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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, November 25, 2020

Guests: Don Baer, Charlamagne tha God, John Flannery


Charlamagne tha God discusses his interview with former President Barack Obama. President Trump issues a full pardon to Michael Flynn. What sort of message does President Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn send?


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Eat an extra piece of pie. You have earned it this year.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI "MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. I will take two pieces of pie.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.


WALLACE: You too.

MELBER: Thank you.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

We begin with this breaking news, President Trump issuing a full pardon to his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, one of the highest-ranking Trump officials to plead guilty to a crime in the Russia probe.

You may recall Flynn admitted to lying to the feds. He also initially cooperated with the Mueller investigation, then later tried to take back his guilty plea.

Donald Trump announcing this controversial move on Twitter late today.

A White House statement released in just the past few minutes falsely asserts that Mike Flynn should be spared because his prosecution was -- quote -- "part of a plot to block Trump from assuming the office upon his election, to remove Trump from office after his inauguration and to undermine his administration."

That's false.

In fact, Mike Flynn himself pled guilty. The prosecution was famously overseen by Donald Trump's own deputy attorney general, and it was conducted by Bob Mueller, respected for his independence and, if you're getting into politics, a lifelong Republican.

But this news tonight is significant for several reasons. First, this is Donald Trump's first major executive action since losing the election. Few expect it to be his last. We're in a different stage now.

Second, open questions here about Donald Trump's use or abuse of his power, pardon, commutation or otherwise, in these legal cases. And that involves many that are still out there, like Steve Bannon, his deputy campaign manager, and a host of family members. More on that, including this "New York Times" reporting, later in this program tonight.

Third, let's be clear about what's going on. Donald Trump's leaning into his lame-duck powers to continue to attack his perceived opponents within the executive branch, within the DOJ, within parts of the government that Joe Biden's administration will soon inherit.

The unusual statement I just quoted to you, it literally admits that the president does not really view this as being about Flynn. Rather, he views it as being, of course, about himself and investigations into the Trump administration that he didn't like.

Now, fourth, this is very important. And if you end up discussing this at Thanksgiving holiday with people, friends, family, regardless of their politics, or maybe on Zoom, you need to know this tonight. As a legal matter, accepting this pardon confers guilt.

Flynn infamously wanted a do-over. He wanted to take back his guilty plea. But Trump is now basically giving him a legal process that confers guilt. We have more on that tonight as well. It's a bit of an interesting concept. But the bottom line is, the guy who pled guilty and then said he wasn't guilty is now guilty again tonight. This matters.

Fifth, tonight's Thanksgiving pardon draws attention to the criminality around this president, as he prepares to leave office after this tumultuous four years. The only reason so many pardons for aides are possible is that so many aides and advisers are convicted felons or awaiting trial.

Trump breaking the record for that in his single term. Is the White House girding for more tonight or soon? We have got answers. NBC News' Carol Lee tracking all of that. She joins us right outside the White House in tonight's program.

And based on the available evidence, I also need you to know the facts. Whether it sounds positive or not, this new pardon by President Trump, based on the available evidence, is legal. The president, under our Constitution, whether you like it or not, has broad legal authority to grant these kinds of pardons, even where he has a personal link or a conflict of interests.

But is this pardon right now, with what America is going through and what the DOJ has to do in January, is it a good idea? Is it fair? Is it a larger effort to discredit important independent investigations that found, as I just showed you, so much illegality around this man, Donald Trump, in his campaign, from the campaign chair, to the deputy campaign manager, and in his White House, with the person running national security of the United States?

These questions aren't over. They are pressing tonight, as this new part comes in, because this is not a scandal based solely on what Donald Trump is doing tonight.

Think about it, America. This is a scandal that actually cuts to the heart of what we lived through, to that rocky single term in office, with so much lying documented, so much crime documented, and that clash in the Russia probe documented that consumed years of this presidency, with Donald Trump reminding everyone heading into Thanksgiving, no matter who you voted for, pardons are for criminals.

Let's get right to our experts.

I'm joined by Maya Wiley, former counselor to the mayor of New York City and a civil prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. She's running for the mayor of New York. And former federal prosecutor John Flannery.

Good evening to both of you as we head into the holiday weekend.

John, your view of those questions I just laid out?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I'd say there would be a string of ayes, ayes, most certainly, because what we're talking about is, we're talking about a criminal conspiracy out of the West Wing that existed almost from the -- before he was sworn in, using Flynn to undercut the policies of America with regard to Russia, that is, the sanctions that we were imposing at a time, when his administration to be was looking for back channels to communicate with Russia.

And it seems from the beginning he always feared that Flynn could pin the tail on the donkey better than anybody else at that time. And it seemed like he would go through anything to protect Flynn. And the same was true with Stone.

And the other interesting thing is the conflict. Right now, we have the person who is representing him, until a few days ago, in connection with challenging this election is representing Flynn. This thing is so sick of conflict and inbreeding and false conduct.

MELBER: You're referencing Ms. Powell?

FLANNERY: Yes, Ms. Powell, right, Sidney Powell.

So, how do you justify that? Well, let's look at some old law going back long before this nation was created. And it's called due process or fundamental rights. You cannot be a judge in your own case. This president, so to speak, giving him the benefit of the title, is deciding one of the people who could testify against them should be given a pardon.

And he had the same view, I think, about Stone, commuting his sentence. So what has he done? He's done something interesting. He has now allowed this man to be a witness in any criminal prosecution without being able to declare the Fifth.

And I hope that somebody chases him down an alleyway and brings him down, and the next time we see him a half-year from now he's wearing an orange jumpsuit.

MELBER: Well, you lay it out there.


MELBER: Well, that's what you think. You lay it out there.


MELBER: Maya, on the law, because Mike Flynn is -- again, this is not a case where someone maintain their innocence the whole time. And there are times, as we have covered, where the justice system does make mistakes.

This is way more clear-cut. He admitted it. He lied about it. It's the heart of the Russia probe. Then he said he had this change of heart and wanted Ms. Powell to go in this different direction.

But by taking this pardon tonight, according to the law and the Supreme Court precedent -- we will put this up -- Burdick v. U.S. -- this is old black letter law, as they say -- carries, when you get a pardon, an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it.



And it tells us what we already know. Instead of the rule of law, we have had the rule of the lawless. That's exactly what we have had in the Donald Trump administration, and what Michael Flynn represents, because, as you said, he pled guilty. And, remembered, he reiterated his guilty plea on two separate occasions a year apart.

He even swore at one point on a Bible about his guilt and asked, asked for forgiveness. This is a guy who's essentially admitted his guilt multiple times. The pardon is just the cherry on the top of the cheesecake at this point, because it's just been -- and, as we saw, even a sitting federal judge questioning what was happening in a Justice Department that, instead of being about justice, was just about Donald Trump and about protecting Donald Trump and his interests in the most bizarre way.

So, this pardon also comes when -- at a time when we didn't have a ruling from that federal judge about whether the Justice Department could pull -- could pull this prosecution.

I will add that I think the biggest peril to Donald Trump and the place to look to see if he's identifying future pardons is his criminal liability when it comes to tax fraud and insurance fraud. And even on those, he is still going to have a hard time, because, between the attorney general of the state of New York and the district attorney in Manhattan, who has made clear that, on -- just on the public record, that there are years of transactions in the Trump Organization.

And Donald Trump can't pardon himself or pardon his way out of with others from state and local law violations. He's got a lot of problems that he can't pardon away.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, you lay it out there. It's really important.

This is one of those breaking news nights. So, what I want to do is have John and Maya hang with me.

But I want to bring in, as promised, NBC News' Carol Lee, who's been covering on this busy White House night, and Don Baer, who was in senior positions to President Bill Clinton and an attorney in his own right.

And let's take a look at the president, Donald Trump, talking about Mike Flynn as this context. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life.

Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media.

QUESTION: Are you going to pardon Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: Well, he's got a case going on right now. I think he would -- I don't know this for a fact, but I think he's doing very well with respect to his case. I hope he's going to be able to win it. And I don't have a decision to make until I find out what's going to happen.


MELBER: And the decision has been made.

Carol, I read from that rather unusual statement that was not as much about Mike Flynn's case as it was about Donald Trump's views, his criticism of what he thinks the government did. Of course, it was a DOJ his appointees were overseeing.

What does your reporting show on this on this story tonight?

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That this is something the president's wanted to do for some time.

And it's just -- as you said, it's about the Mueller investigation. It's about the president feeling wronged.

One interesting thing that I found in the statement the White House releases is that they also tried to link this back to transition, in the context of the criticism that the president is under for refusing to concede and admit that Joe Biden won the election.

They said: "The prosecution of General Flynn is yet another reminder of something that's long been clear. After the 2016 election, individuals within the outgoing administration refused to accept the choice the American people had made at the ballot box."

That's obviously not true. There was a peaceful transition of power and a cooperative transition.

But, here, the -- you see the White House using Michael Flynn's case in a number of different ways, to defend against things that the president is doing or has done or feels that have been inflicted on him. He's -- and the Mueller investigation is the main issue, where he's just tried time and again to erase what happened there.

But this is a conclusion. And then he also in this -- the White House statement, they lean on the Justice Department, saying, even the Justice Department said that this is a case that should have been thrown out. And the Justice Department, according to our reporters who cover that, say that the DOJ official over there said they weren't consulted, and they would have preferred for their case to be seen through in court.

The judge had not yet made a decision their motion to dismiss this case. But they say that this is a reasonable use of the pardon power. And, as you noted in your intro, there is no -- the pardon power is pretty absolute. And there is no reason why this would be something that somebody could challenge.

It just -- when you put it into the perspective of why the president would do this, it raises a lot of questions.


DON BAER, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Ari, first, I should say one thing. It's been more than three decades since I practiced law. I call myself a lapsed lawyer, but I appreciate your reminding me of it, at least.

I actually think...

MELBER: I think -- I think, if you have a law degree, it's relevant.

BAER: My parents paid for it, so it's a good thing.

But I think that what we have seen today is a new form of the concession speech, and it's called pardon by tweet. This is a horrible abuse of his authority. But what it shows is that Donald Trump recognizes his days are numbered, and he's acknowledging as much.

And so he's cleaning up. And I think what we need to be worried about, in addition to what he has done here, is what other cleanup operation he may have in mind in the next -- in the next month or two.

MELBER: And, Don, how do you distinguish between cleanup and cover-up?

BAER: It's hard to.

I mean, this is clearly a rigged deal. I mean, he likes to talk about rigged processes, right? Well, that's what he has done here. And it's a sign that, as we know, as we have seen, he knows no bottom. And he is ready to take whatever actions he's going to take to make himself and those whom he feels have been grieved around him feel better.

But there's no sense whatsoever here that he's followed the normal process, and is going to do that with anything else that he has the authority to do for the next month-and-a-half.

MELBER: And, Carol, given your reporting, I take Don's point to you, that, even as the president was off speaking to another state Republican delegation -- he did Michigan, he's doing PA -- as he loses those battles, which is "going down fighting" -- quote, unquote -- he's lame-ducking it.

And this is lame-duck activity to the max going into the Thanksgiving holiday.

We're going to put on the screen here just the pardon power and commutations, as we have seen. You have Stone already commuted, tonight, Flynn pardoned. These are the big, big figures from the Russia probe. Gates and Manafort, convicted, they have not been given any use of the pardon power yet.

Do you have any tea leaves there on that in the future?

LEE: Well, we know -- what I know for my own reporting, Ari, is the president, it's -- this is just the beginning. And the president is expected to use as pardon powers in the closing weeks of his presidency for any number of individuals.

One source I was speaking to a little while ago said, just look at anyone out there who is under investigation or has been convicted or is under indictment and see if they -- the president might view them as somebody he wants to keep in his tent, keep in his good -- in good favor, and then you might find who the president would be considering pardoning.

But he's even said -- he said in September that he would consider pardoning Edward Snowden. So he's -- it's not just a small circle of people that he is close to, whether it's friends, allies or family members. It expands beyond that.

And we know that the president has talked privately and mused about whether or not he could pardon himself. And there's a whole host of questions that have to do with that.

But I thought you made a really good point about Michael Flynn, and this -- the idea of a pardon that presumes a sort of element of guilt. Flynn and his attorney had said that they didn't want a pardon, that they wanted to clear his name in court and see this through.

And so either that wasn't going to go in their favor, or, once the president lost, they realized they were about running against time.

MELBER: Running out of time.

LEE: And they didn't have enough time to see this through.

MELBER: Yes, it's a great point on sort of the procedural posture of that set of appeals, which, of course, only came in once Mueller had exited, which was sort of, again, signs of politicization at the DOJ, based on what we could collect there.

I want to thank Carol and Don.

John Flannery, I want to put up this Mueller statement, since his name has been checked a few times. After the Stone commutation, Mueller spoke out, which was rare. And he said: "Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, rightly so," Bob Mueller saying at the time about that use of the pardon power for a commutation: "Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes."

We don't have anything new, John, from Mueller tonight.


MELBER: His -- one of his chief prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, who, full disclosure, also has been an analyst for MSNBC, was speaking to Nicolle about some of this in the last hour. But where do you see the import of the Mueller team, if Donald Trump continues to do through pardons and commutations that which he could not do during the probe, which is trying to unwind it, in his view, erase it?

FLANNERY: I think you could probably mimic the quote that he made about Stone for this pardon as well.

And I think what we have overlooked in our discussion, although we have talked about it a lot before, is the corrupt aspect of the Department of "Just Us" to do the president's building as a -- build...


FLANNERY: ... whatever he wanted them to do, and as their mouthpiece.

And Barr has proved himself, I think, probably to be the most corrupt and worst attorney general in the history of the country. And we have had a few that have challenged that title. You think of Mitchell and you think of a couple of other people through history and going back.

So, what do we have here? What we have is, when the world is looking at us and saying, is there something wrong with us, the fact that this man, Trump, amoral, is so desperate to clear his name from his impeachment and from the Mueller investigation, he proves that he's the man with indignity, not the nation.

He proves that our American democracy knows how to throw out the garbage. And that's what we're doing. And in the days that we're observing his final moments in the West Wing, destroying his reputation, but proving to the world we did the right thing when we gave him the heave-ho, that is a strong statement...


FLANNERY: ... that America is back and he's gone.


FLANNERY: So, that's -- I think that's how we will see it.

MELBER: I'm running -- I'm running over on this block. I have got a lot of great experts coming up.

Maya, as a final thought here, it's 2020. We talk a lot about sanitizer, and everyone should wash and sanitize as much as possible. But from a rule of law perspective, when you see this coming out of this administration, this DOJ, with talk of more pardons to come, how much sanitizer does the Biden administration need to use over at the Justice Department for the reset?

WILEY: Remember Mr. Clean with his bald head and his -- we need to pull out Mr. Clean and all his relatives, because there's not enough disinfectant in this country, let alone the planet, for the cleanup job that's going to happen right now.

And just the last thing I will say on this is, the greatest victim is the American public, because, essentially, what Donald Trump is doing is ensuring that he is sowing seeds of division that would outlast him, because he wants his base to believe that it cannot trust this administration or the rule of law or our democracy.

And that, that is criminal.

MELBER: Maya Wiley with an important closing thought on this segment.

John Flannery comes back later in the hour.

We have our shortest break right now, just 30 seconds.

Coming up tonight: an update on Giuliani's problems.

We have a radio superstar who just interviewed President Obama, an interview airing today. Charlamagne tha God is here. I'm very excited about that one. And they broke news. We're going to show it to you.

But, first, Michelle Goldberg on the potential for new abuses of power -- when we're back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: We're tracking breaking news tonight, President Donald Trump issuing a pardon to Michael Flynn, who had pled guilty in the Russia probe.

Reaction pouring in. We covered the legal facts. Now we turn to what people are doing about it.

"New York Times" columnist, MSNBC contributor Michelle Goldberg is here.

Good evening.


MELBER: Hi. And happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for making time for us on a...

GOLDBERG: You too.

MELBER: Thank you.


MELBER: Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee in the House, which has dealt with this president through four years, has a response tonight. As I mentioned, we're turning to what people are saying about this.

He puts it in a larger perspective, saying, this is part of a pattern. We saw before in the Stone case, Trump granting clemency to protect an individual who might have implicated Trump in -- quote -- "criminal misconduct."

And, as we were just discussing with our guests, the chairman says we may see it again before Trump leaves office these actions are an abuse of power and undermine the rule of law.


GOLDBERG: I'm going to say something slightly -- that might sound slightly unexpected, which is that Trump pardoning a crony is not entirely unprecedented.

Bill Clinton had some corrupt pardons at the end of his presidency, including Marc Rich, which then was investigated afterwards. You had George W. Bush commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby, George H.W. Bush pardoning the Watergate -- I'm sorry -- pardoning people involved in Iran-Contra.

What's so shocking, I think, about the way that Donald Trump has used clemency is that he almost only uses it for political reasons, right? He's someone who has pardoned and commuted sentences far less often than any of his predecessors. There's data from Pew that he's used the pardon power 44 times. Obama used it almost 2,000 times, right?

And when he does use it, it is almost always for corrupt purposes. It is for Bernie Kerik. It's for Dinesh D'Souza. It's for Roger Stone. It's either for kind of people who've served him ideologically or people who've actually committed crimes on his behalf.

And I think we're going to see a lot more of that going forward. And I think that -- I understand that the Biden administration is not going to want to spend a lot of political capital, what little political capital that will have in a divided Washington, going after Donald Trump.

But I think that, if the Department of Justice wants to regain any sort of reputation for justice, it needs to pursue some of these cases and see -- and kind of not let Donald Trump completely subvert the rule of law just because he has this pardon power, which he's shown himself so willing to use for such kind of selfish reasons.

MELBER: Yes. And you offer important legal and executive history there. Other presidents have abused this.

Bush Sr. was widely criticized for the -- as you say, along the same lines, of saying, oh, well, it's tempting. You have this very broad power. Why wouldn't you use it for these people that you are politically friendly with?

There is an argument as well, though, that's different from Republicans, where they say, look, this was basically a setup. And the Trump statement, I fact-checked because it was false from the House.

But there are others who say that Mueller, who looked into this, did not find a chargeable Russian conspiracy, and thus, they say, that puts some of this in a different light at the end.

So, I'm curious to get your analysis of that. Viewers have heard how nuanced and impartial you can be.

Here's Lindsey Graham on that point, posting tonight as this came up, "Good use of the pardon power," he says, and says: "General Flynn was not a Russian agent. He was a victim of this politically motivated investigation."

GOLDBERG: Well, Lindsey Graham is right. General Flynn was not a Russian agent. He was a Turkish agent, right?

I mean, General Flynn was literally a paid agent of Turkey and hid that fact when he first became national security adviser. And that's kind of one of the cases that went away when he first started cooperating with prosecutors.

I don't know if there's any possibility of now bringing back that investigation, because that itself was a sort of outrageous betrayal of his responsibility to his country.

That aside, I would say that, obviously, what Donald Trump is doing is trying to invalidate the Russia investigation and sort of use his misdeeds in -- use his misdeeds with Russia in 26 -- sorry -- use his misdeeds with Russia in 2016 to excuse his misdeeds in trying to overturn the results of the election in 2020, right, to basically say, well, I was a victim in 2016, so what I'm doing now is justified.

You're right that Mueller didn't find a chargeable conspiracy around Russia. He found a lot of people lying about Russia. He found a lot of other criminality in Donald Trump's circle, and he found quite likely that Donald Trump obstructed justice in trying to cover up his deeds with Russia.

But I think -- but it's just -- I think it's very important to remember that conspiracy and collusion are two different things. There was no crime.

MELBER: Right.

GOLDBERG: There was obviously cooperation.

MELBER: Yes, there was what is also, if you want to be legal about it, solicitation, right?


MELBER: There was public welcoming of acts to blatantly help try to shape the election. And, as you say, the high bar, the criminal conspiracy, was not met.

As you have reminded everyone, Michelle, the whole -- one of the legal reasons that Flynn pled guilty to one thing was he was facing real heat on the other things, including what they thought was multiple potential crimes related to breaking the law on behalf of Turkey, and not registering as a foreign agent.

Michelle Goldberg reminding us turkey on the menu tomorrow, but also on the legal menu today, because it was so much a part of Flynn's exposure.

Obligatory Thanksgiving pardon reference, Michelle.



GOLDBERG: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Yes, sorry. No, I'm sorry.

Michelle, always good to see you. Have a good holiday.

GOLDBERG: Thanks. Good to see you too.

MELBER: Thank you.

Up ahead, we have more on Flynn later in the program, but coming up next, former President Obama opening up in an unusual and, I got to say, fascinating interview on "The Breakfast Club," talking Trump, race, power.

The one and only Charlamagne tha God, he could have been anywhere in the world tonight, but he's here with us live next.


MELBER: President Obama has, of course, been many places, but, today, he actually went where he's never been before, joining the famously successful and notoriously wild radio show "The Breakfast Club."

It's known for its impact across American culture, and specifically popularity with black and younger audiences that this former president clearly wants to reach with his new book and new message.

If you don't know about "The Breakfast Club," now you know.


D.J. ENVY, CO-HOST, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB": Morning, everybody. It's D.J. Envy, Angela Yee, Charlamagne tha God. We are "The Breakfast Club."


D.J. ENVY: This is what we do. Relax.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, CO-HOST, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB": Senator Kamala Harris, welcome. Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just come let you all know, stop -- put some respect on my name.

D.J. ENVY: AOC is what they call it.


ANGELA YEE, CO-HOST, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB": What's something that you always carry with you.





CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Vice President Biden, I have been critical of you.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I know thank you have.


BIDEN: You don't know me.


MELBER: Or do you?

"The Breakfast Club" hosts, Charlamagne, Angela and D.J. Envy, say that their whole approach is to focus on real life, not specifically politics.

But the reach and power of their audience, as you just saw, has brought everyone to the table, from those candidates, to J.Lo, to Dick Gregory.

So, Obama's debut is actually a big deal to a lot of people in America. And this new interview is definitely different, the host pressing the former president on America under Trump, on why modern politics continues to demand that everyone negotiate with white racists, as Charlamagne put it, and Obama bluntly hitting Trump for breaking the law.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have seen created in Republican politics this sense that white males are victims, like, they're the ones who are, like, under attack.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Well, we have seen what Trump tells -- he does what he wants to do, so people assume...

OBAMA: Well, right, because he breaks laws.

If you try to explain to the average brother in a barbershop, man, that filibuster, that's something.


OBAMA: The truth of the matter is, actually, Trump hasn't gotten a lot. He's torn some stuff down.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: But you got to do a better job of letting people know, hey, I wanted to do a lot more for people, especially black people, but I couldn't.

OBAMA: Well, that's why I wrote the book.


MELBER: "That's why I wrote the book."

And I got to tell you, today has been busy. You probably know that, if you watch the news. But I sat down. I watched this entire hour-long interview. It was newsworthy. It was fascinating.

And as we were reflecting in our team about how to cover this tonight, we thought about our dream guest who could break this down, someone on the inside who talked straight.

And guess what? He came through. Fresh off interviewing Barack Obama, we have "Breakfast Club" co-host Charlamagne tha God returning to THE BEAT.

Thanks for doing this, man.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Ari, what's up, my brother? How are you, sir?

MELBER: I'm good.

This is a big one. So, congratulations.

What did you learn that might be different from the president in this forum than others?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Hmm. What did I learn?

I liked when he answered about as far as why they don't necessarily cater to black people -- he didn't say that in verbatim, but they know black people are their most loyal voting bloc, black women first, then black men. But white people simply outnumber black people in a lot of places. So they can't really cater to black people and black issues.

That's why I asked him how -- would the Democratic strategy differ if there was no Electoral College? Because the truth is, they want to win elections, and they don't think they can win elections catering specifically to a black agenda.

So, even though it's hard to accept that, as a black man, I don't take it personal. I just look at it for what it is. And what it is, is politics.

MELBER: Yes, politics, politics as usual, if you will.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Politics as usual, old Jay-Z reference, OK.

MELBER: You know...


MELBER: And it was blunt.

And I emphasize this in telling my viewers, because your show has built credibility by just being really blunt and for dealing with racism, and racist terrorism, and racism in the ballot box, and trying to steal elections. Why not be blunt?

I want to show a little more of this for your analysis on the other side, the conversation with Obama about that measured approach in trying to deal and heal racism.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: You discuss how you were frustrated with the constant need to soften for white folks' benefit the blunt truths about race in this country.

Do you still feel the need to do that after the last four years we witnessed?

OBAMA: You need to be able to persuade some white folks who are not going to think like you. And you may want to say things exactly the way you want to say it, but they may not hear it.


OBAMA: The prophetic voice that you have, if you are a civil rights leader, if you're a Malcolm, if you're a Martin, is not going to be the same voice as if you're a politician.


MELBER: Do you buy that?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Yes, I think that's kind of fair. I think it's fair, because everybody has a role to play.

But it still bothers me. Even as a politician, you should be able to call out systemic racism. You should be able to call out bigotry, because I understand that they want to cater to big white audience, but there is good white people out there, too. That's why Democrats always win the popular vote, because it's black people, it's some brown people, and it's the good white people that are voting for -- with Democrats as well.

So, I don't think it's a stretch or a reach to have to make a racist feel comfortable, because that's what it feels like to me, because nobody's worried about making me feel comfortable, as a black man in this country.

And it always -- I was always taught that, when you're uncomfortable, that means that you're growing. So, if I call out a white person for their racism or their bigotry, and they're uncomfortable, good. Hopefully -- hopefully, they're growing in that moment.


And you're talking about something that's a larger conversation of the fragility of the powerful or what might be a white ruling class and saying, wait, how does that predominate over a situation where people are being shot down and killed unarmed not doing anything?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Absolutely, right. Absolutely.

MELBER: How do we bridge that?

And that brings us to the other thing you guys raised that's so important. I want to show this with context, because -- and Obama's written about it right in the book, that you asked about this -- early period of his presidency, first year in office, an incident of incorrect, erroneous policing, where Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates...


MELBER: ... was arrested in his own home, a black man, in Cambridge. Let's take a look at this exchange.


OBAMA: I write about the fact that, in a press conference, I'm asked about it, and I said, well, I think the police probably acted stupidly.

And that was treated with a heat -- all kinds of controversy. My polling with white voters dropped drastically. I think, today, that would not have seemed as much of a controversial statement, as it was viewed at the time, even though, at the time, I didn't think it was particularly controversial.


MELBER: He didn't think it was controversial, but fascinating to have him say that what he said made him tank, according to the former president, with -- quote -- "white voters."

So let's just briefly look, because we get to do this in the wayback machine, what he actually said about the incident.


OBAMA: I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry, number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody, when there was already proof that they were in their own home.


MELBER: Straightforward, and yet we have just a sampling of the controversy that was the issues in the approval rating.

There were people all over America, Charlamagne, demanding a -- quote -- "apology" for what we just heard there.


MELBER: Your thoughts?


I mean, if you -- if you read the book, in the book, he says that that would have never happened to Henry Louis Gates, basically, if Henry Louis Gates was white.

And my thing is, like, he should have been able to say that at the time. Like, why are you apologizing to the police? The police did act stupidly in that situation.

So, where was Henry Louis Gates' apology? Did anybody up -- id the police have to apologize to him for making that mistake Did anybody demand that the police apologized to Henry Louis Gates for acting stupidly, as President Obama said?

So, I think, in situations like that, I don't see why you have to bite your tongue. And he says in the book he wished he would have said at the time, yes, that would have never happened if Henry Louis Gates was white.

I don't see how we make progress if we're not speaking truth to power. We have to speak truth to power about these issues in order to keep pulling back that curtain. That's one thing that Donald Trump did. Donald Trump made us have to have these conversations, whether we wanted to have them or not.

He made us have these uncomfortable conversations about race in this country. And I think President Obama could have did that then. Like, anybody could have saw that what happened to Henry Louis Gates was wrong, and it only happened because of his skin color.

So, once again, how will we ever have real progress if we're not speaking truth to power?


And you -- it was so fascinating, the way you made that point, and watching you make it to the president's face, that you were saying, well, that's like, if you took certain other values, like pressuring and demanding racial justice, but had a Trump attitude about them, like, we're just going to say it and go for it.

And I haven't heard as many people press that, not at least with Obama in the room. It's fascinating.

I'm running over on time, but I guess I got to ask you, finally, Charlamagne, did the Grammys mess up by snubbing The Weeknd?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Oh, the Grammys definitely messed up by snubbing The Weeknd.

But the Grammys are a bunch of culturally clueless white people. So I don't expect them to get it. And I hate seeing all of these brothers and sisters who are extremely pro-black seeking this validation from what from a white awards show like that.

Like, it shouldn't matter at this point what the Grammys think about our culture. I get it. I'm not a musician. So I understand musicians want that reward and they want to be validated.

But, yo, The Weeknd is still going to wake up The Weeknd tomorrow. And guess what tomorrow is?

MELBER: Respect.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: It's the beginning of the weekend. It's Thursday.



MELBER: The beginning of the weekend. I like that, yes.


MELBER: Well, you make a -- but you're -- this kind of all ties together. Even though it's a musical topic, you're talking about the power structures of a different industry, and racial blinders or other issues there.

And yet you're also saying, yes, you don't necessarily need to covet just that endorsement...


MELBER: ... which has end on another Jay-Z quote, Charlamagne.

Was it not Shawn Carter who said, we looked up to "Billboard" when we was young. Now we look at "Billboard" like, is you dumb?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Is you dumb? Yes, absolutely, a hundred percent.

Like I said, The Weeknd is still going to wake up The Weeknd tomorrow. Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, all those brothers who got snubbed in different categories, they're still going to wake up themselves tomorrow. The culture is still going to love them.

And I'm not one of those people that think white ice is colder. So, what the Grammys won't do, I'm sure to Soul Train Awards will.

MELBER: There you go.

Charlamagne, I really appreciate you coming on tonight. You had the big interview. I know you had a lot of requests. Thanks for coming with us.

And "The Breakfast Club" is available on iHeartRadio or on Revolt. Check it out.

Up ahead, we go beyond the Mike Flynn pardon to what's next.

Stay with us.


MELBER: President Trump's Thanksgiving pardon of Mike Flynn raises huge questions about who else he may pardon. It's not just speculation.

"The New York Times" already reporting the White House weighing a wave of pardons or commutations by Trump in these final weeks in office.

This is a story we have been on since the beginning. Indeed, this is something one of Trump's former aides recently lobbied for 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 he can do it.


MELBER: It's the only time he could do it. That time is now.

John Flannery back with us.

Rick Gates is one of the convicted people on this list, on the big board, if you will. Your thoughts, John.

FLANNERY: Well, how deep can corruption go?

I mean, a man who's been convicted, who's cooperated with the government, has testified at trial, done everything he could to implicate himself, thinks he should get a pardon. Exactly for what?

He got consideration to reduce his sentence based on his cooperation. So, why is this different? This is different because, for four years, we have had no one to enforce the law in a way it's meant to be enforced.

And I'm talking about the attorney general, but it's been -- if there's been a pathogen through the government, it's been the rules set by Trump. And the rules set by Trump is like a petty mobster in New York in an organized crime family. What justifies our corrupt organization? And whatever that is, we will deal with it.

And when tutto -- di tutti capo of the old organized crime families needed to have a case taken care of, one of their members, one of the families would take care of the judge.

What we have here is, we have the chief law enforcement officer taking care of these people, trying to get through them.

MELBER: Well, John, let me show you something else, because Donald Trump has mused openly about, well, maybe he can pardon himself.


MELBER: But we have heard a lot of talk about DOJ memos, including the ones that say you can't indict a sitting president. It's DOJ policy, not law.


MELBER: But, in the same vein, 1974, presidents cannot pardon themselves. Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself.

Is this something that you think is important as a guardrail if Donald Trump does try to do that before he leaves?

FLANNERY: I do think so.

And I made reference in our earlier segment when we were talking about it. This goes back to Anglo-Saxon law, that a judge cannot make a decision in which he has an interest.

Well, Trump has an interest in all of these pardons, because he wants to insulate himself from what they can say. And he's basically trying to buy their silence. Now, legally, that may not work.

But the flip side of it, is the pardon legal when a person has such a stake in the pardon he's granted, such a personal stake? And I argue that he may not pardon these people.

And the question about pardoning himself, we do have the rule from Nixon, that Nixon resigned so that he could be pardoned by the new president, Ford. And that resulted in a lot of problems for Ford down the road. But if there was any way for him to be pardoned, that would be it.

MELBER: But, as you say, it's -- yes, it's not a court precedent, but it's the clearest guidance in recent times, which was even that disgraced president, Richard Nixon, was operating on the foundational premise that someone else had to do it, that he couldn't do it himself.

Ergo, if he could, he would have.


MELBER: John Flannery, thank you, sir. Busy night.


Well, Trump has to pardon a lot of turkeys. And I want to appreciate being with you. And happy Thanksgiving, Ari.

MELBER: Happy Thanksgiving. I appreciate a good turkey reference. You may know that.


MELBER: Up ahead, we will dig in, beyond the politics, to how Americans are stepping up this Thanksgiving and what the Biden administration is planning.

Stay with us.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: One in six families in America is described their children as being hungry. One in five are describing an inability to pay rent.

These are real issues. And the folks that we are talking about, whoever they voted, deserve to have leadership that sees them.


MELBER: Vice president-elect Harris on these growing problems.

We're seeing these extraordinary lines at food banks, millions struggling just to eat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The need has been growing more than 25 percent over prior year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't find a job. They cut off our unemployment. It is a big deal. It's a real big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, the need is tremendous. I have been with CityTeam for 19 years, and I have never seen need like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst hunger crisis in modern American times. Unless the federal government does something big and quick, we're going to see starvation conditions like this country hasn't seen since the Great Depression.

DEBRA BRODERICK, FOOD RECIPIENT: If it wasn't for this place, we don't know, where would we get our food?


MELBER: Many have sacrificed in so many ways in this long year.

But we did want to reflect and remember all those and the neediest, as we wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving with you and yours.

Thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts after this break.


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