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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 7/13/21

Guests: Michael Wolff, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Nicole Collier

Summary

Texas Democrats mount a dramatic stand, as President Biden tears into Republican voter suppression efforts as un-American and unpatriotic. Donald Trump`s company cuts even more ties with its indicted executive. A controversial new book examines Trump`s final days. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis` presidential ambitions are examined.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT" with our good friend Jason Johnson, in for Ari Melber, starts right now.

Hi, Jason.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Jason Johnson, in for Ari Melber.

We start with the ferocious clash over voting rights, as Texas Democrats mount a dramatic stand and President Biden tears into Republican efforts as un-American and unpatriotic. Tonight, over 50 Texas Democrats are in Washington, D.C., and facing the threat of arrest after leaving their home state. They left to deprive Republicans of a quorum and block a voter suppression bill.

Back in Austin, Texas Republicans today voting to deputize a sergeant in arms to arrest the Democrats. This is some "Les Miserables" stuff. They`re just going to chase them around the country. But the sergeant at arms has no jurisdiction in Washington, D.C.

Today, Democrats speaking in front of the Capitol, imploring Congress to pass federal voting laws.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need Congress to act now and pass the For the People Act. Texas Democrats will use everything in our power to fight back. But we need Congress to act now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Coming up, I will talk to one of those Texas Democrats...

(COUGHING)

JOHNSON: Excuse me -- excuse me -- who is defying the Republicans and the threat of arrest.

Today, in Philadelphia, in what the White House build as a major speech, Biden ripping into Republicans` voter suppression efforts in Texas and beyond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That`s not hyperbole.

The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real. It`s unrelenting. And we`re going to challenge it vigorously.

The big lie is just that, a big lie.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: Have you no shame?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: No, they have no shame. We knew that 10 years ago.

Late today, Vice President Harris is meeting with the Texas Democrats to talk voting rights.

And in a new interview with NPR, Harris says she has been talking to Senate Democrats about how to break through McConnell`s obstruction on the issue.

The Texas Democrats are showing they will do anything to preserve the right to vote for their citizens. Biden`s speech today? Not so much. Yes, anybody who cares to know understands these voter suppression bills across the country are bad. But President Biden offered no new plans or strategies. He made no mention of the filibuster, expanding the courts or how far he`s willing to go to save this country.

It was essentially 20 minutes of, come on, guys. President Biden owes everyone who voted for him, he owes this country, he owes especially the black voters who got him into office who are the targets of the GOP voter suppression better than what he delivered today.

Joining me now is Reverend Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network and host of "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC. He is in a car right now traveling back from Philly, having just spoken to the president. Sharpton met with Biden last week at the White House in a meeting with civil rights leaders and got a shout-out from Biden today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: So many friends out. Al Sharpton.

Al, how are you, pal? It`s great to see you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: And Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation."

Rev, I`m going to start with you.

You had conversations with the president. I can tell you I was not particularly overwhelmed. If this was supposed to be the gladiator rallying cry, I don`t feel like marching up and fighting the barbarians right now. It sounded like more of the same.

I heard a budget, not a plan. What did the president say to you and other civil rights leaders that should make us feel optimistic about what they`re going to do about these voter suppression plans across the country?

REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": Well, first of all, I think that, in our meeting last week, I said coming out of the meeting that it was more of us saying to the president what we wanted to see done, and including the filibuster, and at the very least a carve-out around the filibuster, and that we wanted him to use his bully pulpit to talk about what was going on with this voter suppression.

This is a racist ploy. He needs to use his bully pulpit, as Lyndon Johnson did when he got up before the joint sessions of Congress and said, we shall overcome. And I think, today, he did use his bully pulpit. He was very passionate. I was very happy he talked to about 20th century Jim Crow.

But he did not address the filibuster at all. And they did not talk about therefore what the plan is going to be. In my conversation with him after, he says we are working through our strategy on that. The vice president is meeting as we speak.

So I would only hope that, from that, they`re working on how they`re going to deal with a carve-out. But he did not commit that. But I think, today, it was important for him to use his bully pulpit. But I think that that is not going to be enough.

There has to be two things. There has to be either a carve-out around the filibuster, or they outright move to try and get rid of the filibuster, which, according to them, they`re going to need 60 votes, so they don`t know how they`re going to get there.

And the other part of this is the finishing of H.R.4, because we must remember, the John Lewis bill has not been finished. And can it be completed in a way that they can get that around where Senate Bill 1 is?

So, there are two options, and he and I talked about today, and the completing of H.R.4 Can Manchin and Sinema and others go with that completion? And does it answer all the needs that we need, so that it`s not weakened so, until we end up with something that ends up really being nothing with substance? That`s what I come back home with.

JOHNSON: Joan, I want to play you some audio from Nse Ufot, who runs the New Georgia Project.

And I want to know, after hearing what she has to say, combined with Biden`s speech, I want to hear your perspective on how enthusiastic or how galvanized should activists on the ground be after the speech? Want to hear your thoughts after this audio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NSE UFOT, CEO, NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: What I did not hear is what the president of the United States in this moment is willing to do in order to make sure that we pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

If we just rely on the Department of Justice, or if we just rely on activists to wage the fight for democracy in statehouses across the country, then, essentially, we`re going to be playing Whac-A-Mole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Exactly.

As I said at the beginning, Joan, what I heard from Joe Biden today was a budget, not a plan. OK, activist are going to be working. They were already working. Department of Justice is going to work. They were already working.

When you -- and you this is an activist on the ground who flipped Georgia blue, and even she was disappointed in the speech. Joan, is there anything that the people who are giving their blood, sweat and tears right now from Texas to Georgia to Florida, is there anything that got out of the speech tonight that they should be happy about?

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC ANALYST: I suppose that doubling the Voting Rights Division of the Justice Department is something, Jason, but it`s not enough.

And I think what I saw today -- and I saw Nse`s passionate comments, and I cosign all of them, even the ones you didn`t play. And I think that your point is a good one. Activists have been sweating blood, sweat, and tears to get people to the polls.

And so there was kind of a sad metaphor today in the urgency of those Texas Democrats fleeing Austin, flying into Washington, D.C., but the president is leaving Washington, D.C., to go to Philly and give a speech.

And if Reverend Al is happy that he used the bully pulpit, I`m happy, but I`m not sure it was a bully pulpit. I don`t know what it was. But he is starting -- he`s starting small at 3:00 in the afternoon. I think we need prime time. I think we need, we shall overcome. I think we need the joint session. I think we might have needed it two months ago.

And, finally, I thought -- Nse didn`t quite say this, but this is what I thought. One thing that kind of hit me wrong was when he said we need a new coalition against voter suppression and for voting rights, because I think I understand what he meant, that his folks, the business community, moderates need to get involved.

OK. But it hit me the wrong way, because we have a growing and vital and definitely underfunded, but amazing coalition that has really sprung up in the last five years or certainly since Shelby to join Reverend Al and the National Action Network and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and bring along a new generation of grassroots activists, both to change the laws, but even more -- not more importantly, but incredibly on the ground to turn -- to flip Georgia, for example.

So I felt like that was a little bit tone-deaf.

JOHNSON: Right.

WALSH: Because there is a coalition, and they really need you to do more, Mr. President.

JOHNSON: Yes, you make a good point, Joan.

I mean, look, the president, I guess he was from the bully -- but he wasn`t a bully from the pulpit. He was maybe pestering from the pulpit, maybe complaining from the pulpit. I didn`t hear much bullying.

Rev, this is another key thing about today`s speech. So, as Joan was saying, the president talked about we need a new coalition, need to bring people together.

Let`s go to the core of this on a racial issue, as you mentioned when we first started. White people in America already understand what`s going on. Let`s be clear about what this coalition thing is that he`s talking about. Black people know that this is voter suppression. Poor people know that this is voter suppression. Poor white people know that this is voter suppression.

There`s nobody in America who is black or white or Asian or Hispanic or Latinx or whatever terms that you want to use, however you identify yourself, there`s nobody in this country that does not understand what going on anymore.

And so the concern that I have with the president making something like we need to put together a coalition, you got to go to war with the army, you have not the army you want. Is that something you think Joe Biden is missing? Or maybe we just misinterpret it.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: I think the fact of the matter is that it was a coalition that came together, which is the reason he`s president.

And all of us have been involved in that coalition and are going to continue. Coalition -- we`re doing marches and rallies now. We have the big national launch August 28. We don`t need a new coalition. We need to get rid of the filibuster. We need to finish the H.R.4.

And we needed the president to be vocal. And one of the reasons I`m saying what -- that I`m glad he did what he did today is because we have not heard him make a major speech on this at all. We heard major speeches on infrastructure. We have heard major speeches on other matters.

I wanted what we got today, for him to address this. Now, I think that I agree with Joan. The metaphor of the Texas Democrats coming to Washington and him going to Philly, and nobody knew they were coming to Washington until last night -- so he already had decided this dramatic show at the Independence Hall.

I think he was at the right location. I think that calling it Jim Crow was good. But now what are we going to do about Jim Crow? Because the filibuster helped Jim Crow last time. We have to get rid of the filibuster. And we have to come with a bill that has teeth on it.

I think we have that opportunity with H.R.4, but can we make sure that Manchin and Sinema goes with the outcome of that writing? Because we keep talking about the John Lewis bill like it has been written. It has not been completed. It has not been written.

And that could be very key to where we go from with you.

JOHNSON: Rev. Sharpton, Joan Walsh, thank you so much for starting off our show. This is a very important topic, and we`re definitely coming back to it.

Coming up. I will talk to a Texas Democrat just threatened with arrest for taking a stand in support of your voting rights.

Also, new tonight, Donald Trump`s company cutting even more ties with its indicted executive.

And our special interview with the author of a controversial new book about Trump`s final days.

Stay with us. This is Jason Johnson in for THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: The Texas Democrats who blocked a voter suppression bill and fled to D.C. are showing how to fight for voting rights.

Republicans in Texas are vowing to track down and arrest those Democrats. These are new pictures showing some of the 58 lawmakers that left the state in a remarkable show of strength to block a voter suppression bill. Their plan is to wait out the clock on the special session back home and stay in D.C. for the next three weeks -- I have some restaurant suggestions -- lobbying Congress to do something.

Here they are in front of the Capitol today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. RAFAEL ANCHIA (D-TX): We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas.

STATE REP. CHRIS TURNER (D-TX): We can`t hold this tide back forever. We`re buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.

STATE REP. SENFRONIA THOMPSON (D-TX): I`m not going to be a hostage that my voter -- my constituents` rights will be stripped from them. We have fought too long and too hard in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Thank you. We have fought too long and too hard.

But without getting rid of the filibuster, nothing can happen with the federal voting rights legislation. The Texas Democrats are meeting with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin today, who is key to ending the filibuster or reforming it, and open a door to voting rights law.

The president talking big today about acting, but the next step has to be stepping up the pressure.

Texas Governor Abbott threatening the Democrats, but they`re not backing down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Isn`t that the most Texan thing you have ever heard, Texans running from a fight? They`re quitters. This is not over. I can and I will continue to call special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year.

As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol, until they get their job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Joining me now Texas state representative Nicole Collier. She`s the chair of the state`s Legislative Black Caucus and left Texas for Washington, D.C. She is fresh out of meeting with Vice President Harris. And also with me is Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, assistant dean for civic engagement at the University of Texas.

Thank you so much, both of you, for joining us this evening.

I will start with you, Representative Collier.

What was the meeting like with Vice President Harris? And what did she have to offer as far as what could possibly help fight voter suppression in Texas and an overall plan for what the country needs to do to keep the Republicans from just taking over?

STATE REP. NICOLE COLLIER (D-TX): Yes, thank you so much for having me.

It was an hour-long meeting. It was such a great conversation. She took questions. She encouraged us. She`s very grateful for the activism of the Texas Democrats to take a stand for democracy.

So, it was just she reminded us about the work that we`re doing is so historical. She went back and talked about 1867, when Frederick Douglass took a stand. She even reminded us about the women`s suffrage and then the Edmund Pettus Bridge incident. And she said: "You can add your work by taking a stand to that list."

So, very heartwarming and just gave me chills, gave us all such great chills, you know.

JOHNSON: That is that is actually fantastic to hear.

Dr. DeFrancesco Soto, I always want to find this out. We -- sometimes, when we look from 3,000 miles or 30,000 miles in the sky, we don`t recognize how these things are playing out at home.

As a dean on campus looking at the local news, how does this look to your average Texan? How are regular Texas citizens looking at the fact that an entire party that represents millions of people in the state literally had to leave in order to stop voter suppression laws? Is that going over well at home? Are people concerned?

What have you been hearing and saying?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Jason, not surprisingly like most issues in our hyperpolarized era of today, it depends on if you have an R by your name or a D by your name in terms of how you identify.

The Republicans are pulling out their hair. They`re angry that they can`t get what they wanted to get fast-tracked this week. They were hoping that by this time this week, they would have had that voting bill passed. Democrats, on the other hand, are cheering. They are ecstatic that Democrats have done this, that all options are on the table and, when they were pressed up against the wall, that they did this.

So, it depends on if you`re a D or an R, which goes back to also whether or not you think there needs to be these voting restrictions or not. The Republicans support them overwhelmingly. We see that in evidence from polling here in the state. Democrats don`t.

It is basically down the line, whether you`re an R or a D.

JOHNSON: So, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto, that`s key, because there`s a poll that we have got here that says 58 Republicans -- 58 percent of Republicans actually support extending early voting.

So, at least from some polls, it`s suggesting that what the Republican Party is trying to do at a statewide level isn`t necessarily in line with what a lot of Republicans feel down there. Do you think that people are just experiencing cognitive dissonance and they don`t really care because of hyperpartisanship? Or do you think the Republicans really are doing something that even Republican voters don`t like?

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: I think there`s that piece.

I think, at the meta level, it`s framed as something that`s a Republican issue of protecting our state. But one really interesting piece, Jason, is that we know that older voters and more rural voters in Texas and everywhere else tend to use vote by mail more.

JOHNSON: Right.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: So there`s a lot of speculation about this aggressive approach to restricting vote by mail, where you have to send in a voter I.D., that that is actually something where Republicans are cutting their nose to spite their face.

So there are so many bits and pieces in this voter restriction bill where ultimately it hurts all Texans, but it may hurt some of the very voters that they want to cultivate most in the Republican base.

JOHNSON: Representative Collier, your party had to go to Washington, D.C., to seek federal help, because you`re not going to get much help from most of your -- from either of your senators in the state of Texas.

I want to play some audio from Senator Ted Cruz and get your thoughts on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): What you`re seeing the Democrats do here is a political stunt. And I will say it`s ironic.

As they were getting on their private jet to fly to Washington, D.C., they almost surely had to show identification to get on that jet. And yet they`re doing this in a fit because they don`t want mail-in ballots to be verified. They need to get back to doing their jobs.

And one way or the other, they will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Help me out here. That guy who fled his state during an ice storm to go on vacation is lecturing Democrats on leaving during a time of crisis?

Representative Collier, what are you hoping to accomplish during your three weeks in Washington, D.C.? Apparently, there will be a meeting with Senator Manchin. Will you be able to meet with Senator Sinema? Are there other senators that you`re targeting to have conversations with to see if you can make some changes in the filibuster and voting rights bills?

COLLIER: Well, let me just say the hypocrisy coming from the same man who read Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor as a filibuster.

So I`m not taking what he says so seriously. I mean, literally, the Democrats tried to work with Republicans to amend and reduce the harmful impact of this bill. We prefer no bill, because we don`t believe that anything is necessary. Even the Republican-appointed secretary of state said that the 2020 elections were safe and successful.

So, no, we don`t need anything. We tried to work. All of the amendments that were provided by those members that were on the select committee just a couple of days ago were declined. So we have tried. We used every tool in our toolbox.

Our backs were against the wall. And when they did not -- when they showed their true colors that they were not interested in working with us, we left the state, because we came here because, Washington, the answer is here.

We can get federal relief if they intervene and pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We have more meetings in place. We met with Leader Schumer. Shortly ago, we met with the vice president. We`re working on getting a meeting with the president.

We`re going to continue to talk to these senators to make sure that they understand what`s going on in Texas is not that -- it`s happening across the whole country, and we need them to step up and act.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much for your work.

State Representative Nicole Collier and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

Ahead, Michael Wolff is here reporting on Trump`s final days and why Sean Hannity was involved.

But, first, we`re back in just 60 seconds. Trump Organization CFO stripped of more leadership roles. Is he ready to flip?

We`re back in just 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: The Trump Organization is scrambling in damage control mode, as a criminal probe continues into its financial dealings.

The organization is stripping Allen Weisselberg from leadership roles, more than we reported on last night. The indicted CFO booted off executive roles at more than 40 Trump Organization subsidiary companies. Records show Trump family members are now left in charge.

So what`s this all about? Is this a preview of its legal defense, throwing the indicted CFO under the bus? One headline saying -- quote -- "Trumptanic Needs to Stay Afloat."

MSNBC legal analyst Dan Goldman calling it a self-preservation that lays the foundation to argue that Weisselberg was a rogue actor.

Weisselberg pleading not guilty to allegations of a 15-year off-the-books tax scheme and falsifying records. So, the pressure has now ratcheted up on Trump and his organization, squeezing its CFO as prosecutors try to get him talking. And he knows all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": I think that all roads lead to Allen Weisselberg. I mean, all fingers point to him.

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

QUESTION: What do you think he could tell investigators?

JENNIFER WEISSELBERG, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ALLEN WEISSELBERG: Everything they would ask.

QUESTION: Do you think he could be the ultimate tour guide into the Trump orbit?

WEISSELBERG: Yes.

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg made the decision. Always Allen Weisselberg on the check. Mr. Weisselberg, for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Joining me now is Melissa Murray, law professor at NYU.

Professor Murray, so I want to start with this. Yesterday, I mentioned that, look, Weisselberg going back to the office and realizing to his security key doesn`t work in every door, that`s got to be a pretty damaging and frustrating thing for him to experience.

But we`re now finding out that he`s been cut from 40 different organizations within the -- 40 different subsidiaries within the Trump Organization. From your perspective, do you think that there is a strategy to these cuts? Are -- is the Trump Organization legally saying, all right, look, we got to cut it from this one, this one and this one, and then we can sort of cauterize the wound and isolate him?

Or do you think this is just par for the course as they move towards either firing him or releasing some statement to blame it all on him?

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It could be either/or, Jason.

And, again, thanks for having me here.

This could simply be prudent corporate governance. He`s been an indicted CFO. He obviously has fiduciary responsibilities to those companies. That can be very difficult to maintain when someone is facing criminal charges, both from a perspective of time management, and actually from a legal perspective.

There may be jurisdictions where the work that he has to do as CFO is actually untenable because he has been criminally indicted. So that may be part of it. It may be part of a legal strategy to isolate him, to prepare an argument that he is going to be a rogue actor that will be used in the defense.

So it`s really hard to say at this point, because we don`t know what the prosecutors really have on Weisselberg, nor do we really know what they`re seeking from him at this point.

JOHNSON: This would be a great action film. We have Individual 1. Now we have Rogue 1. I don`t know what other code names we`re going to get for the people involved in this organization.

Here`s the thing, though. How effective does that argument tend to be? Because if he`s the only non-family member who`s been at this organization for years and years and years, the only non-family member who`s of this level of influence in the Trump Organization, is it plausible that Trump`s legal defense team could say we had no control over this guy and he was running roughshod over everything?

I mean, how often are you able to place all the blame and scapegoat one member of your organization so everybody else can get free?

MURRAY: I think it`s going to be really difficult to do in an organization that is essentially a family business, certainly not impossible, but, again, very difficult.

And I think you have to really sort of emphasize here that Allen Weisselberg really is the mastermind behind everything and maybe Donald Trump is merely a figurehead. This may not necessarily be the narrative that former President Trump wants on the world stage, but it may be the most compelling one, in terms of relieving him of criminal liability or limiting the exposure that he has going forward.

But, again, I think it`s a very difficult case to make.

JOHNSON: So -- and it`s -- I mentioned earlier that this so reminds me of like a season of "Succession." They`re just going to blame it on the guy who`s not necessarily in the family.

I want to play some quick audio for you and get your thoughts on the other side how likely some people think it is that Allen Weisselberg will actually be the first person to flip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: I don`t think why somebody would let his children go to jail.

Weisselberg, he must be shaking in his boots.

WEISSELBERG: Ari, the reason I believe he will flip. yes, is because since -- his behavior since 2017, what I have witnessed is that, when he took over as trustee, he was not only nervous, but he started immediately hiding money in escrow confidentially.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Bottom line, Professor Murray, can the prosecutors really go through with an effective case?

Could they get an Ivanka, could they get a Jared, could they could a Don Jr., could they get a Donald Trump if Weisselberg doesn`t flip? I mean, if he decides that he doesn`t want to open up his mouth and take a bid for the rest of the team, will the prosecutor still be able to get anywhere with this investigation?

MURRAY: I think it really depends on what they have found in the course of their investigation. And we really don`t know that right now.

And I mean I think maybe "Succession" isn`t the right analogy for this. Maybe "The Wire" is the better analogy.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: Is Allen Weisselberg going to be Wee-Bey and take like a long bid for the team, in order to preserve the top of the pyramid?

Who knows? He`s a 73-year-old man, I believe, facing what might be a prison sentence of some years, maybe not a lot of years. I think 10 years is the maximum sentence here. He likely will spend less time in jail for that because he has no former criminal record.

But it is a considerable amount of time. Maybe that will weigh on him. Who knows? But, again, he is someone who has been enmeshed in the Trump family and the Trump Organization for almost 50 years of his life. And he certainly knows that those who go against the family will certainly bear the wrath of Donald Trump. And that may also weigh in the favor of staying quiet.

JOHNSON: The idea of Tom from "Succession" and Wee-Bey from "The Wire" sharing a cell together is amazing.

Melissa Murray, thank you so very much for joining us this evening.

MURRAY: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Still ahead: MAGA`s shameless imitation of the dear leader just hit a new level.

But, first, explosive revelations on Trump`s conspiracy theories and bizarre plans for the future.

Bestselling journalist Michael Wolff details it all in his new book. And he`s here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: My next guest is journalist Michael Wolff, whose new book delves into Trump world.

There`s no shortage of insanity. For instance, Wolff writes that Trump lapped up conspiracy theories fed to him by FOX News host Sean Hannity. At one point, Hannity told Trump Democrats were secretly planning to replace Joe Biden on the ticket with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Michelle Obama as the running mate, which led to a bizarre strategy session in the Oval Office.

Quote: "The conversation among the 15 people in the room continued for an hour. Should they attack Biden and run the risk of Cuomo? Should they let Biden alone until it was too late for the Dems to replace him? But how strong might he become without being challenged in his basement? And wouldn`t Michelle Obama certainly spell doom for them? What was to be done?

"`My God, where did he get this from?` Karl Rove asked then campaign manager Brad Parscale as he was being shown out. `Sean Hannity.` `Sean Hannity?` Rove repeated, incredulous that the FOX News anchorman, with his extravagant conspiracy theories, was dictating the course of a presidential campaign. `POTUS believes it, ` said a helpless Parscale."

Quote: "If you could call Hannity and tell him to let up, that might be good."

Joining me now after that dramatic reading is Michael Wolff. His new book, "Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, " chronicles the stunning events inside the White House through the eyes of those who are there.

Thank you so very much for joining me this evening.

Look, I`m -- Michael, I just want to start with this. First off, how did you do this? It`s always been my sort of political science perspective that, the more times people are leaking, it`s usually because they`re anticipating a loss and they want to cover their own rear ends in history`s mind.

How did you get this kind of access to the White House and these inner workings in the final days?

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "LANDSLIDE: THE FINAL DAYS OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY": I was recently kind of crowing about what I had accomplished here with a friend. And the friend said, "Well, you have had a lot of practice."

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFF: So, this is the third book that I have done. And it really is an accumulation of knowledge and experience about this White House, of talking to the people around him, the waves of people.

The people in the beginning were certainly not the people there at the end. Actually, most people were there only a matter of months. But I have really had this kind of constant conversation with the people around the president, which is, in itself, weird. Why would they be talking to me?

And the real answer to that is that everyone who has had the Trump experience of being close to this man has to talk about it. It`s so weird, it`s so unusual, it`s so frightening, that people want to talk, they want to describe it.

JOHNSON: I have to say that the trilogy, your books, provide, honestly, one of the best interpretations and images of the Trump administration, not just because of the crazy stories that you tell, but because they all come from people talking about their experiences.

I imagine that part of your writing was sitting on a couch as people laid there and just told you their stories, like you were their therapist.

In the final days, heading towards the end of this campaign, was there a realization that Donald Trump was likely to lose, or did they think that, by COVID and jamming up the mail system and all sorts of pressure and intimidation, were there anybody -- was there anybody in the White House who still believed he was going to pull this off heading into November?

WOLFF: Everybody felt that this was one of the most disastrous campaigns ever run by a -- certainly by a sitting president. Remember, they went into the last weeks of the campaign being outspent 3-1 by their opponent. That has never happened.

Having said that, everybody around Donald Trump still feels that there is something inexplicable about the guy, magical about the guy. How did he win the first time? How has he survived so long? Through catastrophe after catastrophe after catastrophe, Donald Trump is still standing.

So they go into November 3 thinking, yeah, maybe, who knows? And remember how close he got to winning.

JOHNSON: Right.

So, looking at this, we`re now past the Trump era, in a way. He`s not officially in office. Based on what you have learned from this book and your previous books, what do you think the future of Trump and his family, the sort of junta that they have created, what is it going to be?

Do you think he`s going to make a serious run at 2024? Does he just want to be a power broker going forward? What do you think the future holds, after writing this book?

WOLFF: You see, that`s the Trump fallacy. The fallacy is to think that he has a plan, that there is some...

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFF: ... that there is some long-term strategy here. There isn`t. Whatever happens will happen in the moment.

He will be at a rally two years from now, and he will sense that the -- he will sense the crowd, he can get a response from the crowd by saying he`s running, and that will be when the decision is made, not that decision will stay that decision either. He is as likely to reverse it.

So, again, it is all in the moment. It is all -- he contains all of reality for himself. There`s really almost no outside stimulus here. It`s just what he...

JOHNSON: Whatever is in his head.

WOLFF: What he feels. Exactly.

JOHNSON: It`s a dog chasing cars, and he will have no idea what to do if he actually gets one.

Michael Wolff, thank you so very much.

And the book is "Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency." It`s out now. Definitely pick it up.

Ahead: MAGA`s Mini Me governor, DeSantis, isn`t hiding his Trump obsession -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has just dropped a new campaign flag. And if you`re thinking it looks familiar, that`s because it is.

Donald Trump`s campaign has been using variations of the same design since he ran for president back in 2016. But this blatant copying isn`t new. DeSantis has been trying to be Trump`s Mini Me for years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Let me just say, Mr. President, welcome home to Florida.

I really appreciate the kind words from the president.

I want to thank him for his support. I want to thank him for entrusting me.

Well, let me tell you about the president.

The president.

Mr. President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: It`s like a human sock puppet.

The only platform DeSantis is running on his close ties to Trump. And he knows this. He even released a parody ad about his love for the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY DESANTIS, WIFE OF RON DESANTIS: Ron loves playing with the kids.

R. DESANTIS: Build the wall.

C. DESANTIS: He reads stories.

R. DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said, "You`re fired." I love that part.

C. DESANTIS: He`s teaching Madison to talk.

R. DESANTIS: Make America great again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Look, it`s an open secret that DeSantis has set his sights on the White House, and he clearly thinks a Trump body hug is the way to get there.

Joining me now is Fernand Amandi, MSNBC political analyst and the president of Bendixen & Amandi consulting firm.

Thank you so much, Fernand. I`m very excited to have you on tonight.

I`m going to start with this. And this is the thing that confuses me. What Ron DeSantis is doing right now is being governor of a state that had some of the worst COVID rates in the country, that still has some of the worst COVID rates in the country, is dealing with environmental issues on the coast.

He has suppressed the vote immensely. Can you just tell me first, why is he so popular in Florida? Before we even talk about 2024, why is he so popular there?

FERNAND AMANDI, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unfortunately, we have seen, Jason, over the last few years, Florida has become a lot more of a Republican state. And, unfortunately for a lot of Floridians, many of them are voting against not only their economic interests, but in the case of voting rights, their own ability to exert their perspectives and viewpoints.

But, as you said, and as you just demonstrated, for Ron DeSantis, it`s a very slippery slope, because imitation, they say, is the most sincerest form of flattery. The problem of Ron DeSantis is that his imitation has become an impersonation, which to Donald Trump is starting to feel like competition.

And as those that understand the Trump cult know, there can only be one cult leader at a time. And as quick as you can say, "Hang Mike Pence, " as the insurrectionists did in the Capitol, turning on Donald Trump`s ultra- loyal Mike Pence, if Donald Trump starts to believe that Ron DeSantis` imitation act becomes a challenge to his own ambitions to run for the nomination again in 2024, he will turn on him in a New York minute.

JOHNSON: You know, if I want a Donald Trump impression, I will go to Alec Baldwin. I don`t necessarily need to see it from the governor.

And this is the second thing, Fernand, because I think this is key. So far -- and I have argued this as a political scientist as an analyst and as a journalist -- Trumpism only really works for Donald Trump, right?

Eric Greitens in Missouri was going to be the next Trump. It didn`t work out for him. Trey Gowdy was going to be the next Trump. It didn`t work out for him. Brian Kemp wanted to be the next Trump. It`s like trying to find the next Jordan. We had to give up. And, eventually, there is no new Jordan. It`s LeBron, right?

Are these Republicans eventually going to figure out that you can`t recreate the special sauce of a 30-year television, tabloid career and recognize they`re going to have to find their own path? Because if you have a choice between the real thing and the fake thing, I don`t know how many Republicans are going to get that excited about Ron DeSantis.

AMANDI: Well, I think it`s going to take seeing dozens, if not hundreds of political careers going up in flames trying to recapture that sui generis magic that only Trump himself can afford.

But, no, I mean, I don`t think that`s the case. And what`s unique here is, look, for all of DeSantis` problems and challenges, he`s a very cunning political person. As you laid out earlier, he rides into the governor`s mansion in Florida strictly on his fealty and imitation act of Trump and, in essence, won that support by kissing up to Trump all throughout the 2018 cycle.

It was said he ran his campaign for governor out of the Trump Hotel in Washington. But he and the other contenders that are looking at the landscape understand that, in the case of 2024, it`s very precarious. And until an event happens that removes Trump from the scene, whether it be an indictment or some other thing that makes it impossible for him to run, he`s going to have to play very coy here, because, as I said earlier, Trump will turn on him in a dime as he`s turned on every single other supporter of his in the Republican Party since he took it over in 2015.

JOHNSON: And following up with that, do they have a close relationship?

One of the things has always been very clear about Donald Trump, unlike Bill Clinton, unlike Barack Obama -- Barack Obama had Valerie Jarrett, and Karl Rove was with George Bush. It doesn`t seem like Trump has friends and consiglieres. He doesn`t have people that he mentors politically.

So does Ron DeSantis think that he and Trump are actually buddies? I mean, are they -- is it "It`s complicated" on Facebook? Like, what`s their actual relationship like, other than Ron DeSantis running around in Trump cosplay?

AMANDI: Well, first, we understand Donald Trump only has three very close friends. And they are me, myself and I when he looks in the mirror every morning.

There is no relationship that Donald Trump has with anyone, not even his own children, as we`re starting to get a sense. And he may quickly turn on them if they face legal pressure that might lead to him.

JOHNSON: Right.

AMANDI: But one of the worst kept secrets here in Florida politics is that all of the major Republican contenders all despise each other, whether it be Rubio, Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis, or Donald Trump. They`re not at all close.

JOHNSON: Battle royal in Florida.

Thank you so much, Fernand Amandi, for joining us on THE BEAT tonight.

Oh, goodness, Florida.

Ahead, the Trump Organization indictment, and the bigger question about prosecuting a former head of state -- next on THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: Donald Trump has not been charged in the criminal probe into his company. But this investigation is still ongoing.

There`s a fierce debate about whether Trump should be prosecuted at all, even if he committed illegal acts. Some say we should just move on. Others say we need to pursue justice to uphold our democracy.

A former president has never been indicted in the U.S., but it does happen elsewhere. Just last week, South Africa made moves to hold its former leader Jacob Zuma to account. Zuma was arrested and will serve 15 months in jail after refusing to testify over bribery and fraud charges against him.

Like Trump, Zuma used his office to enrich his friends. Like Trump, Zuma was accused of sexual assault. Like Trump and his bleach-drinking advice during peak COVID last summer, Zuma trafficked in grotesque conspiracy theories during a health crisis.

Despite the horrific spread of AIDS in South Africa, Zuma claimed during his rape trial that taking a shower after unprotected sex would prevent the spread of HIV.

Even their rhetoric is the same, as Trevor Noah highlighted about the two presidents back in 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They`re bringing drugs, they`re bringing crime, they`re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.

JACOB ZUMA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: The influx of illegal migrants, crime, unfair business practices, drugs.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": That`s South African President Jacob Zuma sounding a lot like Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: South Africa has had democracy for less than 30 years. Yet, as a nation, they understand that institutions must be more powerful than parties.

Zuma is headed to jail despite the fact that his ANC Party still controls the government. Other nations have understood that holding former leaders accountable is essential to democracy. Former leaders of Italy, Israel, France, South Korea, and Brazil have all been convicted of crimes after leaving office.

For the most part, those prosecutions happened peacefully. But in South Africa, Zuma sympathizers have taken to the streets, rioting for days. Six people have been killed and hundreds arrested. Now the country`s military has been deployed to quell the violence, which brings us back to the current investigations into Donald Trump.

Prosecutors in New York and Georgia are looking at the facts of how he tried to overturn the election and how he ran his business. And they will use those facts and the rule of law in making their decisions on any charges.

But, big picture, for a nation that likes to lecture others on democracy as much as the United States does, we could learn a lot from countries who`ve had democracy for a lot less time than us.

That does it for me. Ari will be back tomorrow.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.