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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 2, 2020

Guests: Keisha Lance Bottoms, Libby Casey, Donald Ayer


Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks out. President Trump reportedly considers pardons for his family members and personal attorney. Georgia officials issue a warning about dangerous rhetoric regarding the election.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And the top story tonight is new reporting that Donald Trump is mulling how to use his soon expiring powers as president and considering unusual preemptive pardons for several of his children, son-in-law, and potentially his embattled lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is under investigation in New York. Donald Trump Jr. was reviewed in the Mueller probe.

There's no indication of any secret charges there, while some Trump children face separate probes in New York state, where a president cannot pardon state crimes.

Now, in one sign of just how serious this perhaps trial balloon is, Donald Trump's sources, his media allies, the people who talk to reporters, the way this all works, they're already offering misleading spin for why, if he does this, they say it would not be because he believes he or any of his family did anything illegal.

Now, I want to be clear with you tonight, I'm about to walk through all of this. Those are just words, because, legally, it's not true. Legally, that's not how pardons work. Pardons are for criminals. The vast majority of pardons come after a person is a convicted criminal.

There are also these preemptive pardons, and they are generally, to be clear, for people who need protection from possible future prosecution or something criminal.

The most famous example, you see on your screen. The most famous preemptive pardon in U.S. history is, of course, Richard Nixon. Everyone knows Nixon accepted the shame of a pardon, an ex-president taking a pardon. It was a huge deal. He was the first president to get one from his successor.

And it was because he clearly had criminal exposure. No spin or tweet can change that. And if you want a little more source material, the Supreme Court has long held that accepting a pardon means practicing a confession of guilt.

This is a heavy fact at the White House tonight right now. The president does have the power to issue federal pardons. He can give them out. But if Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. take them, that is, as I just showed you from the precedent in America, that is their, according to the Supreme Court -- quote -- "confession" of guilt under law for the rest of their lives.

And in the same pardon reporting that I mentioned, Donald Trump also relaying some sort of fear that a -- quote -- "Biden Justice Department" might seek retribution against him or his family.

Now, Joe Biden has actually ruled that kind of interference out of cases when he takes over the administration. And while that reporting I just cited is brand-new, it's already aging poorly, amidst reports tonight that Biden will keep the FBI director that Trump hired, which is to honor a nonpartisan tradition, which, of course, Donald Trump famously broke, because he fired the current director's predecessor, James Comey.

We have more on that story later tonight.

But all of this news comes after FOX's Sean Hannity floated this very controversial, very guilty-sounding pardon plan on TV this week. Well, he was back at it with a Trump-friendly congressman, calling for as wide a pardon net as possible.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Why wouldn't he just pardon himself and his family on the way out the door? Because I think he would be right to do so, because these people are nuts.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The president should pardon himself, his family, his administration officials and any of supporters who've been targeted.


MELBER: That would be a big list, according to that accounting, all targeted supporters, whatever that may mean.

Now, legally, for federal crimes, the president could do that. But, remember, he's also shown very little interest over these four years in ever using the pardon power for people who aren't either in his personal circles or are political, powerful or celebrity type people that somehow benefit him.

And the president, to be clear, can pardon people legally who've not even been charged. Like it or not, the Supreme Court has also ruled that presidential pardons apply to every federal crime anytime, even -- strange as it may sound, even before an indictment.

So, it would be legal for this president, like any president, to go on a pardon spree before leaving office. So I'm giving you those facts, however they may sound, even if they sound like parts of our system are weird.

But I want us to just pause tonight before I bring in our experts, and just think about what it means that this is even under discussion right now. Much of the president's family, the people he brought in to serve in government, they're having this discussion with leaks to the press about an act that legally confesses to some sort of past federal crime, and does so in public, a mark they would bear for the rest of their lives.

And this, I think, does also reignite the burning question that could animate the months ahead, even as Donald Trump exits the stage, and even as Joe Biden has publicly signaled and talked broadly about hoping to move on.

After all this crime and after this talk of this pursuit of potential pardons, with open talk about people legally confessing to potentially more crime, what should America do about it?

We're joined now by former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance, former federal civil prosecutor Maya Wiley, who was also counsel to the mayor of New York City, who we should mention is running for mayor of New York City, and Libby Casey, political reporter with "The Washington Post" with an eye on how this is all playing out and who, if anyone, wants to admit they're seeking a federal pardon.

Good evening to each of you.

Joyce Vance, what do you see as the legal significance here, given how heavy it is to take a pardon?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, I think you're right, Ari.

Your baseline assessment that you don't need a pardon unless you're guilty of something is dead on the money. But what we should all be concerned about here is the way the president will spin this narrative and how he will use it to convince people who are still in his base, still his supporters that Joe Biden will be the one who will bring on board a corrupt legal system, so he has to protect his children, and perhaps himself with pardons.

This will make it incredibly important that Joe Biden's Justice Department sets a very high standard for integrity and works hard to regain the trust of the American people. It's not fair that they have to do that. But this is just, I think, indicative of the type of damage that the president will continue to do to our fundamental institutions on his way out the door.

MELBER: But if you're Ivanka Trump, with your whole life and career ahead of you, what do you have to consider before legally taking something like this?

VANCE: You know, I think the calculus that people in that position are forced to engage in is whether they believe they have any potential exposure to federal criminal prosecution.

Obviously, a pardon won't protect them from state prosecutions. And then they have to decide whether they're concerned enough that they might be prosecuted that they're willing to carry this albatross around their neck for the rest of their lives that they accepted a pardon.

Perhaps Ivanka and others who might be in this position will believe that they can convince folks that they had to do it because the Democrats were corrupt. I think that's going to be a tough narrative to sell, and it's going to get tougher over time.

MELBER: Yes, it's also tough, Maya, given the track record, which we will put up, the number of Trump associates who were convicted of federal crimes here were indicted during periods when Donald Trump was overseeing the Justice Department, and it was his aides running things, and it was longtime Republicans.

This is a guilty spree. Some of these people, as you can see, have since been pardoned or commuted. Others are awaiting trial, like Steve Bannon.

Your thoughts, Maya?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: My thoughts are that Donald Trump flooded the swamp and that was the list of the flooded swamp. It's been just an incredibly corrupt and self-dealing administration.

And the biggest albatross around the Trump children's neck is the name Trump at this point, especially if they want to come back to New York City, because there is simply no question that this administration has had more guilty pleas and investigations and indictments than any -- than any of us can remember.

And the other thing that we should be concerned about, in addition, because I want to echo Joyce's points, is, we just saw Michael Flynn, who just received a presidential pardon, using his newfound freedom to essentially call on the president to literally declare partial martial law in order to essentially take back control of an election he lost fair and square, and to silence the news media.

So it has actually empowered this really false narrative and terrible conversation that simply undermines our Constitution and our democracy and our ability to regain trust in government and strengthen it, as Joyce said.

So we have to really understand the pardon power also in the case of Michael Flynn.


And we're living through one of these points of transition, Libby. And I'm curious if you can help us, from your reporting, understand the scene in Washington. There's a huge and fundamental transition going on. Donald Trump still has all these powers. And, as I have enumerated, some of them are fully lawful.

And so I'm torn between giving everyone the evidence here and people can make up their own minds, and also feeling a little bit like the scene in "Zoolander" when he says, am I taking crazy pills, or has the world gone mad?

Because we're here talking about massive pardons for the people around Donald Trump, including young family members. Who knew that Ivanka had criminal exposure? And this is being actively floated. And for those who follow, our news viewers, I think understand, because we follow it closely together, what it means when you have multiple sources confirming this to major newspapers and networks, because they are trial ballooning this.

I'm curious what your reporting shows, Libby.

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Ari, if you put any other president in the situation, or if you woke up from a very deep sleep over four years, you would be shocked by these headlines.

If we could substitute the name Barack Obama for Donald Trump, people would -- their minds would be blown. But I think we have gotten really sort of desensitized to what the norms are and what the standard practices are.

And so there is a lot of shock. There is disbelief, but it is so partisan right now.

And when you have Sean Hannity encouraging President Trump to pardon not just his family members, but also himself, and, as Joyce so importantly noted, putting it in this political framework that sort of justifies it, and then potentially protects the Trump children in the future from the political fallout of it among a certain segment, potentially those 70-plus million Americans who voted for Donald Trump, that's really important.

I think it's good that you're asking the question of what does this say about their future? But it all depends on where you're getting your news and where you're getting your factual information. If we look back at the history of presidential pardons, we have never seen anything even considered on this scale.

When you look at -- Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother for a drug charge, but that was a very specific charge, right? So it's not -- presidents have used this platform before, this power to help people that they cared about, but nothing has ever been so sweeping.

And even if you look at what Ford did for Nixon, I mean, that's the closest thing you can compare it to, because it was a pardon that took place before any action had gone forward to criminally penalize him. That's just such a sort of a small comparison in relation to what it would mean to not just pardon your children preemptively, perhaps for general sweeping non-specifics, but even potentially pardon yourself.

MELBER: Yes, and I appreciate that you lay that out.

It should not just be dismissed or normalized, the double standard, with any other president, including the last one, Obama. There aren't enough tan suits in the galaxy to amount to an hour of what this scandal would be if they move forward.

And having said that, it is also true that presidents in both parties have been tempted to use the pardon power in their self-interest, in their administration. We have seen that. We have reported on that. One example of what is the so-called earlier preemptive pardon would be what Bill Clinton did for Marc Rich, who was a fugitive. So he was at large.

So that was highly criticized, legally, rightfully so. And we have the tape of who was out there criticizing it. Take a look.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's no justification for that pardon, and it was a disgrace and a scandal that should have been pursued more. It was a midnight pardon. He had to do something big to get that pardon. I don't think we have ever figured out what the heck it is.


MELBER: Rudy Giuliani in 2013, Joyce.

VANCE: The Marc Rich pardon was controversial. It almost kept Eric Holder from becoming the attorney general.

In hindsight, it seems almost trivial, compared to the litany of Trump's pardons. And here's the distinguishing factor. Trump has undoubtedly used the pardon power to insulate himself from potential liability, whether that's dangling pardons to keep people from cooperating with federal investigators, pardoning people or offering them clemency to keep them from going to prison, or now engaging in these proactive sorts of pardons.

Trump has held the pardon power so close to the presidency, almost wielding it as an additional political tool. This is something that our Constitution established after great debate among the founding fathers. They clearly saw this potential for abuse, but decided it was so critical to have it, so that a president could do justice, could offer mercy in an appropriate situation, yet another part of our criminal justice system that Donald Trump has stood upon its head.

MELBER: Right. And we're not over any of this.

I want to give an update to a story that broke literally during our hour on this bribery-for-pardon scheme.

Our panel returns, but this is now under Justice Department investigation, with an official telling NBC News -- quote -- "No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation."

We should note the court filing does spotlight a -- quote -- "secret lobbying scheme." And it shows, redacted -- as we emphasized last night, a lot we don't know because of those reactions, but some individual would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or a reprieve sentence for redacted.

We also have reporting that this may involve at least two individuals who -- quote -- "acted as lobbyists or senior White House officials" to get the pardon or sentence, one of whose names was also redacted. That's updated reporting from NBC.

Libby, I'm curious what all of this noise this week says about the remaining weeks, because, in many transitions, even really hot, angry presidential races, even the Florida recount, which had both sides really having reason to think they won, we have seen a history pattern where the outgoing president really tries to make the ending as smooth as possible.

When you get down to those last few days in January, if there's a foreign policy crisis, it's really with the forbearance of thought of who's taking over. We have no indication that's happening now.

I'm curious what you advise us all to be ready for in what is still a long time left in the lame-duck presidency of Donald Trump.

CASEY: President Trump tweeted last night that this pardon investigation is fake news, even though there are so many specifics we're lacking because it was so heavily redacted.

And we're seeing Kayleigh McEnany take the podium today and downplaying that very important and interesting story that we need to find out more information about. But we're also not getting any sense that President Trump is not only going to make any of this process graceful, but there's so much at stake right now, Ari.

The coronavirus numbers are just staggering. And I'm sure we can all think about and relate to people we know all over this country, not just in the big cities, but in rural America, who are facing incredibly tragic situations.

And, at the same time, President Trump and the first lady are hosting parties at the White House, potentially endangering not just participants, but the staff of the White House and the people who live in this city that I'm in Washington, D.C.

And we're hearing that the president is thinking about not attending the inauguration, not placing the standard phone calls, and, of course, floating this idea of perhaps even having some sort of a launch of a new campaign or having some sort of a rally on Inauguration Day.

We talk about the president breaking norms and changing traditions, but that language is sort of innocent-sounding, right? It sounds just like you're shaking things up. These are really big changes that are rocking the foundation of how our democratic process typically happens.

And it's just going to mean more work for the Biden administration to try to unite the country coming in.

MELBER: Well, you make such an apt point about the backdrop of the pandemic, the recession, the problems that a president should address.

I'm reminded of a line from that really exhaustive piece in your paper by your colleagues about Donald Trump's failed efforts post-election to overturn the will of the voters. And it had a line that said, he became so obsessed with this thwarted legal strategy that he was spending the majority of every day fighting to keep a job that he refused to do.

And I thought, on that one, "The Post" really nailed it.

Libby and Joyce, I want to thank both of you. Maya comes back. Appreciate you guys.

Coming up, we have our shortest break, 30 seconds.

But we have new reporting on Bill Barr's problems after debunking voter fraud, and what Trump plans to do while Biden is taking the oath of office, something one of our guests just mentioned.

We're going to get into all of that and a special guest tonight, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, on the rhetoric and the rebuke of the risk of violence, including finally coming from some in the president's own party -- when we're back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Here's a headline you don't hear every day in this era, MAGA supporters and Trump loyalists turning, angry with Attorney General Bill Barr, who has long been known as very, very loyal to the president, all because he said something true.

He debunked the idea that there was systemic voter fraud. He mentioned that in a memo, which we reported on, and now he's saying it to the public.

But one insider is calling it "a complete betrayal, to tell the truth," and that makes Barr "failure."

Now, again, Barr shielded Trump. He's put out a misleading summary of one of the most important, consequential pieces of accountability in the Trump era, the famed Mueller report. He was with Trump at that infamous photo-op when protesters who were peaceful were being tear-gassed, something our own military privately objected to.

And Barr's under fire. Rudy Giuliani, who we were reporting on earlier hour, potentially looking at a pardon, saying there hasn't been any semblance of a DOJ investigation and that Barr's opinion is without any knowledge.

Trump ally and FOX News hosts Lou Dobbs questioning Barr's mental state.


LOU DOBBS, FOX BUSINESS: For the attorney general of the United States to make that statement, he is either a liar or a fool, or both.

He may be perhaps compromised, he may be simply unprincipled, or he may be personally distraught or ill.


MELBER: Again, that was all in response to Barr repeating a truth that has been established everywhere, including by Trump's own lawyers under oath in court, that there's no systemic voter fraud.

Then there's Roger Stone, who was famously personally helped to a great degree by the documented meddling by Bill Barr, in what Barr said was too heavy a jail term for Stone. It was such a big deal that four prosecutors, some with experience in the Mueller probe, resigned in protest.

But I don't know if the memory is not long or other issues are more important, Roger Stone turning on Barr.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Attorney General Bill Barr suddenly determines that there's no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud in the 2020 election, when, in fact, the level of evidence of voter fraud is both overwhelming and compelling.

Bill Barr's job is to block for the deep state.


MELBER: That's news to the deep state.

Meanwhile, the White House playing coy about whether the president has confidence in Barr continuing on the job.


QUESTION: Does he have faith in Attorney General Bill Barr? Does he still have confidence in Bill Barr?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president, if he has any personnel announcements, you will be the first to know it.


MELBER: We're joined by Donald Ayer, former deputy attorney general in the Republican administration of George W. Bush 41. Barr also succeeded Ayer at the DOJ, but broke with him over misconduct and tenure in the Trump administration, calling on him to resign in February. Former prosecutor and mayoral candidate Maya Wiley is back with us.

Your views, Donald?

DONALD AYER, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think the first thing that we really have to stop and say, because I think it's very important, is that it's very significant that Bill Barr has said this, because this is the last thing I think he wanted to have to say.

He is -- as your lead-in has shown, he engaged in numerous efforts over the last two years really to do everything he could to make Donald Trump an autocratic president, including lots and lots of things he did this year that were pretty underhanded and inappropriate to get Donald Trump reelected.

And so, for him to go out and say I think what he has reason to know, because one of the things he did just before the election -- just before the election was to invite his prosecutors, his 93 U.S. attorneys, to have their ears open, a policy that's not the way the department historically has worked.

But they were supposed to pay attention to evidence of major fraud. And so for him to now come forward, having done everything he could for Donald Trump, and state what is factually true is something we should all and certainly I think his Trump supporters should take to heart.

So, that's the most important thing about this, is that Bill Barr has said that, even though it's what I think lawyers call an admission against interest. It's the last thing he wanted to have to say.


MELBER: Well, Don, I will jump in to say, how sad for the attorney general if it is an admission against interest to reflect a basic fact that the nonpartisan folks at DOJ had already indicated and to reaffirm it. That is a sad statement, if true. It seems to be the case.

I did want to give you the benefit of, because Mr. Ayer, as I mentioned to our viewers, you have an illustrious and long career in government, but I wanted to give you the chance to mix it up with the late-night hosts, the Kimmels and the Fallons of the world, which I know is a step away for you.

But it is Barr-related and a reminder of which stories break through and how he's become such a national character. Take a look.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": William Barr has been one of Trump's most obnoxiously loyal allies throughout -- emphasis on lies in allies.

JAMES CORDEN, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": It's so weird that they didn't find evidence of the very thing they never backed up with any evidence.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": When Trump heard about William Barr, he was so mad, he ordered William Barr to prosecute William Barr.


KIMMEL: Man, if Bill Barr had a neck, Trump would totally be wringing it right now.




MELBER: Mr. Ayer, through the laughs, the real question is, is it a bad thing for an attorney general who should just be faithfully prosecuting the law to be this well-known and the punchlines to be widely understood is about the fact that he's some sort of political loyalist, not a fair-minded lawyer, according to many?

AYER: Well, I think it is.

And I think, perhaps as someone who thought he could come in and ride his reputation, which for a lot of people was as a institutionalist -- a lot of people, including Democrats, called him that when he was nominated a couple years ago.

So, I think maybe it's come to the end. And I think perhaps the reasoning is that he's recognized that whatever it is he's been trying to do, it hasn't worked.

All of the things he said about the Durham investigation, how we're going to have an indictment before the election, and it's going to show that this is the greatest travesty and one of the greatest travesties in American history, this Russia probe, and his statements about mail-in ballots are going to be fraudulent, and the statements about the overreaction to the COVID crisis, and all his things to echo Donald Trump's themes have essentially come to naught.

And maybe, maybe -- I don't know -- maybe he's coming to the view that he does have people who have wanted to believe that he's a decent human being, and maybe the time has come to pull the pin, and essentially say, I'm not going to do this anymore.


Yes, or that he didn't have a lot of options, which is why we pointed out he immediately covered himself in the memo, because there's not a way, other than trying to make fraudulent documents or something potentially criminal at the DOJ, that he was going to get out from under this.

If the plan was a Giuliani-style Venezuelan national fraud, it just wasn't there.

I'm moving this along, because I wanted to get this in. We haven't reported on this yet, Maya. It's related to these law and order issues, but from former President Obama. We're hearing more from him than usual.

He said some really interesting things about his criticism of the part of Black Lives Matter protests that call to -- quote -- "fully defund the police." Take a look.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it's not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like defund the police, but you know you have lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done.


MELBER: Maya, is that right?

WILEY: What is right is that this is the conversation we have to have. What do we need to get done to make sure that people are safe in their communities?

And that includes being safe from police violence. So I think the conversation shouldn't be about what voters will or will not do with the word. It should be about what we as a people will do to keep each other safe.

And, unfortunately, that has required us to talk about, what is the right size of policing? What is the role of policing? Are we willing to invest in school psychologists and social workers, rather than invest in sending police into schools when we have kids who are traumatized and struggling and who needs support and services? That that's a legitimate conversation.

And I, for one, have a ton of respect for all the work that President Barack Obama has done. And I think, as anyone, and including as someone who is running to lead a city, that we have to call each other to a conversation about what we're trying to change, rather than a conversation about what words to use around changing it.

MELBER: But the policy underneath it -- I'm running out of time, but to understand it, if he's saying that he's critical of the notion of defunding the police to zero, would you agree with that?

WILEY: Yes, look, I think what we have to do is look at the right role of policing and right-sizing policing, so that we are protecting the public from violence, both in a sense, in a way that preempts it, and in the way that it addresses what we need police to focus on.

But it is also true that we have a generation of people saying, we want to have a conversation about a big reimagining around public safety. You shouldn't say to people that they don't have the right to have that conversation.

And I think we have to say to the folks who want to have it, we will have it. And what we have to do is have a balanced approach that meets the needs of all our people.

MELBER: Yes, I think that's -- we wanted to get this in because it's really important. It's coming out of these policy conversations. And I appreciate the point you're making, that it may be a legitimate point on the spectrum that people are pressuring this.

And then you say, OK, and what does reform look like? But it's not telling this or that person, well, don't even say that because it might not be effective.

But it also sounds like a little bit of daylight between you and the president, former president, which is interesting.

I have to fit in a break. I ran over on this.

We will have this conversation continue, I pledge, I promise, on this show.

Maya Wiley and Donald Ayer, thanks to both of you.

WILEY: Thank you.

AYER: Thank you very much.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Up ahead: more from Barack Obama Obama on a lighter topic, who he would actually want to play him in a movie. He names names. We will play that clip.

Also, new fear from Republican leaders about Donald Trump and him being declared the loser, that fact. One says he knows Biden won, but doesn't want to admit it in public.

But, first, a very important story, a Georgia election official going after Trump and those enabling him.


GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA VOTING SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER: Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.

Someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed, and it's not right.


MELBER: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on this very important story live next.


MELBER: Turning now to an important story that cannot be ignored or normalized.

Recall that Donald Trump entered office facing accusations he was an autocratic, or worse. So, it's important to note clearly and on the record, amidst everything else going on, that Donald Trump is leaving office making a sustained literal attempt to be an autocratic dictator, openly demanding election fraud, pursuing possible criminal plots to overturn the election, clashing with Republicans who follow the law, meaning he's asking them to break the law, when they certified the results in states that, of course, Biden won.

That includes Georgia.

We have an important guest on this joining us in a moment, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, offering insight on these ongoing problems, including the president lashing out at the Republican governor of her state, pressuring him to call off the upcoming Senate run-off election, which is not legal.

Election officials are also there responding to the climate, responding to the rhetoric, responding to the view now voiced openly by Republicans that the president is increasing the risk of violence against them.

That's the context for something you may have seen that's worth watching more than once. If you haven't, you need to see it right now, a bracing response. This is from a top election official in Georgia echoing across the political world on accountability.


STERLING: Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia.

Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed.

Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.


MELBER: Mayor Bottoms joins us now.

Thanks for being here.

Do you share that concern that President Trump is directly fomenting potential violence in Georgia or elsewhere?

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), MAYOR OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA: I absolutely share that concern.

And thank you for having me.

I mean, listen, these are people's lives we're talking about. People go to work every day to make a living, to support their families, and they don't expect to put their families and themselves in harm's way for conducting a democratic election. And that's what's happening here.

And it's unfortunate that the president of the United States of America is inflaming the hatred, inciting violence.

And it just speaks again to who Donald Trump is. And I'm glad to see that there are Republicans across our state and across this nation who are distancing themselves from this man.

MELBER: Yes, you mentioned that.

And we want to be accurate, of course, about both facets. We just heard from that official also calling out the many Republicans, including in Washington, elected officials, who have been ducking this, who have not spoken out or who have gone further, worse, and been inaccurate about the election results.

At the same time, big country. We will put up "The New York Times" here. We do have other officials lashing out, "It Has to Stop," "Georgia Elected Official Lashes Out of Trump."

And noting what they're up against, there have been -- quote -- "sexualized threats to the election official's wife," "The New York Times" reports, a young election worker targeted by someone who -- quote -- "hung a noose," and you see here, "citizen monitors" -- quote, unquote -- harassing those public workers.

As always, we want to give the context, because we don't want to be tabloid about it. But I quote those examples in "The New York Times" to understand that free speech is one thing, and it must be protected, even when it's sometimes vile.

The examples I just gave, right, are not speech. Some of them are potential crimes.

What is that climate doing down in Georgia, and how much of it is Donald Trump's fault?

BOTTOMS: You know, it's fascinating to watch, because I have never seen infighting like this with the Republican Party in Georgia, and you're seeing arrows being thrown every way.

So, there's this part of me that wants to sit back and pop some popcorn and watch it happen.

But then there's this other part of you that goes, this is our democracy that's at stake. These are people who are conducting democratic elections. And we want to make sure that people feel that their votes are protected and that the people who are there to protect their votes are protected as well.

But I am deeply concerned that we have two senators in this state who are on the ballot and aren't more firm about their rebuke of what's happening here.

I understand that they're on the ballot, and they're seeking to be reelected. But, at the end of the day, you need to be able to sleep well at night. And I don't know how you sleep well at night and remain silent when people's lives are being threatened for doing their jobs.

MELBER: Yes, and you mentioned it.

That's the other item I wanted to show, which is, of course, this is all about elections. We're talking about democracy. And there's politics right along with it.

Georgia Republicans are actually worried now, they say, about the Trump effect. Republicans -- quote -- "fear Trump's actions could depress turnout."

I did want to ask you about that, because we highlighted it to emphasize that, of all the problems with what Trump's doing, political electioneering, which seemed to come shorter -- further down the list than trying to end democracy in America and steal elections.

BOTTOMS: Yes, and what I would say is that Democrats across Georgia can't take anything for granted.

So, whatever's happening with the Republican Party, and the way that they are self-destructing before our eyes, have at it. But at the end of the day, if Georgia is going to remain blue, Democrats have to show up and vote.

There were hundreds and thousands of Democrats who didn't show up in November. Granted, we had a record turnout. That turnout was tremendous. Happy about it. This is a new election. And so we have got to show up and vote. We have got to continue to show up and vote in record numbers, so we can elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

And, hopefully, the Republican Party will be able to do whatever it needs to do to just be representative of people of good conscience. We don't have to always agree on our policies. Our politics won't always align. But what's at stake now is the basic tenets of our democracy.

And that's being destroyed by Donald Trump and people who don't have the courage to speak up against him.

MELBER: It's serious stuff.

Mayor Bottoms, thank you for joining us.

BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We have actually a lot more on the program, believe it or not, because there's a lot going on. New leaked details about what some top Republicans are now secretly saying about what they call Trump's loss and larger problems.

Obama strategist and pollster Cornell Belcher after the break.


MELBER: There are signs Donald Trump has privately admitted his loss.

NBC News reporting Trump is considering launching his 2024 campaign with a MAGA rally on Inauguration Day, counterprogramming to Joe Biden. This was alluded to in leaked audio from a White House event last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: TRUMP: It's been an amazing years. We're trying to do another four yours. Otherwise, I will see you in four years.



MELBER: Always interesting to get the behind-the-scenes.

Trump is not expected to go the inauguration. He does not intend to invite Biden to the White House, something Barack Obama did for Trump days after his victory in the Electoral College.

The fact is, this is exactly what many would expect from Trump. But it does not diminish what is, historians say, a complete precedent-breaking piece of pettiness.

The only comparable time you can even get near this was Richard Nixon. But he had, of course, resigned in disgrace. No president has snubbed his successor at any point in the 150 years during these in-person traditional transitions.

Obama was there for Donald Trump. Bush 43 was there for Obama, talking about the heavy job ahead. Clinton was there for Bush. And that, as mentioned tonight, was a tradition despite the two parties' clash in that recount. And the last one-term president before Trump, Bush 41, was there as well for Clinton.

We turn now to someone who knows President Obama's views on this well, Cornell Belcher.

Good evening, sir.

Your thoughts on what would be a precedent-breaking piece of counterprogramming?

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Ari, I'm really troubled by it. And I'm troubled by it as an American. I think we all should be troubled by it as Americans, because, look, these norms and these precedents, they're in place because it's about passing on the credibility and the authority of the presidency.

And whether you're Democrat or you're Republican, we're supposed to all rally around the president, at least on one day, to show sort of -- to give the president sort of the authority and the credibility in this space.

And so the passing of the baton from one president to another is symbolic, but it's also important. And it says to the supporters on the other side that, look, we lost, but this is our president now, and he or she -- hopefully, one day she -- has the authority and the credibility of that office.

And what Donald Trump is doing is, he's getting in the way of that, and he's denying Joe Biden that.


BELCHER: And so his supporters can still stand on the sidelines and pretend that Joe Biden is not the rightful president of the United States,

I think, long term, that's damaging to our republic.

MELBER: Right. And you're discussing what that means on that day for America.

And we're talking about ritual. Ritual matters in civic culture. It matters in our lives. If you have ever had someone who's getting ready for a graduation, and sometimes kids say, oh, who cares? I know I'm graduating. What's the big deal?

But, boy, on that actual graduation day, when everyone's actually there together, and you actually see mom and dad or auntie and uncle or whomever, you're reminded that, yes, this ritual, which is different than the substantive thing -- you already knew whether you graduated or not -- matters.

And so I'm curious what you think the obligation will then be if this is how Trump rolls. What's the obligation of everyone else to try to resuscitate that ritual, so that it is a positive day, not for any particular party, but for America?

BELCHER: Well, I think the problem is -- and you see it right now in the infighting in the Republican Party, where you have Republicans coming out against Republicans.

And you see where Trump is still wanting to very much be the center of the Republican Party, and making Republicans make hard choices about whether they're going to be with him and his cultlike behavior, or they're going to do their jobs, like the secretary of state in Georgia, and even the governor of Georgia are trying to do, who are -- again, Republicans, are trying just to just do their job.

Are they going to be complicit or are they going to go along with that? So, I think you -- sort of the divide in this country, I just see sort of growing worse.

And, Ari, I really do think that a lot of us exhaled -- and I think we -- Congresswoman Karen Bass talked about this on your show the other night, talking about, we -- a lot of us exhaled on election night, when Joe Biden looked like he was going to win.

But, Ari, I think, to a certain extent, we can't exhale yet, because I think this was just one battle in a much longer sort of cold civil war...

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

BELCHER: ... that's happening in America.

And Trump is fanning the flames of that.


And you make serious, important points. I hope people are listening.

And then you're also -- you're baiting me. When you say we can't exhale yet, you're tempting me to say, it sounds like you're waiting to exhale.

And I'm not going to tell a joke twice in the same week, Cornell. I'm not going to do that. I wouldn't do that.


MELBER: I wouldn't.

It's always good to see you, sir.

BELCHER: My pleasure.

MELBER: Appreciate it, Cornell Belcher, always with the wisdom.

Up ahead: Why is Barack Obama talking about Drake? We will show you the clip.


MELBER: Barack Obama has been doing a lot of interviews for his new book, you may have noticed, from "Oprah," to "Colbert," to "The Breakfast Club," as we were showing the other night, tackling all kinds of serious topics, from COVID to the recession.

But now I can tell you he's really getting down to business, discussing what happens if his book is optioned into a movie, and an actor would, of course, then play the former president?

Well, Obama giving a very coveted stamp of approval to one of the world's biggest pop stars.


OBAMA: Drake seems to be able to do anything he wants. I mean, that is a talented, talented brother.

And so, if the time comes, and he's ready, Drake has, more importantly, I think, my household's stamp of approval. I suspect Malia and Sasha would be just fine with it.


MELBER: Obama has already been played by actors in two different biopics, but they were about his life before the White House.

This is a big one for Drake. And how you identify him may depend on when you learned about him.

If it's recent, you know Drake as a global pop star. But, before that, his first claim to fame was playing, yes, Jimmy Brooks on the hit teen drama "Degrassi."

Now, is Drake open to returning to theater? Well, he seemed to signal no, once rapping, I got enemies, got a lot of enemies, got a lot of people trying to drain me of this energy, and referring to the idea that he's got people I got to act like I like, but my acting days are over. That's no longer my life.

The last word tonight goes to Drake potentially playing Obama. We will just have to wait and see.

I will see you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.



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