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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 5/28/21

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Chai Komanduri, Shane Harris, Erin Gloria Ryan


Senate Republicans block January 6th commission. Democrats blast shame of GOP filibuster on January 6th commission. Senate Republicans block bipartisan riot probe. MAGA Representative Gaetz invokes armed rebellion at rally. Biden calls for 90-day review of COVID origins. Scrutiny on whether COVID accidentally leaked from lab.



ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hey, everyone. Your eyes are not deceiving you. It is 7:00 P.M. Eastern, I`m Ari Melber. I am in for Joy Reid tonight. And we have a very special show for you right now.

We begin with Republicans voting against the facts and the policy common sense. There is an embrace of extremism and conspiracy theories. You know about that. There`s also the fear of Trump. But this is playing out on a significant national security issue live on the floor of the United States senate, Republicans using the filibuster for the first time in the Biden era to block what had already been negotiated as a fully bipartisan commission with Republicans in on it to try to get to the bottom of the facts of the January 6th riot. 54 senators voting for it, that includes 6 Republicans, which means a majority in both the house and senate want this, back this. But in our democracy right now, that`s not enough, not enough to overcome Mitch McConnell`s obstruction.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Out of fear or fealty to Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about January 6th.

This vote has made it official. Donald Trump`s big lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party. Trump`s big lie is now the defining principle of what was once the party of Lincoln.

Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they`re afraid of Donald Trump.


MELBER: There are plenty of areas for reasonable debate in American life and politics. This is not one of them. We are talking about lies. We are talking about violence perpetrated on the very floor of that body. And we`re talking about foothold in the Republican Party that is getting worse. Nearly 75 percent of Republicans now say, they believe Trumps supporters were not really to blame for the Capitol attack. That`s false.

We witnessed the insurrection real-time. It wasn`t angry mob, they broke down the walls. They waved Trump flags. They got there via a speech by Donald Trump on the mall, and a tweet summoning them there. And they chanted Trump slogans while also agitating for the execution of his vice president.

Paul Ryan, the Republican Party`s former speaker, says this about the state of the party.


FORMER REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): We conservatives find ourselves at a crossroads.

If the conservative cause depends on the populous appeal of one personality or of second-rate imitations, then we`re not going anywhere. Voters looking for Republican leaders want to see independence and mettle. They will not be impressed by the sight of yes men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.


MELBER: This is a big deal, it`s how Washington ends the week and we`re joined by special panel, Pulitzer Prize and Washington Columnist, Eugene Robinson, MSNBC Columnist and Reporter Laura Bassett, and Political Strategist Chai Komanduri, Eagle Eye of MSNBC Viewers will recall Chai dropping film knowledge last hour. He`s here now to deal with the politics.

Eugene I start with you because this is serious, it`s documented. On the one hand, we have a non-democratic Senate where I can report as the -- I`m doing the anchor thing, 54 senators voted for it, but it didn`t become law yet because they were voting on that procedural motion that Mitch McConnell always insists on. But, writ large, where do you see in where the Republican Party headed today?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, I see exactly what you and everybody else sees, Ari. The Republican Party is some warped, smaller, twisted, distorted version of its former self.

And you listen to people like Paul Ryan, who is a conservative, trying to speak to the Republican Party and it`s like a complete waste of breath. The Republican Party is not a conservative party right now. It`s -- it doesn`t believe in conservative principles. It doesn`t -- you know, law and order is a conservative principle.

The idea that the party would block an investigation into an attack on our democracy, on the citadel of our democracy, in order to stop the Congress from certifying the election, to stop an official act of our government, that -- I mean, that`s the definition of an attack on law and order.

Yet the Republican Party doesn`t care at this point. It`s not -- it`s a MAGA cult, it`s a Trump cult and it`s going to be like that for the foreseeable future, I think, until it suffers one or two or more crushing defeats at the polls. That`s when parties change and come to their senses, but, generally, not before that.

And so we`re in for a long, sad period of this kind of behavior, I think, from the Republican Party.

MELBER: Fair. And, you know, Laura, I want to look at the 9/11 example. I`m not one of those people who`s like, oh, remember, everything used to be better a while back. If you make a list, a lot of things were not better. But I will say some things are getting worse. So you can chart that however you want because we have a very simple comparison. 9/11 was also an attack on America.

When it came to the core fact-finding question of, do you want a commission to look into it, it was so overwhelmingly unanimous, it is what viewers who follow politics know as known as a voice vote. Meaning there wasn`t really anyone, not even a handful people who want to go on record against it. It was a unanimous voice vote. And you see this today blocked with the way the Senate is hijacked.

But even if you put aside the filibuster, Laura, you have, as Gene just documented, in the main, the bulk of the Republican Party against finding the facts about this attack that killed officers and endangered them.

LAURA BASSETT, MSNBC COLUMNIST: I mean, you`re right about some of this. I mean, 140 people were injured in this attack. It was an attack on the senators` actual, literal workplace. It was an attack on the legislative branch of this country. And you would think that if anything can be bipartisan, it would be commission, just fact-finding, about this attack.

At the same time, one major difference, I think the most important difference between 9/11, obviously, the scale of deaths, and whatever was a huge difference, but it was easy for both Republican and Democrats to sort of pin 9-11 on another country, whereas when we`re talking about the January 6th insurrection, it pretty much straight up implicates the Republican Party. These were followers of Trump.

And there were Republican senators and congressmen, and are still are, who supported the insurrection and act on the insurrection. And so as opposed the 9/11, if they were to support a fact-finding mission into this particular event, they would be implicating themselves. And I think that`s why they are being cowards about it.

MELBER: I think you nailed that. We have some evidence to that point. I didn`t know you`re going to say it, but we have evidence to that point for Chai, who has been a student of political movements in this country and abroad. America is not immune to any of the problems in other countries where systems that are partly democratic give way to authoritarianism, or give way to what is called political violence. This is serious stuff.

Now, here is Matt Gaetz, who has a host of problems, but he`s a Republican congressman most closely tied to Trump. And here is the kind of thing he is saying to people in broad daylight. We need to see this so people understand what is coming at us. Take a look, Chai.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): We have a Second Amendment in this country and I think we have an obligation to use it.

The Second Amendment is not about -- it`s not about hunting, it`s not about recreation, it`s not about sports. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary. I hope it never does.



CHAI KOMANDURI, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean, that`s actually really a stunning piece of video there. Matt Gaetz, who basically looking at a terrible criminal probe, in which he is very clearly culpable of things that are deeply, deeply unethical, is now trying to stoke Second Amendment gun rights sort of fears in this country to distract from his own problems. Which by the way is a metaphor for the larger GOP, which is they are constantly trying to stoke these cultural fires, talking about cancel culture. You know, we`ve talked endlessly about how obsessed they are with Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, and all these other sort of things to really just distract from their lack of policies, their lack of solutions for the future of the country.

And I think that that is really what a lot of this discussion is about. The GOP, there`s a political calculation, they`re looking to win five House seats by just ginning up the MAGA base, but they`re also looking to move forward in a policy-free direction that for them is quite a lot of fun and that is very enjoyable, because it doesn`t require them to do the hard work and the hard thinking that Democrats, Joe Biden, and even some Republicans of old used to do, looking at economics history, things like that to find solutions to this country.

MELBER: Laura?

BASSETT: I agree. I don`t have much to add on that. I agree.

MELBER: You agree with that? You were almost smiling like, yes, this is ridiculous. But, I mean, I guess, Laura, the question then is, how much did this event -- I think today is a kind of inflection point, even if we say that a lot but this was a forced time for the Republicans to go on record to say, no, they don`t want to find the facts. How much of that becomes an inflection point of showing that the 6th, was initially some establishment Republicans, including McCarthy, just assumed was so bad, it would not be palatable and acceptable, even politically.

And by that narrow standard, how much of today then becomes them saying, oh, well I guess they`re going to go more towards Trump and Gaetz, which is openly fanning the flames over violence, which, at an ethical level, it`s different than just benefiting from it?

BASSETT: You`re right, I mean, there`s no question that this party is embracing extremism, and showing fealty to Trump. It`s clearly moving in that direction. And we saw that with the demotion of Liz Cheney and the promotion of Elise Stefanik. They want Trump loyalists. They are clearly picking a lane here.

I think what`s really important about what happened today is that, you know, we have a couple of Democratic holdouts, Sinema and Manchin, on ending the filibuster because they believe that the filibuster was this tool for forcing compromise, bipartisan compromise.

And today was a perfect example of how -- I mean, we`re not talking about a vote on the green new deal. This wasn`t an AOC policy that they were voting on today. This was a bipartisan, equal amount of Republican and Democrats commission to investigating a violent incident. So if they can`t even compromise on this. They`re going to compromise on nothing.

So I hope, I`d like to see, that if this is an infliction point, it`s happening in the Democratic Party, and they`re realizing that -- in order for democracy to move forward.


ROBINSON: Yes. The Democratic Party now has to basically represent the entire sane spectrum of political thought in this country because the Republicans have decided to marginalize themselves, and put themselves into some fantasy camp.

And so, you`ve got, you know, Bernie Sanders and AOC on the left, and you`ve got Manchin and Sinema and a few others on the right. And so that is the negotiation that is taking place, you know, in the insane politics in this country right now. And the Republicans just don`t want to participate. They simply don`t want to participate.

The outrageous thing to me is that Mitch McConnell whipped this vote. I mean, he made this vote go down the way it did. He did not give Republican senators the option of voting their conscience. So he essentially said, you know, I`m the leader, and we`re going for the crazy. And we`re not participating in normal democracy here. We`re not going to do that. We`re just going to say no, and we think that`s our route to regaining power.

BASSETT: And I just want to add if I could --

MELBER: What people hear Eugene is -- yes, go ahead.

BASSETT: I just want to add that we`re talking about a 19-vote margin. It was 54 Democrats to 35 Republicans. Sorry, my lighting just fell. And in any other democracy in any other reasonable country, a 19 vote margin for the majority means that there`s a consensus and the thing passes. I mean, there`s something deeply wrong when you say Republicans won this vote with negative 19 votes. That is insane.

MELBER: Yes. They`re all very fair points. All I wanted to underscore was I hope people are hearing what Gene said because there are times that we can debate, we don`t know what a politician thinks, and maybe annoying but we`re trying to be fair as journalists.

We do know Mitch McConnell`s thought this was an insurrection. We do know he thought it was a high crime, because he made very clear to The New York Times when he was whipping for anti-Trump sentiment in the Senate that it should be impeachable. He thought that and publicly said it, which makes it all the more obviously despicably hypocritical to what he`s doing now.

The final point I want to bring to Chai, is, Chai, I don`t know if you have heard when people say keep it 100. Have you ever heard that?

KOMANDURI: I have, yes, I have heard keep it 100. Yes. I`m very familiar with that.

MELBER: Yes. Keep it 100. And that can mean -- yes, it could mean being 100 percent at something, or keeping it real or authentic. Mitch McConnell actually blew it and had to start backtracking when he said the thing everyone knows, which is when it comes to obstruction, take a listen, he keeps it 100.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): 100 percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.

100 percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration.



KOMANDURI: Well, it`s not surprising that he was blocking the January 6th commission. I mean, criminals rarely want commissions investigating their own criminal enterprises. And if you want to look at a comparison, pre-9/11 and January 6th, I mean, there was no GOP culpability on 9/11. There was quite a lot of GOP culpability on January 6th with the former GOP president. I mean, there is no episode at The Sopranos, for example, where Tony Soprano asking for an investigation into waste management services in Newark. That would be exactly what would be like if the Republican report coming on us.

MELBER: Do you have any Wire references before we go?

KOMANDURI: I do not, actually. You know, that actually -- and The Wire, it ends badly for everyone, so that would make perhaps to be perhaps to be a cautionary tale for the GOP, you know Stringer, Barksdale, and that doesn`t end well for anyone. That`s something that we should keep in mind.

MELBER: He had it, he had it in there. He just said to reach. Shout out to Stringer.

I want to thank our excellent kickoff panel. We covered a lot at ground here, Eugene, Laura, and Chai Komonduri, thanks to each of you.

We have the shortest break right now, just 30-second. Coming back, Trump Org insiders weighing in on why there is a criminal probe, and who should be nervous.

Also, we`re learning more about the theories of the origins of COVID-19, why we need to keep an open mind and what it could mean for the world, for our safety, even for Biden foreign policy. We`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Turning to the ongoing investigation and intelligence regarding something we still don`t have a full picture of, where exactly the COVID-19 come from, what are the origins? There is scrutiny about whether it possibly came from a lab leak in Wuhan, China.

The Times reporting U.S. officials are looking it previously unexamined evidence that could help resolve this. President Biden making waves by giving some credibility to this possibility and ordering a better, deeper intelligence report within 90 days.

Top health experts, including Dr. Fauci, who had publicly downplayed the idea that it did come potentially from this lab leak, this theory, now says everything, informationally, has got to be on the table.


MELBER: We feel strongly, all of us, that we should continue with the investigation and go to the next phase of the investigation that the WHO has done. So, because we don`t know 100 percent what the origin is, it`s imperative that we look and we do an investigation. And that`s how we feel right now.


MELBER: This is about science, it`s about intelligence but it`s also about foreign policy, and a notoriously adversarial nation. Because Biden officials say they are partly concerned that the Chinese government has been stonewalling investigators which raises question about why. There`s also recent reporting that three Wuhan lab researchers went to the hospital as far back as November 2019, shortly before the later the confirmed outbreak.

So let`s get into the fact, this is a big one and one of the people that we`re going to talking about on this long weekend, I`m joined by Washington Post Reporter Shane Harris. He`s been covering the investigation into the origins of the pandemic. Thanks for being here.

SHANE HARRIS, THE WASHINGTON POST STAFF WRITER: You bet, Ari. Good to be here. Thanks.

MELBER: Let`s fast forward to right now. Base on the available public evidence, what are the most likely theories about where COVID came from?

HARRIS: Well, there are two, and President Biden said the Intelligence Community, as he put it, has coalesced around two. One, which I think is fair to say that most scientists would agree with, is that the pandemic developed naturally, when an infected a human, and that human infected other people. We have seen pandemics spread like that before. That`s how the SARS outbreak in China began in 2002.

The other possibility is that it came from this lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And important to note here that the theory there is not that the Chinese deliberately engineered some kind of bioweapon and then purposely put it out to infect people, rather that the kinds of research that was going on in that lab for many years, principally on coronaviruses, with an aim towards trying to prevent future outbreaks, that there may have been sloppy or reckless research that inadvertently developed the SARS-CoV-2, or perhaps that the lab had even collected it in a sample from an animal, maybe didn`t realize they had it.

A lab worker gets sick, he takes it home, he takes it to a restaurant, and the pandemic spreads that way. That is the lab leak. And that is kind of the new piece of this that the president now wants to go back and look at the intelligence and say, does it tell us anything about whether that scenario is more likely than the natural scenario?

MELBER: So, door number one is bats. And door number two is lab.

HARRIS: Right.

MELBER: And bats, as you say, has precedent. And everyone likes precedent because they say, well, it`s happened before.

With regard to that door number one, bats, here`s a headline, that no one can find the animal that gave people COVID-19. You mentioned SARS. Their researchers tested cage market animals and found an identical virus.

This time, MIT notes no animal has been identified. Where does that fit into pulling on the thread for door number one?

HARRIS: Well, I think it doesn`t necessarily tell us much of anything, because these -- the viruses can take years to trace back to a host animal or a reservoir.

I think it took upwards of 15 years for the first SARS outbreak to be traced back. We still don`t know the original host of Ebola. So, it can take a long time for this to happen.

One thing, though, that kind of -- the thread to pull on to kind of continue with that theme is that the Chinese government hasn`t exactly been open and transparent in allowing an investigation into China...


HARRIS: ... that would actually help us to say, OK, where is the original bat or the animal that it went from bat to animal-X into human?


HARRIS: And that kind of obfuscation and obstruction has led people to be suspicious.

MELBER: And you`re just a reporter on this. You`re not -- you`re not gunning for one theory or the other, right?

HARRIS: That`s correct. I keep an open mind. We don`t have evidence one way or the other.

MELBER: And yet you know you`re reporting in this area where there has been a ton of political heat. People have various outcomes they want. There`s been international intrigue.

As an observer of this, do you think that the political conversation or the wider dynamics contributed to sort of underplaying or not taking as seriously door number two, lab, for various reasons? Or do you just think the evidence has moved a lot quickly?

HARRIS: I do think that the political environment had a lot to do with this in the early stages.

I mean, in talking to former officials who were working on this issue who were also keeping an open mind, but let`s be clear, were suspicious of the lab -- so they were maybe a little bit predisposed to think that could be the source -- what they said is that, in April of 2020, when President Trump first started talking about the possibility of a lab leak, and talking about things like the China virus, or when his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, openly suggested that China may have deliberately engineered this virus, that`s when it became a political weapon.

And I think it`s safe to say that, for many in the scientific community, there was almost a kind of allergic reaction to the suggestion of a lab leak, because it sounded more like something that Donald Trump was trying to deploy as a political deflection to take attention off his own administration`s faulty responses to the pandemic.

So, a lab leak, really, the biggest proponent of it became Donald Trump. And this is somebody with a history of dissembling, of lying on certain occasions, of racist language. Certainly, it was supercharged when it came to the COVID pandemic, which he sometimes called the kung-flu.

So that colored everything. And I think that it`s just taken some time for scientists perhaps to come around to this idea that says, wait, there have been lab accidents before, not that it caused a pandemic, but there have been viruses that have escaped from labs. That does happen, even in very safe labs, even in the United States.

And I think, clearly, President Biden has been persuaded, I don`t think, that one theory is true vs. the other, but that there`s enough information that it merits going back over it with fresh eyes and saying, all right, take the politics out of this, take whatever Donald Trump said out of it.

What does the information tell us and what can we conclude from it? And we may never get to an answer, but there should be a credible investigation, he`s saying.

MELBER: I think you broke that down so well, and it`s really important, because, on the one hand, if the chief and loudest advocate for something is a race-baiting liar, who lies all the time and has done things that contribute to, for example, the rise in hate crimes, you can understand why people don`t want to get near that.

And yet we all, I mean, the whole world has a vested interest in getting all the possible facts about where this came from, which informs what happened and what maybe, if anything, to do about it. So, it`s really important stuff.

Shane Harris, thank you for your objective reporting, sir.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me on, Ari. I appreciate the opportunity.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up: There is data, evidence, facts that the certain blogger in Florida is not finding anyone who wants to read his blog. Who am I talking about? Well, we will get to that later.

Also: The Trump Organization criminal probe, we have key witnesses who have been telling what`s really going on and why so many people in Trump world are getting more nervous.

Stay with us.



JASON MILLER, FORMER TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I do think that we`re going to see President Trump returning to social media. This is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media. It`s going to completely redefine the game.


MELBER: Define hottest ticket. Define the game. I mean, define any of it.

We will just give you the facts. "The Washington Post" reports that Donald Trump`s blog, as a matter of metrics, audience, readers, every single way they measure blogs, it`s a failure.

It has lower traffic right now than sites like Delish, Petfinder, Squarespace, and your favorite, Eat This, Not That. This is from "The Post."

Not a single one of the entries ostensibly written by the Florida blogger Donald Trump has gotten more than 15,000 interactions since the blog`s second day.

The report, though, has one blogger in Florida quite upset. And how did he complain? Well, he reached for a medium where not many people are going to hear about it, his blog, Trump writing that this is "a temporary way of getting my thoughts and ideas out to the public," a kind of a backtracking.

But that`s not how the Trump team has been marketing this when they unveiled it earlier this month.

Here`s the trailer that debuted on, well, again, a blog that very few people see.


NARRATOR: ... of history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twitter prominently banning the commander in chief`s personal account with 88 million followers.


MELBER: It literally sounds like a safe space, where you can be safe and free for, I guess, a certain type of thought. And it has not panned out.

Donald Trump, writ large, far less relevant online then in many years. On social media, where he, of course, has been removed from several sites, mentions of Donald Trump are at their lowest since 2016.

This matters, though, because it may show a bit of a phantom menace here. Republican leaders are openly terrified of the blogger. But do they know whether he still has the same perceived influence? Is it real?

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is claiming that, in some acknowledgement of this reality, there will be a bigger, different online platform at some point in the future.

We`re joined now by someone who knows a lot about politics and the Internet, Erin Gloria Ryan, who is host of the podcast "Hysteria."

Thanks for coming on.

ERIN GLORIA RYAN, HOST, "HYSTERIA": Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER: We mentioned this story here at the end of the week, not just to note that they blew it, that the blog is unpopular, that it`s not a hot ticket, that it trails many other sites, that complaining about the treatment of your blog on a blog that no one reads is not a very effective communication strategy. That`s not our only point.

I`m curious what you think about the wider point that matters, when you look at issues ranging from voting rights, to commission, to whether to work with Biden on jobs. Does this actually suggest that, even among Trump fans, his current influence may be overstated in the minds of Republican politicians?

RYAN: Well, I would love that if that were the case.

But I think, right now, we`re simply talking about just Trump`s blog. And I think a blog is not really a way for him to reach his fans. Like, if you take a look at the blog, there`s a couple entries that are just like 900- word blocks of text, with absolutely no paragraph interruptions.

Like, you`re trying to get people to read long blocks of texts on Web sites that don`t have pictures of their grandchildren uploaded onto them? Like, that`s not going to happen.


RYAN: Second of all, there`s no comment section.

I feel like part of what Trump loves is having approving comments. And, as somebody who started their career as a blogger and who worked as a comment moderator, I have to say there are ways to make sure that a comment section just feeds you what you want to hear.

Like, he could filter out troubling words like President Biden or grand jury if he wanted to, and just have all of the comments at the top be something that`s going to make him feel good.

And I feel like his followers also appreciate feeling like they have a personal connection to President Trump. And just blocks of text on a page don`t give them that. I`m not sure if they have decided they need that anymore. I`m not decided -- I`m not sure if they have coalesced around somebody else.

But, for now, I just think the blog is sort of what the TikTok generation would call cheugy.

MELBER: Cheugy. Will you define for us?


RYAN: Cheugy is a word -- if you`re a "New York Times" subscriber, you might have read Taylor Lorenz`s story on it.

But cheugy means off-trend, like following a trend that no longer exists. And blogging, I think, reached its heyday between around 2006 to about 2011. So, he`s about 10 years late on that.

MELBER: Yes, you`re saying the medium is out of style. The politician is out of style, recently rebuffed.

Why do you think they blew this, this badly, when the one thing he`s allegedly supposed to be good at is P.R.?

RYAN: Yes, this kind of P.R. is a little bit more complicated than the P.R. he is good at, which is getting on a phone and yelling things at journalists, typing a few sentences down and having mainstream journalists report them out.

A lot of times, what he will do is call out individual media outlets, and then all the media outlets kind of circle the wagons and try to defend that one media outlet. And that`s been a reliable way for him to get in the headlines.

So, I feel like another thing is that this kind of demonstrates building a blogging following takes a lot of work. It`s hard. And Donald Trump is not a very hard worker. When he was president, he spent a lot of time golfing. Most of the buildings that say Trump on them are not buildings he built. He`s better at branding things than he is at actually doing the work.

And I think that this is a reflection of the fact that, any time Trump is actually trying to do the work himself, he`s kind of going to cut corners. And this is a really -- a great demonstration of that.

MELBER: All fair points about something that is one of his only current ways that he`s ostensibly trying to reach people.

Erin Gloria Ryan, thank you. And have a great holiday weekend.

We`re going to fit in a break, but up ahead: The Trump Org criminal probe is in full swing. What key witnesses are saying, you`re going to hear it yourself.

And later: Is Biden in some ways the new Bernie? A big question, as Biden unveils new spending today.


MELBER: I am Ari Melber, in for Joy Reid.

And one of the biggest developments this week is the Manhattan DA convening a grand jury in the criminal probe of Donald Trump. It`s expected to decide whether to indict people at Trump Organization, which could include Donald Trump.

And we have been speaking with a number of the witnesses and insiders who are basically the building blocks of this thing, people like Trump`s CFO Allen Weisselberg`s former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg. She has spoken to the investigators here.

She says she thinks Weisselberg will eventually flip. And Donald Trump`s famous former lawyer Michael Cohen agrees.


JENNIFER WEISSELBERG, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ALLEN WEISSELBERG: Allen himself admitted to me that his tax -- taxes and pay stubs, he said: "I will never show those."

Oh, no. He was supposed to be the guarantor on my apartment, my lease after I was getting divorced. And he`s -- when I was getting divorced -- excuse me -- and he said: "Oh, no, I can`t show my taxes. I can`t show my pay stubs."

And I thought, why not? Basically, he was saying, they`re illegal, and I`m not releasing them.

It was during the Cohen SDNY investigation. Pretty telling.

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": This family is going to pretend that it all had to do with Allen, and that Allen was in charge of everything, Allen was responsible, and they`re all going to flip against Allen.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I think if you take a look at the panel that`s here in front of you, Ari, you have what I would term to be the trifecta of trouble for Trump.

If you take a look, you have, of course, Stephanie, who has the Melania and the Presidential Inaugural Committee. You have Jennifer, who deals directly with the CFO, and myself that sort of encompasses Trump and family, as well as the organization.

But Allen is a very interesting guy, because Allen was the gatekeeper for every penny that came in and went out of the Trump Organization. But it wasn`t just the Trump Organization. It was also Donald`s personal accounts. It was the kids` business accounts. It was the Presidential Inaugural Committee. It was the campaign.

Any penny that had anything to do with Donald Trump went through Allen Weisselberg`s desk. So, now that they have Allen sort of under investigation, I remember, once, I had bumped into Allen and the family at a restaurant here in the city.

And when I went over to say hello (AUDIO GAP) was like: "Oh, you can`t talk to me. You can`t talk to me. You`re under investigation."

Like, I really do hope that, as soon as I get off of home confinement, and I hopefully bump into him again, I can turn around and I can say to him the exact same thing.

But I do believe that he has significant exposure. And I think his exposure is not one that you can just hide, because the beautiful thing about numbers is, numbers don`t lie. People do.

And, as we know, Donald lies about everything, Donald lies, and Allen swears for it. So, it`s a question of whether or not Allen wants to now serve time in his golden years, or he wants to provide the information to the multitude of different organizations, law enforcement organizations, that are currently investigating him.

My suspicion is that he`s going to -- he`s going to provide the information they want.


MELBER: Now, a lot of people may talk about Donald Trump or any other politician. These are people talking to investigators about Donald Trump.

That includes a former executive there, Barbara Res. She worked with him for over a decade. She says Weisselberg is scared.



So, that they got -- getting this close and closing in on him is wonderful and surprising for him.

Weisselberg, he must be shaking in his boots. He`s the key man here. And he`s got things to say, besides just -- and he`s got his kids and the prospect of going to jail. And it`s a big deal for Weisselberg.

And Weisselberg is just a -- he`s an ordinary guy. I mean, he`s not like a Cohen or anyone that -- the big names -- Stone or any of those people. He`s just an ordinary guy. I mean, he rose up and he changed his standing and everything.

But I can imagine he`s just beside himself.

Weisselberg is one of those total sycophants that doesn`t breathe or inhale or exhale without Trump`s permission or knowledge.

So, I think that that will be interesting in trying to lay it on Weisselberg and how he responds.

And I think it will be effective.


MELBER: And then there`s the casinos.

Jack O`Donnell was the president of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City for Trump.

And we went through what he knows about Weisselberg and the money, and he said something quite newsworthy that I want to make sure you see, because investigators might want to see it. He alleges he was asked by Donald Trump himself to falsify financial records, the very issue that the current probe is looking at.

Take a listen.


JACK O`DONNELL, FORMER PRESIDENT AND COO, TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL: 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: "We need new numbers," perhaps coming to a grand jury room near you.

Now, we have a lot more in our hour here.

Up next: How is President Biden consolidating all the Democratic Party to put Mitch McConnell in a bind?

When we come back.


MELBER: Is President Biden the new Bernie?

He`s unveiled a $6 trillion set of budget proposals, lifting the middle class and expanding social safety nets. He also does want to raise funds by hitting corporations and the super wealthy.

These sweeping plans would bring spending to basically the highest levels, adjusted, over the past 50 years. This shows Biden`s transformation in how he`s governing.

Many see here progress and an attempt to consolidate the Democratic Party, while, on domestic policy, going full Bernie, after coming into office with a reputation as more of an incremental moderate.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More cops, more prisons, more physical protection for the people.

We have predators on our streets. You must take back the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress gives President Bush what he wants in the showdown with Saddam Hussein by a vote of 77 to 23.

BIDEN: We say yes, Mr. President, you have that power to go to war.

When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid.


MELBER: He meant Medicare and Medicaid. He meant Iraq. He meant clean up the streets with that tough and controversial crime bill.

Now, that was that in Joe Biden`s long Senate career.

And then we know recently that party that he`s in seemed to sort of split two presidential cycles in a row between the more establishment centrist choice and a progressive one. First, it was Clinton vs. Sanders. And then it was Biden vs. Sanders.

At this time a year ago, Sanders had not yet endorsed Biden. And they have been engaging in months of respectful, but vigorous policy debate.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Joe has voted for terrible trade agreements.

BIDEN: I don`t know that there`s any trade agreement that the senator would ever think made any sense.

SANDERS: Joe and I have a fundamental disagreement here, in case you haven`t noticed.


SANDERS: Obviously, the Paris accord is useful, but it doesn`t go anywhere -- if you`re laughing, Joe, then you`re missing the point. This is an existential crisis.


MELBER: About a year later, Biden`s governing from the core and base of the Democratic Party, the progressive base, pushing the liberal plans I just mentioned, spending that outstrips anything from the early days of the Obama/Biden administration, pushing higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, and Joe Biden taking sides with labor more than he did in past decades or than past Democratic presidents.

He`s pushing the new multitrillion-dollar plan with major planks for jobs, racial justice, and addressing climate change.

Now, whether it`s correlation or causation, Biden at times can sound a bit like the new Bernie.


SANDERS: We need a lot more. And that`s true for the other 49 states.

China is building high-speed rail all over the place. We are not.

BIDEN: We have to improve our infrastructure. China and other countries are eating our lunch.


MELBER: Is Biden simply revealing his own values, now that he has this power? Or is he channeling Sanders?

An Obama campaign veteran and beat guest Chai Komanduri says it shows the new era of progressive politics that`s much closer to Bernie Sanders` vision of radically distributing America`s wealth downwards.

Now, that doesn`t mean Biden has gone full democratic socialist. Sanders himself wants more direct climate action in that new Biden bill. And Biden has not been with liberals on a larger plan to wipe out student debt up to 50 grand or go to the mat fully on minimum wage in the Senate.

But, as Komanduri argues and as some liberals have been arguing for years, the Democratic Party`s base is fundamentally progressive on economic justice. And that base, with its coalition, is larger than the MAGA movement.

And the new President Biden increasingly sounds like he gets that, which means he sounds more like the party`s progressives than, say, Joe Biden from the `90s.


SANDERS: CEOs make millions and millions of dollars, but don`t ask us to pay more in taxes.

BIDEN: When a multinational corporation that builds a factory abroad brings it home, then sell it, they pay nothing at all.

SANDERS: If elected president of the United States, we`re going to do everything that we can to rebuild the trade union movement in this country.


BIDEN: I`m a union guy. I support unions. Unions built the middle class. And it`s about time they start to get a piece of the action.


MELBER: And that`s some food for thought, as we see it all coming together.

I also want to share a programming note. MSNBC is debuting a new documentary about young people who take care of veterans with disabilities and their own families. It`s called "Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation."

It premieres this Saturday, fittingly this holiday weekend, 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

I`m wishing you a great weekend.

You can always find me on THE BEAT weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern or online @AriMelber on social media.

Keep it right here on MSNBC.