IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, August 25, 2020

Guests: David Bowen, Chryl Laird, Donald Ayer, Matt Schlapp, Daniella Gibbs Leger


Protests in Wisconsin continue over a controversial police shooting. Republicans prepare to kick off night two of the Republican National Convention amid some controversy. Why do so many Trump insiders get arrested, indicted and convicted? Evangelical leader and Trump supporter Jerry Falwell Jr. faces turmoil.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening to you, and welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And tonight, we're reporting on two big stories heading into night two of the RNC.

Continuing protests overnight in Wisconsin, amidst these grisly new details about a controversial police shooting, Wisconsin police repeatedly firing at an unarmed black man as he walked away from them and into a car where his children were inside.

Now, tonight, there is news on this front, his family saying he is paralyzed. There are also new calls for accountability and justice, issues that collide directly with what Republicans are trying to tackle at this RNC.

On the first night there, there were discussions of race, of policing, Donald Trump Jr. saying he condemns the police killing of George Floyd. And the Republicans also tried to highlight several of the party's most visible minority members.

Well, tonight, civil rights leaders are stressing that the systemic problems on display are not fully addressed, let alone mentioned, on that RNC stage. Indeed, Donald Trump Jr. did mention Mr. Floyd, who was killed in May, but this new shooting, Mr. Jacob Blake, who, as I mentioned, is sitting in a hospital bed right now after Sunday's shooting, went unmentioned.

Now, you take it all together, today, advocates and his own family members weighing in on the stakes.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR JACOB BLAKE: Jacob Blake Jr. being shot at least seven times at point-blank range when an officer is holding his T-shirt? Where was the humanity for this citizen?

It is going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again.


MELBER: Now, we have details and special guests on both these important stories for you right now and throughout tonight's hour.

But, also, of course, facing the next round of the RNC, and it's dogged by accusations that Donald Trump is stretching the proper power of his office, as he also clearly breaks all precedent from presidents in both parties by planning to use the White House as a political staging ground.

He's also pulling his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, into a partisan address at the RNC. Diplomats in both parties have long avoided conventions because you're supposed to represent the entire U.S. Democrats say this may be illegal, violating the State Department's own guidance forbidding Senate-confirmed appointees from appearing at conventions.

Brand-new from Speaker Pelosi today:


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's appalling.

They should not be engaged in any partisan activities. I don't know what he's going to say. But whatever it is, it would be a violation of the law if they were to engage in partisan activities.


MELBER: As for how this is all playing, well, as with many things in America right now, it depends who you ask. We have you covered on all of it.

There are Republicans who are welcoming night number one. They say the party is giving red meat energy and it's going on offense. Other Americans waking up to headlines like this, describing the RNC on night one as messaging that was dark and doom and gloom and filled with, yes, fear-mongering.


PATRICIA MCCLOSKEY, RESIDENT OF SAINT LOUIS: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): A party that wants to burn down the foundations of our country to the ground.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Crime, violence and mob rule.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: They want to steal, your liberty, your freedom.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: Bully us into submission.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): They will disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.


MELBER: Tonight, the speakers will include three members of the Trump family, Eric and Tiffany, and a keynote to end the night from the first lady, Melania Trump, herself.

Joining us now on a big night in America, we are thrilled to have back with us Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian. He's the author of many books, including "His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope." We should mention he was also a featured speaker at the Democratic Convention, where he spoke out about his view of this election.

I'm also joined by Daniella Gibbs Leger from the Center for American Progress.

Good evening to both of you. And, as I mentioned earlier for viewers, we also have additional guests from Wisconsin, as we're going to be following that story, the backdrop to this RNC.

But, Jon Meacham, everyone got to hear from you. And we obviously think we're the better for it. But you're also a historian who looks at facts and looks at context.

And I want you to walk us through what it meant and what the historical context is for the type of dire warnings that Americans were asked to either believe or potentially bring skepticism to in last night's RNC.

JON MEACHAM, NBC NEWS HISTORIAN: Traditionally -- and that's an adverb that we might as well retire at this point, because nothing is traditional in this era -- the incumbent administration makes a case for its great successes and how to build on those.

You ain't seen nothing yet was President Reagan in 1984 and morning in America. President Trump, interestingly, is in a way conceding that things are bad, implicitly, but his argument is, they will be worse. And that's a very difficult political argument to make historically.

You always raise warning flags about your opponent. That's what politics is. Politics is the mediation of conflicting interests, and you have to amass enough votes to amass sufficient power to hold office.

But he's done nothing to dispel the argument that Vice President Biden's making, which is that, because of this president's refusal to follow democratic norms, lowercase D, because of his refusal to deal with science and facts to deal with the pandemic, and because of his failure to address a rising and increasingly structural joblessness in the country, there's no answer for any of that.

Trump's only argument so far is, Joe Biden will be worse. That's not a winning message historically. People want to know what you're going to build for them, not simply be told that the other guy isn't any good.

MELBER: You lay it out so clearly, and it was a type of scare tactics against someone who, Daniella, has been in a senior post in government.

Whatever people thought of the Obama/Biden administration, and it had its critics, it certainly did, not for most Americans -- and we can measure this in terms of the views they had at the time -- see it as the -- quote -- "unbridled chaos" that was warned about last night.

And then that is against the relief of the ongoing problems with systemic racism in America. I'm curious your view of what it means that we're in a political place where Donald Trump Jr. feels that he must or he is compelled to or in some way has to acknowledge, as he put it, that the killing of George Floyd was wrong, while Mr. Blake and other individuals obviously are not being addressed in a cohesive way.

And while we get your thoughts, I also want to give voice in our reporting to Mr. Blake's family, who we're hearing from some of the first time throughout our show tonight, and this was his mother speaking out. Let's listen to that as well.


JULIA JACKSON, MOTHER OF JACOB BLAKE: Police officers, firemen, clergy, politicians, do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts.


MELBER: Daniella, it's a hard question I put to you, but I know you're fully capable.

What do we as a country do tonight, when we have another black woman appealing to the rest of us, including the politicians, to hear her and do something about that which continues to occur?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You know, that was a really tough press conference to watch. I watched the whole thing. And it just broke my heart that, once again, we have another grieving mother who is praying for her son to survive after being shot in the back by police.

And what we're going to hear tonight, probably, is nothing about this. We will hear silence, because this current Republican Party is incapable of acknowledging the systemic racism and the structural racism that causes these issues to keep happening.

It's like George Floyd is the floor, and it's because we have video of eight minutes of watching his life being snuffed in front of us. So, even Donald Trump Jr. has to acknowledge that what happened to George Floyd is wrong.

But you will not hear come out of his mouth or anybody else the issues, the environment, the structures that allow something like this to happen over and over and over again.


GIBBS LEGER: And you may hear the emotion in my voice. And it's because I am so sick and tired of having this conversation, of worrying about the country that my young black boy, who's 3 years old right now, is going to grow up in, and watching these leaders last night at the convention just lie about the current state of this country.

It was completely disgusting. It broke all the norms, as Jon said. And I -- we will see what happens tonight, but I would not hold my breath that anybody on that stage will really address the problems that are happening. They are just throwing red meat to their base.

MELBER: And with regard to bearing witness to this, as you say, hard to watch, whether you're a citizen or whether you're involved in some way, or whether, as we do in the newsroom, we go through and we look through all of it and listen to it.

Mr. Blake's father also said in his own language -- and I will play it so people, again, can hear it in his own words -- but he said his version of what the summer protests have been about, what John Lewis's life was about that Mr. Meacham has been documenting, that black lives matter.

Let's play a little bit more here.

This is from another Blake family member, Mr. Blake's father.


JACOB BLAKE SR., FATHER OF JACOB BLAKE: They shot my son seven times, seven times, like he didn't matter. But my son matters.

He's a human being, and he matters.


MELBER: Daniella?

GIBBS LEGER: I mean, what can you say to that? He's right. Black lives matter. It's not just a slogan.

It's what people have been marching about and talking about for months, for years. And I thought that there were some really great things that were said in that -- in that press conference.

But one thing was, somebody mentioned benefit of the doubt, that people often ask us, black people, to give the police officers the benefit of the doubt. I have cops in my family, and I know how hard that job is. But that's a two-way street.

And what you often see is that law enforcement officers are not giving black people the benefit of the doubt. It is shoot first, ask questions later. And when you represent the state, when you have all the power, that's not right. And this can't keep happening over and over again.

And the reaction of his father, the reaction of his mother, of his sisters, it's something that all of us -- or all of us should understand and should be able to empathize with that, no matter.

Whether or not you're black or white, whether you have had any interactions with police officers or not, you should be able to feel that empathy and understand what they're going through. And what I feel is lacking from Donald Trump on down is empathy.

I don't remember hearing anything really about the 180,000 people who have lost their lives to the coronavirus yesterday. Maybe we will hear something tomorrow. But what -- if you didn't know any better, and you just turned on the news and watched the convention yesterday, you would have thought that Donald Trump had done a bang-up job with the -- handling the coronavirus.

And that is just not true. What is -- like I said, what is lacking is some empathy from our leaders, from this party, from this president.


MEACHAM: I couldn't agree more. It's empathy and action, right.

We are beyond thoughts and prayers. We are at a point in the country and have been for going on 400 years, 400 years, where we have systemically committed violent acts against people because of the color of their skin.

That's not a partisan point. That doesn't have anything to do with a convention or even a single election. It's been part of who we are. And when we say that, in the Trump era, this isn't who we are, the hell it's not who we are. It's who we have been.

It's -- what happened there is the latest example of a perennial problem, perennial tragedy that we must confront. And if what -- I have been spending the last some months thinking about John Lewis and what he meant.

John Lewis saw pictures of Emmett Till in the 1950s. He knew about lynchings. He knew what happened to people who crossed the cops. There was a fellow, a young man who was lynched not far from him in his -- not far from where John grew up for not calling a white police officer "Mister."

And he ended up in a swamp dead.

And so what did John Lewis, and Diane Nash, and James Bevel, and Bernard Lafayette, and Rosa Parks, and what did that generation do? They stood up. What are we doing? We can't just talk about it. We have got to -- we have got to fulfill the imperative for a more just nation.

And maybe that sounds like a sermon. Maybe it sounds like a homily. But so what? It has the virtue of being true.

MELBER: Well, Daniella, to Jon's point, whether it is a strain in the RNC, which we will continue covering tonight, and we are covering that from all sides, as I will show over the course of the week, or whether it is a part of the Democratic Party's ongoing coalition, if you want to call it that, or history that it sometimes doesn't want to face, which is, if the system you live in requires or operates on the basis of white supremacist violence by the state, and sometimes then also excused by the state when it occurs otherwise, you can't claim -- they can't claim, this is not who we are.

GIBBS LEGER: Yes, that is -- I'm so glad to hear you say that, Jon, because that is -- that is one of the things that really gets under my skin when people say that, oh, this isn't who we are.

Yes, it is. And to acknowledge that doesn't mean that you don't love this country. And I need to say that, like, extremely loud for the people in the back...


GIBBS LEGER: ... because I love this country just as much as anybody else does.

And I have the right to criticize her when she does wrong. And I will acknowledge the things that she has done wrong. Just putting your head in the sand and ignoring our history and ignoring how the people who live today, while, yes, they may not hold slaves, and their grandparents or even their great-grandparents may not have held slaves, but to believe that white people today do not benefit from the structures that were put in place when this country was first founded is ridiculous.

MELBER: Right.

GIBBS LEGER: And me saying that is not an attack on an individual person.

MELBER: Right.

GIBBS LEGER: And people need to really get out of their feelings and start acknowledging facts and figures and history.

And, of course, that's nothing -- those words are anathema to this administration. I get that. But for everybody else out there who are free-thinking individuals who believe this, you are -- you forget your history, you're doomed to repeat it.

We have to have a base understanding of exactly what's going on in this country, who benefits, who doesn't. And then we can figure out how to move forward to make sure that this truly is a land of opportunity for all of her people, not just some of her people.

MELBER: Really, really important points here to reflect upon at what is obviously an important time.

My thanks to Daniella Gibbs Leger and Jon Meacham, as always.

We're going to take now the shortest break in our hour, just 30 seconds.

When we come back, we have special guests on the Steve Bannon arrest and some very special guests in Wisconsin.

Stay with us.


MELBER: We're continuing our coverage here in the police shooting here out of Wisconsin.

Let me give you the facts. Tonight, 29-year-old Jacob Blake fighting for his life after the seven shots he took to the back from police on Sunday. Trump's Justice Department is now assisting this probe, aided by potentially incriminating video.

This was captured by a witness. It shows Blake walking away and trying to enter his car where his children were.

Now, we have not, evidentiary-wise, been able to yet confirm everything that happened before the recording started. But it's part of the evidence. And let me warn you, it's graphic. That is some of what we know.

What's new tonight -- and we were discussing this at the top of the hour, but we have several things we haven't shown you yet and some special guests coming up -- Blake's family speaking out and his attorney giving an update on his condition.


CRUMP: The medical diagnosis right now is that he is paralyzed. And because those bullets severed his spinal cord and shattered some of his vertebrae, it is going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again.


MELBER: Blake's father also speaking out today. He was saying that he wanted to put his hand on his son's cheek and kiss him on his forehead and tell him he'd be OK.

That's just some of the emotional public testimony we're hearing.

As for what's going on out there, well, protests continue in Wisconsin last night. There was an a 8:00 p.m. curfew. There's also a state of emergency.

And as we have seen in some of these other police shootings, this one fast becoming a national catalyst for change, protesters back out marching in Minneapolis, New York, L.A., Washington, D.C., and then LeBron James also speaking out last night.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: We are scared, as black people in America. We are terrified.

If you're sitting here and telling me that there was no way to subdue that gentleman before the firing of guns, then you're sitting here and you're lying to not only me. You are lying to every African-American, because we see it over and over and over.


MELBER: I'm joined now by Chryl Laird, a professor at Bowdoin College, co-author of "Steadfast Democrats," the social forces shaping black political action, and Wisconsin State Representative David Bowen, who is on the ground dealing with all this.

Thanks to both of you for joining us for what is a sad topic, but an important discussion.

And, Chryl, I just want to play a little more -- as I mentioned to viewers, there's a lot of different aspects of this -- so a little more that we haven't heard yet from civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Take a listen.


CRUMP: Can you imagine what his 8-year-old son, who was celebrating his birthday, is going to think about every time he has his birthday? The pain in his father? Can you imagine? This is real. This is real, America. This is real.

This is what we have to endure every day, being profiled by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us.


MELBER: Chryl, what do we need to know and understand about the history and context of how something like this, as we have been covering, keeps happening?

CHRYL LAIRD, CO-AUTHOR, "STEADFAST DEMOCRATS": Yes, I think what we need to think about is the long time that we have seen this type of behavior coming from police.

And a lot of that is stemming from the history of where African-Americans have been situated in the United States. It has to do a lot with the criminality that has been associated with black people. It can go all the way back to slavery, when you look at slave patrols and fugitive slave laws, and even today within the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, police brutality and these concerns has not been something that is limited to this contemporary time. But it's something that really has spanned the course of American history, and has been something that the black community, as well as other communities of color, have been dealing with for quite some time.

So, sadly, Jacob lake is just another story of a broader narrative of what has gone on.

MELBER: State Representative Bowen, walk us through what you see as critical for the next steps in Wisconsin.

We have been reporting on the fact that, like many states, including states run by Democrats, as I have noted, you have these problems. You had an all-time high on police use of force there just last year.

STATE REP. DAVID BOWEN (D-WI): Well, in particular, right now, we don't have any cooperation from Republicans, who control the legislature. And we know what people are calling for right now is for change.

They're calling for laws to be changed in state statute, so that officers can't move and do things this way. We know that this isn't something that can be reformed. This is something that demands transformation.

And when you talk about what public safety looks like and how it is administered, how it is gained in communities, it means that we have to have a completely new conversation about how to do that.

And transforming law enforcement and how we have them operate to what they're called to do in our communities has to change systematically. And you need that.


MELBER: And let me ask you, when you look at the -- what we know about the shooting -- and I always remind folks who don't have all the evidence -- but the way that he was moving and he was approached and then shot in the back, as a public official -- we just played his mom, for example, urging politicians to do justice.

Do you feel you know enough to say whether this was an unlawful shooting?

BOWEN: I think I know enough to say that what -- from what I see, this is no different from several other situations that we have seen, especially right here in Wisconsin Dontre Hamilton being shot 14 times in downtown Milwaukee in the middle of the days, Sylville Smith being shot while he's running away.

Literally, all these situations have caused us to have this moment, to come back to this space and to say, isn't it time for us to fix this finally and once and for all?

Rather than having this conversation of trying to justify one shooting vs. the other, we know that, systemically, we can change the fact that people can not only survive these encounters, but they can thrive in their communities as well.

And that's what people are being held back being able to gain.

MELBER: Chryl, as I have mentioned, because I like to try to show our work here, we want to bear witness to what we're hearing from the families.

And we mentioned some of what's happened in the national politics and whether people being heard or not.

So, playing a little more from the family here tonight for your thoughts on the other side. Take a listen.


JACKSON: As I pray for my son's healing, I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country.

We are the United States. Have we been united? Do you understand what's going to happen when we fall because a house that is against each other cannot stand?

America is great when we behave greatly.


MELBER: Go ahead.

LAIRD: What she's saying is quite profound, right?

Like, it's speaking to a pull that she is dealing with, right, a struggle and a tension for her, which is that she is proud to be an American. She is proud of her country, but she's also disappointed in what it is becoming and what she is witnessing and what has happened to her son and others, that this division is something that is going to continue to be a problem as a result of the behavior, especially when it's state-sanctioned violence, right?

So, people often want to bring comparisons in to other types of violence that occur between, like, intragroups, so within a racial group, for instance, African-Americans or blacks, or within white groups.

But this is beyond that, right? This is state-sanctioned violence. They are paid by taxpayers, this is funded by the public, and that this behavior is representative of our government.

And so if we are not questioning the kinds of behavior that we are seeing coming from this, then we really do have to think about what we are representing and that we are better than this, right, and that we can be better than this.

But to understand how we can improve, we really do need to recognize how much that this is kind of embedded into so much of the foundation of this country and within our government structures.

And understanding that means a systemic change, much to what is being spoken about by the representative from Wisconsin.


Professor Laird, Representative Bowen, thank you both. We will stay on this story. I appreciate it.

We have a lot more in the show tonight, including that Steve Bannon arrest and fallout, as DOJ officials have a warning, former DOJ officials, about reelecting Donald Trump.

Also, later, a Trump evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., out, resigning today.

We have that story ahead.


MELBER: The run-up to the RNC hasn't exactly been a great news week for Donald Trump.

The man who ran his last campaign indicted by New York prosecutors for defrauding MAGA fans, Steve Bannon there, as Trump's other legal headaches continue in New York in cases over his business and coughing up his secret taxes.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, now some lifelong conservatives with experience at the DOJ are warning explicitly against a second term for Trump.

So, for anyone who thinks 2020 is a low, they argue that an unbridled and reelected Donald Trump would actually be even worse for weaponizing federal power and undercutting the legitimacy -- the legitimacy, I should, say at the DOJ.

This is a warning from seven top Republican officials appointed by Presidents Reagan, Bush, both Bushes, really. And that includes the DOJ number two, Donald Ayer, who served under Bush and says: "A lot of us are extremely alarmed at the threat of autocracy, since Trump's going to be unleashed if he gets a second term."

That quite stern warning is from Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, who served inside the DOJ with Bill Barr, so he speaks with some rare behind-the-scenes knowledge of these people and issues.

And he's warned about actions like this, the feds tear-gassing peaceful protesters, while Trump has publicly demanded the DOJ favor his allies and abuse its power against his political opponents.

Donald Ayer is our special guest right now.

Thank you for joining THE BEAT.

DONALD AYER, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you. It's great to be here.

MELBER: It's great to have you.

With no offense intended, sir, you are not considered a radical street protester or a radical member of the resistance. I mentioned your Republican credentials.

So, when someone like you says the Donald Trump's reelection concerns you about autocracy, what do you mean?

AYER: Well, I think my reaction and I think that of a number of us on this list of people who've come out for Vice President Biden, we were lawyers, all of us, in various Republican administrations, and we have an abiding -- most of us in the Justice Department.

And we have an abiding loyalty and a belief in the rule of law as it's been practiced in the times that we have had our careers in the government. And what we have watched in this administration is just a tremendous disrespect for the law, and, in terms of the operation of the Department of Justice, a whole variety of actions which are totally unheard of really in the past.

You can go back to the early part of last year, when Mr. Barr essentially contradicted the factual findings of the Mueller report. You have the actions taken to undermine even-handed oversight by Congress, resisting subpoenas from the New York district attorney's office, a whole lot of different things that were effectively designed to undermine the regular processes, overriding decisions of career lawyers in the Stone case, in the Flynn case.

And as the year turned, and we got into the election year this year, Mr. Barr has really turned his attention in a major way toward doing what he can to help the campaign.

And I think, if you look back over the last few weeks at his involvement in the ordering troops to move demonstrators, why is that? Well, I think -- I feel that it's to create and support a narrative that the president has been promoting, a narrative of disorder in the streets and the need for this administration to step in and maintain order.

Mr. Barr has made comments repeatedly lately about mail-in balloting. There's no evidence that mail-in balloting is a problem. But he's doing everything he can to undermine the effective use of it and the trust that people have in it.

The Department of Justice has intervened a number of times in court in order to essentially, I would say, harass state local governments that are trying to maintain safe conditions with the coronavirus situation.

Why? Because they're coming to the support of I think people in the base who are angry that churches are being limited and that sort of thing. So there's a whole lot of those sorts of things.

And one dimension of it that looms right now, we have this Durham report or Durham investigation going on. And there's been lots of talk for the last year-and-a-half, really, from Mr. Barr, sort of sort of shaking a stick in and indicating that, well, we're going to get to the bottom of this and talking a lot about spying on the president's campaign.

So the department's been used and abused in a major way. And those of us who really care about the rule of law are quite alarmed by it.

MELBER: It's really striking to hear you say that, particularly given your experience in the Bush Justice Department and the reasons and the values that you invoke for why you're issuing this warning here on this convention week against Donald Trump's reelection.

Donald Ayer, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us, sir.

AYER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it. Absolutely.

We have a lot more in tonight's show. I should tell you, we were discussing Steve Bannon, who is fighting for his freedom. He says that arrest is a political hit job.

But here's a question, as everyone thinks about Trump's reelection. Why do so many Trump insiders get arrested, indicted and convicted? We have a special guest and some special facts for you.

Also, before we get to that, have you heard about Trump supporter Jerry Falwell Jr.'s new problems. This is an extraordinary story affecting politics and a lot more -- when we come back.


MELBER: Donald Trump chose to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Liberty University in 2017.

And the religious leader and conservative powerhouse has been a big part GOP primaries and Republican Conventions, but not this year's, given the news that, this week, Falwell Jr., one of the president's first evangelical supporters, is resigning after reports of a personal scandal just this week.

Now, today, the university's board of trustees formally accepted the resignation, Falwell Jr. telling "The Washington Examiner" his wife had an extramarital affair, and he was facing blackmail, which is contested.

Falwell claims he was aware of his wife's -- quote -- "inappropriate relationship," but he says he was not involved.

But another man is speaking out, saying Falwell knew about it and watched them together.

Questions first arose when Falwell himself posted this picture online this month. He later deleted this picture. Falwell was long seen as a religious and moral leader on the right and a power broker in modern Republican politics.

In fact, he spoke out about upholding moral values and the Christian community in his address at the 2016 Republican Convention.


JERRY FALWELL JR., FORMER PRESIDENT, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: I truly believe Mr. Trump is America's blue-collar billionaire.

He is a true patriot, and a champion of the common man.

Mr. Trump possesses the resolve to put his country first and to never give up in a world that is increasingly hostile to our values.

I do not believe that any president in our lifetimes has done so much that has benefited the Christian community in such a short time span than Donald Trump.


MELBER: Meanwhile, ahead, we will get into the fact-checking of some of the claims at the RNC, what you heard last night, what you might hear tonight.

You need the facts to follow the convention.

Stay with us. This is THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.


MELBER: Welcome back to MSNBC's special coverage of the Republican National Convention.

And joining me now is chairman of the American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp.

You know we like to hear from everyone.

Thanks for joining me.


MELBER: Absolutely.

We will get into plenty of stuff. But I want to give you a straightforward opening off the top.

What is your argument for Donald Trump's reelection, in the light of this week's convention?

SCHLAPP: Well, I'm an old man now, Ari. I have been involved in politics a long time. I got a lot of snow on the roof.

And if you're looking -- if you're talking about yesterday, you're probably losing. And what I advise the president to do and his team is talk about tomorrow. The country has been through one heck of a year. We have never seen anything like an economic shutdown and this pandemic for at least 100 years. '

And -- but previous to that, he had a very impressive record of keeping the commitments he had made to the American people. You or others don't have to like all of that policy. But he basically did what he told us he would do.

And what he has to do in this convention is two things, tell people what he wants to do in a second term, and the people around him who are speaking need to showcase Donald Trump, the person, the individual, and why it's important for him to be reelected.

MELBER: You mention the people around him.

And, obviously, I think you would agree it's not good news for any politician on the week of their convention to have the person who ran the campaign last time get arrested and indicted, and it's not just Steve Bannon.

I'm curious your reaction. We can look at all of these individuals. You have Bannon, Manafort, Stone, Flynn, Gates, Cohen. Everyone who was charged has been convicted, and Bannon and away from trial and is legally, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty.



MELBER: The question is straightforward, as you argue for the reelection, which is, why does Donald Trump have so many people around him, why does he hire and rely on so many people who end up convicted felons?

SCHLAPP: Why are there so many people who were around Obama and Biden who haven't been locked up?

We just saw the greatest legal outrage coming from the White House, rivaling Watergate, perhaps worse. The idea that Obama and Biden and their in their intelligence community around them, Susan Rice, Jim Comey, Mr. Brennan, used the intelligence community to spy on their political opponents is revolting.

And we have already just now had one plea to the fact that there was a FISA application put in that was inaccurate.


MELBER: You know what I got to ask you.

SCHLAPP: Yes, go ahead.

MELBER: I got to ask you -- you just said, don't go backwards.

Do you think it's last week, and we're talking about the Biden convention?

SCHLAPP: That's not backwards.

MELBER: Because I booked you to discuss...

SCHLAPP: It's not backwards. That plea just happened. And there's more coming in the future.


MELBER: I booked you to discuss this convention.

And, in all seriousness, I think it is worth you saying and our viewers hearing, if you have an answer, why so many convicted felons around Donald Trump?


Well, first, of course, you should give Bill Barr credit, unlike you did in the previous session, where, if somebody close -- or perceived as being close -- and I don't think Steve Bannon is any longer close to the president -- but somebody who's perceived to be close can have a legal action taken against him by a U.S. attorney office, it shows you that they're playing things squarely at the Department of Justice.

Number two, all of these convictions that you walked through, I don't think it's fair to put Mike Flynn, if he's on your list, because he's just another victim of the Comey-Mueller access -- but these other people were indicted for activities away from the President Donald Trump.

MELBER: So, your -- so, part of your argument, as I'm hearing it, is, the fact that these people are getting caught doing something wrong is a testament to the -- your argument is, it's the independence of the Barr Justice Department, which, as we have covered, has been criticized.

That is what you're saying?


SCHLAPP: Well, I don't think the Barr Justice Department should be criticized. I think they have done a really good job.

I think the department that should be criticized is the department that whitewashed this incredible wrongdoing by Obama and Biden.


MELBER: And that's last week.

SCHLAPP: Biden is running for president, Ari. Biden is running for president.

MELBER: And if we have a time machine, I will book you on the DNC.

But we finished that.

SCHLAPP: Let's do it.

MELBER: Let me ask you this.

Is Donald Trump sending...

SCHLAPP: Joe Biden is their nominee, though. You have to acknowledge that.

MELBER: Yes, he is. I don't...


SCHLAPP: Any role he played in that illegality is valid.

MELBER: I'm not denying that, Matt.


MELBER: I'm not denying that he is the nominee.

Let me ask you this, though. When you hear about this law and order and some of the rhetoric out of the convention...


MELBER: ... is Donald Trump, in your view, is he making a mistake sympathizing so much with these people, who, as you said, independent Justice Department, arrested, charged, most of them convicted, Bannon awaiting trial?

Is Donald Trump wrong to sympathize so much with them? Does that send the wrong message to the country?

SCHLAPP: No, I think Donald Trump should sympathize with Americans in all kinds of ways, including those who are the victims of these protests around the country.

We can all be mournful of these terrible tragedies that have happened, including with the murder of George Floyd. But why -- why add injury to insult with victims that have taken literally murders in some of our major cities, these riots, these small business owners, many of them people of color, who are victims of this violence?

What I want to hear from Joe Biden and Donald Trump and, quite frankly, Barack Obama, and Kamala Harris is to condemn this violence. They're very quick to condemn police officers. And, sometimes, that's valid.

But we should also condemn all this violence. Somehow, the mother that was on TV today of this latest victim who's in the hospital...

MELBER: Mr. Blake, yes.

SCHLAPP: ... spoke -- to me, I think she spoke to -- I think it was Mrs. Johnson.

She spoke to a lot of people in this country. She said she has a beautiful -- the color of her hand is a beautiful dark color, but no matter what color your hand is, we have got to figure out a way to come together. And that's what the president needs to do.

He does need to bring us together. And that's what we expect of our political leaders. But I think the president is empathizing with those who are the victims of these riots and this violence and these crimes.


MELBER: People can agree -- Matt, people can agree or disagree with what you're saying. They have to hear you to do that. That's why we have time for you on the program.

But you're bringing up that shooting for what reason? Because, as you know...


SCHLAPP: I thought you just brought it. I apologize. I thought you brought it up. I was just trying to answer your question.

MELBER: Oh, if that was a genuine miscommunication, I will count that up.

I was referring to the way he has sympathized with defendants like the ones I mentioned, with Michael Cohen and this and that.

SCHLAPP: I don't see that at all.


MELBER: In fact, for that point, to clarify, let me play a little bit of that and get your response on the other side, which is...


SCHLAPP: I would be happy to answer that question. Be happy to answer that question.

MELBER: You will get to. You will get to.


MELBER: But you're on THE BEAT, so you're going to have to hear the sound, and then answer. Here's Donald Trump. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel very badly. It's a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon.

I have seen a very sad thing going on with respect to Roger Stone. I think it's a disgrace.

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. It's a very sad situation.

I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly.


MELBER: The question was about all of that, the sympathy for these individuals who are arrested, most of whom, I just mentioned, were convicted, at a time when they were caught breaking the rules.

And a lot of Americans, as you know, are playing by the rules. You get the final answer, sir.

SCHLAPP: Well, he also felt great sympathy for Alice Johnson.

He's commuted and pardoned so many people, including people of color who were victims of this 1994 crime bill. He believes that there are too many times when the American people are treated unfair in legal system, and that the pardon process and the commutation power is something that he ought to use -- he ought to use as he sees fit.

And I think that is an appropriate thing.

And, as far as some of these convictions of some of these people, there's a process. And if they did something wrong, they have to pay the consequences for what they did wrong.

And what the president has said in many of those comments, in this public comments, is, basically, I feel bad for the person, but I'm not getting involved. It's up to the Department of Justice.

And, as you saw with Steve Bannon, I think -- I think you see that Bill Barr is...

MELBER: You have been around Steve Bannon.

SCHLAPP: I have been.

MELBER: Do you think he did something wrong?

SCHLAPP: You know, when you're reading "The New York Times" to figure out what happened, it might be a little skewed.

But I do think that, if what they report is right, that he has -- I think there are serious issues with how people raise money. I'm in a group. I have to be careful with how I raise money for my group.

And if he's innocent, I know that our system will find him so.


SCHLAPP: And I have confidence in it.

MELBER: I'm out of time, but I appreciate you spending time with us, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union.

SCHLAPP: Thank you for your coverage of the convention, too. I have been watching a lot of it. I think it's great that you're covering it.

I'm watching it with my girls. And I think that's good for all Americans, and the Democratic one.

MELBER: Hey, all families should watch all civics together. I wish you well tonight.

Thank you again, Matt.

SCHLAPP: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: We will have coverage, of course, tonight, on night two. It's about to begin. Don't miss it.

And if you stay up late, we will be back at 1:00 a.m. Eastern tonight.



Content and programming copyright 2020 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.