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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 30, 2020

Guests: Melissa Murray, John Bolton, Michael Cohen, Anthony Scaramucci, Tony Schwartz

Summary

Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks out. Former Trump Attorney, Michael Cohen, former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and former Trump co-author Tony Schwartz discuss the election and President Trump's debate performance.

Transcript

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

And I'm jumping right into an unusual panel for tonight's show.

Welcome to our exclusive panel tonight, former Trump insiders who filled senior roles for Donald Trump in business, communication, and government, only to conclude that he's unfit for office or reelection.

You're looking at people you may know, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, who testified against his old boss, former White House communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, who opposes Trump's reelection after briefly serving in his White House, and former Trump co-author Tony Schwartz, who scripted Trump's original public mythology in "The Art of the Deal," only to emerge as a fierce critic and decoder of Trump's rhetoric and, yes, lies.

I want to thank each of you for joining this unique discussion at this important time.

Gentlemen.

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Ari, how are you?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Good to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Good. Good. Appreciate you all doing this.

We have set aside time tonight for conversation in depth.

But I do want to do quickly first two questions to each of you that are lightning round, basically one word only. And then we will get in deeper.

So, first, your views of Trump at the debate in a word.

Michael?

COHEN: Can I use a hyphenated word?

MELBER: Yes.

COHEN: Fecal display.

MELBER: Anthony?

SCARAMUCCI: Unhinged.

MELBER: Tony.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": Rabid.

MELBER: And the second lightning round question.

Given why, in part, you're here and in this role that you're playing as we go towards this election, from when each of you met him, how many years, in your account, in your mind, did it take to change your mind about Trump?

Michael?

COHEN: A decade.

MELBER: Anthony?

SCARAMUCCI: Seven years.

MELBER: Tony?

SCHWARTZ: Zero. I knew who he was at hello.

MELBER: Interesting, which, in your view, in your own telling, raises some of the questions of accountability that we're going to get into.

So, that's a framework for part of why each of you are here.

Let's get right into it.

Obviously, Michael, you have spoken out about witnessing Donald Trump's bigotry behind closed doors. You have spoken about it now under oath. You have written about it. And so I want to go to you first.

Take a look at this key moment in last night's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

But I will tell you what. I will tell you what. Somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Stand by to the Proud Boys and when he was asked about white supremacy.

Michael, your view of that, and what have you seen in your time with him that helps explain that, so people know what they're voting on if they want to support him in November?

COHEN: Well, Trump has made racism a central tenet Of this campaign.

And, in this case, he's blown his dog whistle at the Proud Boys, and he's essentially called his supremacy horde to their battle stations. That's how I saw it.

And it's really not what people think. You have to really understand Donald Trump to understand -- and I do this a lot in my book "Disloyal" -- what he's really thinking. He's refusing to disavow them because they are now his army, and he will call them to arms when he loses as an attempt to retain control over power.

This is -- he sees them as an army. They dress like an army, they behave like an army. They brandish the Trump flag, the make America great again flag, as they walk down the street attacking people. This is his army, and he intends on calling them to act.

MELBER: Tony, you're nodding?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, I think it's absolutely right.

I think that, listen, Trump is at a very, very difficult moment. He's been getting angrier and angrier over the past couple of months for what I believe -- and see what these guys think -- are two reasons. One, he increasingly believes he's going to lose, at least lose legitimately.

And the worst thing in the world for Donald Trump is to feel like a loser. It's obliterating to him.

The second thing is that, if he loses, he's worried he's about to get criminally indicted and that he could end up in prison.

MELBER: Michael?

COHEN: I mean, Tony is 100 percent correct. I mean, there's there's nothing else I can add to it. He hates to lose. It's a big problem for him. He's all about winning. I talk about that as well in the book.

And he is concerned. There are a multitude of investigations right now pending against him and the Trump Organization. And the way that he believes that he's going to stop them from continuing is to retain control and to retain the presidency.

MELBER: Right.

You're both speaking about his view of everything, do or die, total war, and the legitimate evidence out there for something that does not face most politicians or most presidents, which is the idea that losing is also associated with losing the power that might keep your liberty and keep you potentially out of other legal problems, or even, yes, criminal legal exposure.

Anthony, I want to bring you in here. And, again, you have spoken about this, so I don't say this to give you a hard time, but just part of my job is, you have, like others, been very supportive of this president before making your evolution.

So, with that context, let's take a look at some of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCARAMUCCI: I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history. He's done a phenomenal job for the American people.

He is giving people a license to hate, to provide a source of anger, to go after each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Walk us through how you, a very intelligent, well-educated adult professional, felt that way or said those things recently, and land where you do today on this panel, saying you have seen Trump up close and you're warning the American people.

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I'm blaming the whole thing on Michael, Ari, because the one that introduced me to Mr. Trump.

COHEN: I knew this was where...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARAMUCCI: So, you get the whole thing.

But, no, in all seriousness, what I said was, he has great political instincts, and he does have great political instincts. You have to acknowledge that. If you want to defeat Mr. Trump, you have to accept what his strengths and weaknesses are.

But my evolution really came from watching the presidency unfold. I was actually trying to stay loyal after I got fired. And I ended up seeing a lot of things that you couldn't take.

And so somebody, one of my liberal friends, said, well, he was the same guy in 2015 as he was in 2019, when you were going against him. So what do you say to that?

And my answer to that is, I'm not the same person. I'm way more psychologically minded. The way I got fired, the way I got roughed up by the experience made me more empathetic, more mature, and more psychologically aware of what's going on around me.

And it sort of broke me out of that cult. And so I have to own my mistakes, certainly. But what I also want to do is provide an off-ramp, Ari, for other people, where they're looking at this situation. They know it's ugly. They know it's a gruesome situation.

MELBER: Yes.

SCARAMUCCI: And let's get them the off-ramp that they need.

MELBER: It's so interesting you say that, Anthony, because the off-ramp is -- the whole panel stays.

Tony, I'm going to go to you.

But this off-ramp is something that is why we're having this conversation tonight. America saw this debate last night.

The panel stays, but this is another key question I want to get into with our guests. You have many swing state voters looking at this the final monthly election cycle. And one question is, after you go Trump, do you ever go back?

In entertainment and politics, Trump's never been a broadly popular figure. He's no Oprah. But Trump has a small and fervently dedicated following. So, it does matter how people break away, what the off-ramp is, as Anthony Scaramucci just mentioned, as these colleagues of ours here from Donald Trump are going to get into.

So, I want to put a little bit more evidence on the table. When you look at not just these famous politicos, but lesser known Americans, there are many who start out liking Donald Trump, believing him, only to learn it was a con.

And before politics, that included people who believed Trump would do what he said, small business entrepreneurs back in 2005 who believed Trump would be personally involved in backing a marketing company they had, when he never even showed up. They sued him for fraud and false advertising.

Trump fans who believed that Donald Trump was doing public works though his charity, which was literally shut down and fined for conning them, because it was all a lie. Or, of course, the many Trump fans who spent up to $35,000 to get classes from Trump at Trump University, where they found out it was a fraud, no Trump there to do any teaching or classes, no university to speak of, something that actually converted the most loyal type of Trump fan, someone willing to spend their own money to just be with him, into a con victim seeking justice.

This is the boom/bust cycle we have seen of Trumpism. I say that not as a political observation, but as the evidence from Trump's own former fans, former fervent supporters, whose feelings often curdle into people who find themselves repulsed and repelled in the end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis condemning President Trump, accusing the president of deliberately trying to divide Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's worst impulses can't be ameliorated.

SCHWARTZ: Well, if you Google the word sociopath, you will get -- the first list will be the 10 key qualities of the sociopath. That is a perfect description of Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I liked working for him, but when I saw how he talked about us when he started his presidency, I felt humiliated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire program was smoke and mirrors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Do those stories of smoke and mirrors apply to this election?

There are some echoes here. There's a farmer, Rick Telesz, who spoke out about regretting his vote for Trump and even spoke at the DNC. And there's data showing a portion of Americans defecting out of the Trump bubble.

For example, did you know that, in battleground states, now about one out of 20 Trump voters, 6 percent of his 2016 supporters, say they will not have any chance of backing him again?

We turn that process to each of you, starting with Tony.

What is specific to the support that Trump endears that then is important to understand if someone's going to break away?

SCHWARTZ: Look, first of all, it's mostly men. Women are overwhelmingly against Trump. Men are for him. There's a disease that especially afflicts men, and most of all men who grow up with a feeling of not being good enough.

And it's the disease of trying to win from the outside world through money and power and fame the love and recognition that was missing for them when they grew up in their own families. It's the heart of why Trump does what he does. He's still trying to prove his worth to his dad.

It's the story I tell about myself in "Dealing With the Devil." I suspect it's true -- I don't know, but I suspect it's true for Michael and Anthony.

I have reckoned with it over the past 30 years. Trump hasn't. The reckoning is why I feel such joy in giving away my royalties from "The Art of the Deal" to people and causes that can serve a greater good.

So, in my case, over the next month, I will give -- I will donate my next tranche of royalties, as I have donated all royalties from "The Art of the Deal" since the -- since Trump was elected, to Joe Biden and to Democrats fighting for Republican Senate seats, and to causes that Trump hates.

It's my way of getting Trump to support what he hates.

MELBER: Anthony?

SCARAMUCCI: I think there's a lot of -- I think there's a lot of truth to that.

I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood. My parents did give me a lot of love. But we -- we were hustling. We were hustling for -- in a tight-budgeted family. And I was out to do well and try to live the American dream. And I read the book that Tony wrote -- I told him that -- when I was about 23 years old, and I was inspired by it.

And so ,for me, when I met Mr. Trump -- and Michael did introduce me to him -- I had this feeling about him that, OK, this is a doer, this is a guy that can get things done. And then, more time I spent with him, I saw him as a raconteur.

And then, when we were on the campaign together -- and Michael could attribute this -- he was way more relaxed on the campaign because he didn't think he was going to win the presidency.

When he got to the presidency, all those...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Let me push on that point, because you're answering -- specifically what Tony raises, to Anthony and then to Michael, Anthony, did you feel that associating yourself with Trump, in your case personally, but for many other Americans, it's at a distance, did it make you feel bigger or better about yourself initially?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I would have to be honest with that and say, no, in the beginning, but, when he won the presidency, yes.

The presidency, that's where I made my mistake. My ego and my pride kicked in. And when your ego and pride kicks in, Ari, your intelligence -- your emotions go up and your intelligence goes down.

And so, yes, when he won the presidency, I was attracted to the idea of working in the White House. I have to live with that and reckon with that for the rest of my life, because he was the wrong man to go to work for or work with, but not in the beginning, because I had already had a very good career.

I was hosting a show on the FOX Business channel. And I just thought it was going to be a lot of fun to be a part of the campaign. But when he made the transition into the presidency, the answer to that question is a very honest yes.

MELBER: And so, Michael, the same question you, which you explore in the book, do you ever feel like you're speaking to your past self when you speak, as people are listening to you now on this program, your book, your podcast, you're speaking sometimes towards people who are where you were a few years ago in terms of how they support Trump?

COHEN: Yes.

Just to talk about what Tony had brought up, I grew up in a very loving home, and my relationship even to this day with my father is unbreakable. I love the man. I was never looking for a replacement father.

What Trump was more like a patriarch. It's a little bit different. But what really enticed me wasn't the money, like Judge Pauley used to say, what he said at my sentencing. It had nothing to do with the money.

Like Anthony and Tony, I was very successful. I had done very well early on in my career. What attracted me -- and I believe this is what attracts most of America -- is the stardom. It's that celebrity fame that he brings. It's the, I'm going to live my life larger than you could ever imagine.

I went out, you may remember, to Ohio for him. I took the 727 by myself. And when I landed, they asked me, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Cohen, what are you doing here? I came to just check out the first caucus state. Well, why did you take Mr. Trump's 727? Well, he wouldn't let me use the 757, right?

I mean, this was the life. I was on the board of Miss Universe Organization, the business card, big thick cardboard with the gold. It's the celebrity power that he brings. It's the, I'm going to live my life larger than life.

And that was something that attracted me. And I did things that, as Anthony says, I'm going to regret for the rest of my life, most...

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: ... into running for this presidency.

MELBER: And, specifically -- and I'm just pushing you -- what do you say to people who are where you were then and say, yes, celebrity, populism...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes. What do you say to them?

COHEN: Sure.

The whole purpose -- the whole purpose of the book "Disloyal" is, go to the store, buy some Visine, put Visine in your eyes, and clear, clear your vision to -- and see that Donald Trump doesn't care about anyone or anything other than himself.

MELBER: I want to read from the book, as you mentioned, Michael, about this challenge, this dilemma you guys are going through, because you said, "Here's the thing," after much of what you recount.

"I care for Donald Trump, even to this day, and I had and still have a lot of affection for him."

To channel, I think, the question many would have, why?

COHEN: It's the different Donald Trump. It's not the Donald Trump as the president. It was the former Donald Trump.

And the Donald Trump I was referring to in that paragraph was the fun Donald Trump. Anthony will attest this, that we had a lot of good times together. I mean, going out for dinner with him was always a -- it was a celebration, and going to even the clubs, where you're treated like...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARAMUCCI: Yankee games, Michael, Yankee games.

COHEN: Yankees games. Went to the U.S. Open.

I mean, there was a lot of good moments. And when Donald Trump is good, he's good. But when he's bad, he's worse than evil.

MELBER: Tony -- Michael Cohen is going to stay with us on another piece of this.

But, Tony, what about the mental process you have to go through? I showed those other examples because so much is polarized right now, it's easy to forget that, if a belief system is based on something false, as long as you're debating the underlying falsehood, you're not really going to move anyone.

I mentioned those people because they did like Donald Trump. They weren't mad that Donald Trump did something, in their view, that was terrible. They were just mad he didn't even have the decency to show up to a date he made to teach a class. And they believed him.

What does that tell you about the challenge in these weeks ahead with the debate last night hanging over?

SCHWARTZ: Well, first of all, look, there's 30 percent or around there that are immovable. They are part of a cult, as probably Anthony and Michael would say they were.

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: ... to that.

SCHWARTZ: I didn't feel part of a cult. I felt like I was doing something for the money. It was a decision that I am ashamed of and that I have come to regret. But I knew exactly who Donald Trump was from day one.

I knew that he was a liar and a cheater and a sociopath. And the -- I struggled with this all through the writing of the book. And once the book was over -- and I don't want to -- I don't mean to be defending myself, because I too, like my two colleagues here, will carry this to my grave.

MELBER: Are you defending your value, Tony?

SCHWARTZ: Am I defending my value?

That's a trick question from you, Ari. I know you. You're setting me up for the second question. What is it?

MELBER: Well, it's only a trick because Tony -- I read Tony. Tony writes about making the mistake of falling into only defending your value, instead of growing from your mistakes.

So, yes.

But go ahead, Tony, finish your thought before I turn to Michael.

SCHWARTZ: So, I just think that the most important thing that you could say to a person who's sitting on the fence right now is, are you proud of this country? Do you feel better than you did when Trump came into office?

Because it's very much like the question about -- that was asked years ago. I'm now not remembering who asked it.

MELBER: Yes.

SCHWARTZ: I think it was Jim Carville came up with the question: Are you doing better than you were?

Americans, Trump's supporters, Trump's opponents, most Americans do not feel happy with the country they're living in. And who's been leading that country for four years? Donald Trump.

MELBER: Right.

And I think that's important. Look, we're starting this conversation. And it's very easy to stand at a distance and just issue broadsides. It's harder to do, I think, what each of the three of you are doing, even if people have criticisms of you, which is actually taking this on.

But what you're talking about, Tony, is evidence. What is the evidence of how your life is in the country? Do we want to have an election based on evidence? I know that's an old-fashioned concept, as people make up their own minds.

What we're going to do here is, I'm going to thank Anthony and Tony and release you guys. Thank you for being a part of this. We will see you again.

SCARAMUCCI: Good to be here.

MELBER: Michael Cohen, I know you have agreed to stay, and I appreciate it.

We have our shortest break, 30 seconds, and then we're back with some special new topics with Michael Cohen in 30.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE BEAT.

We are still joined by Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who worked at the Trump Organization, his debut on THE BEAT. He's the author, of course, of the new book "Disloyal" about his time with Donald Trump.

Michael, thanks for staying on.

Because of your experience, and the blunt way you have been able to share what you know, I did want to have some time one-on-one with you. So thank you for sticking around.

Let's get into something you know about intimately that came up last night, Donald Trump busted as a tax cheat. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, MODERATOR: Will you tell us how much you paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017?

TRUMP: Millions of dollars.

WALLACE: You paid millions of dollars?

TRUMP: Millions of dollars, yes.

WALLACE: So, not $750?

TRUMP: Millions of dollars, and you'll get to see it.

I don't want to pay tax. Before I came here, I was a private developer. I was a private businesspeople. Like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws. And that's what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Michael, I'm eager to hear from you on this because you are both, as we know as lawyers, a fact witness -- you were there -- and an expert witness. You know about the law.

From your personal experience, did Donald Trump break the tax laws? And did he do so deliberately?

COHEN: OK, so let me say to you this way. Few people were involved in Donald Trump's taxes. It wasn't something that I worked on, on the regular.

I have seen his tax return, but I never studied them. I wouldn't even know how to read my own tax return. His were about 20-some-odd-thousand pages. It covered the entire 26-floor conference room table from corner to corner. And that's a 30 man table, just to give you an idea on how he's got 970 different subcorporations.

He did not pay millions of dollars in taxes. He paid exactly what "The New York Times" turned around. They have the return. They have gone through it. And they know.

While he paid $1,500 over those two years -- I have said this before -- I paid over $3 million, and yet I went to prison for tax evasion. So, if I went to prison for 36 months for tax evasion on a million dollars, lord knows he's going to do 300 years.

All right? The only few people that -- in the Trump Organization that know anything about the taxes is Mr. Trump, who knows everything about everything -- and any time that he says, I didn't know, I didn't know, it's a lie -- Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer, Don, Ivanka, and Eric. Those are your five.

MELBER: Interesting.

You mentioned Eric.

COHEN: Not to mention -- let me just say...

MELBER: Go ahead.

COHEN: ... not to mention the accounting firm of Mazars, the one that is now what the Supreme Court, where they're trying to get the copies of the tax returns that way.

MELBER: Yes, important points.

Well, you mentioned Eric. Let's jump ahead and look at this, because that's more legal heat on Trump in New York, a judge ordering Eric Trump to testify. This is about a New York fraud inquiry, including how the Trump Organization valued land, an effort to get, again, this issue -- quote -- "the largest possible tax break" -- you see this from "The New York Times"' reporting -- and how the Trump Organization reported 100 million in loan forgiveness also to tax authorities.

So, follow the money, follow the debt. That tax thread is key.

When you were at the Trump Organization, what did you see on the inside, compared to the way it's sold? Because Donald Trump pitched it in "The Apprentice," elsewhere in the campaign as this giant, sprawling, successful business.

How many people really worked there full time? How did this fit into this larger alleged tax fraud?

COHEN: Right.

So, Eric turns around the other day, and he makes a comment that we employ tens of thousands of people. That's not true. The Trump Organization is a glorified mom-and-pop organization. Maybe two dozen people really run the whole company.

Now, you do have people that work on the golf course, caddies, people, green -- the groundskeepers and so on. He's including everybody. He also includes, for example...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: But let me -- just to narrow and then...

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: One second. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Ari, he also includes, as an example, doormen and people that are working in some of his buildings. Well, he doesn't own the building, right?

MELBER: Right. So, let's specify on headquarters.

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: ... condominium.

MELBER: On the headquarters -- so, yes, you're saying take out people who, OK, they may do good, honest work, earn an honest living as a caddy or a doorman.

But in the Trump Organization headquarters, you're saying it's literally under 50 people?

COHEN: No, let's say it's probably closer to 100 people in total.

MELBER: OK.

And that is different...

COHEN: It's certainly not tens of thousands.

MELBER: Well, a lot of Trump supporters think of it -- and I interviewed them when I was -- when I have been out covering on the trail.

They think of it as a company like Coca-Cola or Tesla. You're saying it's much more like a New York small business with 100 or so people in headquarters?

COHEN: In headquarters, yes.

MELBER: Wow.

COHEN: Yes.

MELBER: I did want to get you as well on this other moment.

COHEN: Welcome to the facade.

MELBER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Go ahead.

COHEN: But that's what he does.

I mean, that's what "The Apprentice" is. It was a studio. And in the studio, he had an office. He had his conference -- his boardroom. And he would fire people, and he would put them through tasks. And he was -- it's a facade.

And that's -- the Trump Organization is really a glorified mom-and-pop company.

MELBER: Yes.

COHEN: No, it's not Coca-Cola. It's not Apple. It's not Facebook.

It's just not.

MELBER: No, I think this is so important as well, because there's things, as you know, that people are going to disagree about forever.

And that's part of the democracy Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: Well, there's nothing to disagree in this case.

MELBER: But -- exactly.

COHEN: There's nothing to disagree in this case. Release -- I could release to you, if you want, the list of all the employees and their phone numbers, right? We have the directory.

There are 100 people.

MELBER: Well, I'm not going to take their numbers. We're not -- we're not doxing anybody.

But your point stands, which is there's nothing to debate, if it's this small a business, and he's been lying about it, and people's beliefs are based, again, on that lie, sort of the theme here.

I did want to get into your case a little bit, because there are things that people can criticize you about, and you have spoken openly about them, and we have covered them on this show.

And then there are things where you are, like other people who have exercised their free speech rights, you're being targeted in ways that the evidence shows are unconstitutional, and that judges have ruled are illegal. And I don't think that should just get swept aside in all this.

I want to play a little bit of where you fit in with other people who have used your First Amendment right and seen this retaliation. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The Department of Justice sues, trying to block the release of John Bolton's memoir.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": They need to let Michael Cohen out of prison tomorrow, because the judge has concluded that they only put him back in prison to try to stop him from writing a book criticizing the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit by President Trump's family to stop the publication of a tell-all book by the president's niece Mary Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There is a lot going on, Michael.

But would you speak to us and really to my viewers for a moment about what it means that, whatever you did in the past, which is public, when you spoke out and planned to continue speaking out against Donald Trump, which is everyone's right -- I don't care if someone's been incarcerated or not -- this was so over the line and illegal, a judge stopped their effort, the Trump administration's effort to literally keep you in jail for speaking, which is what Americans sometimes associate with other countries, not our own government.

COHEN: Right.

I mean, I think I could possibly be the first political prisoner in my own country based upon First Amendment speech. Watching your clips, sure, they were threatening litigation against Mary Trump, against John Bolton. These are all very different circumstances as -- than it relates to me.

First of all, I never worked for the government. I'm a private citizen. When John Bolton or others who wrote books, Comey, when they take a job in government, you actually sign certain NDAs and nondisclosures. In Comey's case, it could have been national secrets that were -- they're trying to protect.

So my situation is very different. I'm just a private citizen who was talking about my life and my moral -- loss of my moral compass working for a narcissistic sociopath, right?

And, for that, and for the fear that I was going to express what I had learned and what I had grown in for over a decade, closer to a decade-and-a-half, this upset the president so that he got Attorney General Bill Barr to play a funky game with the Department of Corrections, the Bureau of Prisons.

They lured me down to 500 Pearl. They showed me a document that was prepared specifically for me. They had a guy, Adam Pakula, who was working for the DOC at the time.

I said, listen, at first -- and I brought my lawyer with me, Jeff Levine, who turned around -- and he's a friend of mine from many, many years -- and we sat there and we said, hey, the first part of this is just unconstitutional. It's a complete violation of my First Amendment rights.

Lo and behold, they said, wait in the lobby. We're going to be out in about 30,40 minutes. We're going to reach out our superiors and see what's going to happen. Let's see if we can't work with you in changing the language.

MELBER: Yes.

COHEN: Lo and behold, the marshals show up. "Mr. Cohen, stand up. Face the wall."

They handcuff me. They shackle me. They throw me into this freezer, and so on. And I was very fortunate. My wife found one of the most amazing attorneys, Danya Perry, who fought them, put together a brief that was second to none. It was amicus by the ACLU.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I'm only jumping in -- lawyer to lawyer. We got two New York lawyers here. I'm running over on time.

And I'm only jumping in to say, on that point, you did win.

COHEN: She did a brilliant job.

MELBER: And so, in closing, we started with a lightning round. I will end with a lightning round.

I'm just curious, Michael, given that, in a word or a sentence, what did you think that day about your old boss Donald Trump that your speech scared him so much, he wanted to illegally jail you that day?

COHEN: Well, it's what Judge Hellerstein said, retaliation.

MELBER: Michael Cohen, on this one, the law, the judge will get the last word.

I appreciate you making your debut on THE BEAT. You and I have spoken before in other contexts. I hope you will come back, sir.

COHEN: Any time. Thank you so much, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you, Michael.

And, again, that memoir, many interested in it, it's "Disloyal." It's out now.

Now, I will tell you, we have had a lot going on already, but we have a lot more, including a very special guest who's also alleging, potentially, Donald Trump's illegal retaliation and clashing with Bill Barr. That special, it's a BEAT debut as well.

But, first, Donald Trump and this election. Professor Murray is here with not only a fact-check, but what you can do to protect your vote in the weeks ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Are you counting on the Supreme Court, including a Justice Barrett, to settle any disputes?

TRUMP: I think I'm counting at them to look at the ballots, definitely.

I don't think -- I hope we don't need them, in terms of the election itself, but for the ballots, I think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump weighing in last night.

Nyu Law Professor Melissa Murray weighing in now.

Good to see you.

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Good to see you.

MELBER: There were many things...

MURRAY: So, this was saying the quiet...

MELBER: Go ahead. You're ready. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: I thought he said the quiet part out loud last night.

I'm ready. So much to say.

He really said the quiet part out loud last night. He said he was counting on the Supreme Court. I think we understand why there is so much appetite to accelerate this nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and get her seated in advance of the election.

He's very clear here. This election hangs in the balance. He anticipates that it will be decided in the Supreme Court. And he knows that, once he has that judge seated, he will have a 6-3 conservative majority, with three of the nine justices appointed by him.

MELBER: Yes, you lay it exactly out.

And yet the backdrop is not just what he says when he finds longer and longer legal long shots. And I use the word long repeatedly on purpose, because, as viewers can see on the screen, very simply, the majority of court battles right now, the Republicans are losing, not all, but most, including efforts to constrain access to the ballot, which tells you, even in a federal judiciary that does lean towards Republican appointees, the idea that you're just going to make it impossible to vote by mail during a pandemic is not working.

What do you see as important coming out of last night for people to know about their own rights when they go to the polls with whatever method?

MURRAY: Well, I think it's really important to understand that things may be chaotic at the polls.

We have already seen Trump supporters out at some of the polling stations in Northern Virginia. It's not necessarily a violation of federal and state law, although there are laws against voter intimidation. But it could be problematic and it may deter some people from the polls.

So make a plan now as to how you're going to exercise your right to vote. If you're going to do it by mail, make sure you know the deadlines in your particular state for mailing back your ballot. Make sure you send back your ballot well in advance of those mail-in deadlines and ensure that it is received.

You can actually drop off even mail-in ballots at designated polling places, like your county clerk's office, for example. So, knowing where to send things, the time frames for doing so, that's going to be critically important.

The later your ballot is submitted, the harder it will be for it to count in terms of those deadlines in any post-election litigation.

MELBER: Makes sense.

Finally, I will give you the benefit of the same question I posed to the special panel we had earlier this hour. They are former Trump supporters who back Biden. You are not, to our knowledge, a former Trump supporter.

But in a word or a sentence, your view of the president's performance last night?

MURRAY: Well, I think I tweeted today that it was the -- I haven't seen anything that bad since I was 15, and I saw Color Me Badd in concert live.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: So, it was a lot.

It was a bad day for democracy. I mean, to have two candidates for the position of being the leader of the free world, and no one could actually get a word in edgewise because the president kept interrupting, you couldn't actually talk about the substance -- there are a lot of issues.

We're in the middle of a pandemic. You couldn't talk about health care. You couldn't talk about anything, because it was just not a deliberate and decent debate.

I mean, I felt bad for Chris Wallace. I think he had a hard time handling this. And I felt bad for the vice president, who had to sit there and take it. And, most of all, I felt bad for the country to have to watch it.

MELBER: All makes sense.

I had not heard that comparison. And that's why we turn to so many different people with different insights.

There is some concern, Melissa, we could go from Color Me Badd to color me autocrat.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: Ticktock, you don't stop. It never stops. We have been talking the slow slide into autocracy for a long time.

So, this is just another one. Suppressing the vote, making sure that people are not able to exercise the right to vote, that's the first step. So everything that you have highlighted today about getting out, getting out the vote, and getting people to make their voices heard is absolutely critical.

MELBER: I appreciate that.

And I say sometimes, whether people want to hear it or not, everyone has their free speech rights, including the people who supported Trump. Everyone has the right to a civic dialogue, and then people make up their own minds.

But there is no right to suppress the vote. And there's no right to suppress free speech.

And I think you saw, if I may -- this is a bit of rhetoric -- but what Donald Trump tried to do on that stage and why it was so controversial is the same thing that Michael Cohen was detailing a few moments ago that they physically tried to do, which is, yes, the instinct is to literally prevent free speech, fact-check, journalism, democracy.

That is on the table. Last night was just a particularly hard-to-watch version of it.

Professor Murray, thanks for jumping in here on a busy show.

MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it. We will see you again.

We have a break, but we have a lot more coming up.

Donald Trump's tax records sparking real national security concerns.

One insider who revealed the drug deals and hand grenades inside the Trump White House who blew the whistle, a very special guest and a BEAT debut, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT.

And making his debut on the program is Donald Trump's former National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton.

He's the author of the book "The Room Where It Happened."

Thanks for joining me, sir.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Glad to be with you. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Many issues in your book and in the news. "The New York Times," reporting on Donald Trump's tax issues, also discusses that the president's conflicts have hurt him in Turkey, where the business community and the authoritarian government there have not hesitated to leverage various Trump enterprises to their advantage.

How does that match some of the concerns you raise in your book? And do you think there is an ongoing national security threat here?

BOLTON: Well, I think one of the problems that Trump has is that he can't distinguish between his own personal interests and the national interests.

He thinks, for example, if he has a good relationship with President Erdogan of Turkey, that that means that U.S. relations with Turkey are also good.

Now, I don't mean to minimize the impact of personal relations in foreign policy, but those two things are not the same.

I can't really speak to whether there are financial interests involved. In my experience, I didn't see that. I saw it more in the area of Trump's political interests, where he conflated those interests with the national interests repeatedly. I found that to be very, very troubling.

MELBER: Did you ever see a situation where his reported debt affected his foreign policy decisions?

BOLTON: No, I don't.

And I know this criticism has been out there. Certainly, there's a lot of personal debt, if "The New York Times"' story is accurate. And you ask, well, why are there personal guarantees involved, when these are corporate transactions? It may mean that he's short on assets.

All of these are questions.

I just think it's important, because I don't think Trump should get another term, that, when you make a criticism, that there are facts to support it, and not just speculation.

I'd like to know a lot more about where these debts are owed, what the terms are, what the circumstances are. But, right now, at least from the data that's available publicly, we just don't know what the facts are.

MELBER: You say you don't support him getting another term. Are you backing Joe Biden?

BOLTON: No, absolutely not. I'm going to be unhappy on Election Day one way or the other.

Look, I don't think Donald Trump is a conservative. I don't think he has any philosophy at all. He's not motivated by policy or strategy. He's motivated by what's good for Donald Trump.

And I'm not going to vote for that. I did in 2016. But, after 17 months in the White House, I'm not going to do it again.

Joe Biden, I disagree with philosophically. So, it's not a very good choice, from my perspective. I'm going to write in somebody else yet to be determined.

MELBER: The Justice Department has come under fire, including from people who aren't necessarily sympathetic to you for any political or other reason, for the way that they appear to be criminally investigating you with this book.

Do you see evidence that you're being retaliated against for criticism?

BOLTON: Well, look, the president made it clear in public statements he didn't want the book to appear before the election. We're in litigation now over it, so it's really not appropriate for me to comment on it further.

But I'm confident that I will be vindicated.

MELBER: Yes. Well, if you're vindicated -- and I understand completely that there's limits on what you may want to say with an open case.

If you are indicated, that would add you to a long list of individuals, including -- we discussed it with Mr. Cohen earlier this hour, because it's that kind of night -- who have been on the other side of what looks like the politicizing of the Justice Department, no small matter.

I want to turn to impeachment, where many Americans who didn't already know your foreign policy work, which is extensive, learned about you. And, as you know -- I don't think it's any secret to you -- on the one hand, the book now, and in other reporting then, there was discussion of what you saw, bolstering that case.

As many remember, you didn't speak out at the time. Here's some of the criticism. Take a look, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): It is a dereliction of duty that John Bolton decided to make money off of what he knew, rather than to try to save democracy.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He too is a disgrace. He chose money over patriotism.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): He didn't need a subpoena to tell the American people in a book about these issues.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): John Bolton is a political opportunist and a profiteer.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, ACTOR/MUSICIAN (singing): Oh, no, not "The Room Where It Happened." John Bolton, oh, man, I can't believe I have to respond to this and beyond this. He should have ripped that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and testified before Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The last one being, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who you don't want to get a lot of shade from him, Mr. Bolton. He's very popular and associated with "Hamilton."

But the issue is deadly serious. And I want to get your response on it.

You said this mattered. You said this was vital. And then you withheld the testimony, claiming that there was some sort of legal reason. But then, later, you publish this book.

So, your response to this criticism?

BOLTON: Well, the criticism and what you just said is absolutely wrong.

And, in fact, what happened before the House was that they subpoenaed my former deputy Charlie Kupperman to appear. Immediately after he was subpoenaed, the White House sent him a letter saying, the president was directing him not to testify.

So, here you have one branch of government ordering him to appear and another branch of government ordering him not to appear.

So, Charlie Kupperman did what I thought was perfectly reasonable. He went to the third branch of government, the judiciary, and said, who am I supposed to obey? And both the House of Representatives and the White House argued that the court had no jurisdiction.

And, ultimately, the House withdrew the subpoena. They never issued me a subpoena. Everybody else who testified to the House was issued a subpoena.

MELBER: Sir, yes. No, I know.

And, respectfully -- respectfully, my viewers...

BOLTON: So, no, but this is -- this is important.

I didn't -- I didn't withhold anything.

MELBER: It is important.

BOLTON: Let's be clear on that.

MELBER: It is important.

BOLTON: I said expressly...

MELBER: You waited to publish the book.

BOLTON: I said -- you're absolutely wrong, sir.

MELBER: And let me give you a follow-up question, as an attorney, and then I will let you respond.

Ambassador, respectfully, you're claiming that the executive branch opposition was key. But, as we just discussed, the executive branch still opposes this now. They're even investigating you. But you went forward with the book.

Why didn't you go forward when it mattered with the Senate?

BOLTON: I told the Senate in a statement that explained the circumstances of the earlier litigation that I was prepared to testify.

And the Senate voted, by a majority vote, not to call any witnesses, because Republicans, by and large, said, even if the president did what it was alleged he had done in Ukraine, that his conduct did not rise to the level of impeachment.

MELBER: Yes, we remember that.

BOLTON: I think what's really wrong here...

MELBER: I'm focusing...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON: No, let me finish, sir, Mr. Melber, please. Let me finish.

What is really wrong here is the total Democratic mismanagement...

MELBER: Ambassador, I'm pointing you towards the core question.

BOLTON: ... of the impeachment process.

And that, you don't want to talk about, I can see.

MELBER: But, sir, I'm pointing you towards the question. There...

BOLTON: But that's where the real problem is.

MELBER: Respectfully, it's not about what I want to talk about. But I am posing a question, and I'm trying to get your answer for the public record, sir. I'm not doing it with any disrespect.

The senators who spoke out did say in both parties they would have welcomed your words. And you don't need a subpoena to write a book, which you later did.

So, while I understand the nuanced resuscitation of the litigation record that you're sharing, the question remains, the stuff that's in the book, wouldn't it have been better served to release at the time that the government, another branch, was considering this?

BOLTON: No, because the point I was trying to make before is, the Democrats badly mismanaged the impeachment process.

They believed that, if they could impeach Trump, they could inflict political damage on him, and it would inhibit him from this conduct in the future. That's what Nancy Pelosi meant when she said, he would be impeached forever.

But what they failed to understand was, they drove Republicans into a partisan corner. They guaranteed that impeachment would fail in the Senate and that Trump would be acquitted.

So, I blame the Democrats for not taking the time to understand what was really at stake. They are the ones who have now enabled Trump. That process strengthened him with their base.

The Democratic impeachment effort led to exactly the opposite consequence from what they said they intended. And that, the country is still suffering from.

MELBER: And that's fair. You have every -- and you have every to share that political or legislative critique. And my viewers are hearing it.

I want to be clear, though, you have not offered a substantive reason for why you, the ambassador, didn't speak out then, notwithstanding the fact that you didn't like the way they ran the impeachment, because, at the time, you did say, the executive branch opposed, and they still did...

BOLTON: I will give you another reason. Sure, I would be happy to give you another reason...

MELBER: Go ahead, sir.

BOLTON: ... if you want to listen to it.

And that is, the government at that point had not cleared what I had written on Ukraine. If you think there are difficulties now, you can imagine what would have happened had I spoken out at that point.

I'm very clear here that I did the right thing by telling the whole story. And I didn't do it for money. If I had wanted to make money, I never would have gone into the government in the first place.

MELBER: Ambassador, I think these are important issues. And you have a mastery of what happened, in your view, and I wanted to give you the chance to express it.

So, I appreciate you coming on THE BEAT. I hope you will return, sir.

BOLTON: Right. I actually thought we were going to talk about what was in the book.

MELBER: Well, you're a newsmaker, and you're a former government official.

So, while I'm happy to mention the book, and you got to promote it, we also discuss other issues. I hope you agree that, in a democracy, journalists interview former government officials about a range of topics, and not just the book tour, yes?

BOLTON: You may do what you want, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Ambassador John Bolton, again, the book is "The Room Where It Happened."

Appreciate your time.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: How many days to the election? Thirty-four.

But millions are already voting, because voting early is now on the board in 30 different states. Now, the trends coming in may be worrying Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans, nine million ballots requested in five key battleground states, but you see already more than half requested by Democrats.

That compares to about 28 percent of Republicans and 20 percent from the unaffiliated.

That's election news that's interesting. It doesn't tell you, of course, what the spread will be once you get all the in-person voting as well, especially given all the debates from both sides about who should vote which way.

Thank you for sticking with us here on a big show, on a big night, after a lot of big news.

We will be back with you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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