COVID-19 cases TRANSCRIPT: 5/18/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Peter Salk, Barton Gellman, Beau Guyott

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The Empire State Building tonight, defending those on the job, protecting those who are not. The colors of the FDNY and EMS high above the city.

Well, good evening once again. Day 1,215 of this Trump administration. 169 days until our Presidential election. Tonight our country leads the world in coronavirus infections and in deaths. Our death toll tonight stands at 91,172.

Candidly as we struggle with ways to illustrate that number, think of it this way. Picture 581 Boeing 737s loaded with passengers. Think of the death toll from the loss of 581 Boeing 737s and all those souls onboard. That is our current death toll.

This was the day we learned the President is now taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven drug in the fight against coronavirus. That means he`s going against the advice of his own government`s medical professionals. Trump says he`s tested negative for the virus, so he seems to be doing this as a preventative measure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The frontline workers, many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I`m taking it, hydroxychloroquine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When?

TRUMP: Right now, yeah. A couple of weeks ago I started taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why, sir?

TRUMP: Because I think it`s good. I`ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it`s not good, I`ll tell you right. I`m not going to get hurt by it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the White House doctor recommend that you take it?

TRUMP: Yeah, White House doctor. He didn`t recommend it. No, I asked him, "What do you think?" He said, "Well, if you`d like it." I said, "Yeah, I`d like it. I`d like to take it." A lot of people are taking it. A lot of frontline workers are taking hydroxychloroquine. I don`t take it because hey, people said, "Oh, maybe he owns the company." No, I don`t own the company. You know what? I want the people of this nation to feel good. This is a pill that`s been used for a long time, for 30, 40 years on the malaria and on lupus too, and even on arthritis, I guess, from what I understand. So it`s been heavily tested in terms of -- I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this. But, you know, when I announced this. But yeah, I`ve taken it for about a week and a half now, and I`m still here. I`m still here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain, sir, though, what is the evidence that it has a preventative effect.

TRUMP: Here we go. You ready? Here`s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I`ve heard was the study where they gave it -- was it the V.A. with, you know, people that aren`t big Trump fans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: You`ll remember it was a short time back when coronavirus entered the White House and, more importantly, entered the President`s circle. The Vice President`s press secretary and Trump`s own valet tested positive for the virus.

NBC News reporting Trump started taking hydroxychloroquine after he learned about the case with his valet. Tonight the White House physician issued a statement. He writes, "After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks."

About a month ago, the FDA strongly advised against taking the medication outside of hospital settings. While several studies have also shown it to be potentially dangerous. This afternoon, one of the more senior voices employed by Fox News and his on-air guest warned viewers against following the President`s example here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus, and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you. I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These drugs can be very dangerous, and if they don`t have any effect, there`s no reason to take them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Today there was also promising news in the race for a vaccine. The drug manufacturer Moderna says the first phase of human trials on its vaccine found it was safe and prompted an immune response in the human body. Only 45 people participated in this trial along with some mice who were not consulted. So larger studies still need to be done. More on that just ahead in our broadcast.

In the meantime, just about the entire nation has reopened in some form or fashion even though the spread of the virus is now on the upswing in 17 states.

This past weekend, Americans emerged from their homes in force as states relaxed restrictions and allowed more kinds of businesses to open up.

In Michigan, this was the first day back on the job after nearly two months for thousands of workers on the line at the big three automakers.

Texas now moving into phase two of its reopening despite reporting 1,800 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the biggest single-day jump in confirmed cases in Texas thus far in this pandemic.

While the President`s dealing with the impact of the virus, he`s also facing fallout from his announcement that he intends to fire the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

NBC News reports Linick had been investigating that Pompeo had an aide running personal errands for him. He was also said to be looking into the secretary`s decision to sign off on billions in arms sales to the Saudis despite opposition on Capitol Hill. Linick is the fourth inspector general to be fired in six weeks. And this afternoon the President confirmed it was Mike Pompeo who asked him to get rid of the I.G.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have the right to terminate the Inspector General. Many of these people were Obama appointments, and so I just got rid of them. I mean I think that when somebody pays us a fortune for, you know, arms, we should get the deal done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Also today, Trump`s suggestion that his justice department prosecute former President Obama and figures from his administration may not be going anywhere. Attorney General Bill Barr said he doesn`t expect the department`s examination of the Russia investigation will lead to any criminal charges against Barack Obama or Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: As long as I`m attorney general, the criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That didn`t go over too well with the attorney general`s boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`m a little surprised by that statement. If it was me, I`d guarantee they`d be going after me. In his case, they`re not, so I think it`s just a continuation of a double standard. I`m surprised by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Monday night, Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-Winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post and co-author of along with Carol Leonnig of the book, A Very Stable Genius. Also Vin Gupta is with us. He`s an E.R. doc that happens to be fresh from the E.R., specializing in these types of illnesses. He`s also an affiliate assistant professor with the University of Washington Department of Health and Metrics Services. And there in the middle you see Nancy Cook from Politico. Full disclosure, her signal was down no more than 15 seconds before air. We`ve never been happier to see her pop up on our screens.

Hey, Doctor, I`m duty-bound to begin with you tonight. Why would President Trump take this medication and, more importantly to some people, why would he talk about it?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think he`s taking it -- I mean it`s all of our best guesses. I imagine he`s taking it to save face. What`s happened since he`s first issued his proclamations at the White House press briefing about a month and a half ago that everybody should take it, what do you have to lose? Well, you know what`s happened? There`s been clear studies, one here amongst the veteran population, another in France that showed in fact hydroxychloroquine is associated with harm.

And it`s not that -- it`s a safe drug. This is the big problem here. It`s a potentially harmful drug with clear indications. He doesn`t have any. So what he`s basically doing is promoting misinformation and arguably because what we do know, when he said everybody should take it that has COVID-19, what do you have to lose, prescriptions went up 46 times. So what the President says matters, and this has significant impact to harm people because some people listen to him. And what we do know is now there are studies showing that this is associated with harm. It can cause fatal cardiac arrhythmias. So this is the equivalent of medical malpractice.

He should honestly be ashamed that he is promoting bad behavior in the absence of evidence to save face essentially. So that`s what`s going on here. Let`s be really clear that`s what`s happening.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, I`m also duty-bound to add that he has some measure of heart disease and a weight issue, which the Speaker of the House tonight could not help herself on CNN and said it is -- what did she call it -- morbidly obese. So we add that into the equation as well, don`t we?

GUPTA: Listen, nobody -- we may disagree with the President. I don`t think anybody wants any harm to come to the President, OK, regardless of our personal feelings, our political leanings. We don`t want him to be harmed. And what he`s doing right now is he`s putting himself at risk.

To your point, he doesn`t have a normal cardiovascular profile. Even though we get told every year from his White House physician that he`s in spectacular shape and that`s all we get. I wonder what the White House physician is doing. What`s the surgeon general doing? What are people that are supposedly public health experts in his own circle, why are they standing for this? They shouldn`t promote their own power and their own title over integrity and over what`s best for the patient, in this case, the President. This is really harmful. I`m shocked that a White House physician would go along with this. They should resign before going along with this.

WILLIAMS: Nancy Cook, that`s a lot on the part of the doctor. I heard a lot of reputable people, most of them journalists, tonight saying straight-up this is a shiny object because think of it. What we`re not talking about is our testing rate and contact tracing or our death toll, north of 91,000. We`re talking about an unproven medication being taken on a daily basis by the President of the United States. Nancy, any reporting on how wide a circle knew this to be true and/or knew he was coming out with it today?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think that the White House was really caught off guard by him announcing that he was taking it. He did it in the context of a meeting with several restaurant executives. And it`s interesting because the first large part of it was pretty wonky, and it was about different economic measures that the White House and Treasury Department could take to help restaurateurs and hotel people as they`re reopening the economy. And there was lots of talk about expanding the window in which they could spend their loan money. And he really threw it out there on what was otherwise a fairly slow news day out of the White House. I think the President always likes to try to dominate the news cycle, and he did that.

And what`s interesting to me is, you know, the White House has been so eager to talk about reopening the economy, and the importance of that, and that`s what he was doing for the most part today. But by him talking about how he`s taking this medicine, it really draws the attention back to the West Wing and how he started taking it basically after his military valet and the Vice President`s top spokesperson contacted, or were diagnosed with COVID-19, excuse me. And it really draws attention how even the White House has had a hard time keeping the infections under control. They`ve done a lot of measures in the past week like having people wear masks, having more people work from home. And I thought that his admission just drew attention to that.

WILLIAMS: So, Phil Rucker, on the upside, the virus is no longer a hoax. I think our doctor friends would agree that the wearing of a mask, which a good, healthy percentage of Americans are still doing, is a prophylaxis, it`s a preventative. The President apparently has been talked into taking this drug as a preventative. He won`t do one, but he`s doing this.

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, Brian. It`s a very confusing situation tonight at the White House because the President doesn`t wear a mask because he says he doesn`t need to wear a mask. In fact, when he`s been asked about it several times, he`s said he`s perfectly healthy, that he`s been testing negative for COVID-19. They are testing him regularly at the White House and that he`s perfectly healthy and strong and so forth. And yet he must be concerned about catching COVID- 19 himself if he`s going to go to the extreme length of taking hydroxychloroquine despite the risks that are known to the public and known to him. So he made a calculation there. We`re not sure exactly why. Perhaps future reporting will bear that out. I think Nancy`s point about this coinciding with the outbreak of coronavirus cases inside the White House is quite telling. The President said he`s been taking hydroxychloroquine for about a week and a half to two weeks. Well, that timeline aligns neatly with the diagnosis of the valet and of the Vice Presidential press secretary. And so perhaps the President was concerned about catching himself because so many people around him had coronavirus. We don`t know that to be true, but nonetheless, it`s a series of curious medical choices that the President`s made for himself.

WILLIAMS: And, indeed, Dr. Gupta, since you raised this, we have for you a brief collection of greatest hits, times when the President has chosen to promote this drug from the West Wing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It`s shown very encouraging -- very, very encouraging early results. And I say it, what do you have to lose? I`ll say it again. What do you have to lose? Take it. If things don`t go as planned, it`s not going to kill anybody. I`ve seen things that I sort of like, so what do I know? I`m not a doctor. We have had some great response in terms of doctors writing letters and peopling calling on the hydroxychloroquine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Doctor, to be perfectly honest, we have clips from just a few years back of the President promoting Trump magazine, Trump steaks, and Trump water. That is nothing less than, as President, promoting a medication. As you and I have discussed, he`s also done that with the Abbott labs test, which has, in effect, become the official test of the Trump West Wing even though, as you and I have discussed, its rate of false positive/false negative has approached 50% and the FDA has put out a warning about that test.

GUPTA: Yeah, spot-on, Brian. You know, we`re going to be dealing with the consequences of this pandemic of misinformation. That`s what`s at risk here. People taking hydroxychloroquine who shouldn`t because the President says you should take it. Oh, by the way, I`m taking it, and I`m fine. Exact type of n equals 1 case study that we hate in public health because it tells us nothing. It`s not generalizable.

But whether it`s disinfectants, whether it`s his complete flouting and his Vice President`s flouting of masks policy in public, you have to wonder what`s going on here. And then again, to the point of what are his public health officials around him, why are they still in the administration? They should all be unify in saying enough is enough because this is getting ridiculous on a level that is very dangerous, and he`s basically, Peter Navarro has called out medical professionals saying that we`re crying wolf, that we`re asking everybody to run and hide as though we want that to be the reality here. We should be all on one team. We should all be working in common cause, but unfortunately that`s just not the case.

WILLIAMS: And, Nancy Cook, where is the coronavirus task force? We`ve got 90,000 dead and cases on the rise in 17 states and some places aggressively. Silence from the task force as far as I`ve seen.

COOK: There has really been silence. They`re meeting much less frequently. There has really been a downplaying of health officials, and I think we`ve seen that even in the public meetings that the President has held over the last few days. You see increasingly the economic officials around him, who the people cheerleading for the reopening of the economy.

Today we saw him surrounded by Larry Kudlow, the head of the national economic council, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, some other domestic policy people who are much more economic people, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump. These are people that are supportive of the President and urging him along, not asking him to be cautious, not bringing up the deaths or the medical risks. And I think that is who he is surrounding himself now. We saw that over the weekend, he was in Camp David with the Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who is another one of these cheerleaders.

And I just feel like we`ve seen the health officials really sidelined. I do think the President has a good relationship with Dr. Deborah Birx and really does respect her, but she`s really the lone voice, and she doesn`t have the same juice with the President as the Treasury Secretary does or some of these economic officials. And I just think he`s basically surrounding himself with people who agree with him at this point.

WILLIAMS: To our friends, Phil Rucker, Nancy Cook, Dr. Vin Gupta, our thanks for starting off our broadcast and a new week on a Monday night.

Coming up for us, more on the early optimism over this possible vaccine development. We`ll speak with one of the first people to ever receive a polio vaccine. That`s because his father invented it and tried it at home on his kids first. Dr. Peter Salk is with us tonight for more.

And later, one laid-off Florida worker`s solo expedition to help what he said is a broken unemployment compensation system as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: As we said, encouraging results tonight from this early trial of a vaccine. And because we are grasping at any wisp of good news in this pandemic, it`s useful to look back at one of the most sought after, longed for, and celebrated vaccines in our nation`s history during the polio epidemic. As part of his great new podcast, the historian Jon Meacham spoke to the author David Oshinsky about what it was like growing up during the polio outbreak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID OSHINSKY, "POLIO: AN AMERICAN STORY" AUTHOR & HISTORIAN: Polio, of course, was the great summer plague, and I would come back to school, and I`d see kids in leg braces. I`d see kids in wheelchairs, on crutches, the occasional empty desk of a child who hadn`t made it through the summer and had died of polio.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It took decades before Dr. Jonas Salk successfully developed an injectable vaccine that he first tested on his three children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER ISAACSON, HISTORIAN & PROFESSOR: It was a national fight against polio, and because it was funded nationally by things like the March of Dimes as well as the government as well as foundations as well as drug companies that agreed to share the intellectual property, you could -- everybody could get the polio vaccine when it came out. And we all lined up for it. And of course Salk didn`t even patent the vaccine.

DR. JONAS SALK, DEVELOPED ONE OF THE FIRST POLIO VACCINES: Who owns the patent on this vaccine? Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. This is -- could you patent the sun?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: For more, we welcome to the broadcast Dr. Peter Salk, one of those little boys in the black and white photos. He`s a Professor of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. Also happens to be President of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation.

And Doctor, for those who have forgotten or aren`t old enough to know, can you tell our audience what an all-in, all-consuming American effort it was to come up with the polio vaccine.

DR. PETER SALK, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Absolutely. Polio had been with us for many, many years, and people were constantly frightened. Epidemics got to the point in the early 1950s where about 58,000 kids at the most ended up getting polio, leaving 21,000 in one year being paralyzed. It was something that everyone was frightened about. Swimming pools would close. Schools and theaters would close. It was on everybody`s minds. And parents just pitched in. Kids pitched in. The march of dimes, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the fund-raising program to help fund research on polio and treatment and on a vaccine. When the vaccine came out, this was the success of the people of this country. This wasn`t government funded. It was the funding from the people.

WILLIAMS: I`m guessing that when you heard of the success in the very limited vaccine trial thus far in coronavirus, you had occasion today to think of these early patients with some measure of empathy and sympathy. You`ve been there.

SALK: Well, it`s wonderful to have encouraging news. But I have to say that the process to develop that first polio vaccine by my father and his team at the University of Pittsburgh was a long and very carefully undertaken process. At this point there`s such a huge need. This disease, the coronavirus infection came upon us suddenly. It`s been a total shock to our consciousness. There`s a great need to have a vaccine, but there`s also a great need to proceed carefully.

Vaccines are wonderful. Discoveries, inventions of humanity, but there are always possibilities that something unexpected could go wrong, and you need to be prepared for that by careful studies in animals, by careful studies in people, and it`s a risk. If one wants to go out really quickly and spread a vaccine throughout the human population, it may work without a hitch. On the other hand, there are indications from -- yeah, go ahead, please.

WILLIAMS: I was just going to say you`ve lived long enough to see your father`s work part of a collection that has fallen victim to this anti- vaccine crowd. They received a bit of an assist from the President last week when he said not everyone`s going to want the vaccine when it comes out. Do you worry that that movement, which we`ve proven has received an assist from the Russians on social media. Do you worry that that movement will be diminishing to this welcome new vaccine?

SALK: Well, first of all, yes, there`s welcome news, not only this one vaccine. There are many vaccines that are being looked at, a number that are in human trials already. There are some good results in animal systems where the experimental vaccines are protecting animals against coronavirus infection. And, again, I`m rolling back there are signs from some earlier studies that were undertaken that there could be some negative effects that are unexpected from the vaccine. And we`ve seen that with other vaccines that they`ve been introduced, and some negative effects have appeared. They`ve had to be withdrawn. Thinks have had to be redone and reconfigured. People who are concerned about vaccines for the most part in this day and age are concerned about things that are not real. That`s a shame because I think that`s fueling this resistance to vaccines. But vaccines can have side effects, and they need to be carefully monitored and dealt with if they come up. My only concern under the present circumstances is that we go carefully enough, that we don`t get ourselves in trouble by rolling out a vaccine that will prove to be unexpectedly detrimental in one way or another.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Peter Salk, son of a man who was for a time and for great reason the most famous man in this country. Doctor, thank you so much for coming on the broadcast. It`s a great pleasure to have you.

Another break for us. And coming up, Steve Schmidt weighs in on the President`s revelation that he`s been taking an unproven and unrecommended medication for days when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I get a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydroxyzine, and I say, hey, you know the expression I`ve used, John?  What do you have to lose, OK?  What do you have to lose?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The University of Minnesota is conducting a national trial to see if hydroxychloroquine can prevent coronavirus infections. Today the doctor overseeing the study put this out. Quote, there are no data that pre- exposure prophylaxis is effective to prevent coronavirus. It may be true, may not be. We do not know. The only way I would recommend taking hydroxychloroquine is with a clinical trial.

For the record, a number of prominent doctors lined up today to remind us this drug is not effective in prevention or treatment, and they don`t recommend it.

Back with us again tonight, Steve Schmidt, veteran political strategist who led the `08 McCain campaign, has since left the Republican Party. Steve, your take on the president`s choice of medication.

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it`s just another absurdity in the theater of the absurd, Brian, that is this administration and Donald Trump`s response to this. It`s utterly reckless. It`s dangerous. Somebody could take this, and what they have to lose is their life. And that`s why you see the concern from all the medical professionals around the country looking at Donald Trump making another statement that`s just completely inexpublicable. It makes no sense.

Just another example of -- and I don`t use this to name-call, but just an example of idiocy. And there will be people out there who look at the word of the president, believe him, take it, and suffer an adverse consequence. It just couldn`t be more irresponsible if he tried.

WILLIAMS: I want to put a quote up on the screen from Eugene Robinson and it is about Barack Obama and the obvious and notable triggering effect he has had on the current president. "Maybe his Obama obsession is not even tactical but instead purely personal. Maybe Trump just cannot abide the fact that Obama is a Nobel laureate, respected around the world."

It continues, "while he has had to endure being snickered at by world leaders and portrayed as hapless and ignorant by the fake news media he claims to hate yet compulsively devours."

So, Steve, that`s thing one. Here`s thing two, Eric Trump from this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC TRUMP, EVP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Biden loves this. Biden can`t go onstage without making some horrible blunder. I mean even from his basement, he`s making awful gaffes every single day, so his campaign is thrilled he`s not going out there. They think they`re taking away Donald Trump`s greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time, right?

So they will, and you watch. They`ll milk it every single day between now and November 3rd, and guess what? After November 3rd, coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear, and everybody will be able to reopen. They`re trying to deprive him of his greatest asset.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, Steve Schmidt, your reaction to the president`s attacks on Obama, who evidently, along with China, they`re going to run against. And we might have buried the lead. The medical news from Eric Trump there that this virus is going to fade away right after election day.

SCHMIDT: Well, let`s start with Eric Trump. I think -- and I said it this weekend -- it may well be the dumbest thing that`s ever been said by a presidential offspring. We have 90,000 dead Americans. Soon we`ll be over 100,000. We`ll be on our way to 200,000 before too much longer, and this kid thinks it`s all a hoax to keep his dad from having rallies. It`s just deplorable.

With regard to the president and President Obama, we saw a scene of American weakness earlier this year where we saw many of our greatest allies, we saw the French president, the Canadian prime minister, we saw the German chancellor, we saw a group of foreign leaders all together laughing about Donald Trump, laughing at the president of the United States. They weren`t laughing with him. They were laughing at him.

They laugh at him because they view him as a buffoon, a clown. And that didn`t happen to President Obama. When President Obama traveled the world, he was a symbol of respect. People around the world did not laugh at Barack Obama the way they do at Donald Trump.

So we have Barack Obama who serves for eight years in office. I didn`t agree with all of President Obama`s agenda, but nobody was indicted in the Obama administration over eight years. So we had one of the cleanest administrations in history followed up by one of the most corrupt in history.

And we look back now at the Obama era, and I really believe this, Brian. I think it marks the ending of the 75-year-long American era that began with the end of World War II and lasted until Donald Trump`s presidency. We enter this period now of precipitous national decline.

And if you look back to the day where Barack Obama received Donald Trump at the White House on January 20th of 2017 for the transition of power, the place that we are at this hour, one of economic collapse, the epicenter of a global pandemic, the inability of the federal government to get the testing done, to get PPE ordered for frontline health care workers, we are at an hour of American weakness that`s just simply unimaginable looking back from when Barack Obama was president a few short years ago.

And so, you know, I think Donald Trump looks at Barack Obama with a lot of envy, and I think he has a lot of projection. And I think you see that playing out whenever he talks about the former president.

WILLIAMS: Steve Schmidt, as tragic an assessment as it is, an idea to contemplate about where we are and where we`ve been. Thank you, my friend. Always a pleasure.

Coming up for us as we approach our next break, what it`s like to report on one of the most enigmatic figures in a generation. We`ll ask a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who did just that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, FMR. NSA CONTRACTOR: I try not to make that easy for them. If I get a smartphone and I need to use a phone, I actually open it up before I use it. I perform a kind of surgery on it to physically desolder or sort of melt the metal connections that hold the microphone on the phone, and I physically take this off. I remove the camera from the phone, and then I close it back up. I seal it up. And then if I need to make a phone call, I will attach an external microphone on, and this is just so -- if the phone is sitting there and I`m not making a call, it cannot hear me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was from my last interview with Ed Snowden back in September. He`s describing a service not traditionally offered at the Apple Store. Reporters in contact with Ed Snowden have also resorted to extreme measures to protect their sources and their classified documents in their possession as they have found themselves under government surveillance.

One of those journalists is with us tonight. We are so happy to welcome to the broadcast Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who writes at "The Atlantic." Notably the author of the new book "Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State," which goes on sale tomorrow morning.

Bart, thank you very much for coming on. I remember what we went through to get to Ed Snowden and interview him early on in Moscow, including the two lovely gentlemen with shiny suits at baggage claim in the airport who attached themselves to us. I`m wondering on a much grander scale, what it`s done to your life to have known Ed Snowden.

BARTON GELLMAN, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: Well, I haven`t learned how to take apart a phone, but I`ve taken apart a number of computers for him. And by the way, thank you for having me here. He sent me one document that was more highly classified than anything I had ever seen. And then the next day unexpectedly he sent me 50,000. And at that point --

WILLIAMS: Oh, Bart, come back to us. I`m going to insist that no one has gotten inside Bart`s laptop or Skype account, but let`s see if the shot can re-establish itself. We think he`s back. Bart, can you hear me?

GELLMAN: I can hear you, and I deny any outside intervention.

WILLIAMS: Please continue your answer. We`ll hope the signal and your home Wi-Fi holds.

GELLMAN: Do our best here. Look, I had to build what amounted to a SCIF, a Secure Compartmented Information Facility in my own office. I got a 400- pound safe. I took apart my computer, removed the Wi-Fi and the Ethernet cards and the Bluetooth hardware, removed the battery so that if you unplugged it, it would seize working immediately.

I had encryption keys on separate hardware that were kept in the different place, you know, five different pass phrases just to start work every day, and this was because there were active, ongoing efforts to hack into my work and to steal the documents and my confidential notes.

WILLIAMS: What`s the moment like when you realize it`s the home team trying to break into your stuff?

GELLMAN: It was the home team and the away team. The U.S. government was bitterly frustrated that reporters like me were publishing story after story from the Snowden archive about the NSA and spilling U.S. government secrets, not all of the ones we knew and not for no reason. When they were important stories, we wrote them. But they were very frustrated.

And the director of the NSA, General Alexander at the time, proposed in internal meetings that they send the FBI to come and seize my notes, seize the documents, take them back, prevent reporters from doing their work any longer on this.

So I was worried about them. I later learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the FBI had me under surveillance, that they didn`t want to describe the details of that surveillance because it would give away previously unknown surveillance technique to tell me the names of the files they had about me, which is not what a reporter really wants to hear.

And then there were the foreign hackers and foreign intelligence services, the pink bar on my Gmail account appeared, a warning across the top of the screen that said "We believe state-sponsored attackers are attempting to break into your account. Protect yourself, it said. How you protect yourself against state-sponsored hackers was less clear than that.

And one day I was holding my iPad, and the display gutted out, and suddenly I see these lines of white text marching up the screen saying "kernel discarded, loading new system." it was being hacked from far away in a quite sophisticated attack that would have taken over the iPad without my knowledge and turned it into a spy device on me. I just happened to catch it in the act in a brief moment of opportunity.

WILLIAMS: To our audience in quarantine, this is what it will be like to read Bart Gellman`s book. Can`t recommend it any more highly based on the strength of all of his work heretofore. His life is never boring. Bart, thank you for coming on. It`s a great pleasure to have you on the broadcast. Bart Gellman our guest tonight.

GELLMAN: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, the unemployed Florida hotel work who took a page from Forrest Gump. After weeks of frustration trying to get what he was promised, we`ll talk to that man after this.

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WILLIAMS: In the state of Florida, there`s been plenty of criticism about that state`s unemployment system. As the Tampa Bay Times reports it, quote, although the state has made strides toward paying claims in the last two weeks, most applicants have not been paid. One South Florida hotel employee found himself among those waiting for weeks for an unemployment check.

So Beau Guyott decided to walk from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee. For those playing our home game, that would be 417 miles -- in an attempt to tell the stories of fellow Floridians in the same boat.

Here with us is the man behind the story. Beau Guyott, a waiter and the founder of Walk Tallahassee. The founder rather of Walk Tallahassee.

Beau, I have to ask you, I don`t want to waste a second of your time. When you encountered people on your walk, when media interviewed you, when people asked you what you were walking for, what was your answer to them that we can now transfer to our live audience?

BEAU GUYOTT, WAITER, LAID OFF DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC: Brian, it was for all the unemployed workers that you`re not seeing out and about right now in your grocery stores and your gas stations and such that are at home, applying for work, and have yet after two months to see a check.

WILLIAMS: Why Florida? What is so hard about this in your state?

GUYOTT: That`s -- that`s what I`m trying to get to the bottom of. And I should mention too that even though I finished the walk to Tallahassee, this is absolutely the -- we`re just scratching the surface here. This is the beginning. We`ll be involved in the elections. We`ll be doing follow- ups with all the people we interviewed, and I will not -- I refuse to let this die.

WILLIAMS: What did you learn during your walk about people, footwear, and the state of Florida?

GUYOTT: Well, contrary to the butt of all jokes that Florida seems to suffer from a lot, this state is filled with creative people, inventive people, incredible resilience, and almost every single restaurant that I walked into had transformed their model into something that was -- was useful to the community under the COVID guidelines. And it was unbelievable. It was extremely emotional.

WILLIAMS: How did you get through it physically?

GUYOTT: I`m sorry?

WILLIAMS: How did you get through it physically?

GUYOTT: It was more of a mental game. Before I started, I said to myself, there`s absolutely no way that you are going to stop until you get to Tallahassee. So, yes, there were shin splints. There were, you know, bee stings. There were red ant bites, the rest of it, but nothing a little ibuprofen can`t cure.

WILLIAMS: How many alligators?

GUYOTT: You know what? To be honest, I never saw a live one, but I saw seven dead alligators, armadillos, a flattened panther, rattlesnakes amongst other things that I couldn`t quite identify.

WILLIAMS: All due respect to the panther community, I guess a flattened panther sure beats the alternative.

GUYOTT: You got that right.

WILLIAMS: Beau, as you continue striving toward your goal and this campaign as you announced tonight will continue, we`ll have you back on to get a progress report. Thanks very much for coming on with us tonight. Beau Guyott has been our guest.

GUYOTT: Brian, I really appreciate it. Absolutely. Thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: Our pleasure.

Coming up for us, more evidence that nature bats last, and the natural world always wins in a big way.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From New York, this is "NBC Nightly News" with Jessica Savitch.

JESSICA SAVITCH, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: Good evening. The Mount St. Helens volcano erupted today. It was the worst eruption of that mountain in 123 years. At least five people were killed fleeing down the mountainside and more feared dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Indeed, 57 people were killed on that day. Last thing before we go tonight is what we were covering 40 years ago tonight. Mount St. Helens in Washington State becoming what is still the largest volcanic eruption in our history with the force of a nuclear blast. It blew off the side of the mountaintop, blew off 1,000 feet of its height.

This photo was taken by a hiker who was leaving for the day, stopped, turned around for just one more picture of the mountain, just as it erupted. And it still rumbles and steams to this day. No one alive then who was anywhere near it -- and by that we mean for several states around and over the border in Canada -- will ever forget it, nor should they. The day the earth rose up in great anger and left a crater a mile wide.

That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week together. Thank you so much for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night from our temporary field headquarters.

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