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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 6/30/21

Guests: Nancy Erika Smith, John Brennan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nick Akerman


New York prosecutors are reportedly set to indict Donald Trump`s chief financial officer and the Trump Organization. Neil deGrasse Tyson and former CIA Director John Brennan discuss the Pentagon report on UFOs. House Republicans fail in their bid to stop the January 6 investigation. A stunning court ruling sets Bill Cosby free.



Hi, Ari.

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


And we begin with breaking news.

New York prosecutors now reportedly formally about to indict Donald Trump`s chief financial officer and his company, or part of it, tomorrow. NBC News reporting the Trump Organization will be charged for these tax- and corporate-related crimes as soon as tomorrow afternoon.

"The Wall Street Journal," for its part, reporting, Trump`s CFO, Allen Weisselberg, who has been at the center of so much of this, will be himself independently indicted for evading taxes on his benefits. The defendants would then appear in court tomorrow.

This is a huge development. This is what Donald Trump has been running from for many years. It is what his desperate bid to hide his taxes after promising to release them was at least partially about. We can see that in the outlines of these tax-related corporate charges.

"The Wall Street Journal," which, by the way, is a twin sister publication of FOX News and a conservative outlet, reports that any charges against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg would be a blow to former President Trump, who`s fended off multiple criminal and civil probes during and after his presidency.

But what may also worry Donald Trump is that the beginning of the indictment phase of this case -- if you watch THE BEAT, we have been reporting on it from when it leaked that there was a grand jury probe, to who`s gone before it, to us summoning witnesses here to learn what these investigators were asking -- all of that was the investigation stage. This is the start of charges, of the indictment stage.

And the start doesn`t necessarily mean it`s the end. It is always possible that, for various reasons, some secret and unknown to us, or some relating to participation or cooperation from future people involved in this, that there could be other big indictments down the road.

Trump`s own lawyers admit this probe continues. CNN reports today prosecutors are also looking into a separate issue, cash bonuses given out by this same company. Now, that`s a part of the investigation that we hadn`t heard from before. That matters, number one, because it speaks to the breadth of what the DA says is a criminal set of activities to defraud the government and, in a way, to defraud you, because, if they`re evading taxes, you and others pay more.

It also reminds us that we haven`t even seen the first charge yet, although this is widely confirmed. The Trump lawyers don`t deny it. And so today`s cash bonus piece of the story reinforces what we have said in our coverage, that, while we don`t know anything yet, and, legally, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the charges are coming, and there are things going on behind the scenes and secret evidence that we don`t know yet that may lead to even more charges.

I`m joined now by Dan Alonso. You may recognize his name because he is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, top deputy to the DA now leading this investigation. Alonso literally wrote the DA guidelines for charging companies in New York, which would include the analysis of the Trump Organization.

And I can tell you, formally, he now joins us for the first time as an MSNBC contributor. So, we welcome him in playing that role legally and journalistically.

We`re also joined by another expert, a former SDNY and Watergate prosecutor, Nick Akerman.

Dan, I want to start with you. And we will get right down to the journalistic inquiry, but I did want to say formally, welcome and congratulations. We`re happy to have you now as an analyst. And we have had you in our prior reporting.

What does it mean that both sides are agreeing on the basic outline of the facts, charges coming tomorrow? And walk us through what tomorrow looks like, as you have handled these kind of heady days in that same office.

DANIEL R. ALONSO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, Ari, thanks for the welcome. Happy to be with you.

So, what this means, it`s always a big deal when an individual and a company are charged with felonies. This is not, as we have said before, the large charges relating to accounting fraud that Michael Cohen testified about. This apparently is about, frankly, off-the-books compensation.

We have been calling it untaxed fringe benefits, but, really, it`s a way to compensate people without doing what every other legitimate company does, is withholding taxes and then having the employee declare it. So it`s a big deal by itself.

It`s not, obviously, the large case that people have been anticipating, but they`re still going to be investigating. And we will see. Stay tuned on that.

As for what happens tomorrow, in these cases, it`s actually relatively routine. I expect that, in the afternoon, they will appear for arraignment before a judge in Supreme Court New York County, which is the name of the court, and the judge will arraign both Mr. Weisselberg and the company. And the company can only appear through counsel. So a lawyer will appear, and, presumably, they will both enter not guilty pleas.

And that will start the case. And then the case will proceed. And there`s things like discovery and motions and things like that.

MELBER: You say it is routine. And that`s a prosecutor`s perspective.

But, then again, for most people, there`s nothing routine about it, because most people have never had to be marched in there for their booking, for their arraignment. The thought of the company side is something that, again, you, in our coverage, literally wrote the memo, and we have delved into that.

Before I bring Nick in, I want you to walk us through that a little bit more, because Donald Trump is so synonymous with the Trump Organization, in name, in likeness, in the fact that it builds off his brand, whatever that means to people, and that, for years, pre and during politics, he argued that the Trump Organization, in his view, was a success.

It proved, he said, that he`s good at what he does, that he makes deals and that he makes money. Then he hid the underlying documentation, breaking with all candidates in both parties, which raised questions, why? And the answer that appears to be gestured at in a corporate indictment or partial corporate indictment, if -- depending on how it works, would be that, in some way, the DA alleges the company also made money by defrauding and stealing it.

Money that would have gone to the government and not been his property was instead counted as profits. Is that right? And what does that mean for the corporate side of this tomorrow?

ALONSO: Well, it`s a great point.

Of course, every case is a big deal for a criminal defendant, particularly one who`s never been charged before. And, as far as we know, Weisselberg and the Trump Organization haven`t been. So this is a very big deal. And what this -- what this means is -- I mean, it`s exactly right.

When you`re talking about tax fraud, Ari, you are talking about stealing from the government. And we will see how the DA, as lawyers say, pleads this, how they write the indictment. There are some creative things that they could do.

And I`m looking, in particular, to see if they`re going to allege that the federal government is a victim here as well, because, as we have talked about before, if you`re talking just state charges, then it`s a much smaller percentage, it`s a smaller bracket of the amount of income that`s evaded. Say it`s a million dollars of income. It`s like $90,000 $100,000 of tax loss. That`s not really in the jail category typically in these cases.

But if you`re now talking about the government being a victim as well, you`re now talking the 45, 50 percent tax bracket with payroll taxes, right? So now you`re talking a $500,000 case. That starts to look a lot more serious and a lot more like a jail case.

So, in particular, I`m going to be looking for how the DA crafted these charges, who the victims are, and what exactly the crimes are that they have alleged.

MELBER: Nick, the announcements here from the Trump lawyers have been apparently accurate in one sense. They don`t seem to be trying to blur or lie about the central expectation, reported widely, and that the DA is going to charge tomorrow.

On the other hand, they have already started to use a Bill Barr-esque preview strategy, where they say, if this is -- quote -- "just Mr. Weisselberg" and "just about taxes," it`s not a big deal. Your response?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think what`s going to really make a difference is pretty much what Dan laid out, is, how much money are we (AUDIO GAP) What is the lost (AUDIO GAP)

How pervasive was this activity? Over how many years did it occur? And who were the victims exactly? I mean, I think what we`re going to see is a much bigger indictment, in terms of the amounts of money, the scope of the crimes that were committed.

Of course, if you`re the defense lawyer, you`re going to try and downplay the charges, try to minimize it. You`re going to try and get ahead of it, so that it doesn`t look so bad. But the proof in the pudding is going to be the actual indictments tomorrow.

And my expectation is, they are not going to come up with some namby-pamby indictment that has minimal type funds, minimal type charges. I think it`s going to be a pretty hard-hitting indictment that is really going to be -- create major problems for the Trump Organization (AUDIO GAP).

And, of course, the overriding question (AUDIO GAP) where`s Donald Trump and what are they going to do with him? Where is he going to fit into this whole picture?

MELBER: And that was my last question. I have got a lot in the newscast, including the breaking news on Cosby coming up.

But, Nick Akerman, in a sentence or two tops, the pressure tomorrow on Weisselberg and Trump`s company is the worst sign for who?

AKERMAN: It`s the worst sign for both the company and for Trump.

But, keep in mind, there`s no guarantee that Weisselberg is going to cooperate. In the Nixon tax case...


AKERMAN: ... we (AUDIO GAP) the people that were involved in the preparation of the falsity of Nixon`s return.

Out of those three people, only one cooperated. So, we don`t know what`s going to happen. But that is the big question...


MELBER: Yes, Dan, same question.


ALONSO: Trump is not in the courtroom, but this is not good for him, when his namesake businesses are being charged.

I don`t think Weisselberg cooperates based on these charges, because you would have otherwise. But that doesn`t mean other people might not cooperate. And there`s a few months left in this grand jury investigation. And there`s a lot the DA can do in terms of strategy to try to get at the truth.

MELBER: There`s some things we don`t know. By all accounts, what we do know is tomorrow is going to be a huge day and the first day in the rest of the life of the Trump Organization.

How long that life is, corporate or otherwise, remains to be seen.

I want to thank Dan and Nick.

And I want to tell everyone what we have coming up. This is pretty much a special show. There was this Pentagon report on UFOs. We have two experts tonight you won`t see anywhere else, the world famous Neil deGrasse Tyson and former CIA Director John Brennan, on the big questions about signs of intelligent life and what the Pentagon is up to.

Also, House Republicans fail in their bid to stop this January 6 investigation, new developments there.

And when we come back, my legal breakdown and a special guest on a stunning court ruling today that sets Bill Cosby free.


MELBER: Breaking news on Bill Cosby.

He is now out of prison tonight, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court completely overturned his conviction for indecent assault. This stems from allegations that he was initially convicted on that he drugged and raped a woman in 2004.

Now, as a legal matter, this court is not saying Cosby is innocent. It`s not exonerating him of the actual charges, although he`s free. The court is saying the prosecutors wrongly led Cosby to believe initially that he would never be charged in a criminal case, and that, in exchange for that under a deal, he participated in a civil case, saying things that were against his interests.

So the court is ruling that the later criminal charges violated that deal. And they are tossing his conviction. It is in many ways an unusual and even bizarre ruling. Cosby has continued to deny all wrongdoing. His accusers are reacting today.

Eden Tirl saying: "I am completely out of breath."

Janice Baker-Kinney saying she is stunned: "No words. Sick. Just sick to my stomach" -- end quote -- she said.

I want to bring in a legal expert who`s worked on exactly these kinds of matters, civil rights attorney Nancy Erika Smith. She represented former FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson in a harassment suit against Roger Ailes, and is steeped in these kinds of cases.

Thanks for being here.

NANCY ERIKA SMITH, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Happy to be here. Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: First, big picture, a ruling like this is how unusual?

SMITH: This is -- I have never seen anything like it.

The justices have released a man accused by 60 women of sexual assault; 19 of them were willing to testify to the same M.O. He drugs women and then he rapes them. Five were allowed to testify. The youngest was 17.

And he`s released based on a press release by a very political DA. He ended up representing Trump in his impeachment hearings. A press release somehow has turned into blanket immunity and a binding on other prosecutors, even though the press release said...

MELBER: Yes. Let`s get...

SMITH: Yes, go ahead. I`m sorry.

MELBER: ... he may later charge.


MELBER: Let`s get into exactly that. You`re such a good lawyer. You`re fast.

You`re saying that what the court ruled today was a deal, like some kind of bulletproof deal...


MELBER: ... is actually their interpretation, or I would say their legal effort to supersize statements, public statements that were made about that original civil case.

SMITH: Right.

And there`s no writing to reflect it. You`re a lawyer. I`m a lawyer. You make an agreement to give immunity to somebody, and not any lawyer, not his criminal lawyers, not Constand`s lawyers, nobody, not the DA`s office -- and the DA`s office, the other lawyers, said they were not aware of this agreement, and they prosecuted him.

MELBER: Right.

SMITH: And they make it sound like they gave something to Andrea Constand. They didn`t give her anything.

It doesn`t hurt her case to have him plead the Fifth. That looks like -- Mr. Cosby, isn`t it true that you drugged my client, so that you could rape her? I plead the Fifth. That`s going to hurt you in front of a jury? I don`t think so.

MELBER: Right.

SMITH: So it`s an astonishing decision. And I think that the dissent appropriately points out that there was no writing about this until 2015.


MELBER: Exactly.

And you mentioned the old DA who is linked to this deal.


MELBER: Can`t make it up. This is a Trump impeachment lawyer who many felt was grandstanding about some of this.

SMITH: Right.

MELBER: Here`s what he sounded like recently in that case.


BILL COSBY, FREED FROM PRISON: You can see how power less many of us feel. This is for all the people who have been imprisoned wrongfully, regardless of race, color or creed.

BRUCE CASTOR, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I am the lead prosecutor or lead counsel.

We still know what records are, right? On the thing put the needle down on you play it.

Here`s little Bruce, 8, 9, 10 years old.

Why is it that we say my senator?

I worked in this building 40 years ago. I got lost then. And I still do.

Nebraska, you`re going to hear, is quite a judicial thinking place.



MELBER: There was a little bit of the most recent Bill Cosby reaction, and then that`s Mr. Castor.

Your final word on what this means. And for people who look at this and say, wow, what an unusual, deplorable outcome that only seems to happen in these kinds of cases, especially when defendants are rich.

SMITH: That is exactly what my last word would be. It`s shocking.

I have heard from so many of my clients today who are devastated by this decision that, all of a sudden, a DA has the right to grant immunity, something only a judge can do, to this powerful celebrity, who has hurt so many women. And the testimony was so painful. The five women who testified -- it`s in the opinion -- the 17-year-old who he drugged, gave alcohol and raped woke up in her home two days later and didn`t know what had happened to her.

So for him to claim he`s wrongly imprisoned, that`s completely false. He`s out on a technicality. And it`s a technicality that I haven`t seen enacted in any other state in the United States ever. Shocking.

MELBER: And I remind viewers -- I remind viewers, whether people agree or disagree with your outrage -- I can imagine many do -- when you say, given that you practice in this area, which is why we have come to you so many times -- you say you have never seen it, that is really striking.

Nancy Erika Smith, thank you on.

SMITH: Thank you.

MELBER: On THE BEAT tonight, right now, we have our shortest break, 60 seconds.

When we come back, the big January 6 committee progress. Cornell Belcher next.


MELBER: House Democrats voting to form a select committee to investigate the insurrection, many Republicans skipping the vote to spend time with Donald Trump.

Reuters reports 31 lawmakers in Texas today for a person playacting is as still president. You see Trump at the border.

But back in Washington, well, Republicans who were there weren`t interested in supporting this investigation, only two voting to do it.

I`m joined now by MSNBC analyst Cornell Belcher.

Cornell, the headline is major progress, because there will be a subpoena- backed investigation. It is against the backdrop we just showed that is almost perfect in terms of abdicating any search for the facts.

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, Ari. But it`s problematic for Republicans.

I mean, it -- well, it`s kind of problematic for us to think that they would join in on this. I mean -- and I was listening to the -- to the earlier interviews about prosecution.

And, look, would you join in and aid the prosecution when you know that you`re going to -- you`re probably part of the -- sort of the guilty party on this? And, clearly, Republicans are trying to sort of whitewash this over, because I`m not that smart, but where there`s a lot of smoke, there`s probably fire here, Ari.

And, clearly, some Republicans fear being implicated in what this -- in what the investigation is going to find. And, furthermore, they don`t want this investigation to continue on about sort of the insurrection because they`re trying to pretend like the insurrection didn`t happen, because, politically, it`s not helpful for them right now.

MELBER: Right.

BELCHER: So they just want this to go away. So I understand, politically, where they`re coming from. The question is, can Democrats make them pay for it?

MELBER: And this has been a pitched battle. It seems like, today, Speaker Pelosi won this round.

BELCHER: Well, it does look like she won this round.

But this is -- these are tactics, right, at this point. And Pelosi is very, very good at tactics, especially congressional tactics. But for the broader point is -- and you hear the police officers talk about how they can`t even get meetings with Republican leadership.

And you wonder, again, will -- Republicans don`t seem to think there`s a consequence for this. And them being at the border right now shows us that. They think -- Republicans fear their base more than they fear middle -- sort of the middle of the electorate.

Democrats are almost the opposite. Democrats are afraid that their base actually scares the middle of the electorate. Republicans fear their base more than they fear the middle of the electorate. And the question becomes, they energize, energize, energize, feed their base, feed their base, and then they worry about the middle of the electorate later on.

The question is, will they pay a price for it?

MELBER: Right. And that`s very important. What is also clear is, this will be further investigated with the full extent of the law. People who don`t cooperate with this investigation will be dealt with by the courts. They can be jailed if they don`t turn over evidence.

So it`s going to be interesting to see how that proceeds and, hopefully, on a nonpartisan basis to just get the facts.

Cornell Belcher, thank you, as always.

After this break, I urge everyone to stick around for something you literally won`t see anywhere else, live on THE BEAT right now, Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Brennan. Is there intelligent life out there? What does the Pentagon report show?

When we return.


MELBER: Is there intelligent life in the universe outside of Earth? It`s an ancient question, from early human societies to the past eras, when a newscaster would sit up right here, like I`m doing with you now, and raise the question.


ANNOUNCER: "CBS Reports: UFO, Friend, Foe or Fantasy," reported by CBS News correspondent Walter Cronkite.


Reports of flying saucers are nothing new. From the beginning of recorded time, men have been seeing unexplainable things in the sky. And there`s no reason to doubt they saw something.


MELBER: They saw something. That Walter Cronkite report ultimately dismissed the prospect of alien life.

But the question is gaining traction because of evidence like this:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newly released video raising questions about the existence of UFOs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The subject of unidentified flying objects has become a matter of national security.

JOHN RATCLIFFE, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: If there`s something out there that`s bigger or faster and stronger, we have really got to answer that question.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


MELBER: Obama putting his credibility on the line to say they really don`t know what they are, which is different than spies asserting that they don`t know something as a cover because they actually have some secret spaceships or technology.

If you believe Obama, he`s saying they see stuff they really don`t understand, which brings us now to our special report on UFOs and the prospect of other intelligent life in the universe.

These are topics the U.S. government tackled in an intelligence report, which included 150 instances of UFOs documented, including some on tape.



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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude. Look at that thing. It`s rotating.

Whoa. Got it!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh, dude. Wow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at it fly!


MELBER: The spread of video cameras is also changing how society and the government deal with this. It is harder to dismiss anything that people really can see and share, and then see with their own eyes.

Back before video, there were similar reports that turned more on the credibility of the witness. So one person says they met an alien, that can be dismissed. But some reports had so many witnesses, it was hard to argue they all made it up.

Back in 1952, you see the headline, "Flying Objects Near Washington Spotted By Pilots and Radar, "Air Force Reveals Reports of Something, Perhaps Saucers."

Well, here`s a journalism tip. When "Perhaps Saucers" makes it into a "New York Times" headline, we really don`t know what`s going on. Perhaps saucers? Perhaps.

There was also report in the `60s. A whole town in Michigan saw glowing lights, large football shapes at low altitudes. And then there were some pictures, but basically only still ones, at the time, like this., no real video to give you that in-person perspective.

Now, in that Michigan incident, an investigator ultimately concluded that people`s eyes were deceived and they were actually witnessing not alien life, but a kind of natural gas effect.


ALLEN HYNEK, ASTRONOMER: But I cannot prove in a court of law that marsh gas is the full explanation of these sightings. But it does appear to me extremely likely.


MELBER: Now, that`s what he thought was likely.

As for the government, apart from what it may think or what it may have known, "The New Yorker" notes the larger context here, that, in the Cold War, it was crucial the government be perceived to have control over its airspace.

That logic continues. Most governments want to have that reputation. Now, they don`t need to be in on some alien conspiracy or secrecy to take an approach that would discourage entertaining even the possibility of aliens. Now, those recent Navy pilots, they said they felt like they might lose credibility with their commanding officers if they made too big a deal out of these unexplainable sightings.

And you could see why. Whether or not there is overwhelming evidence of you UFOs, a sound approach to finding facts, be it in government or journalism or science, is to be open to possibilities based on evidence, not to ignorantly dismiss things or worry about mockery.

So there are reasons to take this seriously, evidentiary reasons national security reasons. And while tonight`s story is about UFOs, it`s about more than that. It collides with government secrecy and even arrogance, which can be counterproductive.

Take, for example, this top-secret Air Force facility in Nevada. As far as the U.S. government was concerned, the place you`re looking at here does not exist. But it does. It`s Area 51. And that secrecy fed even more intrigue, until the U.S. officially acknowledged it in 2013, spurred partly by the top Democrat in Congress at the time, Senator Harry Reid, who was pushing for more transparency.

He wanted the U.S. and the government here to take these issues on, to fund UFO research. And that approach to the issue also started to change as the videos made these sightings more mainstream. And the research that leaders like Senator Reid were advocating for fed to the idea that maybe this is a legitimate area to explore.

Then you have more reports ,like the Pentagon`s mysterious UFO program, which "The Times" revealed in this investigation and released those tantalizing videos.



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


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude.


MELBER: Yes, look at that thing, dude.

And those kind of sightings occurred reportedly almost daily in 2014. The witnesses have also spoken out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, dude, do you see that thing down there?

And we saw this little white Tic Tac-looking object. And it`s just kind of moving above the whitewater area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in a government aircraft because I was on the clock. And so I feel a responsibility to share what I can. And it is unclassified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what the full one to explain. You have rotation. You have high altitudes. You have propulsion, right?

I don`t know. I don`t know what it is, frankly.


MELBER: Now, even longtime veteran of the U.S. government still seem to want to sidestep this in public, though.


QUESTION: President Obama says that there is footage and records of objects in the skies, these unidentified aerial phenomenon, and he says, we don`t know exactly what they are. What do you think that it is?


Thank you.



MELBER: Biden on the Obama comments.

And politicians generally want to avoid headlines about UFOs, partly because our culture and, frankly, much of our media just turns it into a conspiracy or some kind of joke.

But for all the intelligence and technology and weaponry in our government, aren`t high-ranking government officials the people who might know more, who might be able to level with us on whether to just reject this for some good reasons, or take it more seriously as a prospect?

What does the CIA really think about all this?

Well, its former Director John Brennan turned some heads as he raised the prospect of activity that he says might -- quote -- "constitute a different form of life."


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Some of the phenomena we might be seeing is -- it continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don`t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.


MELBER: A different form of life. That`s not nothing coming from a CIA director.

But, now, here`s the thing. The democratization of video does also cut both ways. If everybody from Navy pilots to kids have cell phone cameras, why aren`t we getting any better, closer footage?

Why have all the historical accounts of actual alien beings who land on Earth and talk to people, well, where have those gone? Why does the UFO phenomena close to the land seem to dry up with virtually no videos showing that?

As the technology to record grows by leaps and bounds, skeptics ask, why do these so-called phenomena take their own leaps away from our cameras? Isn`t that a little odd or convenient?

Neil deGrasse Tyson brings his scientific lens to all this. He has publicly asked, why do UFO believers demand everyone except these videos that remain grainy, far off, over the water, and far away from most cities?


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: I`m thinking, if we were being visited, somebody would have some good footage.

If we were being visited, I`m thinking maybe Google satellite images would catch spaceships that are not airplanes moving on our surface. If we were being visited, I`m thinking we`d have something better than fuzzy, monochromatic video of objects that apparently reveal themselves only to Navy pilots, right?

All of what has been put forth as evidence for aliens, to me, is insufficient evidence to excite my interest, my research interest in devoting time to finding out.


MELBER: Now, that new Pentagon report says most UFOs are unexplained, with suspicious flying objects that move against wind at considerable speed, the Pentagon exploring several explanations, while experts ask if some of these are maybe from China or Russia.

Bottom line, there are three main theories of the case here. One, these are natural phenomena that look unusual, but just aren`t from aliens. Two, like Area 51, this is some kind of secret tech from some government, but not alien. Imagine finding an iPhone prototype in 1990. You might wonder if it`s from outer space. It was actually from the near future.

And then there`s the big one, the theory that some people have witnessed alien technology, and that technology gets harder to detect as our own human technology improves its ability to record it.

Which is it? This is not a drill.

The CIA chief who left that door open, the astrophysicist who remains skeptical, they`re on THE BEAT tonight to get into the evidence -- when we return.





DAVID DUCHOVNY, ACTOR: Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: Welcome to Earth.


MELBER: Is it fiction or a possibility now or in the future?

We`re discussing the real evidence of whether there is or is not intelligent life out there.

And we`re joined by what we think are two perfect experts, Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural history in New York City, the author of "Cosmic Queries," and the former director of the CIA under President Obama, with much government experience as well, John Brennan.

And happy World Asteroid Day to both of you. Thanks for doing this.


BRENNAN: Thank you.

MELBER: Mr. Brennan, as someone who used to be responsible for the nation`s highest secrets, as well as national security planning, why do you say that the evidence supports at least keeping open the prospect of intelligent life out there?

BRENNAN: Well, I don`t think I have said that there`s any evidence at all of alien life.

What I said is that a lot of these phenomena that have been observed, including by Navy pilots, are unexplained. And I don`t think that there`s any way that we can exclude the possibility of certain types of explanations.

But, throughout my government career, when I had looked at those videos and saw documents and read eyewitness reports, again, I never saw any evidence of that alien life.

But, as Donald Rumsfeld, who, sadly, passed away today, said numerous times, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. And I do think that, in this large, expansive universe, that we cannot exclude the possibility that there is some form of life somewhere else that we don`t understand or can detect yet.

But, quite frankly, I have no earthly idea whether or not such life exists.

MELBER: Earthly being such a key modifier.

Neil, we quoted the scientific lens you bring to a question that, of course, has fascinated many. Explain how you look at this.


First, I mean, aliens are part of our culture now. Look at how frequently they show up in movies. Very few of them are friendly, by the way. I can count this many movies where they`re friendly aliens. The rest always just want to kill us.


DEGRASSE TYSON: So, the public is thinking about aliens all the time. We are ripe for interpreting whatever we don`t understand in the context of something that we believe we do understand.

We all know what aliens look like. They have big heads and big eyes and they walk and they have skinny bodies. How come nobody sees an alien with big muscles coming or an alien that looks like a lobster, right?

So, we`re preconditioned to believe, all right, more than we are preconditioned to question. And so I see the -- this footage, as you teased earlier in the program, with a clip of me at a previous interview, I`m just thinking, we have three billion smartphones activated in this world and interconnected.

And they can all take high-resolution, high-quality photos, and especially video. So, in a sense, we are crowdsourcing the monitoring of visitors to Earth from space.

And I`m disappointed that the best evidence put forward are these monochromatic videos taken by Navy pilots...


DEGRASSE TYSON: ... as though the aliens are only interested in showing up in front of the U.S. military.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s such a great evidentiary point.

And you are both, in your own ways, experts at sifting available information.

And, Neil, not to overcompliment you, but you know who you sound like through?


MELBER: You sound like your old buddy the great Carl Sagan.



MELBER: And we were thinking, again, about the scientific lens.

And we -- well, we hope that, in looking at this, we`re doing journalism, which is a much lower-grade daily attempt at what you both do, which has a little bit more long-term resonance. But I work on a daily basis. Whatever.

But we were digging into how Sagan advises that we think about information, including human biases, which gets into psychology. Take a look.


CARL SAGAN, SCIENTIST: If you would believe, as the flying saucer cultists would have us believe, that the majority of the saucer reports are due to their visitations, then you have a very strange situation.

That means several spaceships are coming to the Earth over interstellar distances every day, as if all the anthropologists in the world were to converge on one of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean because they just invented the fishnet there or something.


MELBER: Does that kind of argument, which tracks with some of your points, lead us to be able to rule something out, or just say very unlikely?

DEGRASSE TYSON: What Mr. Brennan noted a few -- in an interview that you had just shared that he participated in, we -- I think if -- we need better evidence. That`s all.

So, in other words, they could be visiting intelligent aliens from another planet. They could be. No reason to rule that out. But what is presented in support of that contention is insufficient to convince a skeptic.

I can tell you a couple of other things. We all obtain software all the time. And you bet that, when the software is released, that they`re pretty sure there are no errors in it. A week later, they need an update, a month later, then another update, OK?

This is also true with hardware. You can make hardware, especially complex hardware. There are things that can happen inside the hardware, especially if it`s brand-new and the very latest thing, that are not fully characterized, and not fully understood.

In your list of what those detections could have been, you did not include a failure of the hardware to register information correctly. And so what we might have is an artifact inside the hardware that everyone is now assuming is real, and then going off all limits to interpret it.

And so I`m just saying, I simply want better evidence. That`s all. And why should you care? And why should anyone care what I think? Go catch the aliens. Do it. I have no problems.

But I want to remind you, the government doesn`t own the sky, OK?


DEGRASSE TYSON: So, the idea that government has alien secrets that nobody else has -- knows about or has access to would mean all the aliens are only showing themselves to the U.S. government.

That`s untenable to me.

MELBER: Right.

Well, Neil, you said why does anyone care what you think? I mean, one reason is, you have a dope mind.


MELBER: That`s one reason why people keep track of how you look at things.

Sometimes, we learn by thinking, I can`t think of what Neil thinks, but once I hear him explain it, I can follow his train of thought a little bit.

And so I take it to John on the government side. Within whatever you`re allowed to share, did the U.S. government have any contingency plans for dealing with anything that might come from the rest of the universe backed by intelligent life or traveling light years from the past or future?

Does that make it to the level of CIA, military planning, or that`s so out of bounds, they don`t spend a lot of time on that?

BRENNAN: Well, since we don`t know what is out there, it`s hard to put together good contingency plans to deal with those things.

I agree with Neil that these are phenomena that`s unexplained. And I think, sometimes, we get hung up on the term evidence. And there are some people who claim that this is evidence of alien life. I think that is pure speculation.

But I think there is an obligation, certainly on the part of the U.S. government, to try to understand what these unexplained phenomena are.

U.S. Navy pilots are not making up or fabricating these observations. They saw something. And, as Neil pointed out, sometimes, the sensors could be wrong. Maybe they`re malfunctioning. But there are things that, again, are not explainable.

And I do think there -- it is part of our human, I think, being. We want to try to understand what is unexplainable. And I think that`s what we have to continue to do.

And might there be some type of form of life out there in the far beyonds of the universe? Yes.


BRENNAN: I think it`s arrogant of us to say, no, there`s not.

But have I seen any evidence of it?


BRENNAN: Do I believe the U.S. government has any evidence of that?

No, I do not at this point.

DEGRASSE TYSON: And, by the way, just to add...

MELBER: Well, Mr. Brennan, you know what -- yes, Neil.

I`m out of time, but go ahead.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes, I was just going to say that they`re separable questions.

Is there intelligent life in the universe, OK? We got top people working on that. And has intelligent life visited us here on Earth? And these are two very separate questions.

MELBER: Distinct, yes.

DEGRASSE TYSON: To answer yes to one does not itself bring a yes to the other.

MELBER: Excellent. Look, very interesting.

Neil and John, thank you.

We will be right back.


MELBER: As we end today`s edition of THE BEAT, I can tell you what`s coming tomorrow, more so than usual, because there is news coming about indictments of both the Trump CFO and part or all of the Trump Organization.

That`s according to NBC News, many outlets, and Trump`s own lawyers. The charges could come as soon as the afternoon. The defendants would go to court.

And on MSNBC, we will have full live coverage during the day and, of course, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on THE BEAT. We have been talking to our experts and special guests. So, I hope you will join us tomorrow or DVR us.

And, as a reminder, I can tell you I will be busy covering this and making sense of it, including the new information we get from the indictment.

So, if you want to follow along, you can always find me online @AriMelber. That`s @AriMelber on social media, or you can subscribe to my newsletter at, where I will be tracking this story all the way through any trials that occur.

That does it for me.