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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, November 18, 2020

Guest: Kurt Andersen


How will Joe Biden deal with his Department of Justice when it comes to prosecuting former Trump officials? New calls emerge for Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham to resign over a brewing voting scandal. Will President Trump try to scam the American people even as he leaves office?


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT" with my friend 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.

President Trump is back to spending what remains of his time as a lame-duck president fuming over his loss, a flailing plot to try to basically delay the certification of his loss in some states, a revenge campaign against actual nonpartisan U.S. officials, and then what are now costly efforts to try to simply recount in certain places where he clearly lost.

Today, the Trump campaign -- this is new -- is actually paying $3 million for a partial recount in parts of Wisconsin. The Biden campaign confidently responding the recount -- quote -- "will not change these results."

Now, as a matter of election precedent, that is, fact-check, true. Donald Trump lost in these areas they have selected to recount by over 360,000 votes. That's a lot. No recount in history has ever moved more than 1,000 votes. So, as they say, do the math.

But I want to tell you tonight, these recount theatrically echo the courtroom theatrics of Rudy Giuliani, because both efforts do not offer an actual path to changing the outcome. And, as I have told you around here in the news, if there was a path that could change the outcome, and made this all more exciting, we would tell you.

That would be interesting, if nothing else.

But there isn't that kind of path. Instead, what we are seeing is the pursuit of another stage for these individuals to press what are losing grievances for some kind of audience.

Now, that was part of this controversial, but ultimately futile bid in Michigan, where two local Republicans initially tried to stop certifying Trump's loss in that state, and the effort quickly fizzled.

So, what did Trump get out of it? A delay of less than a day. And what did it cost? Well, above and beyond the obvious questions that face our system when politicians don't respect election results, it also costs politically the Republican Party headlines like this.

They are facing, of course, two key states -- in Georgia. "Mother Jones" dubbing this strategy -- quote -- "a plan to throw out black people's votes."

Here's Milwaukee's mayor today:


TOM BARRETT (D), MAYOR OF MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN: Everybody knows that. Everybody knows this is an attack on cities, on minorities, on places that historically have voted Democratic.

Don't let anybody fool you that this is about irregularities. This is flat out an attack on democracy in cities and places where people of color live.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: There you have it. Let's take it right to our experts.

We are joined by Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general for President Obama, having dealt with many legitimate or what we call meritorious claims before the courts, and Jason Johnson, professor at Morgan State U.

Welcome to both of you.

We're going to get to Neal's legal expertise, which is very useful at a time like this.

But I go to you first, Jason, because the politics of this are what the mayor and others are calling out. Don't be fooled by legal language or the pursuit of a legal stage when there's something else afoot.

I'm curious your view tonight?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes, you can lose yourself and all the minutiae and all the different things that they were trying to do, Republicans were trying to do in Wayne County yesterday.

But the core of it, as other people on the committee pointed out, is just racism. That's it. They just wanted to say that black people in Detroit's votes don't count. And that's what the Republicans are doing.

Politically, there's two different lenses that we can look at this. Obviously, anybody who cares about functional democracy, anybody who cares about how the law is supposed to operate says, this is bad, this is ridiculous, it's a waste of time.

But for Trump and for Trumpists and for the people who are still afraid of the impact of Trumpism on the sort of Republican electorate, they want to look like they're fighting, even if it's a losing battle.

So it seems to be an effective method for them. It's still they can grift people and ask for money. But, ultimately, it damages democracy. And it's not going to impress anyone two years down the road when they have to run for office again.



So, over the last two weeks, Trump has single handedly made the case for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act better than anyone, better than even Jason, better than the NAACP, better than MALDEF, better than the Dems in Congress. He has launched really a modern-day Jim Crow, and his party is enabling it.

So that's one thing on race, then the other thing on representation. What's going on in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, across the country is so fundamentally un-American, Ari. There's nothing that's more precious in our democracy than the right to vote. Go back to no taxation with representation and the like.


KATYAL: And Trump is effectively pulling a King George here. He wants to tax the good people of Milwaukee and Detroit, but not give them votes.

And, somewhere, Vladimir Putin and the ghost of Mao Tse-Tung are cheering him on.

MELBER: Right.

And as with so many things in this era, it didn't have to be this way. It certainly doesn't have to be this widely supported. There was a lot of talk about people doing what they had to do to get along with their president. Whether you find that a convincing argument or not, it's no longer logically true, when you have an outgoing president and a president-elect.

Now, Michigan did show also the limits of it, as I mentioned. We're not giving it too much credibility. But we will explain to viewers, Jason, what happened.

Republicans were trying to block, and they ended up slightly delaying the certification in the area around Detroit. The argument was, maybe you would just throw out these votes. Immense pressure poured in immediately from the public, from state officials, and around the nation.

And they then gave up. We're going to show people -- are we going to show people how it went down? I'm talking to my control room.

We're not going to show a clip, but I'm going to give it a little more context, which is, Donald Trump then did initially congratulate the people trying to do this. Then, of course, they caved. And the loss, Jason, was certified.

Fast-forward to "The Wall Street Journal," a FOX News sister publication allied with Donald Trump on many things, rage against the voting machine. "The Journal" says: "Where is the evidence? Put up or shut up? You need proof, not rumors or innuendo."

So they have -- they found their wall, their political brick wall, Jason.


And, Ari, that's what's going to keep happening. Look, I'm not going to mention the names of the two Wayne County people who tried to not certify things. I don't want to give them any more power or credit than they had. But that's eventually -- at some point, local officials are going to reach a level where it's like, this is going to damage me. My loyalty to Trump is not going to help me long term in this state.

There will be a Republican Party that exists after Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. And the question a lot of people have to face is, is he going to still carry water for me when I have to explain my behavior to people locally?

It's not just Michigan. We also see what happened in Georgia. You have people literally attacking each other in the same party, all in loyalty to President Trump, for court cases that keep losing over and over again.

Look, if they magically found some trove of ballots, 10,000, 15,000 ballots hidden in the basement of a post office or a Kinko's, then maybe we would have some basis here for these conspiracies. But there are none.

And the president's penchant for firing and abusing and attacking people who speak the truth only damages the credibility of his party with the independent voters that they will need to make any sort of comeback in the future.


And that's where, if the only language, right, is self-interest or politics, Neal, that's where we're seeing more and more anxiety actually among Republicans, where Trump has a base in Georgia, but, clearly, the state is moving. Control of the Senate is in Georgia.


MELBER: Go ahead, Neal.

KATYAL: Yes, absolutely, that's true.

But I think one point, that Jason's right, you can single out those two people and in Michigan and the like, but the fact is, Trump embraced it. He went in tweeted last night when he didn't know about the vote of change, because he hadn't done his research, as usual, so didn't know they had flipped their vote, and he's going and celebrating this.

We have a president who's enabling this. And, yes, absolutely, I think people, like in Georgia, or the Lindsey Grahams of the world who are out there trying to orchestrate some campaign to throw out legal votes, this can't be good for the party, and it's certainly not good for our democracy.

MELBER: And, Neal, you don't find the tweets to be highly researched?



MELBER: You don't find -- he didn't hit the law library and...

KATYAL: About as much research as Giuliani does, I guess.

MELBER: Yes, he didn't figure out how the certification process works.

I make a joke through the seriousness of the issues, which both of our experts have spoken to, but turn it over to someone who makes much better jokes, but then have a point. The punchline is the moment we're living through.

Take a look at Jimmy Kimmel.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Day 14 of the hashtag heard around the world, #squattergate.

The president reject is whining in the West Wing. He has canceled his plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving. He seems to be showing no sign that he's ready to leave the White House.

Rudy has asked the Trump campaign to pay him $20,000 a day for his work. Wow, he's the gift that keeps on grifting, isn't he?



MELBER: I love a seasonal pun. I don't know about you, Jason.

But this is how he's going out. And it reminds me. I know that nobody's looking to give automatic sympathy to any politician, let alone this president. But there are two moments in recent times where the president might have gotten some human sympathy, right, which means, regardless of your opinion of someone, right...


MELBER: ... if they're sick with an illness that can take the life of 70-somethings, the human instinct may be sympathy.

When you get a big public loss, which he did -- he's the loser of the election -- there can be some human sympathy. And yet the way he comported himself through both of those recent incidents, as Jimmy Kimmel shows, is much more of a punchline.

And, again, I want to point out these late night hosts, Jason, they look for what gets the laughs, right?


MELBER: If there is a sympathetic tale of an outgoing president, they may not hit him while he's down. And yet the president has almost evaporated whatever might have been there in the human empathy for him.


I mean, he's -- Donald Trump has squandered goodwill, the likes of which we have not seen in public in years. He squandered goodwill in the way that Bill Cosby, Roseanne, just like somebody who people were willing to give credit to because of perhaps past behavior, because of maybe the position they were in. And yet he managed to blow it.

He bought with COVID because he was dismissive of the people who are still suffering and dying. He's blown this election by being a sore loser and complaining.

And now, by holing himself up in the White House, I guess angrily sitting in a basement with turkey and stuffing alone, or whatever it is he's going to do, why -- it's almost as if he's afraid that if he leaves the White House, when he gets back, his keys won't work.


JOHNSON: I mean, look, you're still president until sometime in January, but him staying in the White House and behaving as if there is some whimsical chance that he could keep the position just makes him look more foolish and weak.

MELBER: Well, let me press you, Jason.

JOHNSON: And, again, Donald Trump is going to try and rebrand himself when he gets out of office. This doesn't help.

MELBER: Have you ever been like on a vacation or staying at a friend's house that's so nice, it's like, on that last day, you kind of just want to stay near the nice home, like you're losing this?

Maybe he's just having that vibe.


MELBER: It's possible.

JOHNSON: I mean, he could be. He could be. Maybe he needs to extend the presidential Airbnb for a couple more weeks.


JOHNSON: But I think, at this point, they're pretty much sick of him and they want him to go.

MELBER: I will say, the Constitution's transfer of power clause, Neal, as we know, is much stricter than Airbnb, where sometimes you can get a mutual renewal, as long as you keep in touch with your host.

The last item for Neal, with about a minute left, is, I did want to give you the chance to just explain to folks, why is it that these piecemeal attacks on state certification would not change where we're headed?

KATYAL: Yes, you said already that there's no path. And that's exactly right.

I mean, I was a lawyer on Bush vs. Gore. And the thing there was, it was one state and 537 votes. This is multiple, multiple states that Trump has to win. And he has to overturn tens of thousands of votes, not 537.

Biden has won too much in too many different states. And that's why Trump's litigation record in courts post-election, he's won one itty-bitty case that didn't matter. He's lost 27. And that's going to continue.

And this is no surprise to even Donald Trump. I mean, remember, Trump rushed through Justice Barrett onto the Supreme Court because he knew he was going to lose. That's why he broke the confirmation process. So, nobody should think, oh, this is all surprising and this is like some conspiracy and so on.

And that's why you have had even Trump's own Homeland Security officials saying there was no fraud in this election. Yes, Trump tried to fire him and stuff, but no fraud, everything was on the up and up. This strategy is going nowhere and going nowhere fast. And it just makes Trump look even more ridiculous than he did before the election, which is quite a feat.


Neal Katyal, Jason Johnson kicking us off, thanks to both of you.

We have our shortest break, just 30 seconds, but coming up tonight, new calls to investigate Lindsey Graham, allegations of election meddling.

Later, what Donald Trump's history actually reveals about what he's trying to do to profit potentially off bogus election claims, and what Joe Biden's aides are saying about potentially investigating or indicting Trump officials or Donald Trump.

We turn to one of my special reports, the first one we have done really since the election. And I'm going to walk through all of it with you and why it matters in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Welcome back.

I think this by now. We are living through an unprecedented transition between presidents. And for all the scrutiny and criticism of President Trump's denial of his loss to president-elect Biden, there's actually another part of this that's gotten less attention recently.

It is the major legal and criminal issues facing the departing administration and posing some novel and tricky challenges for the incoming administration.

Now, let me be clear. Some of these criminal issues are just unavoidable. The Biden DOJ, for example, will inherit the ongoing prosecution and pending trial of the man who ran Trump's 2016 campaign and served in his White House, Steve Bannon, who you see leaving court there.

There's also, of course, the record-breaking number of advisers indicted or convicted during a president's single term in office. Bannon is just one of them. It also includes convicted felons that President Trump has already pardoned, like Roger Stone, and people who are hoping to get a pardon before Trump leaves office, as the former number two official on Trump's 2016 campaign explained right here on this very show.


RICK GATES, FORMER TRUMP DEPUTY CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: I think everybody should have an opportunity where the president says, this is not right, this is not fair, and, yes, ultimately, he pardons all of us.

MELBER: You hope that the president, before this -- before he's out of office, gives you a full pardon?

GATES: Well, before out of office, absolutely, because that's the only time you can do it.


MELBER: That is the only time you can do it. That was Rick Gates.

So, before Donald Trump leaves office, he will decide whether to pardon or not pardon convicted felons like Gates, Flynn, Manafort, and also whether to try to issue preemptive pardons for other allies or even family members who have not even been charged.

And he may decide whether to try to pardon himself. No president has ever done that.

Now, legally, I want to tell you, that can happen any time. Just think about that for a sec as we talk about all these other issues. It could happen tonight. It could happen on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve. We actually know Donald Trump has no problem dropping controversial pardons at seemingly odd times.

When the nation was hunkered down for Hurricane Harvey, that moment of national fear was when he actually rolled out his very first pardon of the conservative firebrand Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who actually told us how he was honored to get the pardon, but he felt he didn't do anything wrong, even though a sheriff should know the Supreme Court actually ruled accepting a pardon confers guilt, which is now relevant again if Donald Trump steps up to proclaim that he or his family need pardons, because remember this, if you remember nothing else.

Pardons are for criminals.

So, those are just some of the biggest burning legal issues during this transition, which leads directly into these larger questions about whether evidence and the rule of law may dictate that Trump or other officials should still face new investigations or charges.

Donald Trump may fear that. And, more specifically, he may fear a type of political persecution -- that is, if he projects his own motives on to others, because he's the one who blatantly saw illegal political targeting of everyone from journalists, to his nemesis James Comey, to top figures in the opposing party, from those Democratic nominees who got more votes than him.

Donald Trump called for prosecutions of both Clinton and Biden. He also called for prosecution of his predecessor, Barack Obama. And I know a lot has been going on, but, remember, that was just last month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unless Bill Barr and dates these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country -- these people should be indicted, and that includes Obama, and it includes Biden.


MELBER: That call from Trump alone could be part of a crime. That's according to a major "New York Times Magazine" report on potential avenues for -- quote -- "prosecuting Trump," which lists, yes, partisan coercion as one option, because it can be illegal for the government to abuse prosecution powers.

There's also financial crimes, election crimes, as Trump's top lawyer already pled guilty to a 2016 election crime for Trump's benefit. There's, of course, possible obstruction of justice. It's outlined in the Mueller probe. There's public corruption, and there's also local probes, mostly civil, that involve Donald Trump's company and his taxes.

All of this raises a whole range of legal exposure for his companies, his employees or even possibly for him.

Now, let's be clear tonight. If the evidence isn't there, if there's no factual case against someone, whether they're a random person or the president, then the justice system should follow the facts, decline to prosecute.

If that's what happens to Trump or anyone in the administration, fine. But one thing that should not matter is which party is in charge. That's something prosecutors in the famed Southern District of New York, which I mention because it has jurisdiction over Donald Trump's company and Trump Tower and his family's work, well, they have emphasized that regardless of who was in charge.

In fact, I'm going to show you briefly two of those prosecutors who served under Obama and under Trump hitting that same point about aggressive independence.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: We are aggressive. We're appropriately aggressive. That's the history of the office. And I think the public is better for it.

GEOFFREY BERMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Politics does not enter into our decision-making on charging a case. We bring a case when the case is ready to be brought.


MELBER: That's right. That's how it should be.

And, as we have reported, President Trump repeatedly, infamously, did try to break those rules and that independent justice, abuse powers to target opponents -- I just played you an example -- interfere in the Russia probe, to the degree that Bob Mueller outlined five different times Trump allegedly obstructed justice, and, of course, worked with Giuliani to gin up that fake foreign investigation of the Bidens that ultimately got the president impeached.

So it's clear why many people are wondering if ex-President Trump and his team could face more legal problems, even beyond that record-breaking set of convictions and indictments I mentioned.

And if this seems like a lot at a row, well, we didn't make it that way. I'm just laying out some of the recent history.

But if the Justice Department operates independently, the answer to all of this will just turn on facts and independent investigations, not on who's coming into office.

Indeed, Democrats have bemoaned Donald Trump's lock them up normalization of political targeting. So it would be wrong for any politician or any Democrat to be pressing DOJ on how to approach future Trump-related probes.

And let me be clear with you tonight. There's a reason I'm walking through this. That is as true for pressing to indict someone as it is for pressing not to indict someone, which brings me to an important point tonight, because there are people around president-elect Biden making headlines like this now: "Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity."

Five different sources saying team Biden wants to put that unity above inquiries into Trump, NBC News reporting people around Biden say he's wary of investigating Trump or challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity, a reference to potential pardons, and that Biden -- quote -- "just wants to move on."

Let me be very clear tonight. Here's the legal problem with this kind of talk. It suggests a president dictating whether these probes and indictments start or stop. Now, if anyone is suggesting it like that, that is wrong, period.

It is wrong if the demand is lock them up or don't lock them up, because it's the same attack on the independent rule of law to have politicians or, in this case, advisers to politicians trying to publicly flip some switch to determine probes.

It's especially egregious if the probes hit on these sensitive issues of political power.

Now, if, if there are Democrats in government demanding that in either direction, that would be especially rich, after spending years blaming Trump for shredding American values for doing a similar thing.

Now, I said if, because I always try to stick to the facts with you here. To be precise and fair, Joe Biden's not even president yet. And his own personal public remarks, not the aides I just quoted, but his remarks have been on point.

He said at a debate, when the American public could hear him and judge him as a candidate, that these kind of calls are for an independent DOJ and that he would not try to direct charges.

A Biden adviser also says in the same article -- quote -- "The most important thing on this is that he, Biden, will not interfere with his Justice Department."

Good. That's the legally correct answer.

But, again, we have to go sometimes just beyond the headlines and the words. If you're not going to interfere at all, why are several aides and in apparently coordinated fashion talking about this to the press as if it's your call?

Well, the answer may say a bit more about Trump's normalization of interference than anything specific to Biden, who, by the way, ran the Judiciary Committee and spent decades working within DOJ traditions pre-Trump.

Now, one answer may be, it's going to take time for all of us, especially in the civic space, to fully end bad habits that have accrued over these past four Trump years. It would be naive to think that only Donald Trump's allies are susceptible to the temptations of abusing power in a climate that has slowly, but consistently normalized more rule-bending and -breaking.

The founders and the DOJ policy and all of this history made these rules because all people are potentially tempted by power. Another answer, maybe the people around Biden do want to signal a general focus on moving on and not investigating the historical Trump era, and that, while they're saying the right thing, they won't dictate anything, they're already sending signals through headlines to the very people who are out there auditioning for these big jobs.

I can tell you, I worked in Washington. That is sometimes how these things go.

And Biden advisers are making an argument. They're saying, after a traumatic and law-breaking presidency, they want a focus in the future on moving on, that any prosecution or prolonged trial will disrupt the healing and unity that the country so desperately needs.

That's just an argument. It's just words. It's not a legal principle. And if it sounds suspicious or vaguely familiar, that's because it echoes the arguments made coming out of another law-breaking presidency in the Watergate era, as Republican Gerald Ford defended one of the most discredited acts of his short time in office, pardoning the disgraced Richard Nixon.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I became greatly concerned that, if Mr. Nixon's prosecution and trial were prolonged, the passions generated over a long period of time would seriously disrupt the healing of our country. We have a long record of forgiving even those who have been our country's most destructive foes.


MELBER: Now, we're not even in the early days of a Biden era. This is the pre-Biden there.

But that makes it an especially pivotal time for leadership. Legal experts say the far better model than Trump, Nixon or Ford actually comes from the president Joe Biden served, former "Harvard Law" editor Barack Obama, who was so famously and rigorously committed to DOJ and FBI independence, he rarely ever met alone with FBI Director Comey.

In fact, we know their first meeting alone came two years into Comey's tenure, avoided any mention of any specific case, let alone dictating an outcome, while Obama's former attorney general says Obama always carefully respected DOJ independence.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: He's a person who believes that a president's supposed to have hands off with his Justice Department. He's a good lawyer.

And there are times when I'd like to involve him maybe a little more, but his view is that those things that are in the province of the attorney general, all he needs to be is informed.


MELBER: That was a remarkable statement, an attorney general saying he tried to involve the president a bit more, because there was such a care for the independence, a far, far bridge to what we have lived through in the last four years.

These decisions, they're being thought through now. These leaks and headlines, in Washington, they don't tend to be accidental. It would be a profound mistake in either direction to think that, at this pivotal moment in history, a new president could use the same misbegotten process of the old one, but to just go in a different direction, to demand no charge, instead of charge.

The whole point -- and we all need to hold the line on this -- is that we have traditions of independent justice that are above politicians, not politicians coming in and saying they will do it, but, this time, they will do it right.

And, as I have been careful to say, Joe Biden isn't saying that in public, but there's a lot of people around him who may need to brush up on what Obama's attorney general just said there.

Now, when we come back, we have a lot more in the program.

New calls for Trump ally Lindsey Graham to resign over this brewing voting scandal. We have a special report and a very special guest when we return.



REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Crystal Mason -- and you have covered this, Ari...


JEFFRIES: ... is a black woman who -- in a Texas prison right now, five-year sentence, for inadvertently voting because she thought she was eligible.

They always are talking about voter fraud, but it appears that they are endeavoring to engage in it right now.


MELBER: Democratic leader and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries raising a key point on THE BEAT there.

Regular Americans are doing hard time for even accidental individual voting crimes, while now some senior Republican officials face allegations of major election meddling.

Now, the congressman was referring to a Texas woman, Crystal Mason, who we have reported on. She was under the view that she could legally cast a ballot in 2016, was told so by a poll worker, but she was also on supervised release for a crime. Now, that technicality violated state law, and she was hit with a very tough five years in prison.

It is a contrast to what we have seen from Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham. They have talked of voter fraud in public. Free speech. They can say what they want, but they haven't found any evidence. Trump's own lawyers admitting in court they don't have it.

And now critics and original reporting showing Graham at least pushing the limits of the law. Let me show you this, for example, an ethics complaint now filed against Senator Graham for these reported efforts to try to get Georgia government officials to potentially toss ballots that helped Biden win this day, ballots plural, when, of course, we just showed you one person in jail for one ballot.

I'm joined now by "The New Yorker"'s Jelani Cobb. He's a journalism professor at Columbia University, friend of THE BEAT. And he worked on the PBS documentary "Whose Vote Counts," reporting on this very case.

Jelani, your thoughts on the contrast?

JELANI COBB, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, it's a contrast, but it's not really shocking, because this is what typically has happened.

We have seen the allegations of voter fraud that have been kind of spread far and wide, but with very little substance to or ballast to give them any credibility, and, at the same time, a kind of purge mentality, going after people to try to inflate offenses.

And, as you have mentioned, I have interviewed Ms. Mason more than once. And it was an inadvertent casting of a ballot, if I remember correctly, casting a provisional ballot at that.

MELBER: Provisional, yes.

COBB: She was told -- she was told that she was able to cast that ballot.

And the Georgia situation is particularly alarming, because this is right on the heels of the Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018, where we saw, according to the ACLU report, 300,000 people who were struck from the voting rolls, 200,000 of whom were not supposed to have been struck from the voting rolls.

And so it really is -- has the appearances of just camouflage, that voter fraud is just camouflage for attempts to suppress votes, which is exactly what is happening in Georgia, actually going a step worse than suppressing votes, which is generally trying to prevent people from ever getting to the polling place.

This is trying to invalidate people, to renege their ballot, on their ballot, after they have already cast it.

MELBER: So, can I ask you the dumb question?

COBB: Sure.

MELBER: I know you write for "The New Yorker." I know you're at an elite institution. But, you know, here in the news, we just ask the basic question, which is, is it worse for a powerful senator to allegedly try to have several or many votes illegally struck than to have one person inadvertently, but technically illegally, cast one vote?

COBB: So, I'm going to go out on a limb and say, yes, the damage to democracy.

First off, there's a fundamental question that I have, which is a constitutional question, but more a philosophical question, about whether a democracy has the right to remove the right to vote from any person, whether this is what should be within the power of the government under any circumstance.

And so I think that's a valid question. Now, certainly, under no circumstances should a powerful elected official be able to remove people's votes once they have cast -- been cast.

That means -- when you see that kind of behavior happening, that means that you are no longer a democracy. Those things do not happen in democracies.


COBB: Moreover (AUDIO GAP) a state that he was not even elected to serve.


COBB: And so, yes, it's odd, in addition to being corrosive.

MELBER: Yes, the fact that he's reaching into a different state, where he has no even defensible possible role, is sort of the undemocratic icing on the authoritarian cake, if you will.

The fact that the remedy in Texas is so punitive is striking. That's why we want to show it. There's a racial justice dimension to this. And there's also an illogic to it. In other words, whoever was serving five years for this, as contrast to Graham, is a huge contrast.

The more measured way to deal with this would be, if a vote were accidentally or legally cast, you wouldn't count that one vote. The idea that the state of Texas sees it necessary to imprison someone and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so for years over this is really something.

Before I lose you, I want to play briefly Republican leader Meadows today. They met about this voter fraud issue. They come out pretty empty-handed. Take a look.


QUESTION: Do you have any evidence of voter fraud, specific evidence, particularly in Georgia as well?

MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I personally have some, but...

QUESTION: What is it?

MEADOWS: The real question continues to be, fundamentally, is, are there enough votes out there to overturn the election?

QUESTION: Are there? Do you know of that many votes to overturn the results?


MELBER: Jelani?

COBB: Listen, people are using this voter fraud canard as a mechanism for establishing what is essentially minority rule, so you don't have to have the will of the public on your side. You don't have to win a majority of votes. You don't even have to allow most people to get access to the ballot.

And that's what we're hearing here. And the other thing is that the administration has a record of this. When they created that voter integrity commission, they had to disband because they couldn't find any voter fraud. It was headed by Kris Kobach.

And this is the same -- we -- as part of our film "Whose Vote Counts," we had an investigative team looking into these allegations of voter fraud which had been promulgated on the right, and found that they would be deceptive.

They're people who had voted twice, but it turned out that they voted once by mail, and got no evidence that their ballot had been recorded, and so then voted at the last minute in person, because they thought the mail-in ballot had been lost, like those sorts of things, things that should be corrected, but should not be subject to criminal prosecution, or really be used as an attempt, a stealth attempt to curate the electorate.

And that's what we're actually seeing.

MELBER: Right.

COBB: The kind of old saying that, here, people are supposed to choose their representatives, not representatives choosing their people.


COBB: And so that's exactly what we're seeing here.

MELBER: Yes, that gets to the heart of it.

Jelani Cobb, who's worked on reporting on this very case and a lot of the bigger issues, thank you, sir.

Coming up tonight, we have a little look back at the tan suit scandal, former President Obama talking to Oprah about it.

Also, a very special guest on why Donald Trump has one more scam before he leaves office.


MELBER: So here's how it may end, a final petty, misleading financial scam, a grift, before Trump leaves office.

Donald Trump has been telling his own supporters, many of whom don't have a ton of expendable income, just like anyone else during this recession, to donate their hard-earned cash one more time, after his four years in office, for a legal effort to fight election results.

But most of the money will never go to that. Instead, it actually pays his own campaign debt. It funds his own future political ventures and even, of course, why not, some personal expenses.

Anyone who's watched closely knows this has been the Trump way long before politics. He always cashes in.


TRUMP: Trump Steaks are by far the best-tasting, most flavorful beef you have ever had, truly in a league of their own.

At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about, success. It's going to happen to you.

My new game is "Trump: The Game."

NARRATOR: "Trump: The Game," where you deal for everything you have ever wanted to own, because it's not whether you win or lose. It's whether you win.

TRUMP: New and exciting technologies like digital phone service and videophones. You have a great opportunity before you with ACN, without any of the risks most entrepreneurs have to take.


MELBER: To paraphrase Bob Dylan, one more cup of scam before the road, one more cup of scam before I go.

We turn out to a longtime journalist, bestselling author, Kurt Andersen. He has battled with Trump through the "Spy" magazine, which he co-founded in '86. It roasted Trump as a New York joke. He was on many covers. The new book, "Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History."

Kurt Andersen, welcome back to THE BEAT, sir.

KURT ANDERSEN, AUTHOR, "EVIL GENIUSES: THE UNMAKING OF AMERICA: A RECENT HISTORY": So happy to be back, and so delighted to watch your montage.

In my bingo card, I was waiting for the deodorant, mattresses or vodka. But you did a great job.


MELBER: Well, there's always tomorrow.


MELBER: Kurt, you documented this. You joined us talking about the grifting being a feature, not a bug.

And we're now in a different place, your first time back on the program since Donald Trump became the loser of the race.

I want to be very clear. There's no joy in people who have a political belief system, whatever it may be, trying to brave through a tough year, pandemic recession, getting scammed one more time, whatever else you may think of them.

I'm curious to zero in on the fact that MAGA supporters are now living through a final scam, whether they know it or not. And how do we -- how do we take that?

ANDERSEN: Well, I think it is in keeping, as you say, with what he's done and what he's been.

And it won't stop. He so clearly thrives on, needs the rallies. So what will happen when he's no longer the president and needs the rallies and doesn't have us, the taxpayers, to pay for the rallies? He will need a campaign, right? He will need to keep getting money, because he doesn't want to write the checks for the arenas and the security and all the rest.

So, this is the current iteration of the grift from his supporters. It will go on, and probably, I would suspect, incline him to announce sooner, rather than later, that he's running for president in 2024, so he can have a campaign apparatus and keep taking in money.

MELBER: You see the political sugar high as the ultimate bailout for someone like him, that just being out in a normal competitive business environment at this stage in his career is harder than running or pretending to run for another four?

ANDERSEN: He was never -- I mean, he hasn't been in a normal business environment for a long, long time.

So, for sure. I mean, it is the sugar high, if you will, or the cocaine higher, or the whatever high it is, of the adulation, the face-to-face adulation, yes, that he doesn't want to pay for. So he wants that.

And then whatever bigger money plays are in store, he has nine more weeks of being president to create, finish some payday, whether it's with Gulf states, or countries, or people in the former Soviet Union, or we could imagine a pardon, quid pro quo pardon.

I mean, there's lots of ways in the nine weeks remaining that he could figure out a way to make it pay. And we will see if he does. I mean, he -- and then, of course, once he gets out, he has -- can still be held accountable for various previous schemes...


ANDERSEN: ... ripping off, in that -- in this case, not...

MELBER: Thirty seconds, though, Kurt.

As a chronicler of him for such a long time...


MELBER: ... will people wise up to this scam? I mean, if you watch the news and facts, you can see the money doesn't go to what he says it does right now.

ANDERSEN: I think there will still be a diminishing, but small group of people who will happily keep paying their hard-earned dollars.

I think it will be a diminishing one. I think he will be -- he will be back to steaks and toilet water and Trump deodorant, I think, before we're done.

MELBER: So, we end where we began, Kurt, with Trump deodorant.


ANDERSEN: Well, you know, it's -- I try to bookend for you, Ari.


MELBER: Ever the writer. The kicker often reinforces the lede.

Kurt Andersen, thank you, sir.

ANDERSEN: A pleasure.

MELBER: Great to have Kurt back on the program.

Up ahead, Obama, Oprah, and the tan suit.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Before impeachment, before the hush money, there was a different kind of presidential scandal of national import.

President Obama now speaking out to Oprah Winfrey about the infamous tan suit episode, you may recall. The president made this choice to wear a tan suit in a public appearance.

And by the standards of 2014, it was considered a multiday national story, including a sitting Republican congressman weighing in as if this was a real thing. It was even bigger on social media, and now the president weighing in.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump breached so many norms, so many basic assumptions about what a president should or should not do.

Michelle and I joke about the fact that one of the bigger scandals of my presidency was me wearing a tan suit during a press conference.


OBAMA: So, go back and take a look at the clips about the way folks, some pundits were talking about this tan suit.


MELBER: But would you do it again, sir?

No, I'm just kidding. We don't care about the suit.

This is the thing about Oprah. She's a great interview -- a great interviewer, and she brings out all sorts of different dimensions of people. The former president got a little personal, given his new book, about the toll that his work has taken on his marriage.


OBAMA: We went through our rough patches in the White House, as she's written about and she's talked about.

But I tell you, the thing that I think we were good about was talking stuff through, never losing fundamental love and respect for each other, and prioritizing our kids.


MELBER: Now, Oprah is not having all the fun.

We want you to know there's a special interview with Barack Obama airing at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC tomorrow with our friend Jonathan Capehart. Don't miss that.

We will be back with one more thing.


MELBER: And, finally tonight, the fist bump on the Senate floor heard around the world.

Look, Senator Lindsey Graham with Kamala Harris, who he's currently claiming didn't really win the election.

But we will run it for you twice. They are close enough to at least do a bump. Boom.

That does it for us.

Right now, it's "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID."


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