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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 4, 2020

Guests: Eleanor Clift, John Flannery, Henry Winkler, Lawrence Wilkerson, Conor Lamb

Summary

Actor Henry Winkler speaks out. President Trump is under fire over a shocking report that he disparaged the military veterans who lost their lives. The citizens who take videos of police are examined.

Transcript

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

Ari, what a day.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: An incredible news day, which we say all too often around here.

Good to see you, Nicolle. And I hope you have a well-deserved restful weekend.

WALLACE: You too. We will be watching.

MELBER: Thank you.

President Trump, as we are alluding to, getting absolutely slammed from all sides, a shocking report by any standard revealing, according to multiple sources, direct disparagement of the military veterans that serve America that keep him and us safe.

Sources telling "The Atlantic" the president refused to visit a military cemetery in France over fears the rain might mess up his hair and told aides: "Why should I go to that cemetery?" It's filled with losers?"

Then calling out more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives during World War I as -- quote -- "suckers" for getting killed.

When the president demanded that military parade in 2018, he told his staff he didn't want to include, according to this reporting, wounded veterans, because spectators might not be comfortable in the president of amputees, saying -- quote -- "Nobody wants to see that."

Meanwhile, while much of this tying into the ongoing feud with the late Senator John McCain, as the president, according to "The Atlantic" report, said -- quote -- "We're not going to support that loser's funeral."

And he got furious when he saw the flags lowered to half-staff, according to witnesses.

Now, this is a story about the past, but it's also a story about the present and future, because this is the commander in chief today. And the person running to replace him, Joe Biden, demanding an apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When my son volunteered and joined the United States military, as the attorney general, and went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn't a sucker.

The service men and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not losers.

If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he's denigrated and insulted. Who the heck does he think he is?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Let's get right to it.

I'm joined by Congressman Conor Lamb, vice chair of the House committee on Veterans Affairs, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who spent three decades in the U.S. Army.

Congressman, your view of this issue and why it matters at a time when there's obviously much going on.

REP. CONOR LAMB (D-PA): Yes, my view is that there is something very disturbing and strange about the mounting evidence of this lack of respect that we see coming from the White House.

And that's really what it is. I don't have any of us really have to waste too much time and energy litigating what was said and what was not said. I mean, I wasn't there. But I know that the president, what he did. He did not go to visit the Marine graves at Belleau Wood.

And for someone who served in the Marine Corps, you learn about it on the first day of boot camp. That battle was so historic, and it made the reputation of the Marine Corps forever. Somehow, General Dunford got there and somehow John Kelly got there, despite the rain and the traffic and whatever.

The president should have been there. And it's just -- it's consistent with other things I have seen in the last few years that speak about his priorities.

MELBER: Colonel?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: I have to agree with the congressman. I don't know why anyone surprise.

I spent the last two to three months really looking hard at this man, because I'm looking at the November 3 elections. And I belong to three groups that are trying to make sure we have free and fair elections in November.

And I have been stunned at the things that he's done, the things that he said and that things that we expect him to possibly do with regard to these elections, things that he's even made statements confirming.

So I wasn't surprised at all. This is just the latest in a series of egregious, even stupid, politically, comments that this man has made.

MELBER: Yes, and one theme in "The Atlantic" reporting, which also discusses reported disrespect to his own then chief of staff, then homeland security aide, General Kelly, whose son was in Arlington, also goes to the president's values.

Viewers of this program know, we don't put a lot of time into the armchair psychoanalysis or the attempt to diagnose from afar, because it's not really scientific. But values are, of course, on the ballot every time.

And, Congressman, the point made in the "Atlantic" article throughout not only the quoting, but the larger reduction of what it means, was multiple people who serve their country who, obviously, like the two of you can speak about what that sacrifice is, who've lived it, and who know people who are gone because of it, saying that this is a person in this high office who doesn't even have any care or commitment to the notion of public service.

And, Congressman, the president, of course, as a candidate made waves when you went after John McCain at a time when McCain was seen as a more powerful figure in the Republican Party. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He lost. So I never liked him as much after that, because I don't like losers.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But, Frank, Frank, let me get to it.

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: He's a war hero. He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He hit me. He is not a war hero.

LUNTZ: He's a war hero.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: He's a war hero -- he's a war because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK, I hate to tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Congressman, as you say, putting aside any so-called shock value, what do you think this means, if anything, for voters making up their minds about whether this individual deserves another four years as commander in chief or not?

LAMB: You know, Ari, I know that you're a music fan. And I look at that, and I just think to myself, it ain't hard to tell.

(LAUGHTER)

LAMB: We have been seeing this for four years. And we can see what the values are. And his actions, again, dictate them.

One of the things that this has raised for me, I have never been able to explain for the last two years. There are these Vietnam veterans who need presumptive benefits for things like bladder cancer, hypothyroidism.

Most of them come from states that voted for President Trump. Most of them themselves voted for President Trump. With the stroke of a pen, he could help these guys out, and they're in their 70s. They think he's waiting for them to die.

And it just kind of all fits together that it's just not really a priority for him, any more than a talking point. And it's sad, honestly, is what it is.

MELBER: You mentioned the support.

Colonel, the polling on this historically with the Republican Party, but even with Donald Trump, who so many Republicans and conservatives described as aberrant, still shows it pretty split. We have this here, Joe Biden doing about 41 percent in the matchup among active-duty troops, Donald Trump in a similar number, within the margin of error.

Does that ever move? Should it?

WILKERSON: Well, I don't trust polls particularly.

I will tell you the polls I trust, the ones the Marines and the soldiers do to prepare the battlefield, as they call it. That's about the only ones I look at.

And I will tell you what they're telling us right now. They're telling us that about 4.5. to 5 billion people in the world think that the number one threat to their future, their children's future, is the United States of America.

And when you dig into that, and you analyze that, you find out -- and this is why his support, as "The Military Time" series have reported recently, is falling off in the military -- it's Trump. It's more Trump than anything else.

I had a Canadian friend talk to me yesterday about, what's happened to your country, Larry? And when we boiled it down to what he really was talking about, it was the leadership coming from the White House, or the lack of leadership.

So his support is falling off of the military. I found it rather odd, until I delved into it with regard to polling. And we found, some scholars dealing with this, that the real reason many of the military voted for him is because he promised to stop the stupid, endless wars.

And I'm all for that. I'm all for that. And so are they. And now they see that there's not real truth there, that there's no truth to this man whatsoever. So that's why it's falling off, I think.

MELBER: Well, I appreciate your point that, whether folks trust Donald Trump or not, your point that there is content to it, that there were claims made in '16, just like we discussed this recently with a Trump adviser I had on the show. There were claims about restoring coal jobs. It's a broken promise.

But it gives us some insight into people hearing something and potentially believing it.

Before we go, Colonel. I also wanted to get your views on the Trump administration tried to end "Stars and Stripes," which familiar to some viewers, maybe not to others. What does that publication mean to you, to military families, sir?

WILKERSON: Well, for me, for my time in Korea in particular, but other places too.

Started, I think, in 1861. Grant took over a Confederate paper, as I recall. This has been around for a long time, and it criticizes the military, rightfully so most of the time, as much as it adds to their luster and provides the troops with stories and such that are positive and keeps their morale up, especially on the battlefield.

It's a great, great newspaper. And I'd hate to see it go away. I would think that the military would subsidize it, if it had to. It's a great newspaper. And its purpose is twofold, as I said, to criticize the military when it needs criticism. And the troops really appreciate. Marines, soldiers, airmen, all of them appreciate that.

It needs to stay there and it needs to continue to fulfill that function.

MELBER: Yes.

It's a striking corollary to this story, an attack on, as you say, something that's got such a long tradition that we're told is valuable to many people in the military community, and that is also the press. No secret there about the president's attempts to undercut the free press.

Colonel Wilkerson and Congressman Lamb, on a serious story, I appreciate you kicking off the show tonight with us here on THE BEAT.

LAMB: Thank you.

WILKERSON: Good to be with you.

MELBER: Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Up next, we have something very important we have been working on, a special report looking at the decades of police brutality, and how the accountability is recently coming through videos and who's on the other side, the citizens behind these important videos we have heard so much about, and why there is an effort to interfere with your right to record police.

We're going to get into why it's important to bear witness to these alleged crimes, the retaliation, and some other really special things that might show you why some people are even optimistic.

It's our special report -- when we're back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to our special report tonight amidst new videos of police brutality.

We begin with a simple fact. The current American reckoning for police conduct is not about new conduct. Take Will Smith, who both portrayed an officer on screen and has recounted his own experience with police harassing him in real life.

Smith said it simply. The American way racism is not getting worse. It's getting filmed.

The videos, of course, are disturbing. The nation watched that slow killing of George Floyd, and then watched that fast shooting of Jacob Blake, police converting a routine stop into violence within three minutes, shooting the 29-year-old father in the back seven times.

This video evidence, clearly scene as new to some people, is leading to once rare indictments of police, driving calls for wider policy change.

And yet the very right to record police can also be met with resistance. Take this stop in North Carolina, an attorney holding firm as he lawfully taped an officer, who then threatens to jail him for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn that off, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I'll keep recording, thank you. It's my right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't record me. You got me?UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, you're a police officer on duty. I can record you.

And if you come to this side of the vehicle, I can keep recording you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can keep recording you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn it off, or I'm going to take you to jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For recording you? I'm sitting in my car. I know my rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what the law is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know the law. I'm an attorney. So, I would hope I know the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Just that alone would take some guts.

That officer sounds authoritative. He has the gun and the power. And that's a simple stop before any incident might turn from routine to dangerous.

But this video evidence can actually change a lot, even in a system that uses such a high bar to ever charge any officers. Now, in these videos, you can always see two things, the police and the victim.

When people watch a victim hurt or killed, understandably, that's a focus. But for these videos, remember, there are also two things you don't see.

That's the subject of our special report now.

One, you can't see the person recording the video, who's both witness and participant to an unfolding event. And, two, you can't see the rules and pressure for the citizen surveillance of police power, how the system treats these videos.

Tonight, we're going to explore both.

While America has learned about victims of police violence, like Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott, and, in New York, Eric Garner, and now, this summer, George Floyd, we have seen those, but we know less about the people who risked a lot to tell the stories.

They're not usually reporters or public officials or DAs. They're citizens with camera phones.

So, while most Americans know Rodney King, fewer know George Holliday, who, back in 1991, at a time long before cell phones, took out his Sony hand-cam to his balcony at 1:00 a.m. to record this footage.

Without this now infamous video, there may have been no Rodney King case, no trial, no protests, no L.A. riots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: White policeman and black motorists are at the center of two explosive cases.

An amateur cameraman recorded it all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An apartment dweller across the street took the videotape after hearing the fracas going on. The amateur cameraman said it appeared to him the suspect was attempting to cooperate, when the beating with nightsticks began.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Attempting to cooperate.

Now, he later recounted those pivotal moments to NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HOLLIDAY, FILMED RODNEY KING: I went to the balcony, grabbed the camera on the way, and started filming.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You didn't really know what you were filming, other than some sort of police activity?

HOLLIDAY: Yes, yes.

And when I got out onto the balcony, they were already hitting him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, one can view his recording as an act of basic documentation, or reporting, or even activism.

But it was not a replicable model at that time. You couldn't repeat that easily, because home cameras were rare and expensive.

The revolution in phone technology, of course, changed all that, the first major camera phone debuting in 2000. Seven years after that came the first iPhone. The focus then was on the fun new options available.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hello.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The phones kept coming.

Four out of five people now have smartphones, a consumer revolution that wasn't planned, of course, with tracking police brutality in mind, but that's one thing about technology. It can be used by the powerful.

Government and these big companies, they gather tons of data and surveillance on us. But it can also be turned on the state.

In a society where the state openly kills people, unarmed in broad daylight, you can see how some citizens would at least take their phones out to document it, in the hopes of preventing the worst, or providing accountability if the worst happens.

Now, these citizen tapes are distinct from videos made by the state, like police body camera videos. Those can provide video evidence. They can serve accountability. But, remember, the government controls them. That means their recording is not guaranteed. They may not come out fast, if at all, depending on local rules.

And we're seeing controversies over police hiding body camera videos in many cases, including Breonna Taylor's.

Or take the current Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin. It occurred in a place where a city council unanimously backed body cameras three years ago, but it's all been delayed, so there's no possible body cam video of that shooting, even as the citizen video went public, thanks to 22-year-old Raysean White, a resident who saw the incident from his apartment.

We're not showing his face, at his request, for privacy.

Or take 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who filmed George Floyd's killing while walking with her 9-year-old cousin.

So, while we usually see the police and the victim, let's see this person to remember, as horrific as it is to even watch the tape of police taking eight minutes to slowly kill Floyd, imagine being the person, a teenager, facing down that crisis in real time and taping it, as the one thing she might do as the police were acting.

Imagine not only the trauma, but the fear that those police might approach you next, as you live out those eight minutes live, an agonizing length of time, as Dave Chappelle, among many others, has emphasized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: This man kneeled on a man's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Can you imagine that? This kid thought he was going to die. He knew he was going to die. He called for his mother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We only know those details because of Darnella Frazier's recording, the unseen citizen behind the famous video.

And then there's the other thing we don't always see how, the system responds. This is super important, because it tries to deter taping of police in many ways.

First, did you know how many states have tried to ban these recordings? Ten say you can't secretly film people. Now, under pressure, courts have then ruled police can actually be held accountable on video because they're at work.

Courts also had to overrule government attempts to punish the recording of police. When Boston police charged a man for recording them punching a suspect, the man sued and won a ruling that videotaping public officials like police is protected by the First Amendment, given their power to deprive individuals of their liberties.

Then there's the other pressure, from street-level intimidation, like that officer we just saw, who misstated the law to demand someone stop recording, to outright retaliation.

The man who recorded the infamous video of Eric Garner gasping, "I can't breathe," well, his name is Ramsey Orta. He says the police have been targeting and harassing him since then by using other charges. Police say he was stopped for real and separate offenses.

Now, even though he was Garner's friend, Orta says sometimes he even regrets "not just minding my business, because it put me in such a messed-up predicament," a point we also heard from the person who recorded incriminating video of police shooting Walter Scott in the back in 2015.

That video evidence was key to proving the officer lied about it, planting evidence of a Taser near the dead body to allegedly stage the crime scene.

Now, that was taped by Feidin Santana, who was concerned enough to shoot the video, but then still worried that sharing it with the Scott family could lead to police retaliation.

And there's evidence of that happening, of police cracking down on videos.

When damning video of the Chicago P.D. shooting Laquan McDonald finally came out, there was not only a murder charge, but also charges for tampering with video evidence by police. The FBI later said it didn't find proof of that.

This week, there are new reports police maybe hiding videos from the controversial shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Then, more broadly, some police allies, as well as conservative politicians, argue that making videos of police will have a cost. It will be met by police backing off their jobs and crime going up.

This is a big deal. It's a kind of a vague threat that there will be new costs on us for having these videos exists. It's sometimes called a viral video or Ferguson effect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: There is growing outrage tonight after an unarmed African-American teenager was shot and killed by police in the Saint Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Protesters in Ferguson took to the streets, protesting the use of force.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The de-policing effect, what I have called the Ferguson effect. He said cops have gone fetal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those few that are bad apples damage that relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gives the police the kind of feeling that, if they do anything out of the ordinary, there's going to be 27 citizens with video cameras looking for a gotcha moment with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, as soon as some citizen videos provide a little scrutiny, you see this tidal wave of backlash for the cameras.

And let me be clear. This was not just from commentators. It came from the top of the FBI, then Director Comey responding to those videos and Black Lives Matter protests by making headlines where he claimed a -- quote -- "viral video effect" blunts police work.

Comey had no data to support that. But he was siding with that anti-camera argument, that making video evidence about police, documenting the reality of what some police do, that that itself was bad because the police might stop working.

In other words, videos of bad cops would stop good cops from being good cops.

Here's how the FBI director put it:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think that is still a -- what I'm talking about is sort of the viral video effect, and changes in the way police may be acting and in the way communities may be acting in terms of how much information they share with police.

I think it is the potential effect of marginal pullbacks by lots and lots of police officers that is changing some cities, I have heard in lots of conversations privately with police leaders, and there's a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: This was not that long ago. This matters. This is the pressure and blowback for the basic right exercised to document facts about police. And that was even within the Obama administration.

President Obama viewed Comey's repeated claims as so extreme, he took the rare step of publicly rebutting a claim that this so-called video effect increased crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The data shows that we are still enjoying historically low rates of violent crime.

What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That's not all.

Here's what we didn't know at the time, but you can know now tonight. Obama was so concerned about that FBI pressure against the right to record police that he secretly brought Comey into the White House for what was actually their first one-on-one meeting in two years to go over those Comey claims about policing that struck a discordant note with Obama, as Comey himself would later concede.

Now, why does that recent history matter now? Well, let me tell you, I think there's room for both pessimism and reform here, pessimism that part of police culture -- think about this -- is so broken and one-sided that some of its members and leaders really believe video evidence is something to be used only against citizens, those who are policed, but never to be used to pursue facts and accountability for those who do the policing.

But there are also signs of reform here, because this clash and its reaction shows just how powerful this citizen-made evidence can be. Those videos can change minds, wresting power from the powerful, launching movements, power and the people who bore witness, who recorded, sometimes at personal risk, to upend years of state power backed by force, returning to that point from Will Smith, racism is not new, but filming it is.

America has, of course, been through all this before. There was tons of brutality in the Jim Crow South. One civil rights strategy, though, was to get it documented and broadcast. If it could not be immediately physically stopped, Martin Luther King reasoned, then it must be documented, so America would be forced to face itself.

After the Bloody Sunday Selma marches, Dr. King spoke about this specifically, saying: "We're here to say to the white men, we no longer will let them use clubs on us in the dark corners. We're going to make them do it in the glaring light of television," which required pressing national outlets in the Northern, largely white press to put it on television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With me in the studio is the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, who's just come from conducting this evening's march in Selma.

Dr. Abernathy is Dr. Martin Luther King's second in command.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The picketing pressure the president said he would not be blackjacked by was partly on the sidewalk immediately in front of the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, last night, you commended the people of Alabama for restraint during today's march.

And last night, a white civil rights worker was killed. How do you feel about it this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, of course, I feel badly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Many black leaders at the time called out the press for its complicity in disappearing the facts and the horror.

Then there were artists like Gil Scott-Heron, who would go on to say, famously, the revolution will not be televised, as he spoke of the limits of instant replay and police brutality on tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GIL SCOTT-HERON, MUSICIAN: There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on instant replay. There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will be no re-run, brothers. The revolution will be live.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: The revolution will be live.

Well, times change. So does technology. Then, people didn't have the means to record and broadcast. Now many do.

And while any revolutionary song is open to interpretations, Gil Scott-Heron later said something worth reflecting on now. His song meant that the most profound revolution is the one in your mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT-HERON: We ere saying it like that the thing that's going to change people, it will just be something that you see, and all of a sudden you realized, I'm on the wrong page. I have got to get in sync with everyone else to understand what's happening in this country.

But I think that the black Americans have been the only real die-hard Americans here. We're the ones who marched. We're the ones who carried the Bible. We're the ones who carried the flag. We're the ones who tried to go through the courts.

And being born American didn't seem to matter, because we were born Americans, but we still had to fight for what we were looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You know, it takes a special kind of vision and patriotism to embrace the struggle for civil rights as membership in the club of die-hard Americans.

Now, we don't know what Mr. Heron or Dr. King would think of this ongoing revolution today, more of it playing out on our screens, televised and viral, and sometimes unavoidable even to those who've been trying to avoid and deny these American realities forever.

But we do know right now the revolutionaries are out there, not only marching and organizing, but also taping, taping even in the moments of deepest tragedy and violence, exercising their die-hard American rights.

And it's worth listening to them and their work, so that we might someday curb the need for this grim civic duty.

And they get the final word on this subject tonight.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FEIDIN SANTANA, FILMED ERIC GARNER VIDEO: My fear was to be here where I am today.

But, at the same time, I have this feeling, because I know that that was an injustice, what I saw. And I want to come forward.

DIAMOND REYNOLDS, GIRLFRIEND OF PHILANDO CASTILE: I didn't do it for pity. I didn't do it for fame. I did it so that the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us. They are to kill us because we are black.

DARNELLA FRAZIER, FILMED GEORGE FLOYD VIDEO: I posted the video last night, and it just went viral. And everybody is asking me, how do I feel?

I don't know how to feel. And I just see him on the ground. I'm like, what is going on? I pull my camera out.

They killed this man. And I was right there. I was like five feet away.

It is so traumatizing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to ongoing controversies in the 2020 voting, we have the attorney general trying to bolster what was a false claim about mail-in ballot fraud.

Attorney General Barr pointing to a case in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.

For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected from people who could vote. He made them out and voted for the person he wanted to. OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: No, they didn't. He says, we indicted that person.

In fact, federal prosecutors didn't bring the indictment, the first sign that Barr was not up on the facts, to say the least.

Now, there was a local prosecution regarding a city council election. But the assistant DA on that case wasn't very helpful to Barr, telling "The Washington Post" literally -- quote -- "That's not what happened," and that this was mostly half-truth and alternative facts from Barr.

There were about 700 ballots that had the same name because someone had assisted in filling out ballots, and investigators found the ballots when filled out were actually consistent with those individual voters' choices, so very different from what Barr claimed.

And the DOJ, well, it didn't have much room to spin and said, well, this quote "contained an accurate summary about the case that Barr allegedly received."

We're joined now by former federal prosecutor John Flannery.

Sir, when you see the attorney general of the United States misstate the law in this way, claim a case that his office didn't have, among other falsehoods, do you have concerns about his basic independence to be the attorney general during a federal election?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, at all to be our attorney general ever since we started with the Mueller investigation.

He's been misleading America. He's become our chief grifter, instead of our attorney general, our law enforcement officer. He's more like our unlawful enforcement officer.

And since he's doing this on behalf of a president who only wants things to happen in transactions, you have to hope he's getting something out of this, because if Biden wins in this in November, we will be looking through his file.

And this is a man who has put his bar card and, it seems to be, his liberty at risk by the crimes he's committed. I mean, this man is also -- and he kind of -- he uses these terms loosely -- a kind of traitor, because he's also giving us intelligence that misleads us.

He's telling us that his intelligence tells him that it's China that's causing us trouble, when it's Russia. And we have intelligence that tells us that Russia is trying to create the chaos that's being repeated, almost word for word, by Barr.

That's not a law enforcement officer. That's a criminal. That's a person that should be removed from office. That's a person that, not only in the election, but in every other way. We listen to him talk about a whole variety of things, all of which are misleading. And we could go into them, obviously, if we had more time.

MELBER: Well, let me play you one other very important part of the interview, which was on CNN, where he was asked point blank, but it's illegal to vote twice.

And he's in charge of federal law enforcement in the United States, and he claimed he couldn't...

FLANNERY: Right.

MELBER: ... couldn't state whether he knew that law or not. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: He's trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good.

And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time, you would be caught..

I don't know what the law in the particular states say.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Any state that says you can vote twice?

BARR: Well, there's some -- maybe you can change your vote up to a particular time. I don't know what the law is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: "I don't know what the law is."

FLANNERY: Well, that's a beauty.

Yes. Well, maybe he should read the Supreme Court cases on one man, one vote. My math, which is different, I suppose, that an Orwellian task, is that one plus one doesn't equal one. You have one vote, and that's all that you have. And it happens to be a violation of federal law that maybe he is familiar with in a presidential election, even if he's not familiar with state law.

But if you didn't know anything about it, your reason wouldn't allow you to venture perhaps there's some other way we can do it.

So does Trump want to create chaos or does he hope they won't have the enforcement mechanism to get that extra margin in North Carolina, where he first addressed from Barr, so that he can get corrupt votes to help him win an election he has no right to win, thereby causing interference in the election by himself that he is supposedly resisting?

MELBER: Yes, it's really striking from an individual who, again, has this job.

I mean, you can talk about certain people who work for Trump who are just talking. He has this power. And the fact that he's previewing these kind of attacks on something as fundamental as whether, in a democracy, you can vote once or more is certainly an alarm bell for people, which is why we wanted to keep our eye on it.

John Flannery, always good to see you, sir. Hope you have a good weekend.

FLANNERY: Good to see. Thank you. You too.

MELBER: Yes, absolutely.

We have a lot more in tonight's show, Michael Cohen speaking out to NBC News, a brand-new clip airing for the first time.

And a very, very special thing, "Fallback Friday" with the Fonz -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Brand-new, the first interview that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has given since being released from prison.

He sat down with Lester Holt, discussing the topic of the week, maybe of the year, whether Donald Trump can be trusted during this election, Michael Cohen's fears. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: Do you think he will win another term as president?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Donald Trump will do anything and everything within which to win. And I believe that includes manipulating the ballots.

I believe that he would even go so far as to start a war in order to prevent himself from being removed from office.

My biggest fear is that there will not be a peaceful transition of power in 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Strong words from someone who knows the president.

More on that interview on NBC, of course.

But if you keep it right here on THE BEAT, we're going from the Fonz to his Emmy-winning role on "Barry," to hot takes on Trump.

The one and only Henry Winkler live on "Fallback Friday" -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: It's been quite a week. And you know it's time to fall back.

We have two very special guests with us today. I bet you know Henry Winkler, of course, as Arthur Fonzarelli, the Fonz, making history on "Happy Days," more recently making everyone laugh on "Arrested Development," and he's been keeping busy since "Happy Days," winning an Emmy on the HBO hits show "Barry," which caps a career of many wonderful memories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY WINKLER, ACTOR: I will see you guys in a month, huh?

Oh, the sacrifices I make for you.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: All right, Ann Louise, your prize is coming. Hey!

I once auditioned for the guy that robbed the house on "Full House." And I carried a loaded Beretta with me into the audition just to feel the weight of it.

BILL HADER, ACTOR: Wow. Did you get the part?

WINKLER: No. They freaked out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: And another legend, Washington journalists Eleanor Clift, friend of THE BEAT, who, thanks to "SNL," many of us know as Swelleanor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: From the nation's capital, "The McLaughlin Group."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Eleanor Clift.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: John, this is just the case of President Bush trying to push a policy.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm not sure Bush has a policy, which is part of the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Excuse me, Pat. I believe Eleanor has the floor.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Eleanor Clift, see, I think you're Swelleanor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What a pairing for this week.

Henry, Eleanor, nice to see you both.

WINKLER: A pleasure.

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I can't compete with Henry, who deals in art. I deal in fake news -- real news, actually. So...

MELBER: Real news.

But it's great. I love it.

CLIFT: Real news, it still exists.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, I think Henry is one of these individuals, we all feel like we know you. I'm meeting you for the first time.

We all feel like we have watched you grow up. So, it's wild. It's just a funny feeling.

But, Eleanor, as our home field advantage, you kick us off. What needs to fall back?

CLIFT: I'm getting tired of Biden in the basement, which is the president, all his allies like to define Biden as sort of hiding in his basement.

He was out of the basement for the last five days. And the whole hiding meme suggests he's hiding from the virus, he's hiding from the president. He's practicing good health practices.

And I think the president will find something new, because he can't keep up the basement, when he's out in the front yard and out speechifying. So, the president is usually pretty good at coming up on searing names.

He's got to do better on this one.

MELBER: Fall back to a weak and misleading nickname. I hear that.

What about you, Henry?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: The unabashed hatred that is overtaking our country, that is, like, choking us to death.

I saw this news report about this woman holding her baby over the railing as her apartment was burning in her -- in the back of her. And I don't -- I didn't hear her yell, hey, can you get a Caucasian to catch my kid?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: When we are in a crisis, we depend on each other.

When you're on a roof because everything is flooding, and you see a boat coming, I don't think you care about race. You only care about getting in that boat.

MELBER: And so you feel like...

CLIFT: Well, you know, Democrats...

MELBER: Go ahead, Eleanor.

CLIFT: I was going to say, Democrats are going crazy about Trump.

Biden is leading in all the polls. He's leading in every metric. And a neighbor of mine came up to me and said: "We have got the wrong candidate. Trump's going to win. Eleanor, you have got to stock up on supplies. You may not be able to leave your house. Civil war is coming."

Now, I think civil unrest maybe in our future. But what would they be saying if Biden was eight points behind?

Like, come on. We need to slow down. Trump can't remake everything in the country according to his wishes.

WINKLER: It's true.

I just -- and I wrote a beat for you, Ari.

MELBER: What does that mean?

WINKLER: And it's -- well, you like rap.

MELBER: I do.

WINKLER: I wrote a rap.

MELBER: Oh.

WINKLER: OK.

So, I'm sitting in my chair. I'm rocking back and forth. I'm here with Ari. Vote.

MELBER: Ooh, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: So, you know, what -- that was -- there are artists who do this.

You didn't rhyme to make us notice the word vote.

WINKLER: Yes, I -- that was what went on in my mind, because I think...

MELBER: I see it.

WINKLER: ... that this vote may be the most crucial vote of my entire lifetime.

MELBER: I think Eleanor could speak to that.

I have to say, I never knew the Fonz would be here rapping at us, but it's 2020, and I like it. I liked -- I like it. We might clip that and put it on the net.

Kanye, of course, has had trouble getting on the ballot. A lot of people are happy about that. But he has a similar -- he does a similar thing to that, Henry, where he says...

CLIFT: How about...

MELBER: ... I might not even finish the sent -- and then he literally doesn't finish the sentence.

Eleanor, you could speak to any of this, or not.

(CROSSTALK)

CLIFT: How about vote twice? It may not be nice, but -- let's see. Help me with the next line.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Henry, can you help Eleanor freestyle? What is happening?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I can.

It's totally illegal. How does Barr answer a question that he is -- he's steeped in the law -- so he says -- and not know, just outright, that the country he is the attorney general of, it is against the law?

MELBER: Eleanor?

CLIFT: Well, the Supreme Court stopped the vote-counting in the year 2000 in Florida.

So -- and Karl Rove was part of the Bush team. And he's warning people about all of the possible mishaps with vote by mail.

But I think Democrats lost in 2000 because the good lawyers, the best lawyers, I should say, were on the other side. And you're going to see more lawyers out on Election Day, tens of thousands of lawyers, on both sides.

And why is it that the lawyers always end up winning?

(LAUGHTER)

CLIFT: So...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes.

And you're -- everyone's gearing up for it. We're having that part of the fight earlier than ever.

I have got about 30 seconds left.

Henry, given how you have been part of American culture for so long, bottom line, do you think things are getting better or worse?

WINKLER: I think that, if we don't vote early, we could be in a heap of trouble.

MELBER: Fair.

Let's do it all again.

And Eleanor, freestyling, it takes -- it just takes practice, like anything else.

CLIFT: It takes practice, right. I will work on that second line.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Eleanor...

WINKLER: Have a wonderful holiday, even though it seems like April 7, you know, I mean, no difference.

MELBER: Yes.

Well, Eleanor Clift, Henry Winkler, we will do it all again. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT.

We will be back with one more thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Well, if you haven't seen it, Michael Cohen making waves with his first interview since getting out of prison with NBC's Lester Holt.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: Do you think he will win another term as president?

COHEN: Donald Trump will do anything and everything within which to win. And I believe that includes manipulating the ballots.

I believe that he would even go so far as to start a war in order to prevent himself from being removed from office.

My biggest fear is that there will not be a peaceful transition of power in 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A stark warning from someone who knows the president well.

That does it for us. Have a great holiday weekend.

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

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