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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 8, 2020

Guests: Barbara Res, Joshua Powell, Mara Gay

Summary

The Trump administration burns through $800 million in campaign cash. House Democrats investigate the postmaster general for perjury, all related to a campaign finance scandal. The Rochester police chief resigns amidst outrage over the death in custody of Daniel Prude. An NRA whistle-blower discusses grift in the organization. Michael Cohen speaks out on his new book.

Transcript

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hello. I'm Ari Melber. And thanks for joining us on THE BEAT as we track these stories now.

The Trump administration burning through $800 million in cash over the last year. That's most of what it raised. Also, House Democrats now fully investigating the postmaster general for perjury, all related to a campaign finance scandal, and it's a big one. Plus, the Rochester police chief resigning amidst outrage over the debt in custody of Daniel Prude.

We begin right now tonight with the Trump campaign absolutely burning through cash, these new reports that basically show the Joe Biden leads in state polling, which is key, and now in the cash battle. Here are the facts, Donald Trump's campaign spending $800 million.

Now, for comparison, that's most of what it raised, just over a billion, through July of this year. The cash crunch comes as Joe Biden's fund-raising is also exploding, bringing in a record $365 million last month, powered partly by the V.P. pick.

And, today, Donald Trump conceding some of the costs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We needed to spend more money up front because of the pandemic and the statements being made by Democrats, which were, again, disinformation.

But the press was fake. And we have to spend a lot of money. No, if we need -- if did we need -- we don't, because we have much more money than we had last time going into the last two months, I think double and triple. But if we needed any more, I would put it up personally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Put it up personally, Donald Trump landing on the boast or flex that he can self-fund to millions of dollars, unlike Joe Biden.

But then, when you actually get into the details, this may be a case of mo' money, mo' problems, because some Trump aides, suddenly flush with all that money that was coming in, were just blowing it, creating mo' problems for themselves, nonessential items, at least from the view of winning in November, like a driver for a campaign manager who has since been demoted, a massive, expensive Super Bowl ad buy focusing on Bloomberg, who was never near the Democrats' delegate lead, let alone the nomination.

But he did have a personal beef with Trump. And then a lot of legal fees, which was more of a defensive measure.

Biden dominating with his campaign cash on television. He's spending way more on the airwaves, the Biden campaign spending $24 million getting his message out in the beginning of September, the Trump campaign down there at just six. Trump spending nothing in key battlegrounds like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where this thing could be decided.

Then you have those states where Trump is visiting today, trying to get some what they call earned media in politics, in Florida, Trump only spending $1.9 million, compared to what you see here, Biden's $5.1 million, North Carolina. Trump's spending 1.3, outmatched by Biden's $3 million.

Now, Donald Trump has often claimed in his public life and certainly in his transition to politics that he's the moneyman, that he has real-world business savvy.

It's way too early to call anything in this race. You will hear us emphasize that a lot in our coverage on THE BEAT. But a lot of critics are pointing out fairly that this ill-timed spending makes the campaign look a lot closer to one of Trump's many casino bankruptcies than some well-planned business model for winning.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration facing, as we get into a new full workweek here, a pandemic that Dr. Fauci says won't be controlled for at least a year, the record unemployment, and a new scandal of Donald Trump's own making, multiple sources telling "The Atlantic" that he was referring to dead military soldiers from the United States as -- quote -- "losers" and -- quote -- "suckers."

To kick off our coverage tonight, we're joined by "New York Times" editorial board member Mara Gay, Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson from "The Washington Post," and another Pulitzer Prize winner for different work, in history, Jon Meacham.

Thanks to all of you for being here.

John, I start with you in the historical sweep of it, because there's a lot going on. And the president's campaign does not seem to be playing out this chapter very effectively in the mother's milk of politics with the money game, although, as I caution, we're a long way from any votes being counted.

JON MEACHAM, NBC NEWS HISTORIAN: Yes, I'm hesitant to analyze anything that's unfolding in the age of Trump in any kind of analog terms.

Ordinarily, campaign stories, money stories, media buy stories would be interesting, if not dispositive. In this case, they're just interesting and not even remotely dispositive. We're not in an ordinary political time.

This is someone who won through nontraditional means, including foreign assistance. So I think we have to be very careful about judging an abnormal campaign by our ordinary normal standards.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: As you continue...

MEACHAM: Go ahead.

MELBER: ... will you also define dispositive for us?

(LAUGHTER)

MEACHAM: Well, Mr. Cube and I, when we're talking, Ice Cube and I, we describe dispositive as determinative, something that would actually make the difference.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: So, to tease that out, and then I'm going to hand you the -- to tease it out, to hand you the mic back.

But, Jon, you're really reminding everyone that it is true that, historically, people who are way behind in the money game or way behind in state polling at a certain point, it can become dispositive that they're really not on the path to winning.

But you're saying, while this might not be good news for Trump, be careful.

MEACHAM: Exactly. Exactly, because the polling was where the polling was until, what, about 11:00 on election night?

I remember my then 15-year-old son walking me through the numbers, and I was saying, but the -- Nate Silver still says, and he said, well, look at the results.

And so I just think, I would be very wary of judging the Trump campaign, which is based on motivating a certain number of voters in some very specific states on an appeal to base appetites, as opposed to reason.

MELBER: Mara, I'm curious your views on that.

And I want to put up here the $100 million that Donald Trump is saying he could put in. And that doesn't differentiate him from other people. It's unclear how quickly Trump could come up with $100 million for his campaign. His net worth has declined $300 million, but it's still estimated at $2.7 billion.

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I mean, I agree with Jon completely.

I would say, though, that not everything about politics has been thrown out of the window. And the situation that Donald Trump finds himself in is having to actually defend his ground.

And so, when you're behind in a fund-raising advantage, and you're defending the states to keep the states that you won, and you're not even -- there's no discussion in that campaign about growing the base. It really -- he is in a tough spot.

It is true that Democrats need to motivate not just large numbers of voters to turn out for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They also need to motivate voters in specific states and specific counties.

And -- but they can do that with more money. And I think -- I think they're putting that to rational use, whereas Donald Trump's campaign appears to be being used as a slush fund for essentially campaign consultants and vanity proposals to boost Donald Trump's ego.

If that continues, the race is just too close for that not to matter. That's my take anyway.

MELBER: I think you lay it out greatly.

I mean, Gene, to speak to Mara's analysis, which has both the substantive part, what does it tell you? People say, oh, campaigns are sort of dry runs for the presidency. With Donald Trump, he's already president.

But what does it tell you about the priorities, the incompetence, what she's alleging is evidence supporting kind of a swampy spending, and then the flip side of it, which is that, in a close election, it does matter what people see on their airwaves?

We tracked the convention numbers. About 85 million people caught part of the DNC and 75 million caught part of the RNC. And Trump gets more air coverage as the current president anyway, that these things will matter coming down the line in some of these days, where here we are, post-Labor Day, and people who don't follow this every night are tuning in?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

Well, Ari, first forgive me if I sound dispositive about one thing, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: There is no way that Donald Trump is going to write a check for $100 million to fund his campaign. He's not going to do that. He never does anything like that.

Remember, at the beginning of his campaign in 2015, he was going to sell finance the whole thing. And that was one of the -- one of the great things about this business tycoon running for president, that he wasn't going to ask for donations, and he was going to just write checks.

And, lo and behold, he did not do that. He grudgingly wrote a few relatively modest checks for someone who's wealthy in order to keep his campaign afloat.

But it's -- so, that's not going to happen.

Number two, while, in that excellent "New York Times" report about how they managed to spend $800 million somehow on the campaign, and still have the president quite a bit behind Joe Biden, clearly, there was a lot of loose spending and, clearly, a lot of people involved in the campaign, it appears from the reporting, we're more interested in enriching themselves and their corporate entities than perhaps in advancing the president's cause.

Nonetheless, it was not all wasted. They spent a lot of money on mailing lists and on Facebook and on all the ways that they microtarget voters. And microtargeting is the way it works these days.

So don't think all that money was wasted. Some of it, I think, was ill-spent, but it was spent.

All that said, what I think we know now is that Joe Biden is not going to be at a disadvantage when it -- when -- as we go through the last two months of this campaign. He is going to have enough money to get his message out wherever he wants to get it out.

The president has an easier time of doing that, because he is better at getting free media. He just takes his presidential caravan to the state and immediately gets tons and tons of coverage. He calls a news conference at the White House and everybody flocks to cover it.

So, that's the advantage of incumbency. That's what an incumbent gets to do. And he's going to do it, I think, every day. Joe Biden will have the money to compete with that. That means that Trump's advantage of incumbency, the way he can sort of glom on to media in a way that Biden can't, is not going to be, to use a word, dispositive in this election.

MELBER: Look, if I have learned anything, it's that Jon Meacham, he knows how to get the frame going.

I mean, he's picked the word of the day. This happens in court sometimes.

MEACHAM: There you go.

MELBER: The first lawyer will say, this case is all about X. And then everyone's either agreeing or disagreeing with X, and, well, the framing has already begun.

In this case, though, Mr. Meacham, you don't have a brief that you're pushing. You're just giving us the ideas from your brain, which we appreciate.

Could you speak to the to the context here that Gene raises, which is, for example, on Facebook, several of the most shared articles all of American Facebook all last week, I was reading, were about Speaker Pelosi's haircut, or the paid ads that tell people very particular things that may be true or truthy or truth-adjacent, but they're not so false that they're going to be taken down by some set of standards.

And they are going out on Facebook in a way where, as with 2016, the campaign may be both incompetently wasting some money over here, and then, over here, it's targeting to great effect.

MEACHAM: Yes.

Yes, Gene is right. Look, the campaign unfolds out of the sight of most of the folks whom we talk to, honestly. And that's something to be very careful about, because we don't know what people are seeing, individual people are seeing on Facebook. We don't know what foreign powers are doing.

We don't know exactly what moves people in -- again, remarkably, there are these folks who voted for Obama, then voted for Trump. They say it's because they wanted a change of any kind. Well, they got it. We have change.

The question now is, can you get those people back into a normal zone, where they're voting for someone who will govern on the football field between two 20-yard lines. Whether you agree exactly where Vice President Biden will be, at least he will be on a field we recognize.

And so I just think it's incumbent on everybody who cares deeply about how this election unfolds -- and, by the way, it's not -- probably not going to all unfold on election night. That's incredibly important to remember. A lot of the mail-in ballots that will be coming from older people who are worried about COVID, who are worried about going out and possibly getting infected, their votes might not be counted until several days later.

And it's only in relatively modern times that we have had sort of election night, we have got it, it's a dramatic TV show, and Chet Huntley tells us who wins before we all go to bed.

This in many ways is a return to kind of a slow-rolling election. And I think, if you care a lot about this, I would just be very careful and judge this in a multifactorial way, as opposed to a single one.

MELBER: Yes, it's a great point, bringing the history, and that people say, oh, well, gosh, didn't we used to do it this way?

Well, yes. And before that, we used to do it the way we might do it this November, which is more slowly, that there's multiple precedents.

MEACHAM: Yes.

MELBER: Mara, I want to put up this battleground map that we mentioned.

Again, I caveat it because it's early. But you do have, when you look at 85 toss-ups there in the middle, and you see the red, but you also see, when you just look at what they're calling solid Biden and likely lean Democratic Biden, the takeaway here is, according to state polling, which matters -- national polling doesn't really correspond, because there's no national popular vote.

But in the state polling, if you want to walk us through it, Mara, there is a view here that Biden is currently up.

GAY: Yes, I mean, I think that's right.

I would say, though, that, first of all, the map clearly favors Joe Biden. So if you look at Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin, states that the Democrats lost last time, those are states that are really leaning Democratic. And that's about right. Michigan was lost by 11,000 votes last time.

And I would also say, one way to go about -- there's a lot of ways to win an election. I think my instinct has always been that fighting for undecided voters, when the country is so polarized and the choices are so clear, is probably a fool's errand.

My instinct would suggest that if Democrats want to win, that they really listen carefully to their local candidates about what moves the voters in specific congressional candidate -- congressional districts -- excuse me.

And, sometimes, that can be a local issue about highway funding. You just don't know.

The other thing here is that I think there are a lot of people who just stayed home in 2016 who may have showed up in 2018, Democrats, who the Democrats need to bring out. Again, in a state like Michigan, you're talking about black voters, you're talking about traditional union Democrats who just didn't show up.

If the Democrats can get that coalition to the polls, they really don't need to be worrying about going after QAnon voters.

MELBER: And we're going to leave it there.

I can say, dispositively, QAnon not a real, true thing.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Mara Gay, Gene Robinson, Jon Meacham, appreciate each of you.

We're going to take a break that's only 30 seconds' long.

When we return: House Democrats investigating a key Trump aide for perjury.

Also, Michael Cohen with new allegations. He's got a big interview, as you probably seen, coming up with Rachel Maddow later tonight.

And a special interview on THE BEAT with an NRA whistle-blower. He describes grift in the organization.

We're back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to another big story, Donald Trump's postmaster general facing potentially criminal liability and exposure, Congress demanding answers.

And here's the issue. Among other problems, now former employees at his company tell "The Washington Post" that they were urged to write checks and attend fund-raisers for politicians, and then they were reimbursed through the company coffers through what were called at "The Times" bonuses, but, according to these allegations, what weren't really bonuses, but were, rather, illegal reimbursements.

If true, we're talking about felonies. We're talking about a violation of campaign finance laws, pure and simple, according to the allegations.

The Congressional Oversight Committee today announcing it will get all over DeJoy on these issues. It's also-called for him to be suspended meantime. And the panel subpoenaed DeJoy for documents. They want proof about what he's doing on this and other issues, including the ongoing scandal about the mail-in ballots.

A new letter says: "The American public has a right to know about the contacts with the Trump campaign and whether that is trying to help them."

Meanwhile, DeJoy, asked specifically about whether he did do this, meaning call it a bonus, but it was something else, meaning lie, did he pay back employees who donated to Trump's campaign?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN): Did you pay back several of your top executives for contributing to Trump's campaign by bonusing or rewarding them?

LOUIS DEJOY, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: That's an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it.

COOPER: I'm just asking a question.

DEJOY: The answer is no.

COOPER: So, you did not bonus or reward any of your executives...

DEJOY: No. No.

COOPER: ... anyone that you solicited for a contribution to the Trump campaign?

DEJOY: No, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We're joined by former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance.

Have you seen a case like this? Is this something that's clearly illegal, like looks like a straw donor case, or is this more of a jump ball?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, this conduct is clearly within the realm of being a straw donor case. And there are comparable cases that DOJ has prosecuted, Dinesh D'Souza, the organizer of the Fiesta Bowl, John Junker.

Both of those were 2014 cases, so very recent. If there's a problem with this prosecution, Ari, it would be the statute of limitations. There's a five-year federal statute of limitations.

"The Washington Post" story indicates conduct that ended in 2014. But, as a prosecutor, you immediately want to open an investigation here to find out if there was ongoing conduct or if there was a cover up.

So, it's not a jump ball, and the conduct is definitely heartland for this kind of a crime.

MELBER: Appreciate your clarity on that. It looks bad. It sounds bad.

Here's a legal official, the attorney general in North Carolina, where the alleged conduct occurred. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH STEIN (D), NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: The idea that somebody would make a contribution and then be reimbursed by a corporation or an individual, that's a straw donor. That would be a violation of the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, that's a pretty clear statement there. As you mentioned, it depends on the when.

If employees say, this was clear to them, but...

VANCE: But, Ari, if I could just interrupt and say...

MELBER: Go ahead. Sure.

VANCE: ... in North Carolina -- sorry.

In North Carolina, the when doesn't matter, because North Carolina has no statute of limitations for state crimes. So, this would clearly be prosecutable by state officials in North Carolina, if the conduct is as "The Washington Post" alleges.

MELBER: Great point.

So, we're talking about the difference between what the feds do. And people remember that. And you were yourself a U.S. attorney with federal jurisdiction. And you're talking about a separate state claim, and how there might be extra headaches DeJoy there.

The other question I want to ask you was, again, in fairness -- and we showed DeJoy denying and under oath. So, if true, then he's defending himself. If false, as Democrats are investigating, it could be a new and separate offense of perjury.

But what about the potential defense of him saying, look, I never instructed directly in writing, et cetera, that this was the plan, that the employees got the picture and did it, but that he didn't explicitly direct it? It's a kind of a mafia defense that we have seen tried out and failed in other examples.

I'm curious what you think of that.

VANCE: The devil is always in the details in perjury cases.

You have to prove that there's a very specific question that was asked and a very knowing, an intentional false statement or untruth that was told in response to the question in these congressional settings.

And so there's an interesting discrepancy here. "The Post" story sort of terminates in 2014, when DeJoy leaves his logistics company? That's before Trump is a candidate.

The question that's asked in Congress is, did you engage in straw transactions in the Trump campaign? So, perhaps this is a version of the truth that would be enough potentially to avoid perjury liability. It's clearly necessary that there be more investigation.

If I was still a U.S. attorney, I would be jumping on this one. I would have called the FBI to begin an investigation as soon as we saw the stories. Hopefully, that's happening.

MELBER: All really great points. And that's just on whether there was an actual criminal felony.

Even before that resolution comes from investigation, you're talking about someone who has control over key election machinery here that now is being investigated for really hardball, up-the-line or maybe over-the-line tactics to get his party in power, something to keep an eye on.

Joyce Vance, thank you, as always.

VANCE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We have a lot of other stories in the program night, including someone who rose to as high as number two at the NRA saying it's time to blow the whistle, and that this pro-gun group actually has "blood on its hands" -- quote, end quote.

This is his first interview on cable news.

But, first, Michael Cohen blowing his own whistle on Donald Trump, including speaking to what's happening in this photo. We have a new clip from Rachel Maddow's new interview with Cohen and a former Trump Organization executive to break it down, our friend Barbara Res -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: New allegations against Donald Trump hear from someone who worked with him more closely than most, the former personal attorney to Donald Trump, Michael Cohen.

Now, he is promoting a new book. And he shared some of this with our colleague Lester Holt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I describe Mr. Trump as a cult leader, and I was in this cult.

And I was in this cult. And I -- while I was in the cult, I was really refusing to acknowledge that the actions that I was performing for my boss were morally wrong.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You call Trump a racist.

Were you witness to any moments that you thought he was exhibiting racism or used a rational slur?

COHEN: Yes, unfortunately, all too many times.

We had one where, right after Nelson Mandela had passed away -- and I talk about this in the book -- he asked me if I had known of any country that's run by a black that's not an S-hole.

And I said, well, how about America, to which he gave me the proverbial, "F. you."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Cohen also discussing details about the relationship with Putin.

He writes: "As the campaign went along, as Trump started to see ways to cheat and lie to win, he came to see that Russia could potentially be a great ally, not just for the U.S., but for him personally, a distinction that was starting to blur."

Now, Cohen is home. He was serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, lying to Congress, as well as campaign finance violations, including two counts that related to hush money payments arranged for women in 2016.

The White House has been critical, issuing denials, calling the book fan fiction, and saying: "Cohen readily admits to lying routinely, but expects people to believe in now, so he can make money from book sales" -- end quote.

We're joined now by former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res.

Good to see you.

BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: Nice to see you, Ari. Wonderful to see you.

MELBER: Wonderful to see you as well.

I think, taking the point from the rebuttal from the White House, it is fair to distinguish between whatever a person might be doing for their own reasons, selling a book, et cetera, and what can be corroborated. What is the evidence here?

That's what Mueller was looking at. That's what the Southern District New York was looking at. And that's what we're looking at with you right now.

So, based on your own experience and eyewitness accounts, what out of what we just heard and what else is coming out of this book strikes you as true or matches your experience with Donald Trump?

RES: Well, it's been my experience that he will do anything to win, and he does not -- the line that none of us cross is just very easy for him to go across.

As far as the racism is concerned, yes, I have often said this. There were many incidents where I saw him be racist.

MELBER: What did you see or hear in terms of him being, as you say, racist?

RES: Well, there were some particular incidents that happened on Trump Tower and just in his office in general.

And it's covered in a lot of books, and mine as well, but things that he would say about primarily black people, although he did have his whole ideas about every single race and every single ethnicity and who did what and who's good at this.

And none of them were ever good. He would say that Jews are good with money, which is something he liked to say a lot. He didn't mean it in a way that was ever admiring. It was kind of like a pejorative.

MELBER: So, in your view, he was pejorative about Jews, even, say, the Jews that he might work with or contract with?

RES: Oh, absolutely. Yes.

I have said this before. I consider him to be an anti-Semite.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: And yet his daughter -- his daughter famously converted to Judaism.

RES: Yes, right. Right. And that doesn't really change things.

MELBER: And you said -- just to get it clearly, and -- sorry, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

RES: No, no, I was just saying, we're not talking about Ivanka. We're talking about Donald.

MELBER: Yes, we are talking -- you put it crisply. And it's true.

When you see specifically the anti-black racism, as you put it, you say that he was bigoted in general, but you felt there was more prejudice or more frequent prejudice towards black people?

RES: Yes, I do. Yes.

And, yes, I have some things -- I'm doing a book. I have some specifics that I will be sharing.

But I was reading Michael's book. And the comments about Obama were amazing and spot on to me. I can just see it, how it made him crazy that Obama, a black man, was president.

MELBER: Yes, I think it is important for people to have these details when they are backed by evidence, by people who were in the room, so to speak, particularly because, while the problems we're going through as a country, as we have emphasized in this broadcast, they predate Trump, obviously, when you look at our original sin of racism, but whether this is an act or something that is somehow, as some of his minimizers claim, just something that he's doing -- quote, unquote -- "for politics," or whether it is deep-seated ongoing racism, and how that fits into the way it's changed the Republican Party and parts of America, I think, is a discussion voters ought to have before this election is over and done.

I want you to stay with me, because we have something brand-new. This hasn't aired yet. Rachel Maddow just sat down with Michael Cohen. And so this is going to air in full on her broadcast tonight, which we think is worth watching.

But we did get a clip that's going to air for the first time right now. They're discussing Trump's financial relationship with Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Let me ask you, Michael, about something that you describe in detail, which is also something that I have sort of spent a long time chasing, which is this unusual story.

This is my page -- page 249 of your book, chapter 12, which has got a lot of great stuff in it.

And you talk about...

COHEN: I'm glad -- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

MADDOW: Yes. I was like, ooh, 12, this is -- this is my jam.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: This is the part for me.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: So, you write that the president effectively sort of flipped a house in Palm Beach. You describe it as an architectural nightmare, which I found effective.

But he made a profit on that in excess of $50 million. And what you write about in chapter 12 is that the president told you that, although the person who bought that house from him for this $50 million-plus profit was a Russian fertilizer billionaire, the president told you that he believed the actual money was Putin's -- quote -- "The oligarchs are just fronts for Putin, Trump told me. He puts them into wealth to invest his money. That's all they're doing, investing Putin's money."

And then you say, in your words, "Trump was convinced the real buyer of that house was Vladimir Putin."

Was he speaking seriously and literally there? Did he actually think that Putin had arranged this $50 million windfall for him?

COHEN: Well, I don't -- I don't know what he was thinking. I can only tell you, which I did in the book -- I can recount the conversation.

He believes that all of the Russian oligarchs are basically pawns of Vladimir Putin, he controls all of them, I guess very much to the same extent that Mohammed bin Salman had the ability within which to lock up all of his relatives and other members of the royal family for money, right?

Trump is keen on this power. And whether it's Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, the Kim Jong-uns, the Maduros, it's the power that he is so involved with and so in search of, that this is exactly what he believes.

He believes that Putin controls all of Russia and all of its wealth, and anything like the purchase of this -- of this home had to have been through or with the permission of Vladimir Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Really striking.

And, Barbara, two quick points. One, that would seem to be a savvy, informed read on the way that the Russian economy actually operates. Even if he doesn't know the names of Khodorkovsky or different billionaires who have fallen in out of favor with Putin, that is how our experts describe it.

And then, two, do you think that this entire Russian riddle could boil down to something very simple? Donald Trump thinks Putin got him money, whether true or not, and that would explain a bunch of behavior?

RES: I think it's not simple.

To be honest with you, I think that there's probably many, many different elements to it. I think that they're intertwined. I think that they're so influential, the Russians, in what Donald does, that you have to question why that is, to be honest with you.

Putin and Trump are, on the surface, alike, but very different. Putin does not live for being praised by other people. Putin doesn't fool himself into things, like Trump does.

And I see Putin thinking that Trump is a bit of a fool, and taking advantage of that.

MELBER: And, real quickly, did you ever hear anything about that type of apartment or other deals where that money might have been from Russian oligarchs?

RES: No. Actually, no. I'm sorry. I really didn't.

It was a different time when I -- when he was selling apartments. And it was different people that were buying.

MELBER: Yes. No, that's fine. We -- that's why we like to get all the details from you.

Barbara Res...

RES: We knew who was buying it when they were being sold. It was -- that was a different time, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, a different time.

RES: Now you don't...

(CROSSTALK)

RES: It's just LLCs and corporations and things like that.

MELBER: It's a different time.

Barbara, sometimes, some people say things are going downhill.

(LAUGHTER)

RES: I think some.

MELBER: I don't know if you have heard about that.

RES: I'm very hopeful that they are going downhill for Mr. Trump. I hope that this is the end of his presidency.

MELBER: Well, we will see.

But, as I remind viewers, in the evidence, it's interesting that someone like you, who did work for him, who did spend time around him, like Michael Cohen, like Anthony Scaramucci, like some of the generals, have come to that view.

You are hopeful that the Trump era is ending, even if you once gave him some enough benefit of the doubt to work with him. I think that's, itself, interesting.

Barbara, always good to see you.

RES: My pleasure. Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

And a programming note. Rachel Maddow's entire interview with Michael Cohen airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be watching. And I bet a lot of you will be interested as well.

When we come back, this is a special BEAT interview. The former number two executive at the NRA blowing the whistle joins us.

But first: Barack Obama and Kamala Harris going out on the stump for Biden and talking about what he's like behind the scenes. There's even some ice cream talk.

We will show it to you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to another story, developing news out of Rochester.

This is a case where a man died in police custody under very suspicious circumstances, Daniel Prude. Police chief and several senior officers now retiring in the wake of renewed pressure and protests over Prude suffocating in custody after a video came out.

Now, late today, the Prude family also filed a lawsuit against the chief and others who were on the scene.

Protests have pressed the issues. Relatives of Prude's family released the body camera footage of his death months after this original incident.

The New York attorney general also announcing over the weekend they will impanel -- yes, new and only under pressure, as we have been documenting these cases, they will now impanel a grand jury to investigate the Prude-in-custody death.

It's an important story, and we will stay on it for you.

Now, we're fitting in a little break, but we have a lot more ahead, including something we're excited about, the NRA executive breaking ranks with his own group.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to an important story about America and guns right now, something we have covered before, but not lately, with everything going on.

The National Rifle Association has been under mounting legal pressure. Indeed, there's an investigation by New York's attorney general, who argues the group should actually be dissolved.

Tonight, it's facing a different kind of pressure, also potentially legal in nature, but it's evidence from within. The group's former number two executive, who reported directly to the famous and controversial CEO of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, out with a new book, and it's scathing.

It argues the NRA basically sells fear and fuels what has become a completely toxic and misleading debate over the right to bear arms in America. It also argues that NRA leaders have become guilty of certain mismanagement, incompetence and -- quote -- "possible corruption."

The NRA denies this and the other allegations that have surfaced recently. But it's been a remarkable series of claims, all the more striking considering the source.

Joshua Powell, as I mentioned, isn't just a person who worked there at some point in time. He was the senior strategist for the entire organization. He rose to be chief of staff to LaPierre. He was fired in January.

And he joins us now for his first cable news interview.

Joshua Powell, the book, out today, is "Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia within the Most Powerful Political Group in America."

Josh, thanks for being here.

JOSHUA POWELL, AUTHOR, "INSIDE THE NRA": Hey. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.

MELBER: Absolutely.

These are big issues. And they have competing claims, including a Constitution that does support the legal rights to some weapons. But you write that this NRA organization, where you worked, has -- quote -- "blood on its hands."

What do you mean specifically by that?

POWELL: Well, it does.

If you look back -- first off, let's unpack this a little bit. The -- what the attorney general is alleging is really getting -- she's at the tip of the iceberg with this entire problem, which is decades of corruption, of no-bid contracts that have no metrics to them, no deliverables to them, automatic escalators that have gone on to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars as this comes forward.

All of this is on the backdrop of raising money on the auspices of fear, right? It's really easy to raise money when you talk about that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are going to magically drop in, in black helicopters and take your guns from you, and then go raise money off of that.

And the reality is, what's happened over the course of 30 years is, you have created a group that ostensibly lobbies for the fringe of the entire Second Amendment movement.

There's 100 million gun owners-plus in this country.

MELBER: Let me pause you on that. Let me pause you, just because you're going through several important things.

When you talk about that in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is part of your observation from the inside that, even apart from the legitimate gun debate in this country, that the organization morphed into kind of a con, defrauding gun supporters?

POWELL: That's exactly right.

At the end of the day, you're talking about ripping off millions of NRA-dues-paying members every year for the past, I don't know, 25 years anyways.

This rolls back all the way to the early '90s, when Wayne himself was accused of the exact same allegations that he's being accused of today. They just got rid of those people on the board, swept it under the rug, and kept rolling.

And the reality of it is, is that this is -- this is really -- when you dive into this, you're talking about massive amounts of corruption and fraud, where there's these no-bid contracts, there's no measurables, there's nothing against the backside of it. And it -- this is the part that will blow this whole thing sky-high.

MELBER: The New York attorney general investigation is serious, as mentioned.

Have you been in contact with that probe in any way?

POWELL: Well, I can't -- look, I can't speak about that sort of stuff.

But you can -- you can certainly assume that my attorneys have been in contact with the attorney general.

MELBER: In what nature are you cooperating?

POWELL: Look, we're -- obviously, I wrote this book to bring forward all these allegations of fraud and corruption and put a much bigger light on this entire issue.

And one side of it is, as you note, there is this corruption side. And on the other side of it, it's literally raising money off on fear. And I think, to me, that is blood on your hands, because, in the middle, what we end up with is a debate here that we can't get to any solutions.

So, what do we do? We have got one side that is pushed to, I want to ban guns, and the other side that says no to everything. And, in the meantime, you have got a problem in this country.

You can think whatever you want, but there is a gun violence problem in this country. Look no further than the...

(CROSSTALK)

POWELL: ... that happen every year.

MELBER: To remind people, let's play a little bit of Mr. LaPierre, who you worked so closely for as chief of staff. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Chris Murphy, Nancy Pelosi and more, they hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.

If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.

It's all being politicized, with a politically correct White House nose and fingers in areas they don't belong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Those are political and policy views. He obviously has the right to hold them.

Is your view, bottom line, that he is just wrong, you disagree, or that he is dishonest and doing something that is potentially corrupt?

POWELL: Well, I think that you really have to unpack what we're looking at here.

This is a really complex, complex debate. I think that there's no question that the mismanagement in -- of members' dues over the -- over 30 -- or 30 years is totally Wayne's fault. He's the chief executive officer of the organization. It's on his shoulders.

And the board failed to have any governance to look over this, in spite of the fact that they have had a series of whistle-blowers over the years come forward, they had board members say the exact same thing back in the '90s, and it's all been jammed under the rug.

And here we are today in back to the future. In terms of how -- look, Wayne is a master...

MELBER: Right.

POWELL: ... of pouring gasoline on the fire. If there's anybody that it's great at really cranking up the rhetoric and raising money off of it, that's Wayne.

And that's easy to do. It's easy to sell fear. It's much easier to find a -- a rational, let's talk through this, and trying to solve solutions.

MELBER: Right.

POWELL: And that takes skills. It takes statesmanship.

MELBER: Joshua Powell, thank you so much.

The new book, I want to mention again for folks interested, is called "Inside the NRA." Important stuff.

When we come back, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris campaigning together. We will show you some of that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Democrats now hoping to recapture some of the Obama magic.

Joe Biden tapped Kamala Harris, of course, for V.P., the first black woman on a major ticket. And Democrats have been talking up explicitly rebuilding the famed Obama coalition, the most diverse electorate, with young voter turnout, that could now reassemble to try to beat Trump.

The Biden campaign now releasing the first video to feature Harris with Obama, the duo talking Biden, including his lighter side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tell me about Joe and your relationship with Joe, and what do I need to know? Like, what's the thing about the ice cream? He loves ice cream.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Tell me about that.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: Ice cream is big. Pasta with red sauce, he can -- he can go deep on that.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: He really does like those aviator glasses. He knows he looks good in them.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Politicians are just like us, but they're not going to make a gaffe in a campaign video, fun, but light, then discussion of Biden's actual strengths as a candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Joe has never lost his sense of why we do this.

Memories of his family, the people of Delaware that he represented, his focus is going to be, how's that going to help those people who sent him there?

If you have a joint event...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: ... he will be talking to every single person.

HARRIS: But I love that about him too.

OBAMA: Yes.

HARRIS: I really do.

Folks want to be seen. And Joe sees people, through those aviator glasses and without them. He really does see people. It's a very special thing about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A campaign ad with a callback.

That does it for us.

"THE REIDOUT" starts now.

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

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