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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 17, 2020

Guest: David Kelley


Attorney General Barr makes alarming waves across the legal and political world. A new Trump accuser steps forward on camera. A path forward on justice and police brutality is explored.


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

Hi, Ari.

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

And welcome, everyone, to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We have a big show tonight, including this alarming news, Attorney General Barr making waves across the legal and political world.

Also, tonight, a new Trump accuser stepping forward on camera.

And in just a few moments, we turn to a new special report that we have been working on. It debunks right-wing hypocrisy on protests and explores a path forward on justice and police brutality. We think it's important, and I hope you stay with us for it in the moments ahead.

But we begin with the top story, scandal facing Attorney General Barr and what nonpartisan experts call creeping authoritarianism here in America.

I don't use these words lightly. If you watch this program, you know we try to stick to the facts. So, I will explain to you why people are warning of tyranny tonight.

Attorney General Barr admitting that he basically is violating his oath of office. He's casting off any pretense of nonpartisan independence. He's now clashing with his own staff over a bid, a plot to investigate and potentially indict Democratic political opponents.

This is really happening. It's happening right now. It's being reported.

And in the midst of all that, he's taking on a sort of Trumpian troll stance by linking his own personal opinions, his criticism of COVID public safety guidelines, to slavery.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's the -- it's the -- it's -- other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.


MELBER: A different kind of restraint.

Obviously, you can imagine people coming forward here as soon as he said it to criticize Barr for those words.

But the scandal is also growing wider over his actions, new reports that the attorney general told prosecutors to look into trying to launch sedition charges for protesters or people accused of rioting or looting and to explore how to bring criminal charges against Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle, offering what sounds like a pretext.

Barr wanted her to go to jail, the sitting mayor, because she allowed -- get this -- protesters to gather in places that were a police-free protest zone.

These are grave allegations from multiple sources in "The New York Times," and they obviously come with a context. President Trump publicly demands that his opponents be criminally indicted and go to jail. That's true from Comey to McCabe to Clapper to, famously, Hillary Clinton.

And then he went through two attorneys general before finding one that he is now happier with in Mr. Barr.

Now, what else can I tell you as you assess the facts, because you will ultimately decide, as a citizen, how bad you think this is?

Well, how bad of a particular allegation of trumping up charges against Democrats, how is that playing? Unlike many other Bill Barr scandals, where he gets all rebellious -- you remember the talk of the spy or the Mueller report, where he basically says, yes, that's what I'm up to. What are you going to do about it?

On this set of allegations, which some are calling tyranny, Mr. Barr is on defense and denial.

The DOJ last night denying the story. "The New York Times" stands by it. And, as for that Democrat allegedly targeted, Mayor Durkan, she's treating it as serious and true, responding: "It's a chilling act of tyranny, not of democracy."

Barr also under fire for arguing the DOJ is not really independent from politics, contradicting himself from his confirmation hearing under oath last year.


BARR: The Justice Department is not a Praetorian Guard that watches over a society, impervious to the ebbs and flows of politics. It is an agency within the executive branch. The attorney general, senior DOJ officials and U.S. attorneys are indeed political.

My allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American people.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): You would protect that investigation against political interference, as hopefully you would do with any investigation?


BARR: Exactly.

If someone tried to stop a bona fide lawful investigation to cover up wrongdoing, I would resign.


MELBER: Barr also slamming his own career DOJ prosecutors, who do report up to him. He compared what he perceives as their preferred method of internal input in government to a school run by its own preschoolers.


BARR: Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters. It's all too often.

Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency.

I revere the law. I love the Department of Justice and the dedicated professionals who serve there.


MELBER: Those dedicated preschoolers.

In the new speech, Barr also defended not prosecuting even those engaged in -- quote -- "bad conduct for certain reasons."

Again, the tape is incriminating. This isn't criticism. These are just facts about Mr. Barr's own contradictions, a self-own, if you will.

Take a look at how he touted a similar record last year.


BARR: The Department of Justice has sometimes acted like a trade association for prosecutors.

Advocating for clear and defined prohibitions will sometimes mean that we cannot bring charges against someone whom we believe is engaged in bad conduct.

We prosecuted a lot of people and very quickly, over 900 convictions.


MELBER: We turned out to individuals with extensive experience, the former SDNY civil prosecutor Maya Wiley, who is also a potential candidate, and former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst Barbara McQuade, both of whom have worked as federal prosecutors.

So, you're in that special group of people who are given this power and who know how to work under different attorneys general.

I want to begin with what strikes me, Maya, as the most directly concerning act, multiple sources saying the attorney general wants to indict a sitting mayor of the opposition party, and the stated reason is that she had a policy in her own city where protesters could gather.

Your response?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as a preschooler, let me just say -- or former preschooler -- this is exactly the kind of thing that a President Donald Trump wanted in an attorney general, someone who would use the power of the office to persecute the political opponents.

And, in this case, that person execution includes the people of that city, because there's nothing more precious in our system of government and in our constitutional order than the ability to gather to petition government and protest peacefully.

So, he both wants to punish a political opponent, but he's also punishing for allowing people to basically exercise their constitutional right. So, I think, when the mayor used the term tyranny, it was not an overstatement.

It was exactly what we must be concerned about from an attorney general who is acting now not just, as he has in the past, as a defense attorney for the president, but now as a strong-arm, now as a bully, and a bully that is actually overturning our constitutional order and our constitutional protections.

MELBER: Barbara?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I couldn't agree more with Maya about this one.

Charging a mayor with acting in her duty -- you may disagree with her strategy about allowing the police-free zone to exist in Seattle. But that's her call. She is the elected mayor of the city of Seattle.

And so, if the voters in that community want to hold her accountable, they can do so at the ballot box. The idea that that's a crime is absolutely absurd. You would have to show some kind of criminal intent, and there's certainly no evidence of criminal intent when she was seeking to defuse tensions by not intervening in that situation.

She would also have a public authority defense, that she is acting under her duties as the mayor in doing that. Instead, it seems that this is an effort to go after a political rival, which is exactly what President Trump has long longed for, back to the debates with Hillary Clinton, when he talked about, when he's president, she would be in jail.

This is absolutely contrary to our notions of using the rule of law without regard to partisan politics.

MELBER: Well, and I appreciate the context you bring, because, Barbara, we're here now.

For those who say, well, Donald Trump says a lot of things and he lies a lot, and not everything he says is true or happens, it does seem far more significant, from "The New York Times" report, that this is happening inside the secret Justice Department process, with potentially -- we don't know the motives of all sources, but potentially some people so alarmed that they're trying to warn about it before it goes further as a plot.

But it is now -- and I put it to you as the question. Do you agree that it's more concerning to have it going on inside the Justice Department in what seems to be an operational way than simply Donald Trump's tweeting?

MCQUADE: Well, I think it's very troubling whenever the president even tweets about it.

And I know we have become a little bit inured to that because he does it so much, that we just take it as there goes Donald Trump being Donald Trump. That alone should alarm us.

But I do agree with you that we interest the attorney general and the people who work there for being responsible in deciding how the law should be applied. And so, if they're discussing it -- and the report, I believe, is that he discussed it in -- with the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

There's a certain irony there of using the very part of the Justice Department that is designed to protect civil rights to go after a mayor for exercising her rights as the mayor, the duly elected mayor.

And whatever happened to federalism and states' rights?


MCQUADE: Because the federal government doesn't like the way that she is leading her city, the federal government would go in and charge her with a crime?

In light of the things that William Barr has said, in light of the things that Donald Trump has said about that particular mayor and about cities run by, in his words, Democrat mayors, it is really hard to see this as anything other than a political weapon that's being used, the law being used as a political weapon in a way that is just contrary to every notion of the American system of justice.

MELBER: Yes, political, potential abuse of power, potentially illegal, if there's misconduct. Mr. Barr and others could have legal exposure.

And, Maya, many conservatives have long claimed or argued that this is what they don't like or oppose in other countries that don't have stable systems of rule of law. It's a talking point that very few would accept from Donald Trump credibly, but one that he learned to repeat, because it's what other Republicans say, for example, about Venezuela.

Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They engaged in massive wealth confiscation, rigged elections, used the government to persecute their political opponents, and destroyed the impartial rule of law.

In other words, the socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they have had a chance to rule. The results have been catastrophic.


MELBER: Persecute opponents, Maya.

WILEY: Persecute opponents is all Donald Trump has done in his entire time in the White House.

We have actually seen it from Bill Barr, who has been willing to essentially use that power, not just now, but even in picking up on Donald Trump's efforts to link anything that is considered left politically to something that is dangerous for the country.

And we saw Bill Barr picking up on what Donald Trump has been saying about the extremism is the left, is Antifa, even though the Justice Department's own data and some independent research makes clear that, frankly, it's much more likely to be white supremacists who are engaging in that kind of violence, except Bill Barr is spending all his time helping the president paint anything that is politically in a different direction from his own as what is dangerous.

And that kind of manipulation of lying to the public to vilify a particular side of a political debate is just as dangerous as using the arm -- well, actually, it's more dangerous to use the arms of government, but it's certainly extremely dangerous to use that bully pulpit and to have your -- the most important law enforcement officer in the country repeating that, those lies, and vilifying political dissent.

That's what we have Donald Trump doing.



MELBER: And what we're talking about here is that potential abuse of power, documented, fact-checked, sourced and reported in "The New York Times" -- again, I mentioned the DOJ is denying it -- and going into an election at a time when there are serious questions about civil unrest in the nation.

So, everyone needs to be as informed as possible. And people inside government have to remember that we have a peaceful transition of power in this country, whether it's in four, 8, 12 years, whenever it comes. And they have obligations to the Constitution above and beyond their current supervisor.

And people will be watching and documenting it, serious times.

Maya Wiley, Barbara McQuade, I want to thank both of you for your expertise. Appreciate it.

WILEY: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: When we come back in just 30 seconds, we turn to our special report on protests in the Trump era, a fact-check on what the right-wing gets wrong, and what we believe is a significant look at where we go from here.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Turning outdoors turning now to our special report.

What happened to America in summer 2020 is not staying in summer 2020. This week alone, President Trump was pressed again on policing at a town hall, a reminder of how those protests pushed these issues for Democrats and Republicans alike, while, as we have been reporting, Attorney General Barr under fire for pursuing illegal crackdowns on protests.

It seems like part of the nation's waking up to the epidemic of police profiling, brutalizing and killing unarmed black Americans, under these twin pressures of video evidence and these protests, which have been documented as overwhelmingly peaceful, despite the challenge of hundreds of thousands of strangers meeting up in public.

So, some critics of Black Lives Matter have actually found themselves rhetorically cornered, facing these brutal videos, which are hard to defend when you really look at them, and these protests that are all about free speech, which is, of course, protected in the Constitution.

So, what do critics do? I will tell you because it matters. Many fixate on some cases where there was some violence or looting that occurred.

Now, it's selective, just like how Donald Trump literally defends the indicted murderer in Wisconsin, while his DOJ targets certain other instances of violence.

But this is very important as we go forward. I want you to note how many of Trump's allies say they support peaceful protests against police brutality, but the problem is this violence.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Peaceful protesting surrounding this horrific death of George Floyd are warranted.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): And we always respect the rights of peaceful protesters. But anarchy, rioting and looting, we have zero tolerance for.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Peaceful protests, we need to see that. Folks who want to go out and share the outrage that I feel that others feel. That the communities feel, we have been saying that.

But the destruction and the looting has got to stop.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Every one of us has an obligation to distinguish peaceful protests from the violent riots that continue to see innocent people hurt.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Rosa Parks is a beloved global symbol of freedom and justice because of the determination and dignity with which she carried out her civil disobedience. Would burning a store have been more powerful and transformative? I don't think so.



Violence is wrong, period. Yet some of those statements about the protests are a disingenuous deflection, a rhetorical hijacking, and they're often hypocritically false, because those same people you just heard from don't really support peaceful protests of police brutality.

In fact, we will show you the receipts for that in just a moment.

But when it comes to America's racism, the history matters. We have been here many times before, where the establishment talks about nonviolence, but carries out a fierce backlash against peaceful protests.

Take 1957, where black high school students who peacefully walked into an Arkansas high school, the Little Rock Nine, following a lawful immigration plan, faced resistance by force from fellow citizens and the state alike, which sent in the National Guard.

Or the '60s, when students peacefully occupied lunch counters to fight segregation, and needed careful trainings for how to avoid those attacks and violent taunting they faced.

That same decade saw peaceful marching for voting rights met with, of course, the now infamously brutal and bloody police attacks. And the punishment of black peaceful protest comes in many varieties.

When two black athletes peacefully raised black-gloved fists during the national anthem as a silent protest at the 1968 Olympics, those rightful winners, we must remember, were literally expelled for it. Then they returned home to attacks and death threats, death threats that were starkly serious, considering the assassinations of other black leaders, like Dr. King and Medgar Evers, who enmity after preaching, yes, nonviolence.

So, today, when defenders of the status quo and police power claim they welcome peaceful protests of racism and policing, the history is instructive.

We cannot fully reckon with today's talk of peaceful protests or the talk of violence without wrestling with the past.

You know, back in 1951, a Mississippi writer pointed out how the past lives on. Over 50 years later, then candidate Obama quoted that point, while urging us to open our eyes to how racist history lives on today.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As William Faulkner once wrote, the past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past.


MELBER: And America's past teaches a bitter truth about white supremacist strategy, because, while nonviolence is a moral imperative, this rhetoric on reporting on it, it can be exploited as a deceitful cudgel.

We know that because even peaceful, silent, symbolic protest is met with such fierce white resistance, from illegal violence, to legal pressure, to sordid conspiracies, to economic hardball.

And it's all done to punish even the peaceful protest that was supposedly so welcome.

Now, this isn't just about the '60s or 70s. This is about the past that isn't past, like the ongoing retaliation right now against the nonviolent protests of police brutality by Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who famously took a stand by taking a knee, risking his career by sitting silently during the national anthem, first right here in the 2016 preseason, then adjusting to kneeling when a Green Beret veteran advised that was more respectful to the troops, citing an example from MLK.

Kaepernick did that every game in that 2016 season.


CARSON DALY, NBC: Growing controversy around NFL star Colin Kaepernick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 49ers quarterback refusing to stand for the national anthems for four games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kaepernick's action has been polarizing and unifying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was roundly booed during the game.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": Kaepernick has been very clear about why he's protesting during the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In protest over racial injustice and police brutality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the controversial protest is spreading.

DON LEMON, CNN: NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's silent protest of the national anthem is spreading, but so is the controversy around it.


MELBER: Much controversy then. Kaepernick explained his goals at the time.


COLIN KAEPERNICK, FORMER NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYER: There's people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. Cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That's not right.

Ultimately, it's to bring awareness and make people realize what's really going on in this country.


MELBER: Well, his activism, was this peaceful? Check. Nonviolent? Check. It was even silent.

Now, think back to all those critics from this very year claiming they welcome peaceful protests. The problem was just those other violent incidents.

Do you remember how they took this one?


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": I believe the quarterback is ill-informed across the board.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a girl who doesn't know a lot about football, but I do know ungrateful jerk when I see one.

ALLEN WEST (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: He should give a humble apology to this country and to the men and women who serve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's distasteful. I don't think it has anything to do with the platform that he has as a professional athlete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's exercising the right to remain a jerk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. King, if he were alive today, he wouldn't disrespect the flag and the anthem. He would use his words and his voice.


MELBER: That reaction went well beyond media commentators.

Across the country, this was, of course, a big issue, many Americans burning his jersey. Others also bought it up, vaulting into the top seller for the action off the field.

And Donald Trump demanded the NFL illegally fire him to retaliate against the free speech.


TRUMP: The NFL should have suspended him for one game. And he would have never done it again.


TRUMP: They could have been suspended him for two games, and they could have suspended him if he did a third time for the season, and you would never have had a problem.

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say, get that son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the field right now? Out. He's fired.


MELBER: He's fired.

That's basically what happened. Kaepernick has been off the field since his contract ran out when he was 29. It's been widely reported that NFL owners targeted him for that peaceful free speech.

And the league and its rich owners didn't exactly march to court to explain and plead their innocence. They settled, paying a huge sum to keep the entire alleged collusion case out of court and public view.

And for years, that's just where things landed. The NFL implemented that Trump policy, Kaepernick out of a job.

Anyone paying attention could see the lie in claiming peaceful protests are welcome. But that's the talking point that continued to kick around as a way to defend the status quo and delegitimize a largely peaceful movement.

And then, over eight excruciating minutes, something changed. A new video showed another of the same type of police killings at the root of those protests. And, this time, more people faced


GEORGE FLOYD, DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY: I can't breathe. Please, your knee on my neck. I can't breathe, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bro, get up and get in the car, man.

FLOYD: I will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get up and get in the car.

FLOYD: I can't move.


MELBER: Protests and marches spread nationwide. You lived through it.

That slow, documented execution of George Floyd awakened some more additional people to this same plight Kaepernick and others had peacefully pressed for everyone to acknowledge and see and do something about.

After the Floyd killing, he responded by discussing revolution, saying, when civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction.

And this time, it wasn't just Kaepernick responding, because activists began responding to him, intentionally kneeling in homage to his cause, kneeling in the streets in front of police, a simple, peaceful act, which was tragically powerful on several levels.

First, by directly channeling Kaepernick, because Americans across the political spectrum remembered what he did, these activists were crisply reminding us all, this has been going on. He tried to tell you. Many people tried to tell you, which, of course, rebukes those who were wrong to ignore it back then.

And, second, kneeling offered a grim, tragic, even disgusting echo of the way the officer kneeled on Floyd's neck to slowly kill him, a point that you see here many citizens noted in statements and posts and activist memes.

And then the political moment merged with the culture, drawings and murals and iconic images fusing it all together in cities, on the Internet sharing them, until politicians embraced what was this once polarizing act of taking a knee, like this seen at the Capitol.

Other athletes joining in, maybe some strength in numbers at the NBA, where players recently staged a boycott, also notable, because the NFL rules still banned players from kneeling on the field during the anthem.

And some police have even gotten in on the act, kneeling, a move which is controversial if it's limited to a performance without substantive follow-up in action and policy.

And I can tell you tonight, as the cause spread, so did the message. Back in 2016, most Americans opposed Kaepernick protest as unpatriotic. Look at this now, a majority now saying it is appropriate to have these anthem protests, to kneel.

Now, what about all those critics of peaceful protests? Well, some just stand by their criticism. Others found this public pressure this year too much to bear. After Floyd's death, NFL chief Roger Goodell rushed out a vague video, claiming he's now realized he's wrong about curbing those peaceful protests, but not offering any big reforms.

And many rejected that double-talk. At Floyd's own memorial, Reverend Al Sharpton went right at the issue.


REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": Head of the NFL said, yes, maybe we was wrong. Football players, maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.

Take a man's livelihood, strip a man down of his talents, and, four years later, when the whole world is marching, all of a sudden, you go and do a Face-Time talking about you sorry.

When Colin took a knee, he took it for the families in this building, and we don't want an apology. We want him repaired.


MELBER: Kaepernick still paying the price four years later.

There's a certain irony that a man who stoically, quietly did something that's inherently so much bigger than himself or sports finds so many people, of course, interested in his future, his consequence.

He used his activism, though, so people would focus on these facts, how police practice racial profiling and excessive force routinely, shooting at and killing black Americans at far higher rates than others.

Now, this summer's attention and pressure on reform, it may have faded by now for some going into the fall. Some of the same establishment members who rushed out their statements and posts about Black Lives Matter may feel some relief that maybe the political or media attention is starting to shift to other things.

That challenge is why different types of activism are powerful. There's this key role for grassroots activism and street protests, but also a role for people with platforms to use them, to say, this still matters. We will not let everyone ignore it, or, as one protester put it succinctly, support us when it's not trending. Support us when it's not trending.

Support free speech rights. Support civil rights. Support the right to be protected from a cold-blooded killing. That's why it's called Black Lives Matter. It boils down to people saying, support us on the human right to live, rather than be killed routinely by the government.

Now, at that same Floyd memorial, Reverend Sharpton spoke about these rights, why the police had no right to do what they did, and he called out the hypocrites trying to stop protests, instead of stopping brutality.


SHARPTON: God made his neck to connect his head to his body. And you have no right to put your knee on that neck.

You sit now trying to figure out how you're going to stop the protest, rather than how you are going to stop the brutality.


MELBER: Those words, in memorial, like Kaepernick's activism, reflect some of the pain, frustration and anger and exasperation that we hear narrated by so many black Americans living through this.

It reinforces how the establishment punishes peaceful protest, retaliates against free speech, crushes peaceful dissent, and then cherry-picks violent incidents to give new lectures about how peaceful protests, that's the needed alternative.


The hypocrisy is glaring to anyone who knows the history, let alone people who lived it and still live it today.

We talked about John Lewis this year. He lived in Selma and overcame it, just like those brave students in the Little Rock Nine who faced violence for the nonviolent act of going to school in America.

That was over 50 years ago, which is a long time for some injustices to remain so similar today. But we don't even need to go back that far to get the point.

In the four years since Kaepernick set off that firestorm with his peaceful act, America has seen a spate of police killings of unarmed black people.

We can say some of their names, Donnell Thompson, Terence Crutcher, Jessica Nelson Williams, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Wilson, Chad Robertson, Keita O'Neil, Kevin Bruce Mason, Stephon Clark, James Leatherwood, Cynthia Fields, Gregory Griffin. Those are many names you may not have heard on the news, plus those that garnered more investigation and attention, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks.

Take it together, and it's almost 90 unarmed black people who've been killed by police since Kaepernick first took a knee, plus hundreds more accounts of excessive force that did not ultimately result in a death.

Kaepernick was pressing all this before it was trending, let alone trendy. I bet he will be pushing it when it's no longer trending at all. And he's paying the price. Many people didn't want to hear it then.

I'm reminded of something the artist Lecrae said simply. They say I talk about the same old thing. Reason why I sound the same is, the truth don't change.

Well, it's been a long time, and this truth has barely changed. That's why the same civil rights arguments from the past apply now. And that's, of course, where we began this tonight, Faulkner telling us the past isn't even past.

Let's be very clear. These dead people on your screen, this truth in America hasn't changed. And isn't that sickening? Isn't it outrageous? Isn't it enraging?

It's actually a wonder that silent kneeling and marches and peaceful protests are the main response to such sustained, documented, unacceptable government violence.


MELBER: Back to a controversy facing Attorney General Barr with serious implications tonight.

He's under heat after declaring that his role actually is political, publicly belittling his own prosecutors, who are career nonpartisan officials, and reportedly suggesting, according "The New York Times," that he wanted the mayor of Seattle, a political opponent of the president, indicted, simply because of the policies she provided for where protests could occur in the city she governs.

We turn now to someone who knows these issues, well. He was the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney, David Kelley, also, I should note, my former boss.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: We have had you on to discuss things that were vague, up to the line, where's the line?

"The New York Times"' account, as I have stressed to viewers, if true, is trying to indict someone over what would be political differences. It's hard to imagine such a prosecution ever holding up in court.

But do you view it, as reported, as a potential abuse of power if it's being plotted?

KELLEY: Yes, I think clearly bringing politics into the Justice Department is nothing but a recipe for disaster, on a whole number of levels.

And so this is just pouring a bunch of toxicity into a place that has been held sacrosanct for so long. And it's -- and, like I say, I mean, if you look back at some of the attorney generals in the past, you need somebody -- the president needs somebody who's going to say, no, you can't do this. This is not right.

And one of those things that they need to say no to is injecting politics into decisions of prosecutorial decisions.

And if you look back to the Bush White House, Attorney General Gonzales, if you look back to the Nixon White House, and there's other examples over history, you will see that, again, not having that attorney general who will say no, not having that attorney general who will leave politics out of these decisions brings it back and puts a real problem into the lap of the president.

MELBER: Well, Bill Barr used to agree with you.

I want to play something from 1991, where he was making that claim. Take a look.


BARR: A lot has been said about not wanting to have a political Justice Department. And I agree with that.

You shouldn't sweep anything under the rug. Don't cut anyone a special break. Don't show favoritism. Don't withhold an indictment that should be laid down because of political influence.


MELBER: He's not claiming that anymore, David.

And, in his speech, he's doing this projection. He's saying that the people who work in the DOJ, they're actually the political ones, and that he has to then correct them, that he is sort of fixing what is a political bent.

Any truth to that?

KELLEY: No, here's what's interesting about what he said last night.

He said something -- look, I don't disagree. Look, the buck stops there. Sure, it goes right up to the top. And, sure, folks can have disagreements about whether or not to bring certain prosecutions, and you have mature conversations using the right baseline. And politics is not the race baseline.

But the interesting thing that I -- the thing that struck me about what he said was, you need to have somebody making a decision who's dispassionate.

And you cannot tell me that he meets that bill. I mean, so he's saying that you need somebody who is dispassionate, and he is exactly not that.

MELBER: And in the "Times"' account here regarding targeting the mayor of Seattle, it says, consider sedition charges for protest violence, something we have been discussing throughout the hour, and then it says he suggested persecution of Durkan, a Democrat. Barr took aim at an elected official whom Trump has repeatedly attacked.

And this "Times" the count is so damning, David, because while not everyone has developed these cases the way you have, isn't it usually evidence at a lower level that goes up the line when you find a potential crime, not someone at the highest level, the attorney general, looking over the whole country and 93 offices and saying, I want to get this person, and they happen to be a political opponent, and go develop a case?

How unusual is that by itself?

KELLEY: Extraordinary.

And you talk about -- there have been a lot of conversations about the autocracy and the efforts to make this sort of an autocracy. And, look, somebody's arguing -- I think that the attorney -- I don't know what his motives are.

But I think someone can take his remarks and plug that neatly into those arguments that have been made recently about the president's efforts to develop an autocracy, and not a democracy.

I mean, it basically really looks like more of a political hit job than a number of people making sound prosecutorial decisions, nonpartisan prosecutorial decisions, than what -- I mean, I can't say that it's somebody may be thinking aloud, which is often dangerous to do, and saying, geez, I wonder if there was sedition committed there.

That's fine to say that and go and take a look. But this kind of, I think, takes it to a different level.

MELBER: A different level. And it comes in a context, right, because benefit of the doubt in one thing vs. targeting opponents, running a redo of the Mueller probe, promising that information coming out before the election.

Bill Barr is sort of -- at a strategic level, he may be the Dick Cheney of the Trump administration, but he's also got a tremendous amount of direct authority going into an election where this stuff may be relevant.

So, it's important to keep an eye on it.

David Kelley, we're always the wiser for your experience and insight, sir.

KELLEY: Thank you. Good to see you.

MELBER: Thank you, David. Appreciate it. Absolutely.

We are going to fit a break, but Mike Pence's former aide now voting for Joe Biden because of Donald Trump's disregard for human life, in their view. We have more on that interesting story.

Also, President Obama pushing back against Trump's voting threats with a clear plan of what people can do.

And there is a new sexual assault allegation leveled against President Trump. It's from 1997 at the U.S. Tennis Open.


MELBER: A new accuser has stepped forward against President Donald Trump.

This is former model Amy Dorris, who tells "The Guardian" Trump sexually assaulted her near a bathroom in his VIP box at the U.S. Open. This was in New York in 1997. She was 24 years old at the time, Trump then 51.


AMY DORRIS, FORMER MODEL: when I came out of the bathroom, Donald was waiting outside the bathroom. I don't remember what he said, but he was talking -- he said something.

And -- but he was like -- I was just like, no, no, no. And I was like nervous laughing, like, no, get away.

But then he just grabbed me. And he just shoved his tongue down my throat. And I was pushing him off. And then that's when his grip became tighter and his hands were kind of, like, very gropey.


MELBER: That's her account on the record.

"The Guardian" also reports that it was able to corroborate aspects of the story, that Dorris told her mother and a friend about this alleged incident immediately afterward.

But she also says she saw Trump on two other occasions shortly thereafter. She also told other friends about it and her therapist in later years.

NBC News is reporting the story, was not immediately able to independently confirm those details that "The Guardian" chased down.

We should note as well that Trump's lawyers deny these claims. They told "The Guardian" she never raised the allegations with police or Donald Trump.

The Trump campaign also denying the account in a new statement to NBC News. It calls the allegations -- quote -- "totally false."

NBC News has also reached out to the White House for official comment.

The wider context is that over a dozen different women have accused the president of a range of sexual misconduct and assault. That includes a writer, E. Jean Carroll, who has a defamation lawsuit against Trump over the way he denied the claims. That's also currently working its way through the courts.

An update on an important set of stories there.

We're going to fit in a break, but, when we come back, something else I mentioned: Mike Pence's former aide breaking ranks against Donald Trump, endorsing Joe Biden. And the reasons why are striking.

Also, later, President Obama weighing with exactly how he wants people to counter Donald Trump and any way they're attempting to mess with the vote.


MELBER: We have been covering the hunt and wait for a vaccine.

And now a scientist who serves in the administration fact-checking Donald Trump's false claims about the timeline. Trump had falsely suggested it could be ready sooner, before the election.

Dr. Fauci, whose polls show is viewed as far more credibly by far more Americans, has this timeline:


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We will at least get an answer by the end of this year, December or November, perhaps October -- I doubt it, but it could be -- in November in December whether we have a safe and effective vaccine.


MELBER: And there's levels to this, Fauci saying that, if a vaccine comes, you won't necessarily automatically know if it works. That could be until the end of the year or later.

This comes on the heels of the CDC director saying, you wouldn't have it widely available, meaning in a way that's going out to people and affecting daily life, until potentially the middle of next year or later.

Also breaking late today, Trump's task force coming out against him, a former aide to Mike Pence now saying she will vote for Joe Biden specifically because of what she views as Donald Trump's -- quote -- "disregard for human life."


OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: When we were in a task force meeting, the president said: "Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don't like shaking hands with people. I don't have to shake hands with these disgusting people."

Those disgusting people are the same people that he claims to care about.


MELBER: Quite a statement.

Now, coming up: President Obama out with an important claim about what to do if Donald Trump tries to suppress your vote -- when we come back.


MELBER: Finally night: President Obama addressing young voters directly with a new video offering guidance on exactly how to register and vote.

He even made it fun with some pop culture notes.


OBAMA: You can vote in-person. In many states, you can vote in-person before November 3.

The other route is to vote by mail. Some places call this absentee voting. You might hear it called voting from home. It's all the same, like Donald Glover and Childish Gambino.

Our democracy is a precious thing, and it's up to all of us to protect it.


MELBER: While reflecting on the fact that the talented actor Donald Glover is also Childish Gambino, like many people with artistic names, as a way to explain, it's all the same, as long as you vote with one of those methods.

We also learned Obama has another book coming out, "A Promised Land." It's the first of two volumes expected for worldwide released on November 17.

That does it for us. I will see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

As always, you can find me on social media @AriMelber, on Facebook or Instagram, or wherever you go online.

And keep it right here, right now, because "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.


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