said not all Republicans, and I will say, as a journalist, I`m not -- I`m not speaking about every single one, but I am speaking about the ones who are this opposed to even allowing a vote.

They actually have been politically threatened, to the degree that they would knowingly continue to take a workplace risk of danger, rather than face the career risk. And I guess that just reminds you how craven some politicians are. They really do -- this job, to them, is their life. That`s why we use all these metaphors about targeting and they`re fighting for their political life.

For some of them, I guess it`s more important than their workplace safety, Daniella.

GIBBS LEGER: Exactly.

And you know what? They made this political bed where they decided that fealty to Donald Trump was more important than persevering what used to be a Republican Party that I guess stood for something more than just worshipping at the altar of Donald Trump.

Like, this is what it all comes down to, is that they are afraid of crossing Donald Trump. Every single one of them who`s not voting for this, they are worried that he is going to support a primary challenger, that he`s going -- I was going to say send a mean tweet about him, but they can`t do that, but I guess go on another network and bash them.

This is this is what it is. They`re afraid of Donald Trump. And they really have only themselves to blame for that, because they had ample opportunity in the last four years to figure out a way to distance themselves and put him in a box and in a corner.

MELBER: Well, you`re saying -- you`re stating that -- your view, your position that they caused it, which does echo Mr. T, who used to say, you brought this on yourself.

And maybe there is a little bit of Mr. T in that in that political justice, whatever it may be. But these are our tough times. Indeed.

Daniella Gibbs Leger, Emily Bazelon, thanks to both of you.

GIBBS LEGER: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back, we have a very special guest on how the Trump Org works on the inside and why there is a new anxiety around anyone who`s still connected to what Weisselberg is doing with the money.

Later, Joe Biden has a warning to Mitch McConnell, and we`re going to get reaction from the secretary himself, Pete Buttigieg, on THE BEAT tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The operations of the Trump Organization are front and center with the news that the Manhattan DA has impaneled a grand jury in its criminal probe.

Donald Trump himself has faced numerous investigation over the years. And we have seen, sometimes in dribs and drabs, little extra bits of information into how this highly secretive enterprise works.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in "Forbes," and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This will all come down to who knows what and who can prove it.

We`re joined now by Jack O`Donnell. He was president of Trump`s Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. He`s the author of "Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump."

Thanks for joining us.

JACK O`DONNELL, FORMER PRESIDENT AND COO, TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL: Yes, I`m glad to be here, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Let`s do some rapid-fire Q&A first, and then we can go into depth.

Briefly, have you ever met Allen Weisselberg?

O`DONNELL: Yes, I have. Met him just once.

MELBER: Did you have a sense of his reputation? Yes, you met him once.

Did you have a sense of his reputation and role within the company when you were doing your work in Atlantic City?

O`DONNELL: All numbers passed through Allen, regardless of what entity you were associated with.

MELBER: Did you have a sense that Allen, and Allen on behalf of Donald Trump at that time or at any other later time you`re aware of, were cognizant of the idea that regulators or even criminal investigators would later be reviewing what they were doing, the claims they were making about money?

O`DONNELL: Clearly, in New Jersey, the regulatory process was key.

And all numbers were going to going to be reviewed by the division and the commission in New Jersey, for sure.

MELBER: And my last quick question, and then we will get into it, when you heard this news that apparently has shaken up Trump world, that this is not just another review or another audit, but that there is now an impaneled criminal grand jury, were you surprised? Or did that seem long overdue?

O`DONNELL: Not surprised at all.

The behavior has been going on for decades. And, in my position, I would say, about time.

MELBER: All right. This concludes our opening sequence.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Let`s get into -- let`s imagine you`re in the jury box and really get into it, sir.

As a witness, what did you see about the way they deal with money that either matches or departs from the central allegations here, which we have been reporting on, that include what Cohen said about inflation and documented or repeat tax evasion?

O`DONNELL: Well, it`s all about money with Donald. Everything centers around money with Donald and the organization.

And there`s two forms of money. There`s cash, and then there`s what`s on a piece of paper, OK? And they don`t necessarily have to look the same, or they don`t have to total up the same. The numbers can mean something different. That was very clear.

And I actually went through a situation where I was asked to literally build false financials for my business. So, I know the numbers don`t have to equal each other.

MELBER: Who requested that?

O`DONNELL: Very specifically, three people were involved in asking me to redo the numbers, Robert Trump, his brother, Harvey Freeman, who was his attorney at the time, and Donald Trump also.

It took place, just so -- if you want...

MELBER: So, he was in on that kind of direct request?

Go ahead.

O`DONNELL: Well, the direct request came -- I submit -- the process then was every entity in the organization submitted their budgets to New York.

And in this case, this was the year that the Taj Mahal was going to open. So there was really a lot of scrutiny. And we all knew the numbers were going to decrease. When I submitted my numbers, I was summoned to New York.

And I was first put in a room with Robert and Harvey, and they said: "These numbers don`t -- won`t work. We can`t go backwards. The numbers have to go up."

I said: "Well, we`re having a 20 percent increase in capacity. Everybody`s numbers are going to go down."

They said: "Can`t have it. Allen won`t accept it. Donald won`t accept it. Have to redo the numbers."

After that meeting, I then went into Donald`s office. And Donald said: "Did Robert and Harvey talk to you about the numbers?"

And I said: "Yes, they did. But let me explain why I can`t redo the numbers, because they won`t be true."

And he just said: "We need new numbers."

MELBER: Have you been contacted by the New York DA or any New York investigators?

O`DONNELL: I have not, no. I have testified in other cases, but I have not been contacted.

MELBER: Would you freely cooperate if they were looking to establish a pattern and practice, even though some of this would probably be too old to prosecute?

O`DONNELL: Yes, of course I would. I have been speaking up about Donald Trump now since the `90s. And I -- of course I would.

MELBER: And let`s give your chance to respond to the other side, which is the Trump Organization says that, basically, people who`ve left the company and say these kind of things, just didn`t work out, couldn`t hack it, and that the power, the strength here is this unique Trump brand,

Now, take a look, indeed, at how they have been making that case publicly. This is a brief collection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I`m the largest real estate developer in New York. My company`s bigger than it ever was. It`s stronger than it ever was.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: It is a family brand.

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF DONALD TRUMP: On the hotel side, it sells out rooms.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: My primary job is making sure not to kill the golden goose, which is the brand, and the brand that he has created over such a long period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Jack?

O`DONNELL: Well, this is a brand in my days with them that borrowed $3 billion worth of money from bondholders, all of which lost their money, and banks, OK, bankrupted every one of his casinos.

Mine, which by the way, was the most profitable entity he`s ever had -- we generated $125 million in free cash a year. And his brand killed that business.

MELBER: We`re running over on time, but when you look at someone who claims to be rich, who continues to -- the cycle of bankruptcy, who now is perhaps fighting for the very life of his corporation, his -- with his family name on it over all these shenanigans, do you think these were -- the cooking of the books, as you allege, do you think it was done out of greed, desperation or something else?

O`DONNELL: Well, it was clearly desperation in my days, because, otherwise, he could not have serviced or he could not have gotten the loans or the bondholders that he needed to survive. So, it was clearly desperation.

Today, I think it starts as a game with him, where the ego gets in the way with the inflation of his assets, like other guests have commented on. But it`s probably a combination, but, clearly, he`s desperate now, Ari.

And in the early `90s, there was a song that said I`m stacking paper like Trump. Well, the kind of paper that they`re going to be stacking very soon, it`s not going to be dollars. It`s going to be indictments.

MELBER: Well put.

And, Jack, as you may know, Donald Trump is the most cited living person in modern rap songs, first quite positively. Perhaps some even believed that he was a sort of a sign of success, as you just mentioned.

O`DONNELL: Yes. Yes.

MELBER: People watch TV. They sometimes believe reality shows.

And lately, in a far, far more negative light.

Jack O`Donnell, thank you for your candor and in sharing what you know tonight.

O`DONNELL: Thanks, Ari. It`s a pleasure to be with you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up, we have a lot more in what`s coming on, the big fight in Washington over jobs, spending. Biden warns McConnell to get serious, or he will walk away.

And we have a pivotal guest in that fight. Pete Buttigieg is with me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: President Biden continues to govern by mixing a moderate style with a sweeping approach to the economy, pushing just under $2 trillion in spending on jobs and infrastructure, while Republicans today are demanding he pare down the plan by $700 billion and take funds from COVID relief.

One of the most pivotal officials in this momentous push is Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

"The New York Times" recently reporting the secretary`s phone is blowing up, as lawmakers cite a road or a bridge or an airport in districts in dire need of repair.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for being here.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Thanks for having me on. Good to be with you again.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Let`s take a listen to the president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not going to embarrass any one of them. But I have here a list...

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: ... of how, back in their districts, they`re bragging about the Rescue Plan.

If you`re going to try to take credit for what you have done, don`t get in the way of what we still need to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What`s the point that he and you are making here as you make this push?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know the saying good policy makes good politics?

This doesn`t have to be a partisan moment, because the Rescue Plan was such good policy, that members on both sides of the aisle, even those who voted against it, have been talking about the positive impacts that it`s had.

I think that the president is speaking to the urgency of this moment. We met the urgency of confronting COVID with the Rescue Plan. Now we have got to meet the urgency of preparing the American economy to succeed for the next many decades with the American Jobs Plan, a generational investment in the infrastructure we count on, from the traditional stuff like roads and bridges, to newer things like the Internet, access for everybody to the Internet, and making sure that we have the right kind of care economy.

So, as we continue this back and forth -- and I will say it`s been very aboveboard, very positive, even though we have clearly started out in different places -- I believe that the conversation needs to continue to focus on what really is blowing up my phone, which is people around the country talking about their immediate infrastructure needs.

MELBER: That all make sense. You say you`re still in different places.

Let`s look at what Mitch McConnell is saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): No, we`re going to keep talking. And I understand the president is willing to keep talking.

And we think, actually, the president`s a good deal more reasonable than some of the people surrounding him. So we`re open to spending some more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What does that mean to you, spending more? And if he`s talking about people around the president on the key issues of infrastructure, transportation, he may or may not be talking about people like you, sir.

I give you a chance to respond to all of the above.

BUTTIGIEG: I don`t know about the latter. I`d have to ask him sometime.

But I think what he`s pointing to on the former is their latest proposal gets to the neighborhood of a trillion dollars. That`s a good sign. There`s a lot of -- obviously, a lot depends on the details. And there`s still some daylight between where we have come in and what the Republicans came forward with this morning.

But it -- what it shows me is the idea that we need to make a major, major investment, on the order of a trillion dollars-plus -- 1.7 is what we`re calling for in our latest plan. That`s a general principle we can agree on.

Now, we are concerned. There are a lot of things we think weren`t in the counteroffer that really need to be there. There are a lot of steps we need to take on everything from climate, to modernizing veterans hospitals, that we strongly believe ought to be part of the package we put together.

But this is the season of sausage-making. And it`s going to continue to be this back and forth with lots of conversations with lots of members of Congress.

And what I will say is that, unlike some of the moments we have had in our political life recently, that this conversation has, in my experience, continued to be focused. It`s been transparent. Sometimes, there are big differences, but it`s been a very honest conversation too.

MELBER: Really interesting.

And I remember a little bit of my Ecclesiastes, maybe not as much as you, sir. But the season or a time for sausage-making is more fit for Washington. And interesting to think about what you might get out of these Republicans.

I know it`s a very big day, and you made time for us here during the push.

Secretary Pete Buttigieg, good to see you, as always. Thank you sir.

BUTTIGIEG: Great to be with you.

MELBER: And coming up: a UFO whistle-blower claims the Pentagon now retaliating just for going public.

A lot more ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a whole fleet of them. Look on the S.A.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are all going against the wind. The wind is 120 knots to the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This Navy footage is stoking questions about UFOs. A Pentagon report is headed to Congress next month.

And now President Obama weighing in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The truth is that, when I came into office, I asked, right? I was like, all right, is there the lab somewhere where we`re keeping the alien specimens and spaceship?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And the answer was no.

What is true -- and I`m actually being serious here -- is, is that there are -- there`s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don`t know exactly what they are. We can`t explain how they moved their trajectory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He`s being serious because this is an issue that takes a serious inquiry and an open mind.

In fact, we have noticed a little bit of a shift in how presidents and even candidates talk about UFOs, compared to the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Are you not telling me that you looked at them?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not telling you nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we were visited someday, I wouldn`t be surprised. I just hope that it`s not like "Independence Day."

QUESTION: Are you going to tell the truth about aliens?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE; I have said I want to open the files as much as we can, because I`m interested.

OBAMA: I think I just became the first president to ever publicly mention Area 51.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The tone is shifting, even by Obama himself. This is less of a joke.

But the military in many ways has been slow to evolve. An ex-Pentagon official who went public on "60 Minutes," which we reported on, about these reports now filing a complaint that officials are trying to discredit him, a sign that secrecy may still rule the day on an issue where we need to know as much as possible.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.