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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 9/1/21

Guests: Russ


Two Trump Organization executives are set to testify before a Manhattan grand jury this week. Protests erupt after an anti-abortion ban takes effect in Texas. New developments occur in the case of the death of an unarmed young man at the hands of police. Singer Russ speaks out.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with breaking news.


Two Trump Organization executives are now set to testify before a Manhattan grand jury this week. This is hot off the presses from "The Wall Street Journal," a reminder that that Trump Org probe remains open and active, although we don`t always see what`s going on in public.

They report that Donald Trump`s longtime former bodyguard Matthew Calamari was formerly subpoenaed. He will testify this week, along with a senior financial official, Jeffrey McConney, a former Trump Org executive.

Barbara Res told us this individual, Calamari, actually knows a lot, including where the bodies are buried.



He has been with Trump through thick and thin. Every single move that Trump ever made, Matt has been there, or someone else, but usually Matt.


MELBER: That was our coverage earlier this summer with that Trump Org executive and with a former prosecutor with a lot of experience. You saw them on screen together.

And we turn now to her live. Former federal prosecutor, U.S. attorney Joyce Vance is here.

Joyce, this is a late-breaking story late in the day. I appreciate you jumping in. We added you in here before we turn to some other big stuff, because it shows that this probe continues with the grand jury at work. What does that mean?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: An important part of grand jury practice to understand is that, once you have indicted as a prosecutor, you`re done using the grand jury.

And so this continued use of the grand jury says that Cy Vance`s office is looking into other potential defendants. I think that that`s our biggest takeaway here. They are not one and done on this case. They are continuing, it looks like, to move up the chain to see if they can get to the people that are the most criminally responsible for this conduct.

MELBER: And yet, to that point, they have already indicted the top financial figure, the chief financial officer.

And so if they have that bigger fish, Calamari, no pun intended, would seem to be a smaller figure in this Trump ocean. If he testifies before the grand jury, then is he not up to be charged for the things he talks about? What does it tell you about how they`re looking at that org chart?

VANCE: Well, you`re right.

In New York, witnesses who testify in the grand jury receive immunity. That means that they can`t be prosecuted, which can only mean that these witnesses would be testifying against other people. They`re not in there because of their own personal exposure.

And so someone in the prosecution team has made a decision that it`s worth sacrificing these two potential targets of the investigation to look at another target. And, presumably, that`s, as you say, a bigger fish.

MELBER: Yes, super interesting. And you kind of walked us through it. And we don`t know more than this right now. So, as you have explained, it means they`re going somewhere. They`re not done, that`s for sure. But we can`t get ahead of whether they would ultimately have enough evidence for other additional indictments or not.

Everyone in Trump Org and really around Donald Trump in general concerned about that development tonight. They view it as bad news.

Joyce, please stay with me.

I want to turn to the other big story that we have been planning to bring you, which is the reports about how far some Republicans are going to cover up whatever happened at the insurrection.

It`s a big development, because what I`m about to show you here is not coming from, say, really vocal or just extreme members of the Republican Caucus, but rather from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, publicly trying to intimidate people and companies to defy legal requests from the very Congress he is a part of.

The bipartisan committee here is demanding phone records and evidence from companies. We have been reporting on that. Now McCarthy warns -- quote -- "If these companies comply, a Republican majority will not forget."

Now, that`s a threat. It`s the idea that Republicans would later use and potentially abuse any powers they have, if they win back the Congress, to punish the people who comply with the law. Not normal. Not OK.

Congress can subpoena evidence, just like other parts of the government. Democrats calling this obstruction. FOX News` Tucker Carlson also basically views it as a threat, but he claims this kind of abuse would be potentially good for the GOP.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: That sounds like a threat. And we fervently hope it is.

That statement is a flat-out promise, threat, whatever you want to call it. If you do this, there are consequences.


MELBER: Yes, a threat.

Now, seeking some kind of rationale and under some criticism, McCarthy is floating the basically made-up idea that providing evidence, which is required by law, would actually itself break federal law.

Now, he said that. THE BEAT asked his office today name any such law that he claims to be broken. I report for you what he claims, at least to look at it, to fact-check it, but the office didn`t give us a single law by the time we have come on the air tonight.

Now, top Democratic investigator Adam Schiff says McCarthy is basically freaking out because he`s scared that the evidence, the facts, the phone records could implicate him or top GOP allies.



REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): McCarthy, look, he`s scared. And I think his boss is scared. They didn`t want this commission and this select committee to go forward.


MELBER: Now, the committee is pressing forward for evidence from phone companies, Facebook. It`s about 35 companies in total.

They say the committee will not be deterred by attempts at a GOP cover-up or an attempt to obstruct the investigation.

Now, this one is definitely bigger than rhetoric. We have a potential speaker of the House here saying in public he will remember what people and companies do, basically asking them to break the requirement to comply with Congress or potentially a future subpoena.

His allies at FOX News understand that threat clearly. This really does sound more like some sort of crime show than serious governance. McCarthy may be trying on his best impression of Omar from "The Wire," where the threats are scary but vague, because a gangster holding real power or a gun doesn`t need to spell out the exact threat. He just says something like, well, don`t make me tell Marlo.

We understood.


MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS, ACTOR: I even catch a whiff of you doing something foul, Joe, I mean, I might got to go tell Marlo you the one put me up on that card game. We understood?


MELBER: We understood? That is thug talk. That`s a threat. And that`s the kind of thing coming from the top of the Republican Party right now.

Joyce is still with us, the former prosecutor. And we`re joined by Chai Komanduri, a political analyst.

Chai, what do you make of McCarthy`s threat?

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think we could look at it through the lens of political calculation. You know, Kevin McCarthy is trying to juice MAGA turnout for the midterms.

He`s worried about challenges to him within the House caucus. I think that would be a flawed analysis.

I think what is going on is much deeper. I think what we`re seeing is an ideological commitment by the GOP to basically democratic backsliding of the kind we have seen in many countries overseas, particularly the countries that conservatives most admire.

In Hungary, for example, a country that Tucker Carlson visited with all the enthusiasm of a 6-year-old going to Disneyland, in that country, this type of behavior is commonplace. Companies must do what the president of Hungary, Viktor Orban, asks them to do. Otherwise, there will be consequences, not specific consequences spelled out in paper, but consequences.

You get the drift. That is exactly what we`re seeing throughout the GOP, a culture of democratic backsliding that leads to kind of soft authoritarianism over time. And I know some people will say, oh, this is overwrought, you`re exaggerating.

Well, people in Hungary, people in Poland, people in the Philippines, India, Brazil, et cetera, people in Russia thought this a decade ago, two decades ago, and they -- look at where they are now, countries where you have democratic dress, but not a real democracy, not a commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, et cetera.

MELBER: Yes, I think you lay that out, and you go a little deeper than even where some of the political conversation was. I appreciate that perspective.

You know, Joyce, this is the intersection of the rule of law, democracy, and this kind of -- quote, unquote -- "hardball politics," which Democrats say is verging on potential obstruction.

It can happen here, something we have been reminded throughout our history. We are in some ways a great nation. We certainly have some great ideals and aspirations. But we are not immune to any of the democratic slide that Chai just outlined.

What is your view from the law enforcement side when members of the government are basically trying to threaten or cajole people out of complying with government requests or potential subpoenas?

VANCE: So, I think the political reaction to this is appropriate, that it`s anti-democratic activity, that it`s absolutely stunning to see this from someone who believes that he`s a future leader in the Republican Party.

From a strictly law enforcement point of view, if this was a cartel leader, and if I had issued subpoenas for Facebook and other forms of communication, and if the cartel leader approached those companies and said, don`t you dare comply with these subpoenas and issued sort of a random threat that was capable of being carried out, I would certainly be looking at that person as a target in an additional obstruction of justice sort of investigation.

And so I don`t want to get too far ahead here and say this absolutely is obstruction of justice, but there`s a very specific statute that makes it a federal crime to threaten folks off of participating with a congressional inquiry.


And if this the minority leader and others in that party believe that this information shouldn`t properly be gathered, their approach isn`t to threaten the service providers and to ask them to make the decision about what the law requires.

Their response would be to file a motion to quash or to assert their speech and debate privileges down the road...


VANCE: ... if gathered information were going to be used.

So, absolutely the wrong response here from someone who is a lawmaker.

MELBER: Yes, you just laid it out very clearly. I hope people are listening. You likened it to, yes, a potential cartel leader.

Keen viewers of "The Wire" will say Omar wasn`t running a gigantic cartel, like some of the folks there, but he was dealing with -- Chai will tell us, he was dealing with drugs and guns. And he made threats the same way because he didn`t want people to cooperate, obviously, with law enforcement or with any other efforts that were against him.

That is the thug thing. I take Joyce`s point as well that the technical legal analysis of the full obstruction case, right, has to be done. We`re not going to do that in a few paragraphs here. But it`s certainly in a ballpark of what you would be concerned about.

And, Chai, the wider context is undemocratic efforts to try to cover up an undemocratic effort to overthrow an election they lost, as they look forward down the line at other elections where, if everybody has free access to the polls, they don`t have great odds of winning, which, again, brings you back to some of the other countries you have talked about, where folks` only way back to power was to cheat.

I want to just put up on the screen something we have touched on, but can get lost here, which is, when you just look at who votes for president, what do the American people choose over many different races, over many cycles? We have this.

United States voters -- put this up on the screen. Here is the year that most went for actual a Republican for the White House, 2004. Then, if you look at every other race here over seven cycles, more people voted for the Democrat. That`s Trump era. That`s pre-Trump era. That`s pre-Obama era, Clinton era.

You go all the way back, Chai. This is what they`re up against. And it doesn`t seem to be reversing. Is that part of the pressure on people like McCarthy to figure out other ways to get back into power without getting most votes?


I mean, what we`re really seeing is what can be described as a thugocracy, where the thug muscles corporations to do their bidding. They also can muscle voters, muscling voters, particularly ones that they don`t want to have to show up, making their lives a lot more difficult, making the path to voting for them a lot more difficult to try to juice a specific outcome.

And, again, we have seen this completely overseas. And think about what a remarkable turn this is for the GOP. I mean, we have gone basically from the party of Milton Friedman to the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene. We have gone from corporations being people who deserve tax cuts and deregulation to corporations being people who need to bend the knee to Donald Trump, which is exactly what Kevin McCarthy more or less is asking companies to do by obstructing justice and not cooperating with this investigation.

And he knows what the outcome that he seeks is, which is GOP election results that go his way.


And, finally, Joyce, I have just about 45 seconds, but if you`re a general counsel or at one of these companies, and you have got a lawful request from the committee, but then you have got what sounds like this threat from someone who also has power, government power, saying don`t cooperate, what do you do? Is this a close call?

VANCE: It`s not a close call. You comply with a lawful subpoena.

Congress has enforcement powers, among them, the ability to go to the Justice Department and ask them to enforce their subpoenas for them. No one should listen to threats. No one should be deterred from lawful participation in an investigation because someone threatens them, whether it`s an organized crime leader on the streets or someone in the halls of Congress.

MELBER: Yes, really interesting on more than one point, also really serious stuff.

I want to thank Joyce Vance and Chai Komanduri for giving us perspective.

We have a lot in tonight`s show, including some new signs tonight Republicans actually turning on embattled Florida Governor DeSantis.

Also, protests erupting after this anti-abortion ban takes effect in Texas, and fears about where the Supreme Court is headed. Talk about democracy.

And there`s a new twist in the death of an unarmed young man whose case galvanized so many BLM protests. We have that for you tonight as well.



MELBER: MAGA Governor DeSantis facing a COVID crisis in Florida and downplaying it.

Today, there`s an explosive new report that shows evidence of misleading the public on this ongoing emergency about who is dying and when, obviously, hugely significant.

Now, this is his administration here. Florida had been tallying COVID deaths by a death date, instead of the date of what they call a recorded death. And that created this kind of -- quote -- "artificial dead" -- "decline," I should say, an artificial decline, according to "The Miami Herald" that appears, even during a spike like we`re seeing right now, that deaths would be on a downslope.

We can show you how this works. You can see the red line, which shows the date a death was reported consistently rising, while the yellow line, the death date, is plummeting.

Bottom line, the facts diverge from what the government is putting out in Florida at a time when people need to know how bad it is. Here`s DeSantis` response.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): That`s just a totally false, partisan narrative. To try to say that doing reporting the way many other states do it and which is the most accurate is some type of problem, when it`s been something that`s been going on for a long time, is absurd.


MELBER: "The Miami Herald" and other experts consulted, though, say the evidence shows that it`s not accurate, deaths are not declining, and that it takes time in the process for this to be counted. Then, when they are actually assigned the actual date of death, you get this spike. Then the downslope goes forward in time.

Again, this can sound a little complicated, but the bottom line is, the people who are the nonpartisan experts, not Governor DeSantis, say that the government is trying to cover up how bad the death rate is in a place where DeSantis is overseeing what has widely been one of the worst responses to COVID in America.


DeSantis also fighting safety measures, and we have seen consequences.

Take 11-year-old Peyton Lee, now in the hospital fighting COVID after going to class in a place where the governor got his way, safety rules were violated, and there were not masks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fifth grader with Down syndrome wore a mask in school. But it`s not required. And many didn`t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s people out there, children out there like my daughter who have special needs, and make them even more vulnerable. And that`s what people should be thinking about, keeping everyone safe.


MELBER: Keeping everyone safe, especially with the information available.

The majority of people in Florida support masking to protect themselves and kids. We also showed you a video last night where, despite that overall consensus, you do have very loud objections fueled by the MAGA governor. We saw physical fights among parents there, obviously very sad and regrettable on both sides

DeSantis continues to defy the courts and is trying to financially punish educators and two school districts that were following these safety measures with masks. Some Republican-led counties also defined their own Republican governor, saying the safety of kids comes first.

This is an ongoing, cascading scandal. We`re going to get into all of it with Obama veteran Cornell Belcher when we`re back in 60 seconds.


MELBER: I`m joined now by Cornell Belcher, a veteran of the Obama era, a pollster, a strategist.

Thanks for being here, sir.


MELBER: You couldn`t hear me without your glasses on?


BELCHER: Well, I look -- I look more intellectual with my glasses on.

MELBER: Respect. Respect. I`m just giving you the hard time, as we try to have a light moment here in there amidst what are punishing days.

We just showed how to how bad and tough it is in Florida. I will say this as fairly as possible. Some of it is unavoidable. So, we would see some of these scenes we know about the pandemic anyway.

We also have the evidence that the governor`s policies are making it worse and that his administration -- it`s not clear on the link yet of whether he was in on it, but his administration, according "The Miami Herald," covering up the actual way that the death rate is bad and getting worse.

Your views?

BELCHER: Well, what becomes important here is, does he pay a price for it, Ari?

And what we have seen time and time again is Republicans doing this sort of thing, and actually going against the will of the majority, but they don`t think they have to pay a price for it. Look, the numbers in Florida are clear where voters are, and particularly women in Florida, where you are you have 65 percent or plus better of women in Florida want teachers to be masked and students to wear masks.

And the governor is fighting that. So, the question becomes, will he pay a political price for this?

MELBER: Right.

BELCHER: Can Democrats make him pay a political price for it?

MELBER: Well, let`s put that up as you walk us through. You say there`s a gender balance there. We also know, just the overall support is 60 percent, right?

It`s not as if even close to half of people in Florida are debating this. It`s really a minority, to your point. Go ahead, Cornell.

BELCHER: Well, that 36 -- but that 36 becomes really important, Ari, because that`s the 36 percent that he`s playing to, because you know where the majority of Republicans are. And particularly when you`re thinking about the Republican primary voters, that`s where that 36 percent is.


And, in fact, the majority of Republicans think this is -- this issue is more about freedom than about health issue in that quick Quinnipiac poll.

So, the question is, Republicans don`t think they pay a price in the general. And DeSantis is certainly someone who has his eye on a bigger prize of a presidential primary. So he`s playing politics with this issue of COVID. He`s playing politics.

And I`m afraid that the children and teachers are going to be the ones who carry the cost of his politics with their health and their lives. But, look, I think if women voters galvanize around this, and if Democrats can turn this into a wedge issue, can they make Republicans like DeSantis pay a price for this in Florida, if they can, in fact, turn and energize and mobilize women voters around the health and safety of their kids, which I hope they can.

And I think it`s a fantastic opportunity for Democrats to continue to sort of move and mobilize more women voters, particularly women in the suburbs, toward Democratic candidates who will stop this foolishness.

But they have historically not paid a high price for doing unpopular things, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, and you have advised candidates and public officials.

The instinct to try to make things better than they appear or that they are in reality is not just in one party. We reported on this program when the evidence showed that former Democratic New York Governor Cuomo was playing with the numbers of nursing home deaths. We reported that then. It was a problem then.

And you put out bad information, that`s going to hurt the emergency response. So we have seen this both in New York and Florida, and then other states where also both parties have not gone this badly.

With about 45 seconds left, what do you say to -- when you advise politicians where they say, well, the story is no good, maybe we will just lie about the story, which is not only wrong, but doesn`t seem to usually work in the long run, Cornell?

BELCHER: I`d say we have got to connect these lies to the health and welfare of children.

And if we connect these lies to the health and welfare of children and show him that he`s on the wrong side of taking out care and looking out for the young people of this state, I think we have a good argument to get women to vote against him.


No, and you`re really thinking back about the accountability, which this is a democracy and people have to assess. I mean, if the public safety is not the first thing in your mind as a prerequisite for someone having this much power, then what is?

A lot of evidence against the way the response is going.


MELBER: I have to -- go ahead, briefly. I just have to get in a break.

BELCHER: But they have to make this...


BELCHER: ... Ari, and not let it get muddied up.

MELBER: Yes. Yes, sir.

I hope you keep the glasses on the whole rest of the day, if that suits you. And we always appreciate your intellectual rigor, sir.

BELCHER: I`m going to be dumb after this show, so no.


Cornell Belcher -- there they go. Hey, we end when we began going.

Cornell Belcher, thank you, sir.

And we do have a lot more in the program. I have a very special guest later.

There`s an update on a police story we want to bring you that`s very important.

But coming right up, the Texas Republican Party going after women`s rights, the Supreme Court on the sidelines. Our friend "The New York Times"` Michelle Goldberg here -- next.



MELBER: Roe vs. Wade is the law. It provides for a right to choice and abortion.

But it is now fundamentally and practically no longer really on the books in Texas. Now, let me explain, because this is a huge deal to a lot of people.

There`s a new Republican law. And it is now formally in effect. So this is real. This is not a future statement of events. It purports to ban all abortions after six weeks. And that`s not all. Today, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court declined to do what the court has done in the past with these kind of restrictions, which is to at least pause them and then hear the case.

But they`re not blocking the law. The Republican governor signed the bill formally in May. A few women were there, you can see, behind him when they made the signing ceremony.

The wider view shows, though, the rest of the room was filled with overwhelmingly white men. There it is, the people who are trying to change not only the law, but what was supposed to be under our system the Supreme Court precedent providing for these rights.

Now, the law was drafted in ways that would actually make it more difficult to get to the Supreme Court. It effectively bars state officials from enforcing it and deputizes private citizens to sue abortion clinics and doctors. The people filing suit, though, could get a kind of bounty $10,000, if they win.

Abortion advocates and other legal and policy experts say this law basically impacts 85 percent of people who might choose to get an abortion, which, under the Supreme Court precedent, which it hasn`t formally overruled, is their choice.

Most women may not even be aware that they would be pregnant by the new deadline in Texas that those people on the screen wrote.

Pro-choice advocates are protesting at the state capitol when the law took effect. President Biden says his view is that it is flatly unconstitutional, it`s also outrageous, and that he will do everything in his power as president to fight.

We`re joined now by someone who has had a keen eye on many of these issues and the new ways that the right is attacking these constitutional rights, "The New York Times"` Michelle Goldberg.

She writes today Republicans are turning activists into enforcers.

Michelle, thanks for being here.


MELBER: We introduced this topic because, one, there may be a big good- faith debate about the ethics and morality of the underlying issue or procedure. And that`s fine in a democracy.

But we introduced the fact that the way this is going down actually sounds like there`s a problem in the system itself, if the Supreme Court still claims Roe v. Wade is on the books, but not really for people, for women in Texas. Walk us through your view and what you were writing about.


GOLDBERG: So, this law was drafted in a sort of diabolically clever way that, as you said, allows it to -- or at least gives the courts a pretext to not enjoin it, which is that, usually, if you`re suing to block an abortion ban, you try to stop officials from enforcing it.

Here, there`s no one to actually sue, because any random person can enforce it. And I think this is really important. It`s not just that they can sue abortion providers or abortion clinics. They can sue anyone that they think is helping to, as the law says, abet an abortion.

That means the person who drove you to the clinic. That means your mom who helped pay for it, right? The woman herself, the pregnant -- the patient, is exempt, but everyone else is fair game. And the people who are out there filing these lawsuits can collect $10,000, at a minimum, if they are successful, plus attorneys fees.

But the people who are sued cannot recoup their attorneys` fees if the -- if the lawsuit is groundless. So this is a way to sue clinics into oblivion, to sue abortion rights charities into oblivion, and also to de facto ban abortion.

Right now, abortion after six weeks in Texas is illegal, with no exception for rape and incest. Right? This is a kind of extreme -- this is such an extreme law. And it almost kind of crept up on us, because who could have imagined just a few years ago that this would be the law of the land in one of the 50 states and that the Supreme Court would allow it?

MELBER: Yes, I mean, you mentioned the lack of exception, which speaks to how this law works. It would take even victims of crimes and subject them to this limitation.

You also mention this -- the way it works with private citizens. And you know there`s a pro-life site now that`s already launching what they call a Web site for tips to go after people, Texas Right to Life. It says they seek anonymous tips to name a doctor or clinic who may have violated the law.

What does this also do in the risk just at a societal level of the kind of the pick your dystopia, "Handmaid`s Tale," Orwellian situation where Texas is literally financially encouraging this conduct that then pits citizens against each other?

GOLDBERG: I think it`s really important to put this in the context of a broader Republican turn towards vigilantism, right?

You see Republicans passing laws in some states that remove penalties from drivers who drive their car into protesters occupying public streets. You see Republicans passing laws that empower aggressive partisan poll watchers. You see Republicans kind of celebrating -- celebrating vigilantism in all sorts of forms, whether it means treating the January 6 insurgents as if they were political prisoners, treating Ashli Babbitt as if she was a martyr.

Just recently, there was a Republican candidate in Pennsylvania talking about taking 20 strong men to remove people from school boards if they mandate masks.

So I think, in general, you have a Republican Party that believes its activists, its true believers should be more or less deputized to enforce their will on the rest of us. And this, in some ways, is just the most extreme version of that.

MELBER: Yes, a really important, wider context.

Michelle Goldberg, thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

MELBER: Coming up in the program, we have an update on a story -- thank you.

And it`s something rare, Colorado police officers indicted over the death of a 23-year-old black man. This was one controversial choke hold, and a story we have brought you before.

We also have something very special coming up on the debate that`s heating up about all these tech companies raking in billions. But what about workers? A special guest on real change later tonight.



MELBER: New indictments, a Colorado grand jury issuing these charges regarding a death that you may recall because it was one of these tragic cases that galvanized many Black Lives Matter protests.

Now, here are the details. Two officers, a former officer and two paramedics all will be charged in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. Now, the charges are a count of manslaughter and what`s called criminally negligent homicide.

The 23-year-old was unarmed and was in one of these controversial stops, essentially detained by police, then placed in a choke hold, then injected with ketamine that was supposed to sedate him.

He said something that has become all too familiar that was caught. He said, "I can`t breathe."

All of this has become a big part of the calls for protests. And one of the calls by protesters has been to have accountability, to have charges. We have said it`s rare to see any kind of charges against officers. This is one of those situations.

Also, on the developments in the Trump Org criminal case that we reported the top of the hour, the news here is that executive Matthew Calamari Jr. is subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Earlier tonight, we showed a picture of his father, Matthew Calamari Sr., who is also a Trump Org executive, but is not the person testifying.

The news is the prosecutors will be bringing in Calamari Jr.

Now, coming up tonight is something I mentioned earlier that I am very excited to share with you. The pandemic has brought hardship to workers. Tech billionaires are making record profits. We`re going to get into the policy and populist debate, for example, Bernie Sanders and President Biden converging on how to value workers.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I say to Jeff Bezos, why are you spending millions trying to defeat an effort on the part of workers here who want nothing more than decent wages, decent benefits, decent working conditions?




MELBER: This is a big and important discussion.

And we`re going to get into this. I actually have someone who is leading the way with real solutions. We talk about policy. Well, we have big ideas. It`s a special conversation, and it`s next.


MELBER: The pandemic keeps reinforcing how technology can reshape our lives and our economy.

Amazon and Zoom have seen profits surge while people were stuck at home. And relatively new companies like Apple, Google and Uber, big picture, have been upending industries that will really never be the same.

And yet I want you to think about this. Some old systems remain resilient, with consequences for workers and consumers. Take music technology. It`s gone from vinyl records, to tapes, to C.D.s., to now streaming. But the exact same old business structure still favors corporations over people, artists and the fans.

Now, across genres, just about every artist says this continues and it`s unfair.


PRINCE, MUSICIAN: If they`re going to be indeed a delivery service, then that`s fine. But even FedEx doesn`t say that they own the thing that they ship.

It ultimately keeps us apart and it keeps the people in power in charge of us.

KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: We need to have contracts that makes sense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven`t made anything off of samples.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you ever get a dime of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the most part, myself, no.

Lots of people do, but you have to figure away, because you don`t have enough money to fight the big companies.

PRINCE: What do we really need record companies for, I mean, really?



MELBER: This is about power and law and culture and systems that marginalize creative people who contribute so much.

We showed Prince there. He spent his life fighting that system. Lately, artists like Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are trying to change from inside, while other younger artists are breaking the mold entirely, which is still hard to do.

Take 28-year-old Russ, a singer and rapper who made his first hits without trading in his intellectual property over to a record label and without using any professional producers, engineers or other connections on his way to self-made success.

The New Jersey-born artist is a real maverick in the industry. And we just sat down in his current home of Atlanta, where I asked about the many years that he spent basically making and posting homemade songs online, struggling to find at first more than a few listeners or a few hundred bucks.

In fact, we have Russ` exact earnings from that period, because, in another unusual move, he released the numbers to the public.


MELBER: You have got a long runway where you`re putting out this music all by yourself.

RUSS, MUSICIAN: And that is not working.

MELBER: And you`re getting a couple hundred bucks, which is fine and keep making your art.

RUSS: Yes.

MELBER: But it`s not as if it blows up.

So tell us what -- A, what we`re looking at here. What are we looking at? Because you release these numbers. What do they mean? And, B, please tell us what jumps out to you.

RUSS: Persistence.

That`s what this is, because if I stop, if I stop -- oh, I see how this chart is going now. It`s going this way. If I stop in 2015, midway through 2015, in June 2015, at $600, I put out 11 mixtapes at that point, and a bunch of songs.

So if I would have stopped that June 2015, having only made $600 that month, right, but with the amount of output I did, no one would have been like, you didn`t give it your all. They`d be like, you did a lot.


RUSS: Put out 11 like...

MELBER: You put out more than most people.

RUSS: Yes.

It`s like I wouldn`t have -- you wouldn`t have been able to say I didn`t work hard, and I didn`t try. So, all that tells me is that you just have to keep going. That`s it.

I could have stopped in June 2015. And that would have been that. And I would have looked back and been like, I did try. I put out 11 mixtapes. I shot so many videos. I did -- but it`s like, yes, but you didn`t try long enough.

I thought everyone else was stupid.


RUSS: Seriously.

I was like I had such delusional confidence. I was like, this is going to work, you all are going to wake up, just watch. There was not a doubt, not even a sliver of doubt in my mind that it was going to work.

MELBER: So you say delusion.

RUSS: Yes.

MELBER: We talked about your roles, including author.

It`s all in your head, in some ways, reads like other inspirational books. Explain that, exactly what you mean by be delusional.

RUSS: Yes.

You just have to be the first person to think you`re about to do what you`re going to do. So that`s delusional. It was delusional for me. The first day when I was like, all right, I`m about to rap. I`m about to make beats, like, that`s -- you`re delusional, because there`s no evidence in real life for you that that`s going to work. You`re starting from zero. That`s the reality.

Now, what -- the other point that makes it delusional is that it`s not a -- it`s not a guaranteed path. You can go to college, and if you graduate, you`re guaranteed get a piece of paper, a diploma, all these things. Like, you could do rap for 10 years and get nothing.

So that`s also what makes it delusional.

MELBER: So can we get into the paradox?

RUSS: Sure.

MELBER: If you are self-aware that this plan is delusional...

RUSS: Yes.

MELBER: ... do you cease to be delusional about it?

RUSS: Yes, because you know what you realize? You realize that, you know what, it`s just I can do it. It`s just confidence. It`s just literally like, I know, this sounds crazy, but it doesn`t sound that crazy to me.

And that`s all it is.

MELBER: So that`s almost a transference, where you start out saying, be delusional.

RUSS: You don`t realize it`s delusional until you look back and was like, that was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) delusional.

MELBER: Yes, because you`re...

RUSS: That`s the thing. It`s like, when you`re doing it, when I was doing it, I was like, of course, I can do this. It wasn`t, I`m (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crazy. It was, of course, I can do this.


MELBER: And he did do it.

Russ has scored three top 10 hit albums on the Billboard charts. He`s sold out shows for 20,000 people, headlining the Staples Center, a place that any music fan will tell you most music acts never fill.

He also works as an entrepreneur, launching a marijuana company, partnering with a nonprofit, Weldon, on issues we have covered a lot around. They work to help and to release drug offenders still behind bars, because the U.S. has a patchwork war on drugs that means, while some people now use and profit off marijuana legally, thousands of others, often overwhelmingly poor and black and brown people, are still serving time for marijuana activity.


Now, in this new interview, we spoke about that. Russ brought up his own identity as a white Italian American artist in hip-hop, something he also addresses within his music.


MELBER: So, what are you doing to change that while you also have a business here?

RUSS: Well, that`s why linking up with Weldon was important for me, just because I`m in the cannabis space as a white person. I`m selling weed as a white guy legally, while there`s so many black and brown people incarcerated for weed.

So I can`t just like, oh, well, that sucks, buy my weed. I got to try to do my part, because, otherwise, to me, that`s very vulture, very vulture mentality. It`s like, yes, sucks for you all. Anyway, I`m going to get some money out of this.

It`s like I have always been very conscious of the space that I`m in. It`s a black space. I`m aware of that. I`m aware that I`m white in a black space. And I can`t just take, take, take, take, take, give me the money, give me the fans, and I`m going to use the culture to get my fans and dah, dah, dah, dah, and not ever give anything back.

I got to at least try to do my part. I`m not on the front lines. I`m not claiming to be the most educated on everything. But I will try and step up and do my part when the opportunity presents itself.

MELBER: And do you see that including, like, advocacy, lobbying? Would you go talk to politicians about it? Or that`s not something...


RUSS: I don`t know, because I don`t feel educated enough to be on the front lines.

I feel I should do my part. Not everyone is supposed to be on the front lines. People got to play their roles, so...

MELBER: And so that -- I hear that. And yet you`re also not afraid to criticize the way that sort of capitalism and culture in America also seem to be, in your view, negative for some minority communities.

I`m thinking, at least what I brag about can get you bags. I can finish it or you can.

RUSS: You can finish it because I feel like I would forget some of it.

Instead of handing over cash to...

MELBER: Someone racist who just will use you all for black...

RUSS: Promotion.

MELBER: Promotion, damn. Way to stick it to the man.

RUSS: You really showed him by putting cash in his hand. Walked out the store, then you post him on the Gram. Now your fans are his fans. The cycle repeats.


MELBER: Congrats...

RUSS: Congrats.

MELBER: ... stupid.

RUSS: Yes.


RUSS: I mean...

MELBER: Some people be afraid to even say that, and yet it seems you`re saying something supremely important that applies to many communities.

RUSS: Yes.

MELBER: Because overestimating capitalism and brands happens everywhere.

RUSS: Yes.

MELBER: But you`re explicitly saying, why support some potentially racist brand, and then make them your fans?

RUSS: Yes.

I just think the way to stick it to somebody who doesn`t like you is not to give them money.


MELBER: Imagine that.

Now, we got on policy. We also covered a lot of ground in this "Mavericks" interview. Here are a few more high points.


RUSS: Whatever you`re scared of, if you attack it enough, you can end up flipping it into fuel.

I didn`t know how long I was going to go. But I knew I was going to go until I blew up. And I knew I was going to blow up. Doubt can`t exist in a creative mind.

MELBER: Do you see yourself as a motivational speaker?

RUSS: No. I just speak and I`m motivational.


MELBER: Does being independent allow you to be a better artist?

RUSS: My success is a direct threat on the record labels. I don`t trust rappers who don`t do interviews. What are you hiding? Everyone has a little Kanye in them. You know what I mean?

MELBER: Sounds you`re saying, no face tats, but people got my face tattooed.

RUSS: That`s a fact.

MELBER: If you don`t call it love, you could call it deep affection.

RUSS: I could probably cancel my therapy session this week after that.



MELBER: Sometimes, the conversation has a little bit of that therapy.

I want to tell you these clips are airing for you for the very first time. It`s part of our "Mavericks" series. If you watch THE BEAT, you may recall we do these with artists. And this entire longer interview is up now, brand-new.

You can see our full conversation. You can go to or search "Melber Russ." You see it right there, "Russ" on YouTube. Search "Melber Russ," and you can get the full interview.

This is part of our series. You may recall the other ones we had with Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, Annie Lennox. Those are also still online, if you want to check those out.

Russ says the more beef, then the less bread. Well, we didn`t have a lot of beef in the interview, but we had a lot to talk about. So, if you pull it up online, you will see it`s a full hour. You may enjoy a little more of it.

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

Hello, Joy.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: How you doing, Ari?

This is a big news day. We`re going to be talking about the Elijah McClain- related prosecutions, which is a big deal, from my former state of Colorado.


REID: And I know you guys talked about that on your show. So it`s a pretty big news day.

We got a lot to talk about. Texas, I mean, come on, "Handmaid`s Tale." What`s happening?

MELBER: Such -- yes, "Handmaid`s Tale" and such an important story. I`m glad you`re covering it. We will be watching.

Thank you.

REID: Thank you so much. Have a great evening, Ari.