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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, August 20, 2020

Guest: Maxine Waters


Joe Biden is set to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination. Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaks out. Former Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon is charged with fraud. The Trump administration's alleged sabotaging of the U.S. Postal Service is examined.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

And we begin now with breaking news. Former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon is in federal custody, indicted for political fund-raising fraud. You have it right here, another big indictment day.

This is a legal and political earthquake, the man who ran Trump's winning general election campaign and held a senior White House post now under arrest thanks to an independent probe by federal prosecutors in a notoriously tough and now nationally familiar office, the Southern District of New York.

Bannon's attorney entering a formal plea late today of not guilty for Steve Bannon. But here's what the feds said. They have evidence to prove political fraud and corruption.

And this alleged corruption comes at the worst time for Donald Trump, reinforcing a main argument at the DNC from Biden allies and former President Obama himself about Trump's corruption and personal abuse of power that they say threatens democracy itself.

Now, here tonight is the legal evidence as we know it. The feds say Bannon was part of a plot with three others that fraudulently misused a lot of money from a political operation that claimed to be all about backing Donald Trump's border wall.

So, the effort raised about $25 million for building a wall through a GoFundMe page, just like the ones you may see friends and family use for all kinds of projects. But feds say that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former number one, took about a million dollars from that effort into his own pocket, doing that through expenses.

So he now faces wire fraud and money laundering charges. That's a big deal. We have some sketches of Bannon inside the courtroom there. He had his hands cuffed in front of him. He was wearing a white shirt with blue stripes, and the former senior adviser in the Trump White House brought into court wearing a mask.

Now, Bannon was a wealthy banker long before he entered right-wing politics through Breitbart, and then took over the Trump campaign during the general election, where he's credited with intensifying Trump's nativist closing argument.

Now, what you see here on your screen, well, that money that he made in banking, it was on display today, because federal agents arrested him this morning on a $35 million 150-foot yacht on Long Island.

Now, Bannon has faced the feds before, cooperating extensively with the Mueller probe. And, remember, Bob Mueller did not charge him. But, remember, Bob Mueller also took things that he found and handed some of those cases off outside his jurisdiction to other prosecutors.

We do know in the past, for example, that's how SDNY convicted Michael Cohen. Now, in this case, there there's nothing yet to imply in the public evidence that this came out of that investigation. But, either way, this blockbuster arrest adds to President Trump's now terrible record, as a legal fact, for the most advisers indicted in any American president's first term ever.

Just look at these legal facts. They do speak for themselves. You now have six different Trump advisers indicted, and every single one whose case has been processed was convicted. Legally, Bannon is at an earlier stage, obviously, with the breaking news tonight, and he is legally presumed innocent.

He joins other top insiders, like his 2016 colleague campaign manager Paul Manafort and his White House colleague Mike Flynn. So, that is a lot right here. This is the biggest story upending politics today.

And I report that for you even though, of course, one convention is hitting its finale tonight, and another is about to begin. But that's not all. There's one other key takeaway here. And it's not about which Trump ally was indicted, although, when you look at that big list, it's a lot.

The other takeaway that you have to understand before we bring in our experts -- and I always want to walk through the details with you -- the other detail is about who did this indicting. It was federal prosecutors.

So you say, OK, what does that mean? Well, that means people who work inside the Trump-Barr DOJ at the independent Southern District of New York. That may sound familiar, because that's the office that Trump immediately focused on upon his election with its jurisdiction over him and his company.

Trump met with then Obama holdover Preet Bharara. This is actually the footage from Trump Tower when he was going into that meeting that you're looking at there. Then, when he couldn't cultivate Bharara enough, Donald Trump fired him as SDNY chief. That was after suspicious attempts to pressure him.

And then Trump did it again. We covered this. He fired the replacement SDNY chief in a Friday night ousting that was so chaotic, that prosecutor did something very rare, despite being, of course, a Trump official. He then went public, saying the Trump-Barr DOJ was lying about it.

Now, the question then was a big one. Why did the Trump DOJ go to those lengths Friday night to change control of that office? We asked about that in our reporting at the time. Some of our experts said on THE BEAT and elsewhere, they said, look, it was possible there was some sort of case that Barr wanted to stop.

It was possible that he was continuing the pattern of interventions that he's done for other Trump allies in other prosecutors' offices like D.C.

Now, today -- I always want you to have all the facts -- the Justice Department says, no, they are asserting that Barr was briefed in advance about this high-profile arrest of Steve Bannon, which is an implied defense that Barr, they say, was not meddling.

But many DOJ veterans already say Barr's public meddling in several other cases is enough proof. They have been calling on him to resign.

And the issues tonight go way higher than even Bill Barr, a president breaking records for convictions and arrest of aides, with both of the people who at times held the number one position, Manafort and Bannon, in his original election campaign are now indicted.

And President Trump's response? Well, it's been to demand the DOJ spare his indicted friends, to punish his enemies, to investigate people that he disagrees with, to punish people for exercising their First Amendment rights.

And if he fails, Donald Trump has been clear -- this may sound like criticism. I'm actually just reporting what he says and does. He says, if he fails, he will do it himself, which he did, jailbreaking Roger Stone from his prison sentence, something Nixon never did in Watergate, while also demanding the federal agencies handling your ballots crack down to suppress the vote, so Donald Trump can win.

We are in the middle of our convention coverage, obviously, and we have plenty on that tonight. We didn't know this would be the big news tonight, this indictment of Donald Trump's number one aide in 2016 and a White House adviser, but here we are, and this is not a drill.

I want to bring in some special experts.

Maya Wiley worked in the SDNY as a civil prosecutor. She was also the former counsel to the mayor of New York City. And we should mention she's considering a run for mayor of New York herself. We're also joined by former U.S. attorney and MSNBC analyst Joyce Vance.

Good evening to both of you.

Maya Wiley, what does it mean, in your view, legally, when the prosecutors in the Southern District make a move like this?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: The prosecutors of the Southern District only move when they have got the evidence to move.

So, what it means is that Steve Bannon is in a world of trouble. And that is something that, as you point out, is because it's an independent office, and the former U.S. attorney Mr. Berman, appointed by Donald Trump, former law partner to Rudy Giuliani, made sure that, when he got pushed out, that office was led by another independent-thinking attorney who would take its reins.

And we only have to wonder exactly what you suggest, Ari, that this was an example of what Mr. Berman meant when he said he wanted to protect the integrity of investigations, because this does not help Donald Trump.

But one thing I just want to add about Bannon is, part of his claim to fame and his rise to power in the White House is because he was a fraudster. That is essentially what he used Breitbart for, was to hoodwink the American public by doing -- quote, unquote -- what he called "flooding the zone" with misinformation.

That is exactly what happened here, according to the indictment, and it was for profit. And that is something we have seen with many of Donald Trump's close allies.

MELBER: Joyce?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what Maya is saying is absolutely right.

This wasn't a sophisticated, dressed-up fraud that took a lot of intelligence. This was just garden-variety, run-of-the-mill fraud. This was a group of men who knew how to do this. They knew to create sham invoices and sham arrangements with vendors to move at least a million dollars' worth of money out of these funds that were meant for another purpose.


MELBER: Joyce, let me put this on the screen, just for your analysis, to continue, but to keep up with you.

We have that evidence, brand-new tonight. To conceal the payments, for example, prosecutors allege that Bannon created -- quote -- "fake invoices, sham vendor arrangements"-- quote -- "Bannon made clear in a text there would be 'no deals I don't approve," Bannon paying what is a co-conspirator now, consistent with the secret deal they say Bannon approved.

Offering up the evidence you're analyzing, Joyce, for your continued explanation.

VANCE: Yes, so this is just crime. And the reason we know that, Ari, is because the Southern District of New York graciously provided us with what's called a speaking indictment.

This is an indictment that goes beyond the bare-bones of the elements federal prosecutors would have to prove for these two conspiracies, and gives us a great deal of information about how the schemes worked.

And the reality here is that the evidence that they have detailed in these indictments is sufficient. And one assumes that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York can prove what they say they can prove. That is certainly their track record.

And so these two crimes, which both have 20-year maximum sentences, are now staring Steve Bannon in the face. I think the real question is, will he cut a deal to keep himself out of prison? Will he try to do something, some form of cooperation in the Southern District of New York? Or will he too hope that the president gives him a pardon?

MELBER: Right. You mentioned the pardon. He, of course, was a White House adviser. He was in there in those early years, which is different from, Maya, some of the people caught up in the Mueller probe, who at times seemed more distant.

He was a person who took over in the key general election in '16, when Trump appeared to be far behind, and they went hard right, as I mentioned, fortifying a certain extreme politics. And then he worked in the White House, a senior adviser. I mean, people know he was played on "SNL" because he was so famous and, to many of Donald Trump's critics, so villainous, a role that he delighted in.

I say that as a bit of background, because I want to play something that I think looks especially interesting, potentially newsworthy tonight, which is, when I did sit down for an in-person cross-examination interview with Steve Bannon, we did press him on the money issues.

It was a different organization. But there were a lot of questions about where they were getting their money, and particularly foreign money, and who wanted to give to someone this close to the Trump administration, with all of the other allegations about potential pay to play.

So I want to play for both of your analysis that exchange. This was going into the 2018 midterms about his different organization and its funding. Take a look.


MELBER: How much money does your group have?

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We have raised quite a bit of money.

MELBER: Over $5 million?

BANNON: Over $5 million, yes.

MELBER: Over $10 million?

BANNON: I don't want to put a specific name -- number on it.

MELBER: Is it fair to say you have right now between $5 million and $10 million?

BANNON: I think it's fair to say that we have got enough resources, and even more resources pouring in from donors. And we're eventually going to start a small donor program.

I have never -- by the way, I have never had a problem getting resources.

MELBER: Who is funding this group?

BANNON: Well, it's private donors. It's just private donors.

MELBER: Why not tell people who they are?

BANNON: Well, because I think that donors want to be private. It's the law. And they have got full right to do that.

MELBER: Is there anyone you would not take money from?

BANNON: Well, I would not take money from foreigners, right?



WILEY: Well, yes, apparently, he only robs Americans. That's the way it seems from this indictment, which is essentially what's been alleged.

He lied, he stole and he used it for his own personal gain and for the gains of his friends. So, whether or not he would take foreign money, we don't know. I suspect, with a man who actually was helping to foment right-wing nationalism in Europe, he could have had some connections that may have produced that.

But I think what's staring us right in the face is a pattern that, just as Joyce said, this is not even a hard case. And what prosecutors have laid out is very clearly paper trail evidence. It's very explicit that there were things where they could find the direct links to Bannon himself engaging in the fraud.

So it's very hard to imagine they can't president a very strong case to a jury that essentially says, he lied and stole from the American public.

MELBER: And, Joyce, one line that jumps out there in that statement was by this very rich individual, that's well-documented, "I have never had a problem getting resources."

How do you square that in the story and in what prosecutors would have to take to a jury, if he doesn't plead out, with someone who's this rich still allegedly taking?

VANCE: You know, it doesn't matter if you're rich or if you're poor. If you violate the statute, then prosecutors in a case like this will charge you and will convict you.

And with Steve Bannon's demeanor, frankly, Ari, in that really amazing cross-examination that you do have him, and you reach a point where it's very clear that there's information that he doesn't want to reveal to you.

And it's the sort of information that people would normally respond to pretty easily in an interview. There's something there that he's looking to protect, something that he's looking to hide. No idea if, in that case, it was something that was criminal or not, but it's very clear that Steve Bannon is not someone who can take the witness stand in his own defense and convince a jury that he's innocent, because there is so much in his past, so much misconduct here.

And the evidence that Southern District has provided today is so compelling. It's hard to see how this one goes to trial and how it's a good result for him.

MELBER: It's striking hearing from both of you, as I mentioned, Maya out of the SDNY. Joyce Vance was in the same position that we talked about other U.S. attorneys being ousted, the number one person in a U.S. attorney's office.

So, getting your views on the seriousness of this case is striking. I want to thank you both on a newsworthy night, Maya and Joyce.

We're going to now fit in our shortest break, 30 seconds.

When we come back, final night of the DNC, after Harris and Obama light up Trump. We're going to get into a breakout moment worth understanding.

And, tonight, we have one of our special reports. This is all about your right to vote and Trump's alleged abuse of power on the eve of a very crucial hearing on that Postal Service fight, which is, of course, tomorrow.

But, first, Democratic Chair Maxine Waters on the new rulings over Trump's taxes, a big story, when we come back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: We're joined now by Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. She is chair, of course, of the powerful Financial Services Committee.

And like other guests we have come to know in these busy times, I will say with -- only with your agreement, a friend -- excuse me -- a friend of THE BEAT.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): I can't hear you.

MELBER: She can't hear -- I was choking. And then I think we maybe lost the sound.

Can you hear me, Chairwoman, now?

WATERS: Yes, I can hear you now.

MELBER: OK, great.

Well, I was saying you're a friend of THE BEAT. Then I coughed. It was a whole start of the interview.

WATERS: I see. OK.

MELBER: But what I want to ask you...


MELBER: What I wanted to ask you is, we have been covering so many different stories, the president's former number one indicted today, the convention tonight, and yet no one controls the developments.

There's a big development here as well amidst all this on a case that you were involved with in Congress trying to get the president's tax returns and the New York independent DA trying as well, Trump losing.

Walk us through your views tonight.

WATERS: Well, let me just say this.

As you know, my committee has been working very hard, and the Intelligence Committee also, and we have subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank. We have been fought every inch of the way. It has taken months to get to the point where now we're on the verge of perhaps getting those tax records.

And the courts ruled against Trump even today. At first, Trump was just saying that he was immune. And now he is saying that we're overly requesting information that we should not have access to.

But the judge has ruled against them in that decision today. And now Trump is going to try and get it all the way back to the Supreme Court. But we're going to keep fighting. And the Intelligence Committee is going to -- perhaps we're going to combine our work with the Intelligence Committee, so that they can answer the court, who had four questions, basically, that they asked about our subpoenas, and asked us to give answers to them.

And that had to do, could this information -- could it have been obtained someplace else? Did it really serve a legislative purpose? And why did we need so much of the president's information? And maybe it was overly broad.

And so the Intelligence Committee is going to take the lead in addressing those four questions that are being asked by the Supreme Court, and we're going to continue.

MELBER: Let me read from this ruling, because he lost at the Supreme Court. Now we're back into the details.

And this federal judge says: "At its core, the absolute immunity could be a backdoor, an entry point for which not only a president, but potentially other persons and entities could gain cover from the judicial process."

What does it mean to you to have judges in this process, which takes time, basically rule against Trump and side with the argument you and your colleagues have made, that this is not just about whether Donald Trump's hiding his taxes, but the principle that no one's above the law?

WATERS: Well, and that is the principle. No one is above the law.

And this president has taken the position that he's immune from prosecution, he's immune from being indicted, and he basically can do whatever he wants to do.

And this is very dangerous. As a matter of fact, the Constitution could not have written everything that a president is not allowed to do. So, it's a very powerful position. And the president must have integrity, must be about serving this country, and not being immune from the law, not being above the law.


WATERS: But he's indicated in everything that he's done he doesn't care about the law, he doesn't care about the Constitution.

And he's shown us that he's willing to do whatever he thinks he needs to do to favor himself, whether it has to do with a law that is being questioned or the United States post office that he wants to dismantle,

MELBER: Right.

Well, Congresswoman, you have a lot of experience. You know your way around the conventions. I think you and I both know, if there wasn't so much legal shenanigans going on, we would be talking as well in our time on air about that.

And I did want to -- I have got about a minute left, but I did want to, as a final question, make sure to get your thoughts on the address by Kamala Harris last night.

WATERS: Oh, Kamala Harris did a wonderful thing last night.

She conducted herself in an absolute beautiful manner, in the way that she talked about who she is, her family background, what she cares about. I think she and our Vice President Biden are going to make a wonderful team.

I think that they're going to take this nation forward, that the campaign is going to be a good, strong campaign. And I think they're going to lead us to victory. She did a fabulous job.

She showed who she is and what she's capable of doing.

MELBER: Do you have, in the way you do your work, any signal or way to figure out -- I'm just curious -- that she is more mobilizing? Are you picking up that hint or clue out there that people are more excited about this ticket with her having been added, as opposed to, say, two weeks ago?

WATERS: I am, because this is historic.

I mean, an African-American woman who's been chosen to run as vice president is very exciting. It's very stimulating. And I think there's a lot of support around moving forward with both she and Biden.

And so I'm very pleased to see that the country, for the most part, particularly the African-American community, the Indian community, people of color, Latinx, et cetera, we all see this as new possibilities for our government and for politics, that the door has been opened in ways that perhaps some people didn't expect for us to be able to walk through that door and be looked at credibly, and to be able to achieve and to be chosen and to be elected and appointed and all of that.

And so I think it's very exciting. And it's going to excite a large portion of our public.

MELBER: Chairwoman and Congresswoman Waters, on a busy night, thank you for joining us.

WATERS: You're so welcome. Thank you for having me on.

MELBER: Love having you, as always.

Up ahead, we are, of course, going right into the closing argument from Joe Biden tonight.

But, first, up next, our special report on Donald Trump, your voting rights, alleged abuse of power and what you need to know about this postmaster general.

We have new information when we come back.


MELBER: On this final night of the DNC, the fight over voting itself continues.

Democrats clearly have Trump on defense over his plot to undercut the Postal Service, which may be a linchpin for any pandemic election, people voting from afar. The postmaster general, as you probably know from covering the story, has been walking back restrictions that could impact ballots and face a grilling in Congress tomorrow.

But Trump's plotting against the USPS actually started years ago, and it relates back to this:


JEFF BEZOS, CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, AMAZON.COM: Don, through an intermediary, approached me and said, would you be interested in buying "The Washington Post"? And I was very surprised.


MELBER: Now, what does that have to do with the post office crisis?

Well, on the eve of the postmaster's crucial congressional testimony, right now, we're going to take you into how Donald Trump may have set himself up to both undermine this election with the post office, but also get caught.

And this goes back to before he even knew what he wanted to do with voting by mail, before he saw these signs he was trailing Biden.

What I'm about to present to you in our new reporting is an installment of our special Backstory report, where we try to provide you with substantive accounts about one key figure in the presidential campaign and move the punditry or horse race coverage to the side.

Now, this is obviously important because it goes to the election itself. It goes back farther than voting by mail, or even the Republican effort to privatize many parts of government.

It begins with billionaire Jeff Bezos. The Amazon founder and the owner of "The Washington Post" has clashed with Trump for years. Now, Bezos says he cares about excellence and "The Washington Post" cares about facts.

But, for Trump, it may be about the Benjamins, given his long-running and petty feuds with people richer than him, plus the shots at Trump about always he's not as wealthy as they are, or as he claims.

Even comics have openly mocked Trump about it in comparison to the Amazon founder.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Trump is jealous because Jeff Bezos is actually a billionaire.


MELBER: Actually a billionaire.

And that's not all. Now, Bezos says he does not make the specific editorial calls at "The Post," but he does back the paper's independence.

So think about when its editorial board published this piece titled, "Trump Is a Poison Pill For the Republican Party" back in 2015, when he was struggling.

Well, Trump took the fight all the way up to the top, responding within days, slamming Bezos and basically going at him, but then "The Washington Post" owner clapping back with the hashtag #sendDonaldtospace.

Donald Trump didn't like any of that. He ultimately confessed to his improper motives, just like he has in this new post office fight.

Now, maybe people weren't taking this seriously at the time, but it is so important now, because Donald Trump went out and said what even most authoritarians deny, what Richard Nixon never admitted in public, Donald Trump confessing that he intended to abuse his power in office as president to retaliate against Bezos because he was an opponent, threatening Bezos on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wants political influence, so that Amazon will benefit from it. That's not right. And, believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They're going to have such problems.



MELBER: "They're going to have such problems."

Now, what does this have to do with the post office? Well, for Trump, it's not usually about public policy, where a leader just thinks, how does this impact everyone and what's the best policy?

You know the drill. It's about him. The resources, even the safety of American interests become a tool for his personal agenda. So, when Amazon and the Postal Service had a deal, President Trump didn't like it because of his beef with Bezos.

And he admitted it. He complained that the USPS was now Amazon's delivery boy, and then tried to spin it into some sort of effort to protect the taxpayer.


TRUMP: The post office is losing billions of dollars, and the taxpayers are paying for that money, because it delivers packages for Amazon at a very below cost. And that's not fair to the United States. It's not fair to our taxpayers.

And Amazon has the money to pay the fair rate at the post office, which would be much more than they're paying right now.


MELBER: It wasn't just bluster. Trump took suspicious actions that might be an abuse of power, and that which was exposed by -- wait for it -- "The Washington Post," reporting the Trump pressed the postmaster general at that time to hike rates against Amazon in secret White House meetings which were kept off the public schedule.

Does any of this sound familiar? A president secretly demands a top official join his scheme to abuse federal power for the president's interest? That's what the evidence showed Trump demanded of FBI Director Comey and his replacement, McCabe, and other prosecutors and key officials.

We discussed that throughout tonight's show. And we all know now what happens when they refuse. So, whether you remember this particular story or not, you can imagine the impact when this postmaster at the time refused and fact-checked Trump by explaining that, actually, Amazon's big business was beneficial for the Postal Service.

Well, we all know how that goes in Trump world. He told aides he wanted to fire the postmaster. Then he went on to install three of his own picks onto its Board of Governors, which appoints the postmaster.

The White House, for its part, denies any of this is about the Amazon feud, but Trump also pushing things along himself. He issued -- remember? This was an executive order, little noticed at the time, for a task force to consider the plan to go at the Amazon relationship, but they found Trump was also wrong.

They found that the Amazon relationship was actually profitable. Those are the facts, but Donald Trump admitted his goal was to get Bezos. It wasn't about those facts. Taxpayer stuff looks like a cover story.

So, even when his own folks fact-checked him on that, Trump pressed on, threatening to defund the post office, which has been losing money for years, and was going to run out of money this year.

And he said he was going to hold them over that barrel if they didn't go after his enemy, Amazon.


TRUMP: The Postal Service is a joke, because they're handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies. And every time they bring a package, they lose money on it. If they don't raise the price, I'm not signing anything.


MELBER: Now, the post office eventually got the money. The Treasury secretary worked behind the scenes on Trump's agenda.

An ethics organization even got a letter from the secretary to the board -- this was in 2019 -- pushing Trump's mission to hike the Amazon rate, saying: "It's important USPS prices service a profitable manner, including the e-commerce ground packaging delivery market," AKA, Amazon, and adding: "The second request concerns the search for the next postmaster general. I'd appreciate being kept apprised of the progress."

As this ground on, sometimes behind the scenes, you have to take it in and look at the context in this voter clash, because just like Trump tried to punish a different journalistic outlet that he sees as an enemy, CNN, by abusing federal power over mergers, He wanted to break it out into a larger company. He even got involved in an antitrust case, the DOJ filing legal arguments when it was not a party.And that was trying to go after CNN.

Now, why does this all matter? What is going on here? Well, Congress and the courts care a lot about whether there are just budget cuts at the post office, or this is a political plot, a potentially unconstitutional one.

And that takes you to who Trump's trying to get to carry it out, the new postmaster general, who oversees these operations and is appointed by that board I mentioned, which Trump filled with his folks.

Now, at the time, the postmaster was Megan Brennan, a career employee worked her way up from a letter carrier, and she had started a five-year term in 2014, which brings you up to 2020, which brings us to this new controversial postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who rushed in those changes we have been reporting on and started telling states maybe they won't deliver the ballots in time.

Now, under pressure from Pelosi, he has reversed course publicly. And I'm telling you about this tonight because he testifies tomorrow at a Senate hearing that could be key to protecting your vote this cycle.

Now, who is he? And why is he the one Trump wants in power?

Well, like Bezos, he's very rich, a billionaire CEO who helped fund next week's RNC convention, donating a million dollars to Trump, opening his own home to Trump in 2016 and then after he became president. They had eye-popping ticket prices, 15,000 bucks.

And that money helped to build power because DeJoy turned from critic to Trump appointee. In fact, take a look at this. A little-seen local news article from back in '04 quotes this postmaster general, then a citizen at the time, slamming Trump's leadership style: "I'd be fired. That attitude that you're the most important person is self-destructive."

Well, boy, did he change his tune to get in line for this job. Now he says Trump's doing great. And he talked up the notion of Trump's deep state, which is ironic for someone campaigning to get a job in the federal bureaucracy, telling donors about Donald Trump battling unreasonable challenges and ticking off several, including -- quote -- "many of the federal employees of the agencies of the executive branch."

And then there was DeJoy with a choice seat on the platform for Trump's inauguration. You can see there how close he was. And that required lots of work from those federal employees.

He even got a shout-out from Trump at an event earlier this year.


TRUMP: We have many other state and local leaders from all across North Carolina. We're thrilled to have you all here. Louis is around someplace. Where's Louis, Louis DeJoy? Thank you very much.


MELBER: And at a time right now, when Donald Trump's under fire for corruption, I want to walk through the evidence of the pay-to-play here, because it goes beyond the mail.

Trump pushed DeJoy for a different key financial post, but he wasn't yet confirmed. He also pushed his wife for a fellowship vice chair post at the White House, then nominated her as U.S. ambassador to Canada. It's a big job, and that's also pending before the Senate that will grill her husband tomorrow over an alleged plot to steal the election.

So there's a lot of scrutiny on DeJoy right now when he goes in to face this grilling, people in both parties saying he should be questioned under oath, with the criminal liability that can carry, on all of the background we told you about and on the election plot and on his qualifications.

In fact, DeJoy is the first postmaster general in 20 years to come in with no post office experience. His financial dealings could come under scrutiny as well, as they probably should, holding millions of dollars in a company that does business with the post office, a major conflict of interests.

And senators will, of course, press him on the changes he made that he now claims are being reversed that slow down the mail processing and could put voters in, yes, 46 states at risk of not having ballots counted if they send them through the mail.

Now, why would he have made all those changes in the first place? Many skeptical that he's even going to reverse them if everyone moves on to other topics.

And there are new reports that say mail sorting machines that have been removed might not be reinstalled, which means it's not back to a fair baseline.

Some of the damage may even be irreversible. "The L.A. Times" today reporting some post office facilities have become like an Armageddon, workers falling so far behind that gnats and rodents swarming around containers of rotten fruit and meat from the mail, baby chicks dead inside their boxes.

And all sort for what? Don't just look at what they say. The heart of this plot is about Donald Trump going in not just in those public things we showed you, although we want you to see the evidence, but these secret requests to abuse his federal power, whether it's the post office or other agencies, for his personal and political gain.

Everyone needs to keep their eye on the ball, because this isn't about left or right or who wins. It is about making sure the election for who wins is fair in a democracy.

And senators tomorrow may also want to take a look at what we have been reporting here, that Donald Trump apparently wanted to use and abuse this power over the post office for something that also relates to the election, targeting the owner of one of the papers that's done some of the most tough investigative reporting on him, "The Washington Post," who also has this personal feud with as a billionaire, Jeff Bezos.

We're going to keep reporting on these issues and keep our eye on the ball.

Now, coming up when we return, the final night of the DNC, Joe Biden speaking after Harris and Obama go right at Donald Trump.

And, later, we share a breakout moment at the DNC that's so important to reflect on. We will explain.


MELBER: We have been covering breaking news today, the arrest of former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon.

And we're looking at new video. You can see Steve Bannon here moments ago. This is him leaving the courthouse. He pled not guilty to these new charges of fraud and political money laundering.

You see him exiting there the courthouse. He is the sixth Trump ally who's been indicted. Here's Steve Bannon walking out for the first time, his signature double collar on view.

So he is out on bail. And under the terms, Bannon is not allowed to use private jets or yachts. He was apprehended on a boat today to travel. He also, according to these, rules must surrender his passport, so he cannot travel internationally.

You could see him escorted by officials in masks as he leaves the courthouse building where he was processed for this major fraud arrest.

I want to bring in Maya Wiley, who worked as a civil prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, which handled this case.

You see him leaving there, and you see him striking the best pose he could. He appeared to be smiling. But what does it mean now next for Steve Bannon and this case?

WILEY: Steve Bannon has got to figure out how he's going to mount a defense.

I think what we saw walking out of the courthouse was the showman, the man who knows how to create disinformation, and to confuse folks. So he made he came out without wearing a mask, smiling, so he could show the public that he wasn't worried.

But, in truth, he has a lot to be worried about. But he's trying to set the tone and the narrative that I suspect we will see emerge in a defense that essentially says, I didn't do anything wrong.

How he's going to do that, we don't know. How much of this is a projection, so he can hold it together long enough to do -- as Joyce said earlier tonight, figure out how to cut himself a deal, all that remains to be seen, but he's got a tough case to defend.

MELBER: Yes, it's really striking. And, again, that's the first video we have seen.

It is interesting, your observations. And, of course, any trial of a high-profile individual, if it goes to trial, will have energy in and outside the courtroom, the jury and the public opinion.

And, as you say, Maya, we know, for example, from earlier sketches and reporting that he was actually wearing the mask inside the building in a federal facility. So, as you say, there's already some subtleties to that presentation.

His relationship to the Breitbart and right-wing media suggests a very interesting time to see what they say in defense.

While I have you, of course, we are also -- as we do around here on busy news nights, we're juggling more than one story.

Tonight, Joe Biden will formally accept this Democratic nomination for president. Maya stays with me.

It is 12 years since he did the same process for the V.P. nomination.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Today, that American dream feels like it's slowly slipping away. I don't have to tell you that. You feel it every single day in your own lives.

I'm here for the cops and the firefighters, the teachers and the assembly line workers, the folks whose lives are the very measure of whether the American dream endures.


MELBER: Biden, of course, speaking in the context of what was then a financial crisis, right now a pandemic recession.

And here, in a bit of symmetry, we now have heard from his running mate in the midst of this economic crisis.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESUMPTIVE VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We're at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid.

The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing. We can do better and deserve so much more.


MELBER: Maya, your kind of final thought on all this?

WILEY: You know, I just thought it was such a stunning example of the human Kamala Harris, right?

I mean, she was coming out to show that not only is she the tough prosecutor, because we already know that, not only is she the leader that knows how to put a William Barr in the seat and get him stumbling over a verb, she is not only the person who can back a Brett Kavanaugh into the corner. She's the person we know will prosecute the case against Donald Trump.

We knew that before the convention. But what she came to do last night, which is -- which we know that I think Joe Biden will do more of tonight, is show that she's also the person who soothe the nation, who can look the nation in the face and say, we're going to pull this together, we're going to pull this out together.

She was such the human Kamala Harris. And she's been made into such a stereotype for so long in this process, that I think it was really important to reintroduce her as a person that those of us who know her know is a warm, as well as intelligent person, who is absolutely authentic, and really deeply cares.

And I think we will see the same from Joe Biden.

MELBER: Really interesting point, you remind us.

And there have been times when Democratic Conventions have struggled with that. You're reminding us that something that Kamala Harris has really excelled on in her fast rise has been often that humanity, the personal side.

Our thanks to Maya Wiley on more than one topic tonight.

When we return, we're going to show you a very important breakout moment that we think you should see -- when we come back.


MELBER: The Democratic Convention is already making groundbreaking history with this formal nomination of Kamala Harris as vice president.

Now, both Harris and Obama explicitly signposted the historic nature of their positions in their addresses, a scene reinforced as well, though, we should note, in some of this week's artistic performances that draw on America's civil rights history and battles.

Indeed, it was often artists leading the way before some politicians and many in the country on America's struggles for equality, from Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" taking on lynchings, the history we have explored right here in our reporting on THE BEAT, to the iconic 1964 song "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke, which he wrote after inspiration from Bob Dylan and street protesters, and which soon became echoed by those same activists around the country.

Now, even as Cooke was killed before he could see much of the change that he was advocating come to fruition, he was an advocate. There was the Civil Rights Act that passed after his death to, of course, later barriers broken by Obama and now by Harris.

I give you all that brief recollection that so many of you probably remember and lived through, songs we have shared as a nation, because it was pretty striking to hear Cooke's 1964 song reapplied and getting national billing at this historic convention last night, Jennifer Hudson taking the stage.




MELBER: Jennifer Hudson, "A Change Is Gonna Come."

Then, as now, it's not a guarantee to be sat on. It's a pledge and a promise to be acted on. At least that's one thing we learned from Sam Cooke, may he rest in peace.

What will we see tonight on the stage from the politicians, from the artists? Well, we will only know by watching together. So, you can keep it right here on MSNBC for special coverage of the last night of the DNC, with all of our favorite anchors and colleagues.

And I will let you know, I will be back with our special postgame coverage 1:00 a.m. Eastern, 10:00 p.m. Pacific, with a lot of our special guests and more special coverage. So, that's later tonight.

But, right now, it's "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID."


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