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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, January 4, 2021

Guests: Peter Wehner, Benjamin Dixon, Brad Jenkins, Sophia Bush, Michael J. Moore, Juanita Tolliver


In a leaked phone call, President Trump attempts to convince the Georgia secretary of state to overturn the state's election results. All eyes turn to Georgia hours ahead of the critical Senate runoff elections. Senator Ted Cruz's hypocrisy over President Trump is examined.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT with my colleague Ari Melber starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with Donald Trump's explosive new attacks on, yes, our United States democracy. This has been caught on tape. And it echoes some of the darkest episodes of his presidency. If you didn't know so already, here we are. Welcome to 2021.

Now, it's days before Congress will convene to formally certify the election. That is a formality, because everything is over and done. But the president continues to push the doomed effort to nullify Joe Biden's win.

Tonight, it's setting off a firestorm, even though Donald Trump has zero legal paths left. Donald Trump placing what has now been described by so many as an extraordinary call this weekend to the top elections official in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger.

In this hour-long, sometimes rambling call, which careened from conspiracy to direct cajoling to, as we will get into tonight, potential criminal acts, Donald Trump leaned on them to -- quote -- "find the votes" that he would need to somehow overcome the finished election. This is a state that Trump lost.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

The people of the country are angry. And there's nothing wrong with saying that you've recalculated.


MELBER: There is a lot wrong here. Some of it may be criminal.

But let's take a step back. All of this is part of Trump's dead-end election scheming. Georgia's results are over. The courts have spoken. This is indeed the case for every single state where Donald Trump is still complaining about having lost.

Now, his will culminate, as I'm sure you have heard by now, in what I believe will be authoritarian theater Wednesday on the floor of Congress, as Republicans will make what we have the votes to show are doomed efforts to argue that somehow Congress should not certify Joe Biden's electoral win.

This is a ploy. It is dead on arrival. And, tonight, we can remind you why. We have reported on some of this already. Democrats control the House. So, there is no way for this to work, unless somehow Speaker Pelosi decided she wanted to join Trump to stop a Biden presidency.

In addition, top Senate Republicans are against the move. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board dismisses the whole thing as a stunt. "The New York Times" calls it futile. The Associated Press, as nonpartisan as it comes, says the whole thing is desperate.

This is important context for Trump's call to Georgia's secretary of state. Now, in that call, the official, Raffensperger, and his lawyer reject Trump's numerous false claims of voter fraud.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I have listened to what the president has just said.

President Trump, we've had several lawsuits, and we've had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don't agree that you have one. I didn't agree about the 200,000 number that you'd mentioned.

Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

RYAN GERMANY, ATTORNEY: We've been going through each of those as well, and those numbers that we got, that Ms. Mitchell was just saying, they're not accurate.


MELBER: A state official fact-checking a sitting president to his proverbial face on that conference call, on a phone call.

But that's really striking. If it may be obvious to viewers or people around the country that what Trump was saying was false. But one of the things revealed in this call that's also important is officials, some of them Republicans, telling the president to his face at this late date that what he is saying is false.

Now, that same official spoke with NBC News today with new fact-checking for Trump.


RAFFENSPERGER: I'm very confident in the results we have here in Georgia, and that's -- the cold, hard truth is, President Trump did not carry the state of Georgia. We run honest and fair elections here.


MELBER: Donald Trump, well, we know he heard that, because he was on the original call. He may be hearing it today because it's a statement on television.

The president used that call to remind the officials he'd been watching their television appearances. The message could not be any clearer. But, to this president, it is clear that whatever he heard, he is not listening to it.

We turn now to Juanita Tolliver, political director with Supermajority, Benjamin Dixon, who is in a progressive activist based in Georgia, where so much is going on, and host of "The Benjamin Dixon Show," and Peter Wehner, who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Benjamin, your thoughts?

BENJAMIN DIXON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE PROGRESSIVE ARMY": I think this is indicative of how far President Trump would really go with this.

And, of course, there is no real pathway there. And that's something that I'm glad that you keep repeating, but it's the absurdity of Donald Trump being willing to take it this far that I think Americans should really be concerned with.

MELBER: Juanita, one of the things that comes through in the call echoes, as others have pointed out, the Ukraine call. It echoes other machinations in the Mueller probe.

For those who have witnessed Donald Trump over these four years at times play the role of a bumbling entertainer, reality show star, I listened to the entire call. In the top, you have someone who has a very detailed mastery of all of these different numbers and conspiracy theories and things.

I note that they're false. But in no way does he sound like someone bumbling into a call he hasn't prepared for. Indeed, what may be a legal problem for him that we're going discuss later in the show is how intentional and explicit he is, Juanita.


And I listened, too, Ari. It sounded like he was reading from a script to make sure he got it all right. And he has been rehearsing these lines throughout this entire election cycle. And I even want to rewind back to summer 2016, when he also was interfering in elections, asking for foreign actors to actively interfere in that election cycle.

So this is nothing new for Trump. And he has this blatant history of doing it. And what I do think is remarkable this time, though, as vice president-elect Harris called out, the desperation that reeked off of his tone, his words, his posture throughout that call.

Even when Raffensperger was refuting every single conspiracy theory he threw out there, and stating the facts to him, he was still refusing to accept it, and, instead, looking to apply pressure to find these 11,000-plus votes that would have put him over the edge, when, in fact, this election is over, Georgia has certified its results, and it is done.


You mentioned that. It's also strange. I mentioned the fact-checking because you have Donald Trump pushing for this very specific outcome. He is demanding a type of fraud, voter fraud or canceling out the results of an election. He knows exactly the number of votes he wants. And then he almost uses other discredited conspiracy theories where he may be a defendant in civil litigation as his backup threat, saying, oh, we're not going to get into Dominion, but we could.

Juanita, take a listen to that.


TRUMP: Then the other thing they said is in Fulton County and other areas, that they are burning their ballots, that they are shredding ballots and removing equipment.

They're changing the equipment on the Dominion machines.


MELBER: The strangest part, Juanita, is how he kept running into the Georgia officials' brick wall as they told him, well, no, what you're saying is not true. The problem with your data is, it's all wrong.

TOLLIVER: It's absolutely wrong. And they have dispelled conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. They even walked through in the press conference today and went again point by point laying out the facts, because they know what they have done is right.

I do think it's -- I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the Georgia secretary of state office, though, is very storied for their disenfranchisement efforts historically. So I don't want to miss that. So, even though Raffensperger did what was right in this moment, they still have a history of doing wrong by voters.

MELBER: Peter, you have experience in Republican White Houses. You have also spoken, frankly, about President Trump.

All of this is a backdrop to more Republicans joining Donald Trump's attacks on the now certified, now final, now constitutionally unassailable results of this election. What's happened, in your view, to the Republican Party even after Trump lost?

PETER WEHNER, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Well, it's been corrupted. I mean, this was the effect.

Donald Trump has to be understood not simply as a corrupt person, but as a person who corrupts all those around him and within his orbit. And, unfortunately, that's happened to the Republican Party. It's part of the reason why, even before he was president, I was warning that this would happen.

And I should say that this was almost inevitable that we would end up in a place like this, because Donald Trump is fundamentally a person with sociopathic tendencies. And this is how it was bound to end.

I think what happened with the Republican Party is that there was wishful thinking, at best, and they didn't think he would take them down these dark and ugly alleyways. But he did. And they made this commitment to follow him. And this is where it ends up.

I will say one thing, though. This is interesting. I think what we're seeing right now, the denouement of the Trump presidency, is actually the opening act of the post-Trump presidency, because Mitch McConnell, John Thune, Ben Sasse and others, including Tom Cotton, are not going to vote for this insane conspiracy effort by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

And you can see what Trump is doing. He is going after them hammer and tongs. So, there seems to be a line that some Republicans are not willing to cross with Trump, at least after he got defeated. If he had won, I think that they would support him no matter what they did. I think that's story of the last four years.

MELBER: Yes, it's dead serious, although viewers of THE BEAT that are playing vocabulary bingo will fill out their denouement card. I appreciate you getting us there right off the top of the program.


MELBER: And I'm curious what you think about the standards being broken, because so much has been defining deviancy down.

But I think a lot of viewers who have tracked politics in the recent era would admit or see that, even in a January of an outgoing Obama administration, if President Obama were caught trying to cheat in a finished election in January with only a couple of weeks left in office, is there any doubt there would be serious, immediate push for impeachment?

Because presidents cannot go around breaking their oath of office over the one thing that they're all supposed to agree on, which is upholding democracy.

And so, Peter, I'm curious for your view on that. There are some Democrats here telling folks in Axios, for example, this was a bald-faced bold abuse of power. That's vice president-elect Harris. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known to be one of the first movers on the progressive side, thinks it's an impeachable offense, while Adam Schiff, of who, of course, went up on the Ukraine call, says the contempt for democracy is laid bare once again on tape.

As a substantive matter, do you view this as something that is potentially impeachable?

WEHNER: Yes, as a substantive matter, I think it's almost certainly impeachable.

I think just the clock is running out, and there is just not enough time to do this. And I think Joe Biden wouldn't be wise or even the Democrats to pursue it.

But the fact is that it happened. And this was not -- this was not the first time it happened. This would have echoes of the Ukraine call and many other things.

Look, I think what you said is right. The blast radius of the Trump presidency in lawlessness, in the assault on norms and standards and human decency, and especially, I would say, the full-scale all-out assault on truth and on reality, this is fundamentally a nihilistic president.

And he has turned his party largely into a nihilistic party. And when that happens, that's damaging for everybody, not just the Republican Party, but for the country, because, if you don't have a common set of facts, democratic governance becomes very, very difficult.

So, we're in a hole right now. And, hopefully, Joe Biden can help us out of it. But it's going take more than Joe Biden.

MELBER: Yes, and that's notable coming from a veteran of Republican White Houses like yourself.

Benjamin, your thoughts, including -- I say it seriously, because we lived throughout eight years of the Obama era and the type of investigations that were launched, eight, for example, over the Benghazi tragedy, where lives were lost, but there was not a finding of malfeasance by the administration.

Your view of that question.

DIXON: Yes, I think, no matter what your criticisms of President Obama may be, you cannot deny that he would not be able to get away with what Donald Trump is getting away with.

That speaks to the privilege of white conservative rich men, who are able to get away with not telling the truth, get away with their rage and their anger, and the American -- the entire American Democratic experiment is under assault by this mediocrity.

MELBER: Juanita?

TOLLIVER: What else is to be said, Ari? He hit the nail on the head.

Barack Obama, a black man, would not be able to get away with any of this. That is just a fact. I think Republicans vowed to hold his feet to the fire no matter what it was, even if it was getting access to health care for millions of Americans. They still were a barrier there and would absolutely have removed -- let's be real -- probably tried to remove him from the White House that day that the tape came out there.

There would not be any hemming and hawing about criminal inquiries or investigations. They would already be in action.

WEHNER: Can I say one quick thing?

MELBER: Yes, and, Peter, if we want to -- yes, go ahead, Peter.

WEHNER: Yes, I just wanted to say that it may be worth considering here what would have happened with Richard Nixon and the smoking gun tape, right?

That was the tape that came out in the summer of '74 which showed that Nixon was trying to use the FBI to intervene to get the CIA to stop the FBI investigation. That was really the kill shot for the Nixon presidency, because people heard it on tape, and there was no dispute.

Now you fast-forward to today, and it doesn't matter if anything is on tape. People will hear this. And that is what I mean about the assault on truth. If Nixon had lived in an environment like this, he probably could have survived Watergate, because they would have said, this is how you go after the liberals, and this is a media plot and all of the rest.

So, we just are living in a time which, politically, and in terms of our culture, is very, very damaging and dangerous. The ground on which self-government depends is very, very shaky. And we have really got to fortify that. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or a liberal or conservative, you can't live in alternative universes and do well as a country or as an individual or as a community or as a society.

MELBER: Really important words of warning from Peter and all of our guests.

And, Peter, it's not exactly a happy new year message, but it's one America needs to hear, sir.


WEHNER: Yes, thanks.

Well, the good news is that this chapter will end January 20, and there are new chapters to be written. And in self-government, we get to write those chapters. So it's really up to us.

MELBER: Yes, self-governance up to us. That goes to the elections tomorrow. That goes to how people deal with Wednesday. It definitely goes to post-transfer of power.

Peter Wehner, Benjamin Dixon, and Juanita Tolliver kicking us off in the right way. A lot of important points.

Thanks to each of you.

I want to tell everyone what we have coming up after our shortest break of the hour, which is just 30 seconds.

I'm going get into the key question: Did Trump break the law in that Georgia call? We have a special report I want to share with you. .

We will also go live to Georgia, as mentioned, for those critical run-offs and what the early vote tells us.

And the biggest flip-flop of the week may go to Ted Cruz. We will explain -- when we're back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Now we turn to our legal breakdown tonight, President Trump's instantly infamous call demanding election officials in Georgia take action to reverse Donald Trump's loss to Biden in that state.

Trump asked officials to -- quote -- "find him new votes." It's essentially a call for voter fraud numbering in the thousands. Acting on that request would, of course, be a crime. So, was it a crime for Trump to make the request?


TRUMP: So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state, and flipping the state is a great testament to our country.

So, what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellows, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already.


MELBER: Legally, there are no votes to find, because the election and the counting are completely and legally over. Biden won Georgia. Trump lost.

And there is a huge political and moral debate, as we have been discussing tonight, but it's also across the whole country, over the sitting president blatantly trying to overturn an election. That moral and political debate should continue.

Right now, we turn to the precise legal question. Did President Trump break the law here? Now, the answer could really matter more than other Trump controversies, like the infamous Ukraine shakedown targeting now president-elect Biden or a lot of what went on in the Mueller probe.

And the reason is, most of those key legal issues in both those long-running controversies, they were federal, and presidents do have broad powers over federal law. And the DOJ counsels against prosecuting presidents when they're in office, a debate we may all remember.

Here's what's different tonight. This one is largely about state crimes, where Donald Trump, like any other president, has no immunity and no special role in overseeing that government, period.

Now, on the call, Donald Trump repeatedly pressed the officials to find him votes in this state election that he clearly lost.

Now, let's just look at the key state law here, which says it is a crime to ask another person to commit a crime, specifically, if you solicit or request another person to engage in such criminal conduct, in Georgia, you yourself committed a crime.

Now, experts say finding those votes would clearly be a crime. And that makes sense. If an elections official knowingly tried to fraudulently create 11,000 votes, that's a major felony. The legal question narrows down to whether Donald Trump's talk was therefore a solicitation or a request under this state law. That's the issue.

Now, you can't just prosecute someone if they were having general musings or just sort of daydreaming and talking. It's got to be that solicitation or request.

Now, remember, Trump continued on these themes that sounded to many like requests, telling the secretary of state how to find those votes.


TRUMP: The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry, and there's nothing wrong with saying that you've recalculated.

You have to say that you're going to reexamine it and you can reexamine it. But reexamine it with people that want to find answers, not people that don't want to find answers.

Why don't you want to find this, Ryan? What's wrong with you?


MELBER: Recalculate, reexamine with the right people doing it.

That's not a legitimate request for an election that's over. Some experts say those very words I read to you are actually the kind of cover words that experienced criminals use to try to make a clearly wrong and illicit request somehow sound more technical.

We don't need to embezzle this money. We need to recalculate it in a way that gets us more money that's not ours, which would be embezzlement.

Now, this is exactly why Donald Trump could be in such hot water in Georgia right now. I should note, because we want you to have all of the fax and all of the context, any person in this situation, including President Trump, would have legal defenses.

For example, just being really confused is not illegal. One legal defense would be Trump arguing that he genuinely believes that he won Georgia, and, therefore, an accurate recalculation would somehow find that he did actually win, as he believes.

But that's a different interpretation than hearing his repeated calls for finding and recalculating as a request to commit fraud. Now, recent history, I got to tell you, is just not kind to that potential Trump defense.

Trump has some problems here. Georgia did two recounts, and they did an audit, and then there were several independent judges who affirmed the results of the election and those recounts and audits and tossed Trump-friendly challenges.

And that makes Donald Trump's incessant demands over the weekend to find votes that aren't there, even as Georgia officials reminded Trump of that damning history that I just went through, makes it all sound a lot more like a knowing and intentional solicitation or request to engage in criminal conduct.

Now, this criminal question is not up to current acting Attorney General in the Trump administration Jeffrey Rosen. It's not even up to his DOJ replacement in the Biden administration. It's certainly not up to Donald Trump.

And it won't be impacted any way, no matter what, by any potential Trump pardons, even a potential self-pardon. In fact, a federal pardon is worth about as much to defendants in Georgia as a ticket to Donald Trump's second inauguration. It's irrelevant in Georgia's courts because it does not exist.

What will matter is evidence, facts, and, of course, what local prosecutors determine, a key one speaking out today, a Fulton County DA telling the world: "I will enforce the law without fear or favor. Anyone who commits a felony will be held accountable."

If that's true, and there is no political or VIP special treatment here, then the whole question will really just turn on whether, legally and factually, this was a felony, an important question that we will put to an experienced set of prosecutors next.


MELBER: We're joined now by Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of Alabama Law School and MSNBC analyst for us, and Michael J. Moore, a former U.S. attorney in Georgia. He also filed a complaint with Georgia's Board of Elections against Republican Senator Graham concerning this call that was made to Georgia's secretary of state allegedly asking if there are ways to throw out ballots.

We should note that complaint cites the same Georgia statute that some other legal experts that we have discussed tonight say also could incriminate the president on this call.

Thanks to both of you for joining me.

MICHAEL J. MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Glad to be with you.


MELBER: Good to have you.

You filed this earlier complaint. Do you think that what is captured on the call gives legal exposure to Donald Trump?

MOORE: I do.

I think that it basically tracks the same kind of conduct that we saw with Senator Graham. That is calling and strong-arming, essentially, the secretary of state to try to disenfranchise Georgia voters.

And you can listen to the hour-long call, you can read the transcript, and you can hear what I think would be a quiet way of pressuring the secretary of state to essentially disenfranchise Georgia voters by finding these additional ballots out there somehow, some miraculous way, and essentially disenfranchising the electorate in Georgia.

MELBER: This is a classic example of what lawyers will call mixed law and fact.

The fact is that the votes have been counted. So, if, six months ago, you say to your field organizer, you got to find me more votes, people are voting soon, that's fine. But if it's over, certified, counted, and done, find me more votes becomes the potential felony.

MOORE: Right.

MELBER: And then you have the president blatantly asking for the commission of that felony.

I ask as a follow-up to you, then, does it matter to Donald Trump, as a potential state defendant here, that the requested crime, finding votes that aren't there, according to public evidence, did not happen?

MOORE: It does matter to him.

And remember that what he is essentially asking him to do is to create votes. There has been some discussion about what the president's state of mind may be or what his intent might be and whether or not he was actually caught up in the election fraud theory and all these nut conspiracy theories that are out there, or whether or not he was just trying impact his own vote tally.

All you have to do is look at the transcript of the call, and, essentially, what he asked the secretary of state to do is find him just one extra vote. Just find me 11,800 votes, or whatever it was, one that impacted his election. He had no interest in, never raised, never commented on the other elections that went on in the state.

That would be the U.S. Senate races, the local elections and obviously legislative state races. So, you can infer that his effort here was to have the secretary of state go back to admit a mistake. He actually suggests that you could -- it might be OK to say we made a mistake and recalculate and recertify the vote in his favor, which I think it would be, in effect, a violation of state law.

What's interesting here too -- and let me just raise it real quick and I'm going let Joyce talk -- but remember, in Georgia -- you raised a question mentioned earlier, Ari, about the pardon.

Remember, in Georgia, we don't have a governor's ability to pardon. Our pardons are based on an independent body of the state pardon and parole board. So, not only would he face a problem, I expect, with the governor here after he has called him an idiot and a loser and all the things that he said over the last little bit, but he would also now be facing charges that might very well be beyond his influence, because a pardon, if he were charged and convicted, would be in the hands of pardon and parole board.

MELBER: Right, a fair nuance. I was just mentioning to folks that there is a lot of talk about Trump pardons.

MOORE: Sure.

MELBER: You can't pardon yourself for a state crime.

MOORE: Absolutely.

MELBER: Joyce, on the attempt part, though, I just want to drill down on this, because everyone remembers, from the Ukraine probe, a lot of talk about the thing that Trump asked for didn't exactly happen.

And that was ultimately a federal issue that went to abuse of power and impeachment. Here, we have a rerun of the issue, but with a state prosecutor who may have a lot more independent authority. Can you walk us through this idea that, if you ask someone to steal for you, you could get in trouble even if they don't do the stealing?

VANCE: So, this is such a good point to raise in this context, Ari, because Georgia's solicitation statute doesn't require that you complete the crime.

You don't have to be successful in interfering with the election. It's the solicitation, the request that you make, in this case the president to the Georgia secretary of state, intending to have the Georgia secretary of state commit election fraud.

And once the president has made that request, the crime is complete, even if, as in this case, the Georgia secretary of state refuses to play along. So, that's a feature of this statute that I think is very pro-prosecutor, very helpful if there is going to be a prosecution here.


MOORE: That's right.

MELBER: I appreciate both of you walking us through that, because -- let me just, finish, Michael -- the idea here, it was very important, because we're not talking about whether this is bad or looks bad, right?

It would be bad no matter what state he did it in. But we have 50 sets of state laws. He did it in a state where it looks like really problem -- a problem for Donald Trump's legal defense. He did it in a place where, as Joyce just showed us, that's it. That might be, as far as some prosecutors are concerned, game over, if there is no other evidence that interferes with that theory of the case.

The other thing I wanted to ask you about, starting with Joyce, we now turn to -- it's 2021, but, in some ways, it's like past years. We turn now to how we have to analyze the sitting president acting exactly like a mob boss in his words, because, Joyce, the other thing Trump would have going here as well: I kept saying this stuff. I never said put a hit out and execute or murder Fat Tony. I said, you know Fat Tony, boy, I don't love him the way I used to, and maybe something is going to happen to him.

And something was inferred that led to an illicit request. And prosecutors, like both of you, have dealt with this before, Joyce. Not every defendant you have ever charged says, oh, yes, here's the e-mail where I said, let's go do crime.

But how would you think a prosecutor would look at that in this case where, again, one legal defense would be, politicians want to win, he talked a lot about finding votes, he's been talking about finding votes for four years, he is allowed to do that, quote, unquote?

VANCE: So, in fact, no defendant in my experience ever says, hey, I want to go out and commit a crime, or I want you to interfere with this election for me.

It's always much more obscured than that. And that's why prosecutors engage in investigation and determine what the facts are before they make charging decisions. That will have to happen here.

But the president says some remarkably clear things in this hour-long tape, and at one point, he says, it's going to be costly for you in a lot of ways. And he offers one specific. He says, you're committing a crime if you permit this election to be certified and the vote -- the count is wrong.

It's sort of like he actually flips the voter fraud thing on to the Georgia secretary of state. But he tells him, it will be bad for you because you're involved in a crime. That's sort of an implicit threat. And I'd want investigation on that.

But we also have greater context here. We know that this is a president who has threatened people's careers. We know that there has been concern in Georgia about election officials believing that the president hasn't tamped down on violence against election workers.

So, we would really need to have fulsome investigation here to determine whether or not a threat really was being made in an effort to extort a new vote count, a fake vote count from Georgia officials.

MELBER: Michael?

MOORE: Well, I agree.

I mean, I think this president has run his entire administration like an organized crime organization. And, essentially, the question will be whether or not some of his minions that have been out there, some of his -- sort of the sycophants that have followed him, whether or not this is some type of enterprise, whether or not this is a pattern, whether or not there is an ongoing effort and an agreement amongst them to get this kind of information out there.

So, I do think that's been a problem. I agree totally with Joyce and with you about, you don't hear federal defendants say specifically what the goal is when they make it. But most of them are stupid enough to either say something on tape or to say something on e-mail or text something.

And you're right. If you look at the old "Godfather" movies and things, you heard him say, well, I want to send him to Florida or something like that, I want to -- and that meant kill him or get rid of him.

And so, in this case, you do have those kinds of overtones. So -- and I will point this out, too. The threat that Joyce mentioned about, you're committing a crime, interestingly enough today, the federal prosecutor, the chief federal prosecutor here, the U.S. attorney in the Northern District, where this took place, was apparently relieved of duty today.

So, you have to wonder, is that coincidence, or was there something else going on? So, this -- there is clearly an undercurrent here and a tone of the head of a crime-type organization who is directing people by implicit threats. And we have seen that, though, throughout Trump's presidency.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned the film.

I mean, Michael, we had Francis Ford Coppola on THE BEAT last year, and he told us that Trump would always come up to him and tell him what his favorite movie was. Do you know what it was?

MOORE: Well, I can guess that, if it wasn't "The Godfather," it's got to be a good second choice. It appears to me that...


MELBER: It was "The Godfather."


Well, I mean, I have said this is like Don Trump-leone all over again. That's sort of what I feel like as I have watched him maneuver himself through the presidency. He has treated the presidency as if it's somehow his organization, that he is in control of it, that he gets to direct it with impunity, as opposed to something that was entrusted to him for a temporary time by the voters of the country.


And that goes to separation of powers and the lawful obligations of people in office...

MOORE: Right.

MELBER: ... which is something that both our guests here know a lot about, as former U.S. attorneys from Georgia and Alabama.

Michael Moore and Joyce Vance, thank you both for the education tonight.

MOORE: Great to be with you, and with you, Joyce.

MELBER: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.

Coming up: election eve in Georgia. Democrats want to demote McConnell. We have some of the early voting numbers and two very special guests.

Plus, later, we're going to show you the tape, Ted Cruz's hypocrisy exposed in a way that may haunt him on Wednesday -- the receipts coming up.


MELBER: All eyes on Georgia tonight hours out of these critical run-off elections.

They will determine which party controls the United States Senate and thus really the first two years of the Biden presidency. People lining up to vote over this weekend,Well, it's a sign of intense interest in these unusual double races.

More than three million people have already voted early, almost a million by mail, in person voting over two million. Today, Biden was in Georgia this afternoon with both candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: They're talented. They're principled. They're qualified. They're decent. They're honorable. They mean what they say. They're bending the arc of history toward justice and hope and progress.

This is it. This is it. It's a new year, and tomorrow can be a new day for Atlanta, for Georgia, and for America.



MELBER: Fact-check, true. It is a new year. What will happen tomorrow and which side will benefit, of course, is up to the voters there, and we will see what happens.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump responding to Biden with his own rally in Georgia tonight. Mike Pence was campaigning earlier today for Kelly Loeffler.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got to have Georgia hold the line. Will you do it?


PENCE: And I promise you, come this Wednesday, we will have our day in Congress. We will hear the objections. We will hear the evidence.


PENCE: But tomorrow is Georgia's day.


MELBER: We will hear the objection, not exactly a typical campaign slogan, Pence referring to his own role as presiding over the Senate on Wednesday, when, of course, the Congress will officially certify the end of the entire election results.

As we have reported, there's no way to reverse that, but Pence saying he will make time to hear Republican objections to Donald Trump's loss.

We have special guests here with our eye on Georgia tonight, actress and activist Sophia Bush, co-founder of the WinBothSeats initiative, and Brad Jenkins, a former Obama official who has produced ads in Georgia, knows his way around the state.

Welcome to both of you.

Brad, what are you watching?

BRAD JENKINS, CO-FOUNDER, PHENOMENAL PRODUCTIONS: Well, I'm watching those early vote numbers, Ari.

It's record, because what you're talking about here is a run-off. Traditionally, you got 50 percent drop-off from a general to a run-off. We're about break-even. And, in fact, we had a number come out today. Over 120,000 voters voted in the run-off who did not even vote in the general election.

So, I think what Sophia has done with WinBothSeats, galvanizing people from all over the country to focus on the state and invest in black and brown groups on the ground, is making all the difference.

MELBER: First of all, Brad with the cross-guest shout-out.


MELBER: We love that.

JENKINS: That's what I'm here for.


MELBER: You mentioned these numbers. Let's show this, because, as you say, people are so used to hearing, oh, my God, voter interest is up, oh, this year was special.

Well, maybe something bigger is going on around a lot of the country, because we have this for you, three million casts, mail ballots there, 966,000 in person, the two million, and new voters, 30 percent are young voters, 40 percent African-American voters, according to this NBC count.

That's a lot of numbers we just put up on the screen, Brad, but it goes to your point, which is, whatever usual drop-off occurs is not happening in Georgia now.

I will ask you why, and then Sophia will give us her take on the same question.

JENKINS: Well, I think, look, voters and communities understand what's at stake. And I don't need to relitigate. You did a great job, Ari, in talking about what this wannabe charlatan dictator is trying to do here and circumvent the people's vote, the people's voice.

And what we're seeing is, particularly in rural counties, the African-American vote is skyrocketing. Voters understand what's at stake. They understand that this Republican Party is complicit. It's embarrassing.

And the youth vote, Ari, you're talking about a youth vote that everyone says, oh, young people don't know what's at stake, young people don't vote. Young people are leading. Particularly, young people of color are leading. And I think what you're going to see tomorrow is a historic turnout.

MELBER: Sophia?


I think that there is a long history in the United States of people feeling disenfranchised from the political arena, people feeling like politics isn't for them. And what we have come to learn, especially in this ever more connected age, is that everything is political.

Every dollar that you spend, where you spend your attention, how your life is going, what kind of social support, if any, you have, whether or not you're elected officials believe that health care is a human right, all of that is political.

And it's never been clearer than in the midst of a global pandemic to all people that we have to participate if we want the system to work for us. And for us at WinBothSeats and the other organization I work with, I Am a Voter, our entire mission is to engage young voters, engage voters who have historically sat out of the voting booth.

And it's working. And we know that the Republicans don't like it. They're trying to call new voters illegitimate. We know what they mean. We know what that dog whistle means. But we're not going let it happen.

And so the early voting numbers are thrilling for me, and I imagine all of us.

MELBER: And, Sophia, as someone in the arts, you're doing this bridge. There is a lot of people who, understandably, are more interested day to day in movies and music and culture than maybe obsessing over politics as much, as some of us do, which we totally get.

And especially if life is going decent, and if a country is in a decently healthy place, I think you can make the argument that people shouldn't need to fixate on governmental issues all the time, if things are working.

Well, there is a lot of evidence in a lot of ways what's not working. I think viewers are familiar.

So, Sophia, is there anything from your experience here, as someone who is sort of in the arts, about the greater interest? Or do you find people who know you maybe from your work seem more engaged in this era of these last four years, and specifically from November to now, where it can't be overstated, whether you think it's good or bad, that tomorrow is going to have a huge impact on what the new President Biden can do?

That's the case, because everything is in the balance.

BUSH: Sure.

Well, I think what I do for a living is, I'm a storyteller. The arts allow for us as artists to share people's stories. And there are no more important stories than those of our neighbors and of our communities.

And for me, as a person who lives all over the country in small towns and big cities, working in film and television, who is surrounded by incredible crews of union workers, that's why I want to advocate for all communities. That's why I want to advocate for all unions, for worker protections.

And so, if I can use my ability as a storyteller to tell the story of our system, to tell the story of how this stuff works, and engage new voters and engage young people who have been discouraged from participating in politics, that, to me, feels like the most important usage of my time, because, sure, I would love to get back to making more movies and talking less about politics.

But when the future of our republic is at stake, there is nothing more important that I can do than spend the privilege of my platform by ringing an alarm bell about these issues.

MELBER: Brad was so moved, I don't know if you could see it where you are beaming in from, but he took his glasses off.


MELBER: And, as people who wear glasses know, that's when you're getting -- that's when you're really feeling the point.


MELBER: I have got to fit in the point because we have a fact-check on Ted Cruz coming up.

So, Sophia Bush and Brad Jenkins, thanks to both of you.

BUSH: Good luck.

JENKINS: Thanks, Ari.

Thanks, Sophia.

BUSH: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate you guys.

As for Senator Cruz, well, he had tough talk about false claims of voter fraud. What's he saying now? It might haunt him on Wednesday.

That's next.



SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I wake up every day and laugh at the latest thing Donald has tweeted, because he's losing it.


MELBER: That's how Ted Cruz used to address Donald Trump's false claims.

But now he's actually helping to lead the Republicans' doomed plan to challenge the victory of Joe Biden.


CRUZ: And we have seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud.

And that's produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.


MELBER: Cruz on board with these false and discredited claims of voter fraud.

This is a reversal of where he stood almost exactly four years ago. Cruz, of course, beat Donald Trump in the Republican Iowa caucus. And Trump lashed out with this familiar refrain: Anyone who beats him commits fraud, Democrat or Republican. And he wanted either a new election or for those results showing Cruz beat him to be -- quote -- "nullified."

It's all so familiar.

Here's more of Ted Cruz's 2016 response to voter fraud claims by Trump.


CRUZ: I wake up every day and laugh at the latest thing Donald has tweeted, because he's losing it.

Look, we need a commander in chief, not a Twitterer in chief. My girls are 5 and 7. And I got to tell you, Caroline and Catherine are better behaved than a presidential candidate who responds by insulting everyone.

It seems his reaction to everything is to throw a fit, to engage in insults.


MELBER: That's how Ted Cruz used to speak.

He went on to give a description of Trump's total inability to handle what was his public failures. Think how it applies today.


CRUZ: What Donald does when he loses is, he blames everybody else. It's never Donald's fault.



MELBER: That does it for me.

Keep it right here, because, up next, Joy Reid has an interview with Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock. That's next.


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