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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 31, 2020

Guests: Michael Cohen, Amber Ruffin, Cornell Belcher


The Case For Prosecuting Trump; Pros And Cons: Michael Cohen's View On Trump Post-White House; Comics And The Political Comedy Of Trump In 2020.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT, I'm Ari Melber. And as we close out 2020, we have a special BEAT show for you tonight.

From impeachments to protests to pandemics and elections, we want to go through some of the big moments this year. Including on THE BEAT from the gaffes to the dad jokes to, of course, the lyrics and even some awkward moments.

We're going to have on the comics who've made sense of all this and helped us laugh through some tough times. Plus, their cultural insights on what was, for many, a tragic comedy all through the year.

We have a very special fall back, never been aired before, with Olympian Michael Phelps and our award-winning journalist friend, Mike Barnicle.

But we begin with a story dominating even the final month of 2020 and it previews what may lie ahead for Donald Trump in 2021.

What legal exposure he will face after he leaves office in January. This is our special report on the criminal legal exposure that potentially faces Donald Trump when he leaves office.

Now big picture, most presidents depart with less pressing concerns. They're focused on their memoirs, the next chapter of their careers, those presidential libraries that they tend to fund raise for. Very few, when you think about it, actually leave with this active talk about potential prosecution.

Now that was the case for Nixon who cut off the real risk of potential federal prosecution by engineering that pardon from his successor.

And now you have Donald Trump for the past few weeks, really, stoking some similar intrigue by talking up the more extreme measure of trying to pardon himself.

Now why does Donald Trump even think he needs a federal pardon? Only he knows.

And to be as fair as possible, the evidence suggests it would not be for Russian collusion, for example, because after all the scrutiny on that issue -- remember, the Mueller probe did not conclude that Donald Trump criminally conspired or coordinated with Russia.

Now a self-pardon wouldn't address any potential state issues in New York or elsewhere.

But as with so many Trump era debates and scandals, this topic so drenched in the implication of guilt and crime, it's being stoked by Trump himself by talking up the pardons for himself and his family.

When the supreme court has long held that taking a pardon is like confessing a crime, everyone knows how bad this sounds. On the other hand, these are not easy calls. There's renewed debate about how high the bar should be for prosecuting a former president.

I can tell you that people around Biden have already been suggesting the very idea of going after an ex-president concerns them while Joe Biden's also stressed the thing you're supposed to say, that he will not meddle in the DOJ's process.

There are also some prosecutors openly advocating for investigating and potentially charging Trump including a very famous one, former Mueller deputy, Andrew Weissmann.

But as we get into this tonight, I want to be clear. This is serious stuff. This debate cannot just be held in the abstract.

If the nation, after what we've just lived through, is going to consider a legal accountability for an ex-president the rule of law requires this follow only evidence, not partisanship.

And that actually is important as we think about this debate -- I don't think we've heard the last of it.

Because if we're going to do this right as a nation, it can't be some vague discussion of just prosecuting Trump or any politician. That doesn't get you very far.

The question under the rule of law has to be about if there's evidence that a person -- in this case soon to be ex-President Trump -- committed a federal crime and does that merit prosecution?

So if you take just an example. Should the nation hold the very first trial of an ex-president for jay walking or defacing a mailbox? Those are crimes. Most legal experts think the bar has got to be higher than that.

So tonight, right now, to do this hopefully in an informed way, we turn to one of the most important examples.

A specific federal case where Donald Trump does has exposure where a crime has already been proven and convicted and one that implicates our democracy -- which suggests larger issues than well, the mailbox thing I said or the jaywalking.

I'm referring to the conviction of Donald Trump's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, for providing Donald Trump's payments in exchange for the silence of Stormy Daniels.

Remember, Cohen went to jail for that crime, among others. Federal prosecutors said it was all to benefit Trump.

And I can tell you we have a very relevant guest for this discussion, a man who would be a key witness in any such case; Michael Cohen himself.

Now Cohen was convicted for his work on behalf of individual one, Donald Trump.

And if Trump was a knowing party to that crime, legally he could still face potential prosecution, technically he could because the deadline has not yet run for that kind of campaign finance violation.

Now, you may recall this whole case, it began with a secret. Donald Trump paying Daniels to hide their encounters which dated back to 2006.

Now the legal problems came when Trump and Cohen acted around the 2016 election.

And there's stronger evidence here than in most stories, that is to say if you're talking about oh, should Trump be charged or not; in some of those stories or cases, even the tax issues, they can be vague.

But here Mueller's prosecutors had inside players exposing what was happening, we even heard from some of those key witnesses in real time. This was during the open Mueller probe in our reporting on THE BEAT.


MELBER: In your FBI interview with Mueller's team --


MELBER: -- they were asking about payments to women.

NUNBERG: They were asking if I knew anything about it.

MELBER: They were asking if you knew anything about payments to women.

NUNBERG: But I think it's pretty obvious that they're looking into this. You have now this $130,000 payment that was made after the election from campaign to


MELBER: That turned out to be relevant. Because Mueller's team, they thought there actually was enough evidence there to pursue in what Mr. Nunberg and others were talking about.

They also carefully, as a legal matter, decided that it appeared beyond their jurisdiction. So they handed it to New York investigators who ultimately secured Cohen's cooperation.

And that's why we have those public facts from that probe which could be very relevant when Trump leaves office.

This was, of course, overseen by the Trump DOJ. Finding Cohen arranged for payments to women who claimed to have had an affair with individual one. And they found that Cohen's intent was to influence the election.

Now that is bad because while there can be a defense that such payments were say, separate from an election crime committed for some other reason, Cohen, the one who arranged them already admitted it under oath. And the evidence shows Trump was in on it.

Cohen said he did all of it at the direction of individual one. And Trump confirmed some of that by paying for it with those reimbursements which came through -- some of them while he was president -- with his company involved in a suspicious series of payments, 35,000 bucks a pop, over the course of a year.

This is a lot of hard evidence.

Now, as far as the courts are concerned, it's a felony committed with and for the benefit of one person, individual one. And everyone knows who that is.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes. Last fall I plead guilty in federal court to felonies for the benefit of, at the direction of and in coordination with individual number one.

And, for the record, individual number one is President Donald J. Trump.


MELBER: Cohen testifying he went to jail for executing Trump's plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP).COHEN: The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

And I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later.


MELBER: You hear that phrase; hide that payment and hide the underlying conduct and hide it for a long time.

Now by today's lights, it may all sound familiar. But remember, investigators if they pursue a case like this could bear down on how Trump continued to cover up, continued to lie about this.

Here he was on Air Force One in 2018.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No. I don't know.


MELBER: False. Donald Trump knew because Cohen arranged a cash advance. We have the evidence. And Trump paid for it partly through the Trump Organization. You see it there. You see his signature.

This is what they call receipts.

Even Rudy Giuliani came out to admit it later that year.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It had something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000. Which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal -- and the president repaid it.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, I didn't know he did.


INTERVIEWER: There's no campaign finance law?


INTERVIEWER: (Inaudible) a little bit.


MELBER: Now does all this make Donald Trump a culpable conspirator? That's a tough question.

Any charges or trial of Trump would still be pitting that string of reactions there from a lying denial by Trump to Rudy Giuliani's "He did it but it's legal," and we pit all that against the evidence which includes the financials, the receipts, the legal rules to witnesses like Cohen and Daniels.


STORMY DANIELS: Suddenly people are reaching out to me again offering me money, large amounts of money. And then I get the call, "I think I have the best deal for you."

TREVOR POTTER: From your lawyer? DANIELS: Yes.

TREVOR POTTER: It's a $130,000 contribution by Cohen to the Trump campaign.

And if he does this on behalf of his client, the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election.


MELBER: OK. That's a big deal. That last voice you heard is a Republican election law expert laying out Trump's potential legal exposure because the law matters, and the evidence matters.

Now, reporting on this case you'll hear from many different people with direct knowledge who are involved in some part of this.

And they come back to the fact that if this was a crime and Cohen convicted -- was convicted of crime and Cohen was taking orders to commit this crime then do we all just move on or do we deal with the fact that this crime committed in public, convicted in public, that someone went to jail for actually raises the question about whether the ultimate guilt goes higher?


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Donald Trump was complicit in this conduct. He should face significant liability for the conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The weight of evidence will continue to get greater but it's so overwhelming now.

MELBER: You think it's nefarious?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Of course, it's nefarious.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: It's a campaign finance violation which was Donald Trump directing -- and this is the finding of the prosecutors -- directing his lawyer to pay hush money to corrupt an American election.

MELBER: Now, quote, was the "National Enquirer" acting as the arm of Donald Trump and Michael Cohen and, if so, is there something wrong with that?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We strongly suspect they were --

MELBER: Can you prove it?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- that's why we brought it.


MELBER: Those parties said they had lots of proof. Now let's be clear. Some fared better than others.

Mr. Avenatti, who you just saw there, he initially forced a lot of this into the public square but was ultimately indicted on other unrelated crimes, for which he awaits trial.

And, in fairness, there are other legal reasons that this kind of case against Donald Trump might not hold up if pursued.

Take the relatively unsympathetic example of former senator John Edwards.

Indicted on a similar fact pattern, charged on a similar theory but he avoided conviction making the argument that whatever bad things he did the goal was not violating the campaign finance laws. He was acquitted.

Now the rule of law requires putting one's views of Donald Trump as a person or as the leader of the ideology of Trumpism, if you want to do this fairly, you actually have to put that aside.

And you have to seriously reckon with whether there is a crime so serious that an ex-president ought to be put on trial.

Now some legal experts point to Edwards as the kind of case that should give pause to pursuing Trump under the evidence you just saw. And then second and separate, more broadly, there are questions about the costs and risks of potentially normalizing the prosecution of ex-presidents.

Is this the right direction? Would this be the right precedent?

We know the office of president has shielded Donald Trump like any other president. It is a constitutional fact he becomes a citizen again, not the president. Potential prosecution becomes technically more legally possible. But should it be on the table for this alleged offense?

We get into all that and more with the perfect guest on these issues, the man in the middle. My interview with Michael Cohen in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: I'm joined now by Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, also host of the podcast "Mea Culpa" and the author of the book "Disloyal."

Michael, thank you for having this conversation, sir.

MICHAEL COHEN, FMR. TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: how are you doing, Ari? Good to see you.

MELBER: Good to see you. I'm all right. Let's start with the basics.

Did you commit this crime with Donald Trump's knowledge and direction the whole time and should he be charged in your view?

COHEN: So, I plead guilty, as I'm sure you're aware, a little more than a year-and-a-half ago. And it was done, as I stated before the house oversight committee as well as to many other authorities, to many other agencies.

And it was done not only at the direction of but in coordination with Donald J. Trump. So, the answer is if, in fact, that I'm required to plead guilty for this crime then so is the president.

MELBER: To be clear, although there were other allegations that you addressed, on this particular one, did you benefit personally from arranging this for Donald Trump or was he the main beneficiary of this arrangement?

COHEN: Well, he was the only beneficiary of this arrangement. I also want to say that, as we're talking about potential criminal prosecution here, that's not really the issue that Donald Trump is most concerned about.

What he's most concerned about is the IRS. He's concerned about issues that's going to show that he does not pay his fair taxes, that he's tax evaded, that there's bank fraud, that there's potential insurance fraud, et cetera, et cetera.

So that's really what Donald Trump is more concerned about because it doesn't only just affect him as the Stormy Daniels hush money payments did. But it also affects his children and the Trump Organization which, of course, is his financial cash cow.

MELBER: And the way they handled these payments -- which I just reminded the audience how much we know about that, we know a lot more than usual given the range of probes -- do you see any other potential legal problems beyond the main one of the campaign finance violation?

COHEN: Meaning what?

MELBER: For example, the way it was routed through the Trump Org. Do you think there was anything else shady in the payment that went to Ms. Daniels?

COHEN: OK, much better question. Now I get what you're going with this. The answer to that is yes --

MELBER: Well, Michael, as a lawyer --

COHEN: (inaudible)

MELBER: -- sometimes you have to fix -- sometimes you have to fix the other lawyer's questions. So, thank you.

COHEN: Yes. That's true, I -- sorry, for that. This isn't the deposition though.

So, the answer for that -- the answer to that is yes. And it's yes because they actually hid the payment. Instead of marking it down as an expense, they marked it down as a legal expense.

So, it became a tax-deductible tryst which I'm certain the IRS is not interested or the U.S. taxpayer's not interested in paying for Donald Trump's affairs.

MELBER: So, they not only hid the payment, your contention, your evidence, your direct involvement is that they then they lied to the federal government about what the payment was?

COHEN: Yes. They marked it down as legal expense when it clearly was not a legal expense.

MELBER: Yes. So those are a series of questions about what you went through. I want to ask you a question about being incarcerated. It's a difficult thing, we talked about it before, but you went through this in a way.

We all went through these four years and people have different views of them and this is America, we could talk them out.

But I'm curious. If you could let us in on this. Did you ever feel and think about while you were incarcerated inside prison away from your family the idea that, at least on this crime, you were in there for something you did for him and he hadn't been held accountable for it?

COHEN: Yes. That actually haunted me on a daily basis. And as I think I said to you before, it doesn't just break your heart to be away from your family especially because of somebody else's dirty deeds, it shreds your soul each and every day. And you only get ten minutes, maximum, a day to speak to your family.

Well, I have a wife and then I have -- my son was at school out of state and my daughter. So, I would get, what, three minutes to speak to each of them, at best, a day. And anytime, God forbid, that there's an issue that needed to be addressed, unfortunately, you just don't have the time on the telephone to do it.

So, it's really -- it's an ugly situation. I should not have been there based upon his dirty deeds. And since I did, I plead guilty for a crime that I was certainly involved with. So is the president.

MELBER: Michael, the flip side of all this -- and I'm going to have experts get into it. But I wanted to give you the benefit of addressing it is there are many people who say whatever one's criticisms are of this president and this period of time, the United States has not historically prosecuted ex-presidents and there are many reasons not to do it, including the ordeal of putting the country through it.

Your response to that argument both as someone involved or as someone who has, of course, studied the law and separation of powers? And, as you know, there are legitimate arguments against that. Your response?

COHEN: So, you could play it either way. First and foremost -- the biggest problem of incarcerating a president is the fact that the president has national security information embedded in his head.

Now, of course, we all know that Donald Trump didn't spend a lot of time at briefings and so on short of whatever they could write on a piece of paper with a crayon, right?

He didn't really spend much time in these briefings, but he still has national security information in his head. And that makes him, obviously, a danger to be placed in an institution.

Here's the flip side to that, Donald Trump does not care, as we all know, about anyone or anything other than himself. Well, if that's the case, is he more danger on the outside because Donald Trump will sell -- there's no doubt in my mind -- he will sell national security information to the highest bidder in order to develop a piece of property in Iraq. He doesn't care.

He is prepared to talk about -- which he did with Putin, right, unsolicited -- he just gives away information.

So, is he more dangerous on the inside or on the outside? But -- you could play it either way. I think he's a danger no matter where you put him.

MELBER: Very interesting. And Michael, this is one of those threads -- and that's why we wanted to show the reporting on it that everyone can move on and forget -- I know that you and your family haven't forgotten it -- or there could be a question about how to deal with it.

So, appreciate you coming back on THE BEAT. I hope you come back, sir.

COHEN: Anytime, Ari. Thanks so much for having me.

MELBER: Coming up. Some special guests on the end of this Trump era plus where we go from here. And our favorite moments from THE BEAT across all of 2020.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Donald Trump's long-running denial of his defeat has been both dangerous and, at times, ridiculous.

A new source of satire and comedy for late night hosts definitely in those weeks after the election was resolved.

In fact, we spoke with comedian, Amber Ruffin, the first black woman to write for a late-night network talk show and the United States and former Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher, about this dynamic.


AMBER RUFFIN, COMEDIAN: Senator Kamala Harris was elected vice president on Saturday and though the economy is not quite back on track, the air brush T-shirt industry is thriving.

It's your man, Little Duke. And you know what I always say, anyone who makes me pay a lot of taxes can't have my vote.

Donald Trump, you raggedy bastard.

(Sings): Go back to your country -- go back to Africa.


MELBER: Amber Ruffin joins us now. The actress, comedian and host of the "Amber Ruffin Show." Congratulations, thank you for joining us.

RUFFIN: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you for being here. Famed Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher, back in the mix.

Let's start with one of the jokes we just heard there. Rappers who want low taxes for Trump.

How important is it for you to have a new platform with representation, inclusion, you can come with these issues and also, why is it that so many Trump issues are as effectively dealt with punch lines as a serious debate?

RUFFIN: Because everything he says is absolutely absurd. And when a person who has any respect whatsoever talks about Donald Trump, they sound ridiculous. When a comedian talks about Donald Trump, they sound perfectly fine because everything he does is ridiculous.

MELBER: Well, that goes right to where we're living right now, we don't even have to go back.

You are part of the -- as I mentioned, the creative team behind Seth Meyers.

He had a joke this week that was, you know, Trump tweets Biden won, and Trump tweets why he won't concede. When you say someone won, you are, in terms of English, making the concession to their victory.

It's like we're just in this orbit for as long as we're in it, Amber.

RUFFIN: Yes, it's ridiculous. And I just -- I love to get lost in thinking about what must he be surrounded by to behave this way? Who is there and what are they hearing? Can they hear him when he is saying these things? Does he say it and then he tweets it, is it new every time? If someone in your presence said something like this, you would grab them and whisper, "Ops, I think you need to go home." Know what I mean?

MELBER: A nap or a rest, it's not all functioning. But we have some reporting on that.

There are White House reporters who say that he requests printed copies of his most retweeted tweets. So they go print them on a printer -- this is real -- and he looks at those.

Well, I actually think speaks to -- Cornell, that's only a few beats away from one of the challenges of the Internet which is if we're all just looking at our own likes or whatever sometimes we become more extreme versions of ourselves.

It's not really a question, Cornell. But --

CORNELL BELCHER, POLLSTER: -- Well, first of all, I'm a big fan of Amber. But I have no idea why I'm on this segment. I know, Ari, you think polling is kind of like comedy, but I think comedy's more reputable than polling these day.

MELBER: Wait, Amber --

BELCHER: So I have no idea why --

MELBER: He doesn't know why he's here.

BELCHER: -- you're bringing on (inaudible).

RUFFIN: You're here because you have the facts and I have the goofiness.

MELBER: Yes. We didn't want to go solo goofy. We put a political person with a funny person. That's why.

RUFFIN: Because, Cornell, if it was just me, people would change the channel.

But then I say something goofy and then you say something normal. But it's all gone crazy because you said that people print out his tweets. Ari.

MELBER: Facts. Facts. I'll give you another --

BELCHER: Ari, I need to double down - I need to double down on the "Dark Knight."

MELBER: All right.

BELCHER: As they say, "Madness is kind of like gravity. All it takes is a little push." And --

MELBER: Just a push. (Inaudible) that line.

BELCHER: And that's what we have right now. We have madness in our political system right now. And hopefully that will change soon.

MELBER: I'll flip it on you the greatest (INAUDIBLE) in the song "Wait a Minute," says sometimes love takes just a push. So, we could go mad or we could return back. Amber, you knew this is going to happen.


MELBER: I got something to play for about the which is with Donald Trump, although he has his supporters as we've covered and we've had them on the program and many of them find him, you know, edgy or they say he's funny, but it's certainly, I think fair to say is a harsher, rougher style. Barack Obama, as a president used his power in a different way; it was, it was, the joking was it felt somehow a lot more warm. This was one of his classics that everyone in politics can remember because it's funny, if you know the characters. Take a look.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some folks still don't, don't think I spend enough time with Congress. "Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell," they ask. Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?


MELBER: Amber, funny but not mean.

RUFFIN: It's funny. I mean, if you're Mitch McConnell, it doesn't feel great. But Mitch McConnell is lying in the bed he made so it's not totally terrible, yes.

MELBER: Yes, it's a, it's not mean spirited is more like because Mitch McConnell's thing is not, he's not like a proud socializing beer drinker. He's more of just like, getting judges confirmed. I'm out of time. Amber, I hope you'll come back.

RUFFIN: They printed the tweets out.

MELBER: That's our takeaway. That's what she took from this. Everyone check out that show Peacock, Amber Ruffin, and my special guest, Cornell Belcher, in a segment for, for reasons he didn't understand.


MELBER: We also heard all about this comic fallout from this election with former Daily Show Correspondent Larry Wilmore, and former RNC Chairman, Michael Steele.


LARRY WILMORE, CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY SHOW: It really is a tragic comedy, because like for people like me, I mean, we have to make jokes about it. But it is tragic. And like, I tell you, what is the thing that is really not funny, Ari, is the people who believe the disinformation that is being put out there, especially about COVID. And people who are dying while they're continuing to, to believe in all this disinformation. That is not funny. It is a dereliction of duty, as far as I'm concerned by all of those people in charge, especially the top one.

MELBER: Right, especially people pushing that. You know, we were having fun looking back at when Washington really had to grapple with the Larry Wilmore experience, which was -- I mean, it's a huge honor, as I think viewers know, you're up there, though, you know, how often does anyone get to stand up there while a sitting president that was President Obama watches you do your thing? Let's take a look at a couple moments which are right on point as far as the political commentary, here we go.

WILMORE: Nice to be here, the White House Correspondents Dinner, or as you know, they're going to call it next year Donald Trump present to the jury this evening paid for by Mexico. I want to thank Mitch McConnell for not blocking my nomination. Seriously, you got to give Mitch McConnell credit. At this point, he could block LeBron James. He's unbelievable.

MELBER: How do you update that joke when he's when he's stolen? Norsemen board seat says that.

WILMORE: I know. Call me Negro Damas, Ari, I don't know how I knew all these things ahead of Mitch. Mitch McConnell has always been the same. It's easy to do jokes about Mitch McConnell, that kind of last forever, that have no expiration date. Which is why, by the way, I wish you were a Democrat. It's why he's good at his job. You know? I'm sure the Democrats are probably just Mitch McConnell, dude, because he does exactly what his constituents want him to do, put in conservative judges, and he's very successful at it.

MELBER: Larry, people got to wonder, I wonder, we got to ask, like, is it different doing the whole bit in front of the sitting president?

WILMORE: Oh, god, it's so bizarre. I mean, when you're right next to him, all kinds of things go through. First of all, you want to make them laugh, you know, and you don't want to just, you know, just go crazy, and just have something else take over. He's like, Larry, just stay calm. Don't do anything weird. You know, don't make any sudden movements, you know, because you don't know what's going to happen. But you do want to try to make him laugh, but who knows?

I did this one joke about him dropping drones. And I kind of felt him go, like, it was this. You could feel like the disapproved and just whacked and over you. You don't have to wait like Pepe Lepew, like that smell (INAUDIBLE). You can just feel it and I can feel him finch. Oh my god great, I've already lost the room, now I've lost the president. I just stopped, you know, from there. But all I can say, at that moment, Ari, I just stopped crying. I just looked to say, "what, am I wrong?" You know, it just went over there, so.

MELBER: Now, now hang with me, Michael, you know what you're in the segment, right?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, RNC: Let's go for the ride, my friend. I've learned with you to do that. And hanging out with Larry is always fun. So, I figured no matter how they work, I'm going to have a good time.

WILMORE: We just had Michael on my show.


MELBER: We think these things through. And Larry, whether you remember it or not, Michael still knows his way around, at least what we consider a lower rent version of "Late Night." He stayed up late with us on all those debate nights and even busted out his own Muppets from your same Daily Show, which breaks the rule. That's right. You can't talk to your own Muppet live on cable news, Michael.

STEELE: Yes, exactly. Look at the tape, Larry, Larry and the ladies and gentlemen over at "The Daily Show" beat the crap out of beef for two years on the program, and it was such fun to go back and watch. And Larry saw right about the humor it, it, it is the great leveler, it really is. And it tells us important times and sometimes very serious moments, you know, try to find a little bit of the humor in it.

And guys like Larry, they do that; they kind of reflect that instinctively. And it's good. No, seriously, man, I mean, and it's good. You know, and, and certainly being, you know, the only Black correspondent on that program, you know that that's an important first step for the for the rest of us brothers out here who are looking for role models. So, you know --


STEELE: You play a role here.

WILMORE: God, Michael, I hope to have a puppet of me someday, you know, is all I can say at this moment.

MELBER: That's the last question we got. We're looking at it now and he was with John Stuart. Larry.


MELBER: MSNBC viewers have come to know the many Michael Steels, do you like better the original RNC chairman, the new Michael Steele who said that because of Trump's leadership and record he was breaking with his party endorse Joe Biden, or the third choice, the original Muppet Michael Steele?

WILMORE: I'm always going to prefer the Muppet, because the Muppet has a type of facial hair that humans just came to. And it's, it's fantastic. It's this fuzz that it kind of -- it's coming at you but it's, it's, it's kind of spreading, you see what I mean? It's like it's just a beautiful type of thing.

MELBER: Hold on. Fact check. Are you talking about the fuzz, the blue fuzz or the actual?

WILMORE: No, no, the mustache and the and the hair on top all of it. I mean, you can't duplicate that. It's fantastic. You know, Michael's been trying to duplicate that. But he has not been successful as far as I'm concerned. I don't care what he's trying to hide either Republican Party, or trying to act like, you know, he's a woke one, too. You know, whatever, Michael, you know, you'll never going to outdo your Muppet, sorry.

MELBER: Larry, Larry, I'm running out of time. But you know, there. There is a lyric, there is a lyric that applies to this.

WILMORE: Uh-oh, what can be?

MELBER: Uh-huh. From young M.A., we in the streets like sesame.

WILMORE: There you go.

STEELE: There you go. And the day's number is three.

MELBER: I thought my thought Michael, the number of the day was 270, and only one side has it?

STEELE: Well, I can only say I have to say about 270. The only way Donald Trump gets to 270 is if he loses 50 pounds, so we can just let that go and move.

MELBER: All right. We'll end with the heat, Michael Steele, Larry Wilmore. Larry, I hope you come back. The show is "Wilmore" on Peacock.

WILMORE: Absolutely. Thanks, guys. That was fun.


MELBER: And when we return, a very special fall back Friday. This is airing for the first time ever here on THE BEAT. Olympic superstar, Michael Phelps, and our friend award-winning Journalist, Mike Barnicle. Plus, it's been a roller coaster year we have some very special highlights of 2020 here on THE BEAT, up ahead.


MELBER: It's time for a very special edition of "FALLBACK." You are looking at the most decorated Olympian of all time. 28 medals total, also an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness and with a new environmental campaign, partnering with Colgate toothpaste to save water. I'm speaking of course, about World Champion swimmer, Michael Phelps. Great to see you.

And that's not all, World Champion journalist friend of the being in front of MSNBC, Mike Barnicle. He's of course the senior Contributor to "MORNING JOE" also a Pulitzer Prize winner for his journalism, covering the bosses, race relations issues of the 1970s. He's also written count him up 4000 columns for the Boston Herald New York Daily News, and the Boston Globe. My favorite two Michaels: Mike Barnicle and Michael Phelps. Nice to see you both.


MELBER: What's happening?

BARNICLE: Oh, you know, same old, same old.

MELBER: Do you want me to get my observation out of the way right now?

BARNICLE: Absolutely. Go ahead.

MELBER: You right now, and I'm not sure why, but you're looking less fit, and more old than usual.

BARNICLE: I'm with one of my youngest sons.


MELBER: You look fantastic. Yes, but I know him, so give him a --

BARNICLE: He swim eight miles. I basically can get kicked out of the tub.

MELBER: I love having you both here for this. Let me kick it off with you. And Mike Barnicle, what's your fallback list?

BARNICLE: My fallback list? A couple of items. One is the you know, the inmate in the Metropolitan Corrections Center, the mafia guy who had this extraordinary escape plot that he had concocted, which was all foolish. But he had to lose like 300 pounds to do it. I was eager to find out how he would go about losing the weight because I don't really like to drop about 15. So, I want to get him out of the way. He's my number one fallback.

MELBER: You're actually probably pretty informed about how to control your body weight, right, but you can't just change it overnight.

PHELPS: So, when I came back in 2014, I lost 30 pounds in six weeks. But that was basically because I was swimming, probably, 60 to 100 -- 60 to 80,000 meters a week. Eating was a job. So, it's a 24/7 job because I was maintaining a certain weight. So, I had to constantly shove food when I wasn't hungry.

MELBER: I shove a lot of food in my face. I treat it like a job. It's not my job. What else is on your fallback list?

PHELPS: My fallback, honestly, is, is really trying to get rid of all the people who are wasting so much water. This is something that, that for me is, you know, water is a massive part of my life. It's a part of my every day. So, for me, I think we can forget those people who are drowning all the water down the tube, wasting so much water. It's a precious resource that we can have, and we should have for the rest of our life. I think a lot of people maybe don't fully understand what they're doing. And when brushing your teeth, you're wasting 64, up to 64 glasses of water, if you leave it on.

MELBER: Just by leaving the faucet on?

PHELPS: Just one-time brush.

MELBER: I think for you, Mike, one way to think about it is, it's OK to waste words, we do a lot of that around here, but don't waste water.

PHELPS: What's interesting is it's only within the last three or four years to your point that I have begun thinking about exactly those kinds of things. You know, the water is running while you're brushing your teeth. You don't think about the enormous, gallons, every day that you waste.

PHELPS: We all really need to jump on board. It's again something, it's so simple.

MELBER: When you were traveling or when you were going all over the world, what was the thing that, that you wanted to fall back? Most of that bothered you the most that was the hardest to deal with, because people think about how hard you work out, you know, actually in your in your sport. But you go all over the world, you know, some people have issues with the, the noise if you stay at a Manhattan hotel sometimes.

PHELPS: That's a good one. I mean, that's a good one for me. Last night, for me being a -- I live in Scottsdale, so I haven't been close to a city in quite a few years. So, sleeping last night, even though I was 40 stories up, windows were closed sound machine on, the honking and the sirens, kept me up for, I don't know, probably two or three hours last night. That's one thing I -- it's so hard to get used to.

MELBER: New Yorkers can fall back. I mean, they hit the horn right away.

BARNICLE: Before we leave this segment, I want to say something about this guy here. I saw this young man in the Special Olympics event at the University of Southern California interact with special Olympians and their families. You could not have been better and more aware, and kinder, and generous with your time than Michael Phelps was that day.

PHELPS: Thank you.

MELBER: Well, I love that as a fitting, a fitting happy and uplifting thought to land on sir.

BARNICLE: We need, we need --

MELBER: To land on that on the roof. Mike Barnicle, thank you so much. Mike Phelps, thank you.


PHELPS: Thank you.


MELBER: Up ahead, as promised our special look back at these big moments we've shared together on THE BEAT in 2020.


MELBER: You know what, it has been a rollercoaster year for everyone. Now, here on THE BEAT, in the newsroom, and across the nation, we've been covering the political, social, and cultural upheavals making headlines. Tonight, we have something we think is pretty special, we've worked hard on it. Gathering some of our very favorite moments from this whole wild year that did play out of course in real time on live T.V. From great guests, to bad jokes, to of course, lyrics, and as always awkward silences. Here's a look back at 2020 on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Welcome to THE BEAT, I'm Ari Melber. Let me tell you, we have a big show tonight.

We are here at the Red Rooster. This is like a little bit of political creeping you're popping up.

Trump finally left the White House for the first time today since becoming the loser of this race.

Donald Trump is the loser. The loser. Loser. Loser.

I would say this is America but that would be insulting to Childish Gambino. Was that a lo que reference to Drake's over for Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's over.

MELBER: Makes me think of Dr. Dre's, the chronic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you think my automobiles --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Truth hurts, that's a lyric.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, let me say it two ways, then smiles he when I say it. Even when I was wrong, I got my point across.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He probably said, to the ladies' room? Yes, we do.

MELBER: Isn't that why Drake says, no new friends?

It wasn't Pusha T. who said, I believe there's a God above me. I'm just the God of everything else.

Why don't we see if we have Chachi -- Michael Steele, I'm dialing for guests don't suck at an empty chair? I was hoping for Joy Reid but go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a disaster!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whenever I shoot a hurricane in 125 miles per hour, I'm hanging on to a pole.

MELBER: You do have a nice head of hair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of the only things Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

MELBER: Do you have time though for a bad pass over joke? We take the mods and we wrap it in a in a face mask. Do you have a favorite economist joke?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know the rapper 50 Cent, right? Given recent increases in inflation, his name is now 64 Cent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so like dorky dad.

MELBER: We think of it as more nerdy than dorky.

You have any polling on dead armadillos? Survey says, they're dead.

I guess, yes.

You didn't just take the high road, you took the high road really fast, you know, because you're fast on the road

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind bars, skinny pop bark thins --

MELBER: Cut extra snaps be exchanged for extra stuffing or left-over caramel sauce.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's dressing, Ari.

MELBER: The kind bar is just a fancy Snickers.

You get in there. Everybody gets a high five.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We (INAUDIBLE) the part of Brooklyn. If you don't know, now you know.


MELBER: That does it for us tonight. You can always catch THE BEAT weeknights on MSNBC at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We want to wish you and your families a happy and safe holiday season and a great new year.


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