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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 23, 2020

Guests: Elise Jordan, Celine Gounder, Nick Akerman


Biden Coronavirus Advisory Board member Dr. Celine Gounder discusses the pandemic. President Trump threatens to veto COVID relief, as he issues more pardons for friends and allies. How could Trump's war with his own party backfire on the GOP? Attorney General Bill Barr sees his last day as Trump's attorney general.


ALICIA MENENDEZ, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT," with Ayman Mohyeldin in for Ari Melber, starts right now.

Hey, Ayman.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hey, thank you so much, Alicia. Good to see you.

Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I'm Ayman, in for Ari Melber this evening.

Right now, President Trump is on his way to Florida, to Mar-a-Lago, to be specific, for the holidays, leaving behind quite a chaotic scene in Washington, with a feeding frenzy over pardons, a COVID relief bill suddenly hanging in the balance, and his own aides worried about his bid to overturn the election.

"The New York Times" reporting, his erratic behavior and detachment from his duties have even some of his most loyal aides and advisers deeply concerned, one of those behaviors, out of the blue suggesting that he would try to blow up the bipartisan stimulus package which we should know his own White House negotiated and agreed to.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package. And maybe that administration will be me.


MOHYELDIN: Trump also issuing those controversial pardons for corrupt lawmakers, convicted murderers and Russia probe felons. We will have more on that later in this show.

And, finally, there is Trump's continued attacks on democracy itself, Politico reporting that Trump is coordinating a final ultimate loyalty test for his supporters to lodge objections in Congress during Biden's certification on January 6. Everyone agrees this is -- quote -- doomed to fail."

But another goal is that Trump's core supporters will remember how their lawmakers voted. It's not clear if Trump has other plans for a desperate power grab, but Politico reports that staffers were instructed to please disregard an earlier memo that said they will start departing on the week of January the 4th.

It is now unclear when Trump aides are expected to leave the White House.

For his part, today, president-elect Joe Biden announced his pick for education secretary, seemingly determined to act normal, even if his defeated rival is anything but normal.

Joining me now is "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg, Jason Johnson, professor at Morgan State University, and former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance.

Jason, let me begin with you, if I may.

Big picture here, your take on this chaotic 24 hours that a lot of people are bracing for. Could get worse over the next 12 to 24 hours.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the big issue is that what's actually at stake, which is millions of Americans who are in food lines and starving and have no idea what their futures will be, in addition to the evictions that we're facing. That's what's at stake.

But, as far as the chaos, I got to be honest with you. How's this any different from the last four years? I mean, we could literally play Whac-A-Mole with the number of times in the last four years that the White House has been in chaos, that there have been leaks that the president's behavior is erratic, that the president is doing something anti-democratic, that the president doesn't have a focus, that the president is spending his time, rather than doing his job, going after sort of personal revenge against people.

This is normal, unfortunately. The real issue is, we are now at a point where people are facing a crisis moment that we will not be able to recover from economically or demographically or sort of public health-wise, and we're hoping that maybe a decision could be made.

But I'm not surprised by the chaos, because it's pretty standard.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, I was going to say, when you put it like that, you're absolutely right. The last four years have all been chaotic. But, then again, we're about to see millions of people lose a lot of their financial safety nets in the coming days.

Michelle, talk to us a little bit about, if anything, a Trump strategy here. Why is Trump attacking this COVID relief bill now? What is he trying to get out of it from Trump's perspective, not rational perspective?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I'm not sure -- I'm not sure strategy is the right word.

It seems that both he's furious at the Republican leadership, inasmuch as they have not supported his coup attempt, right? So this is his way to get back at Mitch McConnell and John Thune, who he's tweeted negatively about recently.

And it also possibly sets him up for if he wants to run again in 2024, and he sort of wants to burnish his populist bona fides, right?

I mean, the thing I would add, the thing I think is important to say here is that Donald Trump's position is substantively correct that these payments are not sufficient and that $2,000 per person is sort of what's called for at this emergency moment.

It's just that he has refused to engage in the process until now. He hasn't really made any serious effort to get greater payments into this bill, and is just now using -- is just now kind of blowing it up at the last minute.

But he gives an opening to Democrats to basically take yes for an answer and then dare Republicans to do the same.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, but to that point, Michelle, really, if I can just go back for a second, he was involved in the negotiations through his Treasury secretary.

So, even if he had a legitimate point to say $2,000 is what Americans deserve, which I think most people would agree $600 is not enough, his representatives have been sitting at the table for months. So it really undermines the argument that he just found out about this now or he now thinks that...

GOLDBERG: Oh, yes, of course.


MOHYELDIN: Yes, so it really is...


GOLDBERG: ... effort.


GOLDBERG: He made no real effort to actually get this done. And, in fact, people went forward with this bill under the impression given by his own people that they had his buy-in, right?


GOLDBERG: So, it's not that Donald Trump the good actor here, but I think, very occasionally, Donald Trump will stumble on the right position for the wrong reasons.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, correct. on that point, too.

Joyce, let's look at January 6 for a moment, because that's the third aspect of Trump world, if you want to look at it like that right now. He's trying to undermine democracy. He has been doing it since the election. Now he's trying to derail the certification of Joe Biden on January the 6th.

Any legal basis to what he is trying to do?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, there really isn't.

And we have seen this trajectory since the night of the election, where Trump continues to be, as Jason points out the chaos president. His goal is to destabilize and create uncertainty. So, whether that's letting federal workers go home tonight not knowing if there will be a new budget come Monday, or whether it's trying to leave the American people with the perception that he might still find some last-gasp way winning this election, Trump is all in it for the chaos.

But he won't be successful in overturning the results of this election. The American people have spoken. Trump can at worst be a nasty spoiler who creates uncertainty, who makes the smooth transfer of power into something difficult. But he's lost here.

MOHYELDIN: So, I'm just curious, looking forward, Joyce, even in the future, is he damaging the democracy in a way that makes it harder for future presidents, for future transfers of power to go back to what we had grown accustomed to, which is respectful, peaceful transitions of power?

VANCE: That will depend upon us and upon the kind of politicians that we elect.

And, look, we're a divided country. We're a country where the rule of law isn't appreciated the way it should be, and where this tradition of the smooth transfer of power seems to not be held in high esteem.

So, it will be critical that our leaders, our politicians, and really that each of us in our homes and our spheres of influence, that we bring Americans back around to understanding that this is what separates our country from other countries.

We're used to seeing other countries where the results of elections are either not counted properly or not followed through on. That's what sets us apart. If we lose that, we lose what makes us quintessentially American.

MOHYELDIN: One of the blind spots, if you will, that has been exposed, Michelle, and over the past couple of days is the issue of pardons. I don't necessarily think the founding fathers envisioned pardons being used this way.

"The New York Times" reported that: "The pardons Trump announced Tuesday night suggests he is comfortable using his powers aggressively until then, but how far he will go to subvert the election results is hard to discern."

From your opinion, how far do you think Donald Trump will go, will use his powers to try and subvert the election outcome?

GOLDBERG: I mean, I think he will push things about as far as he can. But it's not clear how much he will be able to do that.

One of the really sinister -- I mean, besides the message of impunity for Trump's corrupt cronies that these pardons send, besides the fantastic insult to Iraqis, particularly the families of the Iraqis killed in the massacre at Nisour Square that four Blackwater guards were convicted up for -- convicted for this killing, and then he -- Trump basically has left them off, the other thing that I think is really sinister here is the message that Trump is trying to send to the military or people who are sort of military-adjacent, that if you commit crimes in the service of sort of my agenda, I will be there with a pardon.

We don't know how far he's going to push that. And you have recently had high-level military leaders come out and say, we don't have any involvement in the election. And it's pretty alarming that they had to say that. At the same time, we know that Trump has put a lot of his cronies into high-level positions at the Pentagon.

I don't think this is something to panic about. But even when you have an outside chance of these sorts of possibilities, that's a pretty big departure from where this country has been in living memory.


Jason, your thoughts on all those points?

JOHNSON: Look, we have already lost the peaceful transfer of power. Like, this is not a peaceful transfer of power. It has not been from the moment the president at a debate said stand back and stand by to a terrorist organization like the Proud Boys.

We have people attacking state officials all over the country. We have death threats all over the country. We have almost one-third, 25 percent to one-third of the opposition party refusing to accept somebody else coming in. We have no peaceful transition of power.

The only issue now is, should the new administration safely get into office, what they will be able to do to tamp down the anti-democratic forces that have already started. I don't know that, when it comes to pardons, that this is three-dimensional chess;. I don't know if it's a hidden subtext or a subtweet to the military or to Trump supporters.

It could just be more of him flexing power and sort of being chaotic. Donald Trump, we saw this in the State of the Union last year. He likes -- it's like the emperor in "Gladiator." He likes going thumbs up and thumbs down with people's pasts and futures. He's always seen the law as something that he could wield to show how benevolent he was, as opposed to a way to keep order in society.

So, I don't know that these parties are anything more than his usual pattern, but we don't have a peaceful transfer of power. And I think the more that we see the president try and fight this, the more we recognize that he's that coach in the gym three hours after the game has been lost still trying to figure out how the last play works even as a janitor is sweeping things up.


MOHYELDIN: Joyce, let's talk a little bit about the Electoral College here, because, apparently, conservative groups have now sued Mike Pence and the Electoral College itself trying to invalidate the election results.

Again, from a legal perspective, does this hold water? And, more importantly, does the Electoral College actually have an address where they have been able to get that summons into?


VANCE: You know, you can only sue actual existing entities. And the Electoral College is Americans all across the country who are electors who are voting for candidates. There is no entity called the Electoral College that you can serve. It doesn't have a dean or even a janitor.


VANCE: I read through this lawsuit, and I have to tell you, after getting about halfway through the complaint, I decided that I was just getting stupider for reading it...


VANCE: ... because, essentially, it argues that everything that we know about elections, the way that the federal government and states have counted and administered elections for the last century-and-a-half, that they should all be invalid.

According to this lawsuit, no election results should be counted and affirmed, not for the president or for anything else. This is just crazy talk.

MOHYELDIN: I'm just really curious about the zip code for the Electoral College. Like, if you enter it in into the USPS, will you come up with an address not found location?


MOHYELDIN: All right, Joyce Vance...

VANCE: Well, you know, the judge made the point...

MOHYELDIN: Yes, go ahead.

VANCE: I was going to say, the judge made the point that the case could go forward as soon as the plaintiffs were able to get service on all of the defendants.

So, good luck with that. They won't be serving the Electoral College.

MOHYELDIN: There you go.

Joyce Vance, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Jason, Michelle, please stick with me for a little bit longer.

Coming up in just 30 seconds: Trump's controversial pardons and the feeding frenzy they have now created in Washington.

Plus, a special guest on Trump's war with his own party and why it could backfire on the GOP in the Biden presidency.

And on Bill Barr's last day as Trump's attorney general, we're going to look at the damage done and what happens next. Neal Katyal is our special guest on that -- those stories and much, much more when we come back in 30 seconds.


MOHYELDIN: And outrage over Trump's abuse of the pardon power making a wave of pardons, not going through normal DOJ review, and doling them out to our allies, and now reports of the White House flooded with pardoned requests.

It comes as Trump pardoned two people convicted in the Mueller investigation, George Papadopoulos, who lied to the feds about talking to someone claiming Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And Alex van der Zwaan pled guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with a Russian intelligence officer.

It comes after pardoning former national security --- Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, I should note, and commuting the sentence of another ally, Roger Stone.

Now, Trump pardoned three convicted former Republican lawmakers as well, Chris Collins, convicted of insider trading and securities fraud schemes, Duncan Hunter, who pled guilty to stealing campaign money to spend on personal luxuries, and Steve Stockman convicted on 23 felony counts for fraud and money laundering.

And then he pardoned these four, four private military contractors convicted of killing 17 Iraqi civilians, including two children. With 28 days to go, how many more pardons are coming? That's the big question. Will he follow through on reports of preemptively pardoning his family, Rudy Giuliani, even trying to pardon himself?

And what happens if he does try to pardon himself?

Joining me now is Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Watergate case. And Jason Johnson is back with us once again.

And, Nick, first of all, your big picture takeaways from these pardons? What do they tell you?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, what they tell me is, we have a president who is unleashed, who is basically abusing the pardon power.

The pardon power is really a safety valve in our criminal justice system that allows the president to grant pardons to individuals who have committed crimes, but yet have shown, through their good deeds or through their past behavior, that they have reformed themselves, that they basically really are in a position where they deserve not to be tagged with the moniker of a convicted felon.

It wasn't meant for a president like Trump to basically pardon his friends who have committed crimes, pardon co-conspirators that are involved in a corrupt effort with the Russian government to interfere with our election. It wasn't meant to take people out of prison who have been convicted of first-degree murder and have life sentences, who have committed seriously heinous crimes, who have shown absolutely no remorse.

I mean, this is so off the charts of what a president is supposed to do with the pardon power and what the pardon power is all about. This is -- I mean, verges on criminality itself. I mean, if you're a friend of the president's, if you're somebody who wound up backing him in the beginning and you committed serious crimes...


AKERMAN: ... well, you get to go scot-free.

MOHYELDIN: So, is there -- Nick, is there anything that can be done now? Because as I understand it -- and you know better than I do -- pardon powers are among the most absolute in the Constitution for a president.

There's nothing that can really be done to undo any of this.

AKERMAN: No, I don't think there is, I mean, because it would be different if he was pardoning Paul Manafort, which I think is coming up fairly soon.

I mean, Paul Manafort is clearly a co-conspirator, Paul Manafort was somebody that Donald Trump, during the course of his trial, actually held out the possibility that he would be pardoned if he hung tough. So, there is a possibility that, if he did pardon Paul Manafort, that that could be challenged.

But, again, you have to have a Justice Department that's willing to take that challenge up on theories that have never been tested before.

Keep in mind, though, the pardon power of the president of the United States does not extend to state crimes. Individuals don't have to accept the pardon. The Supreme Court said that 1950. But if they do accept it, they are basically confessing to guilt.

MOHYELDIN: Interesting.

AKERMAN: So, he can pardon some of these people, but if they wind up in state prosecutions, if I were the prosecutor, I'd be asking the judge to enter into evidence that pardon as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

MOHYELDIN: Interesting, a very important point there.

Jason, let me read you something "The Washington Post" wrote about what's happening: "Trump has told advisers that he wants to be liberal with pardons and plans to sign more before leaving office on January 20, according to people familiar with the views. The White House has been flooded, flooded with requests from dozens of members of Congress, one senior administration official said, as well as lawyers, lobbyists, allies, and other supporters of the president."

How concerning is this, that we're in this stage where -- and it's -- we should know there have been in the past controversial pardons of people close to a president, a fund-raiser, I think, of -- or donors or something like that, but this is on a whole other scale.

JOHNSON: Yes, but we saw this with Chief Arpaio, right? We saw this with other people.

This is normal for Donald Trump. And to put this into context, at the end of any administration, there are always requests for pardons. The person's leaving. Happened to Obama. Happened with Bush.

But what we're really seeing now is, you know, Trump is in a big red suit. He's a mall Santa of pardons at this point. He's sitting there and all of his friends are lining up and sitting on his lap and saying, what would you like for Christmas? Well, I can give you a pardon for this crime and this crime and this crime.

And the problem with mall Santas is that, look, they're not doing anything honest, right? They're lying. They're expecting kids to give something back. It's a whole sort of sham process. And that's what we're seeing right now. He's degraded something that is supposed to be a sobering, well-thought-out process.

The pardons at the end of an administration are supposed to be for extreme cases. They're supposed to be for people who have been unfairly imprisoned, who've been fighting for their cases for years and years and years. And to be fair, the president has pardoned some people and commuted some people under those circumstances, but that was because of Kim Kardashian. That was because of celebrities asking.

I don't think what he's doing is out of benevolence. It's for a job. And that's part of what makes this such a degraded and disappointing process.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, no doubt about that.

Nick, we reported on Trump mulling family pardons. He has discussed with advisers whether to grant preemptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. I totally get the point that you just raised, that a pardon and accepting one is somewhat of an admission of guilt.

Do you see that coming? And what happens if, in fact, he does pardon his family members and his personal lawyer?

AKERMAN: I think he could very well do that.

I mean, we had reporting about Rudy Giuliani this past week that the Southern District of New York is continuing its investigation. It sounds like there's a serious criminal investigation going on right now where they're trying to obtain his e-mails and subpoena those e-mails, which they need the approval from the Department of Justice.

We don't know what possibilities are -- relate to Trump's children. But, certainly, there have been reports in the paper about tax issues that directly relate to, for example, Ivanka Trump, who is getting millions of dollars in consulting fees that don't appear to be legitimate, and were used for the simple purpose of trying to evade taxes.

Now, if you evade federal taxes, and someone charges you in federal crime, well, that could come on to the president's pardon. But the same crime can be charged on the New York state level, and that pardon doesn't reach it. And the very admission, as I talked about before, about accepting a party can then be used against that person to argue that that person would not have accepted that pardon but for the fact that they're guilty, and what they were guilty was of tax fraud.

So, it's a mixed bag for him to be pardoning his children. And not only that. It just doesn't look good.


AKERMAN: I mean, why do you have to pardon your children, if you assume they did nothing wrong? That just makes no sense.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, raising a lot of very important questions, also raising the stakes for Letitia James, the attorney general here in New York. I think all eyes are on her investigations and what happens next in the Trump world

Nick Akerman, Jason Johnson, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

Ahead: Trump's attack on his own party, from a primary challenge to torching the relief bill on the way out.

Also, Bill Barr is out as attorney general, leaving amid a wave of pardons and a controversial legacy. So, is the new attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, ready to stand up to Trump at this critical and very dangerous period?

We have the perfect guest. Neal Katyal is back with us here on THE BEAT next.


MOHYELDIN: Bill Barr is out as attorney general, Barr resigning today with a farewell letter to colleagues, saying it was a great honor to serve and enforce the rule of law, and adding he has deep respect for them.

But many inside the DOJ won't be shedding any tears. Prosecutors quit in protest after Barr meddled in the Flynn and Stone cases. Former DOJ insiders called for his resignation, saying he acts like Trump's personal lawyer and not as an impartial attorney general.

He departs as the most controversial A.G. since the Nixon era.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Your declaration of an emergency on the southern border was clearly authorized under the law.

The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

I think the president has every right to be frustrated, because I think what happened to him was one of the greatest travesties in American history.

The elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.


MOHYELDIN: All right, now the focus turns to Jeffrey Rosen, Barr's handpicked deputy, who will serve as attorney general for the last 28 days of Trump's presidency.

Multiple administration officials saying he has the worst job in Washington, with no earthly idea the insanity that he is in for, and the next month will be the longest of his life.

Rosen comes in with Trump on fire, erratic, and still pushing baseless conspiracy theories. And then there's the wave of pardons that he might have to deal with. Rosen has been out of the spotlight, but has backed Trump in a number of cases, determining no grounds for criminal investigation into Trump over the Ukraine quid pro quo call, if you remember that, and, of course, being part of several decisions in which the DOJ took steps that favored the president's friends or even punished his perceived enemies.

Back in April of last year, at his confirmation hearing, Rosen was pressed by Democrats on whether he would push back on Trump's demands. Listen to this.


JEFFREY ROSEN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am going to do the right thing, in accordance with the law and the rules and the ethical requirements at every juncture.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): And will you, in effect, say no to the White House?

ROSEN: If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no.


MOHYELDIN: All right, joining me now is Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general from the Obama administration.

We will get to Rosen in just a second, Neal, but what is your take on Barr's legacy here?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I said last week on our network -- I used one word for it, and it was disgrace. And I think that's the right word. He will go down as the worst attorney general in our lifetimes and perhaps ever.

The most sacred duty you have as attorney general is to apply the law evenhandedly. Like, when I walk into the Supreme Court, those words above the Supreme Court are "Equal justice under law."

And that's the most foundational American principle there is. And Barr goes down as an attorney general who weaponized the Justice Department to help Trump's friends, who recommended leniency for his pals. He's a guy who was behind the tear-gassing of Americans at the White House. He's a guy who repeatedly insulted and ignored the career women and men of the Justice Department.

And, by the way, the criticism here doesn't just come from Democrats like me. It's equally shared among Republicans who worked at the Justice Department. You could look at Paul Rosenzweig, who was Ken Starr's deputy, or Don Ayer, who was the deputy attorney general for President Bush. Some of the most respected Republican lawyers in the country are saying the same thing.

And that's why, today, I have been getting call after call from career Justice Department people who are like, than God, it's over.

MOHYELDIN: OK, let me play for you how William Barr described his own legacy. Watch this.


BARR: Everyone dies, and I'm not -- I don't believe in the Homeric idea that immortality comes by having odes sung about you over the centuries.


MOHYELDIN: What do you make of that? What's your reaction to that?

KATYAL: Well, I guess if I did the things that Bill Barr did, I guess I'd be sitting there saying, I don't care about my legacy either.


KATYAL: I mean, I suppose Andrew Jackson said the same thing to himself.

The central issue is not what Bill Barr feels about himself and whether he feels badly in retrospect. It's, what did he do to the proud traditions of the Justice Department and to the career men and women there?

And particularly at a time like right now, when there's an epidemic of police brutality across this country...


KATYAL: ... and when so many Americans are so upset about law enforcement, what did this guy do to help heal us?

Nothing. Instead, he poured kerosene on it.

MOHYELDIN: Let me just ask you really quickly before we get to Rosen, the next attorney general under the Biden administration, how much of correcting Barr's mistakes and the damage he has done is going to come down to personality, and how much, from your legal expertise is it rule of law and certain laws that have to be passed to shore up some of our institutions, so that, regardless of whoever comes in these positions again cannot repeat, as you're describing, the damage that Attorney General Bill Barr has done?

KATYAL: It's not actually hard.

I mean, I think a new attorney general literally just has to look at what Barr and say, kind of like the question, what would Jesus do, you would ask, what would Bill Barr do and do the reverse.


KATYAL: And you're going to largely be right if you do that.

And that is the tradition of the Justice Department. There are longstanding precedents of how to do things. And all a new attorney general has to do is go and take that rule book and follow it. It's not going to require legislation and the like.

Sure, you have to worry at some -- for some future Bill Barr lawless attorney general may come along one day. So, you might want legislation for some things. But I think 90 percent of the stuff is really easy to do. And it just means following the department's traditions.

MOHYELDIN: All right, let's talk about the incoming attorney general, temporarily, at least.

Will the new attorney general, Jeff Rosen, push back against Trump? How does this play out? What do you think is going to happen in the next 28 days?

KATYAL: Well, he's an -- Mr. Rosen is a kind of empty suit. No one really knows. He was an establishment lawyer. And the question is whether he's going to want to be accepted by polite law-abiding society again, or whether he wants to essentially join team Kraken.

Rosen is not your typical deputy attorney general, who's like a full -- normally, those are formerly career officials who understand the traditions of the department. This guy was deputy transportation secretary, and he went from that to today being the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

And that's not, I guess, quite Jenna Ellis' trajectory, but it's pretty stark. And we do see some troubling indicia in Mr. Rosen. The details are scarce, but there is a "New York Times" report that says that he was behind the Justice Department's decision to clear Donald Trump of any criminal wrongdoing with respect to Ukraine and getting dirt and also behind the decision to not brief members of Congress on what was then that confidential investigation.

So, all of that leads me to some worry.


KATYAL: Now, statistically, Bill Barr is out, and so that suggests it's a pretty good day for the rule of law, because you can -- Barr, not to use a pun, but it was a kind of low bar there.


KATYAL: And all you can mostly do is go up.

But there is the possibility that Rosen will be at least as craven as Barr. And so I think we all have to keep our eyes on this.

MOHYELDIN: We are in for a very long 28 days.

Neal Katyal, thank you so much. Happy holidays to you.

Trump's behavior has Republicans infighting, as Trump tries to overturn the election again, and more on that plan for a Trump loyalty test -- coming up next.


MOHYELDIN: So, President Trump is now ramping up his attacks on members of his own party, lashing out at any Republican who admits he lost the election, Trump now setting his sights on none other but Mitch McConnell's deputy in the Senate, John Thune, calling him a Republican in name only, and backing a 2022 primary challenger, saying his political career will be over.

Thune's sin, at least in the eyes of Trump, was to dismiss plans by House Republicans to challenge the election results, saying it would go down in the Senate like a -- quote -- "shot dog."

The back-and-forth teeing up a messy showdown between Trump and top Republicans, as they fend off Trump's last-ditch attempts to overturn his defeat, Trump now consumed by his obsession to change the outcome.

Two aides telling "The Washington Post": "They're struggling. They're struggling to get Trump to focus on anything other than the election."

Joining me now is Elise Jordan, a "TIME" magazine contributor and former aide in the George W. Bush administration. And "The New York Times"' Michelle Goldberg is back with us.

Elise, your reaction to Trump's attacks on top Senate Republicans. Nothing new. But even in these waning days of his administration, it seems like he's not letting up.

ELISE JORDAN, "TIME": It's all about Donald Trump 24/7 and forevermore.

And you can go back to the original sin of the Republican Party, allowing Donald Trump to be on the debate stage for a Republican debate, when he had never been a Republican, and had donated the majority of his donations to Democrats.

And so when a modern political party chooses not to play the role of culling candidates and deciding who is fit to serve the country, then you end up with a problem like Donald Trump. And so karma is a witch, so to say.


JORDAN: And this is what's happening to the Republican Party right now, is they have created a monster that they can't control.

MOHYELDIN: And it actually, Elise, has some real-life consequences, because it's not just about the politics of a person who doesn't like Trump or he does or whether or not he's going to acknowledge the election.

Look what's happening now with the COVID relief bill. You now have the president saying he wants $2,000. Mitch McConnell doesn't think that's going to happen. And here we are, the Republican Party divided, no one knowing who's actually calling the shots and who's in charge.

JORDAN: Well, Donald Trump doesn't care right now about getting anything done. He doesn't care about helping two Republican Senate candidates over the line in Georgia in a race that's down to the wire and going to decide control of the Senate.

He simply only cares about himself, and even perhaps sees a victory for Republicans in Georgia as a repudiation of his own loss. And so that would reinforce that he lost Georgia and other Republicans won.

So, this is just not surprising and par for the course with a defeated, deflated Donald Trump, who is acting like a madman right now.

MOHYELDIN: It's incredible the Republican Party has allowed it to get this far.

Let me read for you what Politico is reporting, that Trump's goal is to "force Republicans in Congress to go on the record, voting to affirm Biden's victory, likely inflaming Trump's die-hard supporters."

Michelle, your thoughts on that?

GOLDBERG: You know, there was a poem that Donald Trump used to read at all of his rallies, right? And it ends with, you knew I was a snake when you took me in.

I can't imagine that any Republicans are actually surprised by this. And if they are, more shame on them. There has been nobody, nobody, except maybe Ivanka Trump, who has been ennobled by connection with Donald Trump, right? He turns on everybody in the end. In the end, no matter how much slavish, degrading loyalty you show him, he always asks for you to go one step too far and kind of can't tolerate it when -- can't tolerate it when people say no to him.

And so, yes, he's putting Republicans in an impossible position, but it's an impossible position that, frankly, they deserve to be in.

And on this $2,000 stimulus, I think it'll be really, really interesting to see if that is a bridge too far for some of them, right? Some Republicans, sexual assault wasn't a bridge too far.


GOLDBERG: Attempting a coup wasn't a bridge too far. But it might well be that kind of demanding checks to struggling Americans is a line that they can't cross.

MOHYELDIN: Elise, this effort to contest the vote is obviously going to fail. As we heard from Joyce and others, there's no legal basis for it.

So, what do Republicans enabling Trump at this point stand to gain? Why are they still latching on to this president, despite the fact that he's a loser, and is not going to necessarily be around in any capacity of substance over the next four years?

JORDAN: Donald Trump still has political clout and standing with Republican voters that other Republicans simply don't have.

And so perhaps they're petrified by the polls. In contrast, I'm petrified by Donald Trump tweeting about Iran and saber-rattling in his final days. And you wonder just how much is going to be tolerated by this caucus, when Donald Trump is clearly unstable and careening dangerously, maybe even into war.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, and that's a very good point. I was going to bring that up as well, that tweet suggesting that Iran will be held responsible.

Michelle, finally, a new Gallup poll shows Trump's approval slipping among Republicans. It is down 8 percent, not enough maybe to get a lot of Republicans to jump ship, but what are your final thoughts on that?

GOLDBERG: I have always thought that, when Donald Trump is finally out of power, he will lose some of his sway over the party and maybe more quickly than a lot of people suspect, right?

I mean, part of the reason that Donald Trump has had such a hold over rank-and-file Republicans is that he's been able to make all their dreams come true. And he hasn't shown any kind of restraint in always taking the partisan path over the path -- over kind of the statesman's path.

And so when he's no longer in a position to do that, when he's just a has-been at Mar-a-Lago or maybe kind of returns to reality television, I think that he will still have his die-hard cult. There still will be QAnon. There still will be people who -- convinced that he is the rightfully deposed president of the United States.

But you also will have an incentive for other Republicans who think they should be the nominee in 2024 who have so far been kind of pathetically submissive -- Chris Christie is only the first -- will start to have a real incentive to challenge him a lot more.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, he's going to be in Mar-a-Lago, but he's also going to have hundreds of millions of dollars that he's raised off of all these illegitimate grievances he keeps fund-raising with.

Michelle Goldberg, Elise Jordan, thank you so much for your time this evening. Happy holidays to both you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

MOHYELDIN: And ahead: Pfizer will sell the U.S. government 100 million more vaccine doses. And we have some hopeful videos to show you.

And later: California taps the first Latino senator, and it was emotional.

Stay with us.


MOHYELDIN: The U.S. reported 3,350 coronavirus-related deaths yesterday, a new daily record of deaths since the pandemic began.

The coronavirus has made 2020 the deadliest year in U.S. history, the CDC anticipating deaths will top three million for the first time, as hospitalizations surge.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see COVID patients lined up in beds and hallways and even more patients waiting outside hooked up to oxygen tanks under tents.

DR. PRAVIN ACHARYA, KAISER PERMANENTE: If people continue to gather for the upcoming holidays, we are going to cripple our hospital system.


MOHYELDIN: But hope is on the way.

Only 10 days after vaccine administrations began, more than one million people have already received their first dose. And the U.S. just bought an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer's COVID vaccine.

But, right now, doctors are worried about the holiday travel, now at a record high for the pandemic, 3.2 million passengers screened at airports this past weekend, spikes in holiday travel prompting airlines to reevaluate their COVID policies.

Alaska Airlines having some fun with their new safety video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: S-A-F-E-T-Y, safety dance.

(singing): We can fly. We want to. We can leave your house behind. But if your friends don't mask, and why don't they mask, well, they won't fly this airline.


MOHYELDIN: All right, joining me now to discuss all this is Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease specialist and member of the Biden/Harris COVID Advisory Board.

Dr. Gounder, it's great to talk to you again.

Let's talk a little bit about the holidays here, because, as we mentioned, record travel, at least certainly during this pandemic. What medical guidance can you offer to people traveling?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, BIDEN CORONAVIRUS ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: Honestly, Ayman, if it were me, I would say you should absolutely not be traveling in this moment.

It's -- we're in the middle of a surge on top of a surge. We already were seeing an increase in cases this fall. You then had an increase in cases over the Thanksgiving holiday. And now, with Christmas and New Year's, we're really concerned. Hospitals are already full. ICUs are already full.

Doctors and nurses are burned out from dealing with this for months now. Some staff are quitting because they're fed up. And on top of all of that, you now have this new variant strain that has emerged in the U.K., as well as in South Africa. We know that the U.K. strain has spread elsewhere in Europe. It may be more transmissible.

And it is almost certainly already here in the United States. And so, in that context, for people to be traveling, this really could make for a very, very grim January for all of us.

MOHYELDIN: So, you have painted a pretty grim picture there. We also heard president-elect Joe Biden say that our darkest days are ahead of us, not behind us.

Do you think that people understand that the pandemic is literally worse now than it has ever been? Because, from where I sit, I think there's probably a little bit of, obviously, pandemic fatigue, and we're not seeing the same type of concern, if you will, among ordinary people and institutions that we saw back in March and April.

GOUNDER: Well, I can tell you, doctors and nurses are definitely suffering from pandemic fatigue. We are tired.

And I think, unfortunately, a lot of people in the general public, unless they have had themselves been -- needed to be hospitalized or had a loved one who's been hospitalized or died, I think there's still a lot of people who are just in denial or frustrated with the situation.

And I think it's really unfortunate, because this is the time really to be sheltering in place. If there were any such moment for us to be laying low, sticking to our household bubbles, not traveling, this is that time.

MOHYELDIN: Let me ask you about vaccinations.

We reported, obviously, more than a million have been vaccinated, including yourself this morning. I saw your picture there on Twitter. So, congratulations to you for getting that.

Is the country moving at the right pace with vaccinations so far?

GOUNDER: So, we have vaccinated about a few 100,000 people, maybe a million people, up until now. But we need to be vaccinating a million people per day if we want to reach the president-elect's goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, simple math.

So, we really do need to be massively scaling up the pace at which we're vaccinating people. And if you also do the math, 100 million doses in 100 days, that's -- you still have to give two doses per person. So, that's 50 million people in 100 days.

We have 330 million people in this country. So, it's going to take us over a year at -- even at that pace to vaccinate everybody.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you so much for your time this evening. I appreciate it.

GOUNDER: My pleasure.

MOHYELDIN: We're going to be right back with one more thing. Don't go anywhere.


MOHYELDIN: All right, finally tonight, we want to leave you with this nice moment, a COVID nurse getting a surprise marriage proposal from her firefighter boyfriend. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: COVID has been messing up everything, trying to get this accomplished.

I'm going to ask you for your hand in marriage. You will be mine forever.

Will you marry me?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to kiss you so bad.



MOHYELDIN: What an absolutely beautiful moment there.

That does it for me. You can catch me right here on MSNBC weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Have a safe and very happy holidays.

"THE REIDOUT" starts right now.


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