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

Guests: Emily Bazelon, Jenna Ellis, Stacey Abrams


As Biden begins naming Cabinet picks, the GSA finally allows the formal transition process to begin. Stacey Abrams discusses the two Senate run-off elections in Georgia. Trump 2020 campaign attorney Jenna Ellis speaks out. Michigan certifies Joe Biden's state win.



Hi, Ari.

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

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with this breaking news. The state of Michigan just formally voted to certify Joe Biden's win in the state, locking in that outcome, with the support of one Republican board member, while another Republican abstained.

Now, states certifications are usually a formality. They're not breaking news, by any standard measure. But Michigan took on much greater import after that failed plot by some of these board members attempting to argue that Detroit votes should just be toss. That was followed by the unprecedented act of a sitting the president welcoming Michigan officials, as the president talked up the idea that maybe they could somehow steal the state back from Joe Biden by trying to override the will of their own voters.

This is really happening in America. Now, that was, of course, a legally dubious plan that never actually got off the ground, even as we saw those pictures of those officials arriving in D.C.

This resolution now in Michigan comes as president-elect Biden moves ahead with the work of actual governing. He's rolling out some of the most high-ranking nominations and appointments yet to start this week.

For secretary of state, he's named Anthony Blinken, tapping Obama's former Secretary of State John Kerry as a special climate envoy, tapping Avril Haines to run national intelligence, the first woman in that role, and another Obama veteran, Janet Yellen, as Treasury secretary, a key post for the pandemic recession.

So, there is a lot of actual governing going on here in preparation for the new administration.

But this is what we're living through, this contrast of one outgoing president's antics and an incoming president's work, because Donald Trump's post-election losses are not only piling up through that normal certification process that I just mentioned.

The few cases where he still has something pending have been hitting brick walls. Donald Trump's lawyers, for example, had been arguing that he should somehow just have the results in Pennsylvania completely reversed.

Now, a judge just tossed that case, noting Trump's legal arguments were without merit. They amounted to just -- quote -- "speculative accusations," adding: "In the U.S. this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of that state. Our people, laws and institutions demand more."

I can tell you tonight that's the legal equivalent of, you lost, now get lost.

It's also a reminder of the downside to Donald Trump's slow-motion extension of this losing phase of this ending presidency, which is now drawing, we can tell you tonight, pushback from Trump allies like Chris Christie, even Rush Limbaugh. We will get to that.

But the bottom line here is, Trump lost the election, then lost the post-election wrangling, and he's now dragging out those losses for weeks, with no apparent purpose or strategy in mind.

I want to bring, in to kick us off tonight Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general from the Obama administration, Heather McGhee, co-chair for Color of Change, and Emily Bazelon, a writer for "The New York Times Magazine" and the co-host of Slate's "Political Gabfest," specializing in legal issues.

Good evening to you all.

Neal, what do you see here as the link between Michigan moving forward, locking that in, this is how that works, and these other states where the legal challenges seem to be drying up?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: It's all, Ari, a reflection of Trump's legal strategy entirely collapsing.

Now, just back up for a moment, because I think a page of history here is really important. It's been 20 days since the election, and I can't honestly find one thing, one thing that Trump and his legal team has done right.

It started at Four Seasons Landscaping, and that was, like, the best move they have had. It's gone down ever since. And it's gone so far that they have had to fire their lawyer Sidney Powell for saying stuff that is too cray-cray even for Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, and they keep on claiming massive fraud in the press conferences, but, when they go in court, they're forced to retreat and take back all of that.

And so then they put all of their stakes on the big Pennsylvania lawsuit, and that's what you were just showing your viewers, in which the judge asked Rudy Giuliani a simple question. You're asking to throw out millions of votes. What's your evidence for that? What's your precedent?

And he couldn't answer that. And then, when the judge smacks them down in what you were just showing, they claim -- Trump goes and claims victory, saying, well, it allows us to go to the Supreme Court quickly. But then his lawyers don't go to the Supreme Court quickly. They file this limited, tiny appeal, and then they ask for a temporary restraining order to delay the certification of the election.

They ask the appeals court, which you're not allowed to do. You have to ask the trial court. And then they propose a briefing schedule -- I'm almost done. Then they propose a briefing schedule for their brief that is due at 4:00 p.m. They turn their brief in at 4:19 p.m.

And who does this? This is beyond, like, a joke. And it would be one thing if we were dealing -- litigating, like, jelly beans or something like that. We're litigating the presidency. These people are now one out of 37 cases. They were two out of 36, but then today they lost the Pennsylvania Supreme Court one. They are bold -- they're terrible losers.


I mean, as you say, they're the losers of all these cases. Many of these cases are choices they made to create a potential case or controversy and bring that to court, Heather. And yet the reason this matters so much at a time when President Obama and others have been discussing this, dealing with what happened over the last four years is not some overnight process, where it just goes away or things automatically change.

And it's not as if -- I think many Americans would agree, no matter what your politics are, it's not as if things were so perfect and great to begin with.

But with regard to the issues of how we have a constitutional democracy under strain, and whether there's a rising authoritarianism in this country, more and more people who will blatantly publicly embrace the idea that they don't really believe in democracy anymore. They just want their side in power.

Garlin Gilchrist in Michigan was speaking about this. He's one of the highest-ranking minority officials there. As we have reported on our program, the effort to try to toss only the votes from Detroit smacks of racism. And he has a warning here about the broader context. Take a listen.


LT. GOV. GARLIN GILCHRIST (D-MI): The truth is, the Trump administration is really trying to beta-test their election stealing strategy in Michigan. They invited state legislators to the White House, and it's not a coincidence that, after coming out of that meeting, they started talking about potential constitutional crises.

And so you have got to really watch what these Republicans are doing, not just the words that are coming out of their mouths.


MELBER: Heather, on the one hand, there is the dead-ends they're hitting, which is important, because people need to know the facts of why that's not working.

On the other hand, there's the intent, which that deputy -- lieutenant governor, I should say, argues is malicious.


I think Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist is right, because most Americans believe and agree that, for democracy to work for all of us, it has to include all of us. Democracy is somewhat of a secular religion in this country. We take a lot of pride in the idea that the powerful must ask for our permission to rule.

We export this model of governance across the world. We fight for it in wars, right? This is democracy and this is America.

And yet there has always been a thread in our society from our very founding days, when our founders left holes in the bedrock of that great revolutionary democracy in order to leave room for slavery. There has always been this thread of a group of people who are more wedded to raw power and to white supremacy, to the economic spoils of having a very narrow set of people being able to write the rules.

And they have always put a whites-only sign and hung it on the side of our democracy. And Americans of all colors have come together in every generation to expand the idea of democracy to include all of us.

The fact that the Republican Party is going along in large measure with Donald Trump's temper tantrum, after nearly a decade of the Republican Party moving -- using the baseless claims of voter fraud, which are racist at their core because they're trafficked in an idea of people of color doing criminal things by the act of voting, if you look at the way the Republican Party has gone along with the idea of raising barriers to the ballot, particularly for young people, for married women who may have different names on their different forms of I.D., and for, of course, people of color, this is an undermining of our democracy that has a long history.

And yet it has always been on the losing side of progress. Donald Trump is moving this into far more of a mainstream than I ever thought I would see in my life, but he is not the beginning of it and he certainly, sadly, is not the end of it.

MELBER: Emily?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": You know, I agree with Heather's characterization of both the potential ideal strengths of our democracy and the weaknesses.

And I think that, in a sense, we are lucky that this was not a closer election, because all of the farcical legal trouble the Trump campaign has gotten into, which Neal was describing, if it had just been one state, and they had been able to flood one state with a lot of disinformation and doubt, they might have been able to turn some Republican legislators their way.

And that has proved impossible in part because there are so many states that they would have to flip. So, I see the danger here as being really about the illegitimacy they're trying to shadow the election with and the possibility that millions of Americans are not going to understand the truth about the election, which is that it was really well-run.

And despite the pandemic and very adverse circumstances, thousands of election officials and poll workers made this election work at the polls. It was actually smoother than a lot of elections we have seen recently.

And I feel like that part of the story is undertold because of all of these aspersions that President Trump has been casting on it.


And you mentioned -- both of you mentioned the idea of, what if it were closer? We're living through the A/B testing of this, because, had it been closer, there would be all these things going on, but there might have been a lot more close calls about it, whether that's shaking down Georgia to try to toss votes or play these games, or just create so much smoke that somehow it might be argued that the legislature stepping in, in a given state was a remedial measure, rather than just a straight thuggery, straight power grab of theft, that even Republican officials in many of these states have said they don't want to be -- they don't want to be associated with.

Now, Neal raised at the top of the program the idea that the Trump folks may not have done anything right legally whatsoever. We have a candidate or a nomination for a possible thing, which is they got rid of Sidney Powell.

The panel stays.

I want to give a little context on this, because Trump's legal path obviously has had a lot of incompetence. Sidney Powell, who you may or may not have heard at this point, has been a part of it, recently occupying a starring role at the Rudy Giuliani press conference, but has been pushed out in these final days for litigating in a way that was deemed too conspiratorial for Donald Trump himself.

The team now stressing that she's not a part of this legal project or representing Donald Trump personally. Powell made waves by calling for the entire election to be thrown out, a flatly undemocratic demand, just like the type of stuff we were just discussing with the panel.

It comes after a whole series of misinformation and downright confusion.


SIDNEY POWELL, ATTORNEY: The affidavit of the young man from Venezuela who saw Hugo Chavez create how they did the software, the system was created and how it worked to accomplish the objective for Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Kemp and the secretary of state need to go with it, because they're in on the Dominion scam. Hopefully, this week, we will get it ready to file.

QUESTION: Sidney, what's -- go ahead.

POWELL: And it will be biblical.




KATYAL: I don't even know where to begin.

I mean, bringing us such gems as the Dominion voting scandal as perpetrated by Hugo Chavez, who died in Venezuela in 2013, is just nuts. But this is like -- this is not unrepresentative of the Trump lawyers.

I mean, for example, in Wisconsin, the person who is filing their main challenge, he's trying to throw out the in person absentee votes, saying those are illegal votes there. And you can't make this up. The guy bringing the case, Jim Troupis, just had toe admit that he and his wife voted using in person absentee ballots.

They are scraping the bottom of the barrel here for legal personnel for claims and the like. And, meanwhile, a transition needs to get under way. It's a profoundly undemocratic -- and I agree with what has been said before -- frankly, racist attempt at what's going on.

MELBER: And the pushback is...

MCGHEE: And instead of...

MELBER: Go ahead, Heather.

MCGHEE: I was just going to say, when you see these images of state legislators, members of boards of canvassers and, frankly, government bodies that we have never had to think about before, and the thousands of poll workers and ballot recounters doing all of this extra work during a pandemic, when they are carrying their own fears...


MCGHEE: ... their own stresses, their own concerns, their kids may not be in school, doing all of this work to basically satisfy the temper tantrums of a would-be despot, at the same time, when the government workers whose job it is to deal with the pandemic, to address the economic crisis that Americans are feeling have just cut out of work, right?

Mitch McConnell excused the Senate, let them recess. And we still have not seen the kind of financial relief for small business owners and homeowners and renters and families that we need. People are needlessly suffering. And that's the part that makes it even more galling than the attacks on our democracy, which can feel abstract.

But this is not abstract, when families are not able to pay their rent.

MELBER: Yes. It's a great point.

And the other thing I wanted to share that may be interesting to viewers, Emily, is that the walls are closing in on those people who are around Trump, but have whatever level of independence, so they're not currently in office, or they don't have whatever other current needs.

Chris Christie is known as many things, but he's been a Trump loyalist, and he's a former U.S. attorney. He's a prosecutor, knows his way around the courtroom, if nothing else. Take a listen to what he's said.


FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): What's happened here is, quite frankly -- the conduct of the president's legal team has been a national embarrassment.

Sidney Powell accusing Governor Brian Kemp of a crime on television, yet being unwilling to go on TV and defend and lay out the evidence that she supposedly has, this is outrageous conduct by any lawyer. And notice, George, they won't do it inside the courtroom.


MELBER: Emily?

BAZELON: You know, I think it's important that Chris Christie is being so clear about the facts, but what's still missing from the Republicans is a collective response and a collective rejection of the conspiracy theories and the crazy talk.

And it's been true throughout President Trump's time in office that he thrives on taking people down one at a time when they oppose him, right? That's like the classic bully move. The one person who stands up to you, you mow down.

It's only when everybody collectively says that they have had enough that you're actually able to do something about the conduct of a bully. And the Republican Party just still has not had the wherewithal to do that.

So, maybe now that these legal challenges are fizzling out and we're in the kind of final throws of this ill-fated challenge to the election, we will start to see that. But it has been a really long time coming and there's been a lot of enabling along the way.

MELBER: A really fair point.

Emily, Heather and Neal, my thanks to each of you kicking us off.

We have our shortest break of the hour, just 30 seconds.

Coming up tonight, new reporting on attempts that Donald Trump will make to control the party, with details. We have a special legal fact-check coming up.

But, after 30 seconds, we're joined by Stacey Abrams with her debut on THE BEAT.

Stay with us.


MELBER: We're now joined by a very well-known figure, former Georgia House Leader Stacey Abrams, who broke barriers as the first black woman to win a major party nomination and run for Georgia governor, who has been a rising star in the Democratic Party since she gave that State of the Union response, also a first, and has been leading voter registration in Georgia that recruited 800,000 new voters, which many credit as pivotal to flipping Georgia blue in November.

This is Abrams' first time on THE BEAT.

Thank you for joining us.

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: When you look -- absolutely.

When you look at what's going on in Georgia right now, what's, do you think, important for people to understand?

ABRAMS: I think it's important to understand that, at the end of this newly devised recount, Joe Biden will win the state of Georgia for the third time.

But what we really should be focusing on are the two Senate races that will determine how effective we can be at actually solving the problems we have.

That's why we encourage everyone to go to to support Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who are two terrific men who are standing together to fight against two of the most corrupt politicians in the U.S. Senate, two people who have consistently profited off of the pandemic, instead of serving the people, and who are attempting to hold on to their positions not by telling people what they will do, but by accusing our candidates of rash and illogical challenges, rather than doing the work themselves of explaining how they intend to serve Georgians for the first time.

MELBER: You mentioned the presidential recount and the Senate races. With your expertise, I'd love to get into both.

On the recount side, it's quite a scandal what at least Lindsey Graham is accused of. And then you have a Republican secretary of state in your state as one of the sources, I think, for what those accusations are.

I want to show for you and the viewers a little bit of that side-by-side for your response. Take a look.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator Graham implied for us to audit the envelopes, and then throw out the ballots for counties who had the highest frequency error of signatures.

Just an implication that look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out.

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Did you or did you not ask him to throw out votes?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): No, that's ridiculous.

I talked to him about how you verify signatures.

HAAKE: Why is a senator from South Carolina calling the secretary of state in Georgia anyway?

GRAHAM: Because the future of the country hangs in the balance.


MELBER: What's your view of what's really happening in that -- in that set of allegations, and should it matter to people?

ABRAMS: It shouldn't matter.

Essentially, Lindsey Graham is saying that, because Donald Trump lost in the state of Georgia, there must have been something amiss. What he is angry about is that we worked on the voter suppression allegations that we made in 2018 and ensured that, in this election, people who had mistakes, innocent errors, that they could correct them, that we made certain that absentee ballots from eligible voters would be counted.

And, unfortunately for Lindsey Graham, it worked in the state of Georgia, because a court compelled the actual processing of votes.

I believe that every single vote that got counted was an eligible vote, and that is the end of the story. And, luckily, we know that they can't undo this, no matter how much they whine, how much they complain. They are certainly well within their rights to pursue litigation, but they are not in -- within their rights to try to change the outcome of this election.


Ms. Abrams, stay with me. We have some breaking news. We're getting this on the Biden transition right now.

The government agency that is in charge of this is telling president-elect Joe Biden this transition can begin. This message is from a direct source. It is a written letter from the head of the Government (sic) Services Administration.

Now, that's generally an obscure agency, but it's gotten a lot of attention. You have probably heard about it, because its chief, a Trump appointee, had been delaying the start of the transition, in concert with Trump's denial of the loss.

This is a development that many around Joe Biden have been calling for. It's breaking news in our hour now.

I would say we have a very good guest for it. Ms. Abrams has a lot of experience in government.

And I know you have been working, as we have reminded viewers, with Joe Biden from before he was president-elect.

As you know, this has been one of these sticking points. Your reaction to this news?

ABRAMS: It's about time.

I understand that, with Michigan certifying the election results, there is no longer any credible path or any fantastical path that can be taken. And, luckily, the administrator acknowledges this.

The sad part is that this dragged on so long not because of the law, but because of, again, fear of a failed president who has done his level best to dismantle the effectiveness of our bureaucracy where it works, particularly in transitions.

MELBER: And Donald Trump is sort of talking about this right now. We don't usually do much with his tweets, but it is striking -- and I want to get your response to this -- that he is actually saying that, while he complains about how the GSA director has been treated -- that's his view -- and that he believes he will -- quote -- "prevail," he says: "In the best interest of our country, I recommend they do what needs to be done with regard to the initial protocols and have told my team to do the same."

In the world of the Trump transition to Biden, which, as you know, is an unusual transition, to say the least, this sounds a little bit like farther than Donald Trump's gone previously to publicly acknowledge there is a president-elect and work needs to be done to facilitate his readiness.

Ms. Abrams?

ABRAMS: It seems like a passing attempt at adulthood.

And while he's still claiming that he will be able to win, despite all evidence to the contrary, the good thing is that he recognizes, at least in this instance, that is he is not simply hurting himself, he's hurting the people of America, that as long as this drags out -- again, he is entitled to all the litigation he can muster, but he's not entitled to harm the people of the United States as he attempts to undo the will of the people.

MELBER: Yes, really, really interesting your response on that. And I think it does show some of these things are moving as we go.

I did want to ask you about an aspect of the Georgia race. We have seen this in some different states. You have been such an advocate of participation and trying to make sure everyone has access to politics, that we have an egalitarian system.

The money plays into that on both sides. "The New York Times" reporting that, with the entire U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, they call it -- quote -- "crazy town cash" flooding Georgia. It's an unbelievable sum. Over $125 million has poured in, in just two weeks.

And they mentioned $40 million for Warnock, Ossoff getting a little less than that.

Do you see it as a problem for democracy and what the people of Georgia get to do with their votes to have this much outside money coming in? Or is your view, hey, until you fix the overall system, this is how it's going to be?

ABRAMS: Until we not only fix the system, but in order to fix the system, we have to reach voters who typically are left out of the process.

There has been this anachronistic history told of Georgia and our participation by Democrats in run-offs. What is often left out of the story is that there were no resources poured in to turning voters into return voters, especially those low-propensity voters who are typically left out of almost every political conversation.

It is a good thing we are being able to invest in communities that have exploded in terms of their interest. We saw Asian American Pacific Islanders increase their participation rate 91 percent between '16 and '20. For Latin Americans, for Latinos, it was 72 percent, for African-Americans 20 percent.

We also saw a significant jump among young voters and white voters. And the reality is, the way you reach voters is through messaging, through door-knocking and through media.

And that happens using resources. And so my belief is, if the money comes from anywhere in the United States, it's spent on Georgia voters, and that's the mission, to make certain that Georgia voters have the power and the information they need to fully participate in this election.

MELBER: Another issue that I wanted to ask you about when it comes to racial and criminal justice is cash bail. It's something we have reported on a lot.

There is a particular case that's getting attention here. Kyle Rittenhouse, who was indicted in those Wisconsin killings at a BLM protest, has $2 million that's come through to get out of jail. The funds come from FightBack, which is an organization founded by his attorney.

And they say that an "NYPD Blue" actor and some other people supported that. It's lawful, and he met a high bail. But we wanted to just put up on the screen the bail inequality in America. You have 90 percent in many states incarcerated over poverty not being able to pay bail, and you have racial inequities that have been documented.

I'm curious, given that case in the news today and in general, what you think about that and whether that's something that you want the Biden administration to work on.

ABRAMS: Well, I believe that bail exists to guarantee that people who are a flight risk return or because we want to keep someone in jail that we think could be a danger.

What we have found is that there are better ways -- you had Emily Bazelon on earlier. Emily can tell you there are better ways to ensure that people return for their hearings than charging such high bail or charging bail at all.

So, I believe that, where possible, no-cash bail should be used. But I do believe in retaining a system that says that, if someone is dangerous, there should be the ability to hold them. And I think Kyle Rittenhouse is proof-positive that, when someone is willing to cross state lines to commit murder, that is a signal that we need to absolutely have a system of justice that actually understands that justice matters in each instance.

We should not use Kyle Rittenhouse as a way to justify bail, but we should also recognize that there are too many people languishing in jail, languishing in prison being affected by COVID, even though they have not been charged -- or -- sorry -- not been convicted of a single crime.

And as long as we have a system that has such uneven applications, we cannot call it a justice system.

MELBER: A really important point, especially at a time when there's a lot of different stories, but we wanted to get you on that.

Ms. Abrams, I appreciate you coming on. I hope you will come back.

ABRAMS: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely. Our thanks to Stacey Abrams.

I want to give an update on that news breaking during this hour.

The Trump administration, through the General Services Administration, essentially backing down, doing something that normally would have happened by now, but is still news for this transition, clearing the way for the steps to facilitate the Biden transition, Donald Trump himself personally tweeting about it. It is a sign of some sort of thaw.

We have a lot more news on that here in a breaking news hour on THE BEAT when we come back.



We are tracking a breaking story in the transition to the Biden administration, Donald Trump and the Trump administration formally backing down. We got this just moments ago, a formal letter from the General Services Administration. That was the organization inside the federal government that became such a hotbed of controversy when it delayed the activities for the transition of the Biden administration.

And, as mentioned, the president himself joining in and saying the -- quote -- "initial protocols for president-elect Biden shall be followed and provided for through the federal government."

Here is the full new tweet from the president. He mentions the GSA administrator, Emily Murphy, and says he doesn't want her to face any what he calls abuse. "Our case strongly continues," he writes in all caps. We will keep up the work, but he goes on to say, "Keep up the good fight. Nevertheless, in the best interest of our country, I'm recommending that the team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols and have told my team to do the same" -- end quote.

We're joined by professor Jason Johnson, MSNBC analyst.

And, Jason, let's be clear on the news. Then we can get into whether people think it was late and petty and all the rest. But the news tonight, for folks coming home and following this, this Monday evening is, this is the first time, by my count, that Donald Trump has publicly said that he is facilitating and telling his staff, as president, to facilitate the onboarding of the Biden administration -- Jason.


Look, I never want to give the president praise for doing his job in accepting the obvious. It's sort of like giving someone credit for saying today is Monday.

But what I do think could be helpful about this, by officially saying he's not going to stand in the way and we can begin the transition, team Biden can actually begin doing work, like looking after national security issues and developing all the information that they will need in order to put together a COVID plan.

So this is important, not because it pats Donald Trump on the back of his head, but because it allows a real functioning government to start beginning their job, rather than having to do it the last minute on January 20.


And you're saying something that president-elect Biden referenced last week. You know, a lame-duck president in Donald Trump has far less power than an open-ended administration, but he's still the sitting president.

And so president-elect Biden had been diplomatic. I think, over the end of last week, we saw him dial up the pressure and the rhetoric. Here we are on Monday with it changing.

Now, I have the full letter here from the administrator, as mentioned, the GSA administrator. And she makes the argument, she makes the claim that this unusual delay, which we had not seen previously, was not the result of pressure from the president and his unusual denial of the loss, failure to give a speech or concede, but, rather, something that she came to of her own independent judgment.

Whether that is true or not, people can get into and fact-check. It doesn't matter much, because this letter marks the end of the obsession over this obscure federal agency, because it was only important in this realm, in this story, Jason, because it had become an unusual delay, a boulder on the path to onboarding the complex process in our government, particularly during a -- the strained work environment, the Zoom work environment of the pandemic.

And now that's over.


And, Ari, here's the thing. This is what I have been saying all along, that there needs to be, like, a wholesale change. There need to be some very aggressive ideas put forward when Joe Biden is in office, because you have to think about the fact that the transition of hundreds of jobs and individuals and megabits of information was dependent on one lady, on one lady complaining and not wanting to do her job.

How functional a democracy can we have if one person who happens to have a lousy day -- if that person happens to be the president, it's one thing. But one absolutely obscure, unknown government employee basically threw a wrench in the entire process.

We cannot allow this kind of thing to happen again, either through mendacity or arrogance or just pure incompetence. And I hope that Joe Biden, when he gets into office, begins to go through this entire administration with a fine-tooth comb and recognize we can't have these sorts of things happening again.

MELBER: Yes. And, as you say, it's a reminder of all the things that were norms, this word that gets kicked around, right, traditions, but that, even though there is an actual legislatively ordained process for the transition, there's funds attached, et cetera, the mechanisms, right, are too open to individual capricious sort of decision-making, which the evidence of how capricious it is, is that it's just been reversed on a Monday, where, all of a sudden, no, you get it.

And what do they get? I want our viewers understand. Then I will give Jason the final word on the big picture.

The new letter states -- and it's addressed to president-elect Joe Biden -- Mr. Joe Biden, it says, the Honorable Joe Biden at the top, you now get $6.3 million, as Congress initially intended, to further facilitate this transition.

Again, that's money from the government for...


MELBER: ... the president-elect. Which is a quasi-position, right, because you're not yet the constitutional commander in chief of the United States.

But there's millions of dollars there provided precisely so you hit the ground running, which is in the national security and public interests of the nation.

Jason, final thought?

JOHNSON: Yes, look, we have spent too long -- it's been too long, too wide, too complicated dealing with Trump's ego. We're done with that now.

No one's standing in the way now. No one can keep us from having a functional government. And I hope that, as soon as Biden gets this cash, hires people, houses are made, and people can get in, that we can function on -- people who are intelligent.

But I also have to say this. If there is one lesson Joe Biden and everybody coming into this administration can learn from this is that they can't come in and moderate and play this small. If you have an administration that was willing to gum things up all the way until the last minute, you need to be just as bold in the other direction to take America back, or Trump and Trumpists are going to be in office in two years saying that Joe Biden didn't do enough.

MELBER: A bigger point there on how this all works, and, again, the pressure that was building here.

We saw two more Republican senators coming out today, for example, pushing Trump on this. We saw the public pressure. And we see the problems on the legal side and all of that amounts to, all of a sudden, Donald Trump deciding, I guess he is just going to post about the fact that someone else is president soon.

Jason Johnson, thank you, sir.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

I got to fit in a break. We have a lot more on this breaking news, a thaw, the president of the United States backing down and giving way to the president-elect, Joe Biden, as well as some more special updates, when we come back.


MELBER: We have been following breaking news of the Trump administration backing and down and formally doing what would normally have been done by now, providing for the General Services Administration to conduct a transition to the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden.

This is a breaking story.

NBC's Ali Vitali has been all over it. In fact, she's in Wilmington, Delaware, where she has new reaction from a story that broke just moments ago from the Biden transition team -- Ali.

ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Ari, you just basically heard all of Wilmington and Biden's transition team collectively exhale, because, for the last two weeks, they have been trying to mount a pressure campaign to get the GSA to simply do the job that it's supposed to do, which is send a letter of ascertainment and let them get on with their transition.

I'm hearing from one of the top transition officials tonight now, who's saying that transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response. They say they will have a full accounting of our national security interests and gain a complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies.

This is basically what they have been waiting for. We have seen them functioning on two parallel paths, moving forward on policy and personnel, obviously announcing a slate of Cabinet picks today, but then stunted in terms of actually getting the granular flow of information that they need to actually transition into office.

But this really a situation that is, frankly, tailor-made for the Trump era from start to finish. It elevates to the national consciousness an obscure and otherwise benign government process that has for the last 20 years functioned seamlessly, natural moments of ascertainment coming after election results come in, this one, of course, taking more than two weeks.

And then the fact that Trump has done what he's done to several other government officials over time, which is Emily Murphy coming out and saying that this is a decision that she made independently and on her own, but then the president coming out and tweeting that he recommended her to move forward with this process.

And so finally this moment where the Biden transition team has been in bureaucratic limbo, we can now retire that phrase, because they are able to move forward now, having conversations with people with how to move forward on the pandemic, even just talking to Dr. Anthony Fauci. That's something that they hadn't previously been able to do and now are able to do here, certainly a big step forward for a group of people who were trying to exercise patience, but it was getting harder every day.

MELBER: Yes, it's a great point you make. And you reference something that the president-elect talked about last week. They were holding meetings with everyone but the people in government with the clearances and with the intel, whether that's medical or otherwise.

I want to thank Ali Vitali for jumping right in front of the camera on a busy night and go right to the White House, where Hallie Jackson is doing the same. She's been tracking this story.

Hallie, go ahead.


So, forgive me if I'm stepping on things that your prior guests have talked about. This is obviously all just coming in, in the last couple of minutes here.

You have seen, I assume, by this point -- I'm going to ask my cameraman, so let me pull up a return here, so I can see if you're pulling up any graphics here -- the president's tweet by now, indicating that he is the one who he says recommended that Emily Murphy, the head -- there it is -- of the General Services Administration, move forward with this, and in his words, do what needs to be done.

But, Ari, in the same breath, the president is saying he's going to keep up the good fight, and he thinks he's going to prevail.

Here's what's behind some of that, right, based on our reporting behind the scenes prior to this ascertainment. There are different forces around the president, some of whom dubbed what one source described to me as the sanity caucus, trying to move him towards encouragement of accepting his defeat, others who are, in the words of another official, acting essentially counterproductive, if you will, pushing him to keep up that legal fight that, frankly, has gone nowhere so far, and is not likely to go anywhere at all.

So, there are these various competing sort of forces in the president's ear on this.

I will tell you, though, the thing that I'm going to be watching over the next couple of hours, what's happening down Pennsylvania Avenue over on Capitol Hill. Over the last day, couple of days, you have actually seen more and more Republican lawmakers come out and call on the president to concede and to let this transition process start, as we are seeing now breaking tonight, just in the last few minutes here.

I will say, you haven't seen a ton of Republicans come out and say, I acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect, right? Only about five, maybe six of them have done so far. That may change. Does this open the floodgates?

MELBER: Right.

JACKSON: We have already seen at least one statement from a Republican just in the last couple of minutes, Ari. I believe it was Bill Cassidy coming out saying, yes, this needs to move forward.


JACKSON: There will not be a lot of support for the president from his allies on the Republican side of things to continue with these legal pushes, given that this transition has begun, Ari.


And let me ask you this, Hallie, because you have been so close to it. There's a lot of talk about the so-called off-ramp, a president who has been dealt one setback after another in the certification process, in the court process.

For those old enough to remember two weeks ago -- and I know it's -- a lot has happened -- the president of the United States addressed the nation and said he expects this to go to the Supreme Court.

We have a lot of indications that's not going to happen, that there's very unlikely to be the kind of case that gets him a big Supreme Court ending.

Do you see today's move towards this transition as the off-ramp or, as far as the Trump team is concerned, not yet, because he will have to do something bigger?

JACKSON: So, I would say, Ari -- and this is based on my sort of analysis on the reporting of this, not from any source conversations I have had in the last 25 seconds, as we were reporting on this -- I would say not yet, to be honest with you, based on the president's tweet and what we have seen.


JACKSON: I think that, if there is that off-ramp moment, it's not going to come until potentially early December.

That is what we had been hearing all along, that it would have to come, along with that December 8, those December 14 safe harbor and then certification deadlines for the states, that those would be the final nails in the coffin, if you will.

I'm not sure that this gets the president there yet, especially because, privately, we're told he's still upset. He's still fuming about his legal team. Sources are telling us that he feels like they are essentially not making him look good, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell.

He was upset with that press conference last week. So he doesn't seem to be in a position to want to acknowledge this defeat. I think, if and when he eventually does that, right, in a couple of weeks here, potentially, it's still not going to be like the president, Ari, coming out and saying, I concede, congratulations to Joe Biden, he's the rightful winner of this race.

I'm not sure we will ever see anything like that, based on the conversations that I have had. I think the closest you will get is the president acknowledging he's going to be physically departing the White House, and then potentially, Ari, based on things that I have heard from sources, talking about 2024, how he won't be leaving the party any time soon.

MELBER: Right.

JACKSON: That's his off-ramp. He's going to linger over this Republican Party and still make himself a presence in the world of politics for years.

MELBER: Well, you put it very well, Hallie. And when the off-ramp is an on-ramp, it's like an M.C. Escher painting of Trumpism.

It's, are we coming or going?


MELBER: And I guess we will find out.

JACKSON: Frame it.

MELBER: But there is a thaw tonight. There is a thaw tonight.

Hallie, you for jumping in front of a camera. I know you're doing a lot of different jobs tonight. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Hallie just mentioned the legal issues.

Coming up, we have a legal fact-check to put a lot of this in context before THE BEAT is over.

Stay with us.


MELBER: President Trump lost the election to president-elect Joe Biden.

Trump lawyers have mounted a string of legal challenges on matters that would not change that Electoral College outcome, raising questions about what the goal of this legal strategy is.

And now we turn to an attorney directly in the battle.

Jenna Ellis is part of Trump's campaign's legal team.

Thanks for being here.

JENNA ELLIS, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR LEGAL ADVISER: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

MELBER: Absolutely. We have been covering this with great interest.

Given that there's no way to change the Electoral College outcome, what is the point of the remaining legal strategy now?

ELLIS: Well, of course there is an opportunity to change the Electoral College outcome, because that's just a projected winner at the moment.

No states have actually put forward their slate of electors. And that vote doesn't even happen until December 14. So, right now, we have a cert petition that's pending before the Supreme Court out of Pennsylvania.

We just won the opportunity on an expedited hearing before the Third Circuit out of Pennsylvania for that lawsuit. And also today, we have learned that the Michigan House is going to grant us a hearing. And that is going to be announced on their Web site.

The legislature is very concerned about all of the reports of election integrity issues, and that will be announced tomorrow morning around 9:30 on their Web site.

MELBER: But, to be...

ELLIS: So, of course we're going to...


MELBER: To be clear, well, I don't think we need the exact scheduling of it. I understand what you're referencing.

But, to be clear, those state results are in. Michigan, you mentioned, is certified. Many these other states have or will certify.

What I'm asking you directly is, do you have a legal strategy? Or are you just hoping that, somehow, in someplace, politicians would override those results? Is that what you're on record advocating?

As you know, Sidney Powell said something to that effect, and then was quickly removed or accounted as not on the legal team anymore.

ELLIS: Well, let me be clear.

Our legal strategy is to make sure that every legal vote counts and is counted fairly and accurately. And we have time, again, until December 14, at least, where those electors for the Electoral College will vote.

And so our strategy is to make sure that we continue to challenge all of these false and fraudulent results.

I mean, listen, Ari, we have thousands of pages of witness affidavits from six states that are talking about election official fraud. These are people who changed the rules. They went against the will of their own state legislators in asking for their own election officials to disregard protocols.

I mean, we have people who have said that they came in on Election Day and were told that they already voted by mail-in ballot, and they didn't do that. And so they were only allowed to cast a provisional ballot. All of these things have to come out.


MELBER: Well, let's look -- let's look specifically at, say -- say, for example, Pennsylvania, because anyone can say anything at a press conference or on television.

The biggest problem your team has -- and you know this, and I don't mean it pejoratively, but, as a legal matter, you continue to lose over and over and over in all the key cases in all the key states.

Pennsylvania is the latest one. That's a big state, the judge not only rejecting this, but calling strained legal arguments without merit from your team, unsupported by evidence haphazardly stitched together. Trump's argument, flatly, the judge says -- quote -- "is not how the Constitution works."

Since you mentioned some of your evidence, I will...


MELBER: I will let you respond, but I want to put a little more evidence, because there's context here, and so folks have the full facts, in addition to the claims you're making.

We can show some Trump campaign cases that are just dead on arrival. This is in Georgia. He lost the effort to block certification. "Wall Street Journal," a pretty conservative publication, noting you guys just went ahead and dropped your own legal challenge from Trump allies in Arizona. And then, in Michigan, you dropped the lawsuit there.

And so my question to you, big picture, is not, do you have a statement or a claim somewhere from a witness, but what do you do with the fact that everywhere that this has reached a judge, you have been losing in key states, and, in some of those I just mentioned, you guys dropped out beforehand?

What do you want people to take from this? What is the -- here's my big question.

ELLIS: Well, I want...

MELBER: What is the point of all this?

ELLIS: Well, the point of this, of course, is to get to fair and accurate results, because the election was stolen and President Trump won by a landslide.

And how you're mischaracterizing this, I think that your viewers need to understand the truth of this. So, let's not forget that President Bush actually won -- or lost, rather, at every single lower court stage before, ultimately, Bush v. Gore got to the Supreme Court, the Constitution and the law was applied fairly and accurately.

And we have President George W. Bush, not then, as the media, your network included, was calling president-elect Al Gore. That's simply not true. So, even though we did withdrawal the lawsuit...


MELBER: Well, number one, you just said you. You're using second -- you're using the second person and saying you.

But I just quoted you a whole range of sources, including "The Wall Street Journal." So I just...


ELLIS: Let me finish. Look, I'm trying to answer your...


MELBER: Look, I think we have to take -- I understand.

ELLIS: The reason that we withdrew the lawsuit in Michigan...

MELBER: But you made a mistake. Hold on. Hold on. Take a pause, and I will let you...


ELLIS: ... election integrity issues. And so we are...


MELBER: I will let you go again, but we have to take a pause. If you make false statements, you don't just run roughshod, OK?

So you made a false accusation I had to deal with.


MELBER: Hold on. Hold on. And then I will let you go again.

If you have seen this program, people get their turn. I had Rick Gates on here recently. He got time.


ELLIS: I'm trying to answer your false statements, because you're accusing us of something that's simply not true.

You're attributing lawsuit losses to us that were not on behalf of the Trump campaign. And you're also saying...


MELBER: I said Trump campaign and Trump allies. I provided several sources.


MELBER: I'm going to keep moving forward and ask you about another item. And you can answer it, or we will move on. But here's the question for you, you can answer this factual.

What is the largest swing a recount has ever changed a result? What's the largest number of votes that have changed in a recount?

ELLIS: So, in -- and not in a recount, but in Bush v. Gore, for example, in Florida, that was over 61,000 votes.

The margin in Arizona, for example, is only around -- or, in Georgia, is only around 14,000. That's very significant.

MELBER: Well...

ELLIS: What you're trying to do is piecemeal and break apart each of these different things to say, oh, that's not happened before, and that's...

MELBER: No, I mean, look, I'm trying to make sure people have the numbers.

I said recount. And, as a good lawyer, I understand you're changing the topic.


MELBER: We will put up on the screen here, so people can get something out of this -- I wanted to have you on, so we could have a back-and-forth.

But these are the margins that you see. If you look at, for example, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Georgia, where you're seeking this extra recount, it's 12,000, and the largest change in ballots ever was 355.

And so we have about 30 seconds left. I will give you the final word.

When people look at this and say, well, if you're not going to change the vote with the recount, what is the point, that's the real question I don't think has been answered.


ELLIS: ... recounts because we have never had, in the history of America, as many mail-in ballots as we have in this election.

Absolutely, recounts can change this election. Our lawsuits are all about election integrity. And we're making sure that we put this together as one big lawsuit to make sure that election integrity is preserved in each of these states.

If you look at what happened on the ground in each of these states, there is massive election official fraud by going against the will of the state legislatures to change the election results in those states.

And, altogether, of course, this is outcome-determinative. And every single American should want us to be able to present that evidence in court, which consists of thousands of pages of witnesses that are voters, that are election officials, and that absolutely matter.


MELBER: As you know, the shows -- the shows end at the end of the hour.

That's why I have to fit in the break.

Jenna Ellis, thanks for coming on THE BEAT.

ELLIS: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We're out of time.

I want to pass on to "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID," which starts now.


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