BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,231 of the Trump administration. 153 days to go until the presidential election.
And this is the ninth straight day of protests ignited by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Many marchers and rallies going on in defiance of curfews in many cities right now. They are all taking place tonight as all four officers who were involved at that arrest scene now face charges stemming from Mr. Floyd`s death. This afternoon`s announcement brought this reaction in Minneapolis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROTESTERS: We`ve got all four! We`ve got all four! We got all four! We got all four! We got all four! We got all four!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This was also the day the President`s former Defense Secretary James Mattis went public with extraordinary criticism of how his former boss is responding to all of this and what has become of our country.
While former President Obama encouraged the protesters to continue making the status quo uncomfortable. Much more on all of that ahead, but we want to take a measurement of the protests around the country tonight. Beginning with Garrett Haake, who remains down in Washington just off Lafayette Square. And Garrett, what`s the attitude of the crowd tonight? I know no two evenings have been alike.
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that`s true, Brian. Today was another enormous protest here out in the streets near the White House. And today was the first day that I detected a certain element of joy perhaps coming from that arrest today.
There was very much a block party vibe here in D.C. during the afternoon and evening. As I think we saw a different set of protesters. A lot of folks coming out they said for the first time, in many cases brought out by the federal government`s treatment of the folks who are in Lafayette Park on Monday night.
Tonight we are officially under a curfew, have been for a few minutes. As you can see, there are still -- I would say several hundred protesters out here. They have been faced off in this way, and I don`t mean that to sound particularly aggressive, but lined up sort of face to face with federal law enforcement officials including national guardsmen from as far away as Utah and people who would refuse to identify themselves throughout much of the course of the day but who we have determined finally are bureau of prisons riot control officers who I think there is some concern among protesters may not handle things with particular nuance if things were to devolve later in the evening, as things sometimes do when it gets particularly late at night, Brian.
WILLIAMS: No knock on your home state. But Garrett, I know of a number of those bureau of prisons guys are from Texas. You mentioned the guard in Utah. Simple question, under whose orders, what`s the chain of command here, and what are they doing so far from home defending the ground between peaceful protesters and the White House?
HAAKE: Brian, I`m still reporting out exactly how the chain of command works here. But our understanding is they`re under authorities there. Essentially any federal officers here are deputized by U.S. Marshals to help protect federal personnel and property. And that at the top of that chain is the Attorney General Bill Barr. But it`s unclear to me whether he has sort of micro level operational control. Typically in these kind of unified responses D.C. police play more of a role. They have not been happy with the way that the feds have conducted themselves on city streets thus far over the last few days. That`s something we are still attempting to run down. And it is, I might add, a uniquely D.C. problem where normally a governor would be at the top of the food chain here. We`re not a state. We don`t have that level of authority up here.
WILLIAMS: All right, Garrett Haake down near Lafayette Square. Garrett, thank you for that.
Shaquille Brewster remains in Minneapolis. Shaq, you and I spoke last hours ago. What an emotional afternoon it was there today. With the announcement of the charges against the remaining three officers. Of course nothing like how emotional it will get tomorrow. We come on the air 2 o`clock Eastern with the first of the funeral services for George Floyd.
SHAQUILLE BREWSTER, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: That`s right, Brian. And you really saw a shift in the crowd and the scene and the mood here over the course of the day. It started with Quincy Mason, the son of George Floyd, coming here to pay his respects. He got on one knee, he placed flowers, he prayed with people and thanked them for their support.
We saw the governor even come by and pay his respects this morning. And then as we shifted and got to the afternoon, that`s when word came out and the reports started to come out that the other three officers, former Minneapolis police department officers involved in the death of George Floyd that they were going to be charged and arrested. And the mood turned into celebratory. You heard people singing. They were chanting. Later as we got into the evening there was a dance line going on, playing different songs.
And you saw really a coalition of people, young, old, black, white, all together celebrating that sense of community. You know, Garrett talked about that block party vibe that is going on in Washington, D.C. You had something very similar here where people were grilling, handing out food. That was the mood that you were having here as people came out and paid their respects but also celebrated the news. What they`ve been fighting for so long, for at least over a week now, fighting for the arrests of those remaining police officers.
In the announcement by Attorney General Keith Ellison we heard him first thank people for their patience in their wait in getting to this point where he was able to add that additional charge or upgrade the charge against Officer Chauvin and also add the charges on the other officers. But you also heard him warn people that getting a conviction is not easy. It`s not an easy thing to do. He said it will be hard. And that is what people understand. So there`s also an anxiety you that hear among people who know the history of prosecuting police officers, how difficult that is. There`s some anxiety there. But for now they`re seeing the wheels of justice starting to turn. They`ve been fighting for this. And now they`re starting to see their fight and their vision being realized. Brian?
WILLIAMS: As I said, tomorrow will be given over to sadness, no doubt. You and I will be talking tomorrow afternoon. Shaq Brewster in Minneapolis for us tonight.
Let`s go all the way west. Gadi Schwartz in Los Angeles. Gadi, I`m hoping you can tell us of a more peaceful night tonight.
GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, much more peaceful night and a little bit of a victory that protesters are celebrating here as well. In fact, I want to show you this sign over here. Take a look. That says "Defund LAPD." We`ve seen that sign in this protest crowd. We`ve seen it all day long. We`ve seen it over the last few days. And it turns out that the city here, Los Angeles, it has agreed to cut the budget for LAPD by about $150 million. So not only are protesters out here reacting to the news of those charges in Minnesota, they also see a little bit of progress here in Los Angeles.
However, some skeptics are saying wait a minute, this is a pandemic. There`s going to be cuts anyway, this is not necessarily a large amount when you consider that LAPD`s budget is somewhere along $1.6 million. So that`s one of the things that we`re seeing out here play out on the streets. You can see behind us this is coming from the city hall just down the way. We are now headed somewhere into Downtown Los Angeles.
They just started moving a little while ago. So far everything has been incredibly peaceful. In fact, over the last day or so we`ve started to see organizers from black lives matter, get pretty physical with people that are coming in that they don`t see as part of the black lives matter movement, spray-painting "BLM" onto stores. We`ve seen some people removed. We`ve seen some people heckled, their masks ripped off.
And so there is a little bit of policing internally. However, there`s still a lot of anger out here toward the police. They say they want to continue to protest, they want to continue to make their voices heard. But another sign of progress out here is that the curfew keeps getting pushed back. Tonight it`s going to be 9:00 which is different than last night when it was around 5:00 or 6:00.
The LAPD and the sheriff`s department says they`re not going to start enforcing the curfew until about 10:00. And yesterday we showed you that roundup of all those cars and LAPD says it`s not necessarily that they want to cut down on the protests as much as they do the looting. And the looting goes hand in hand with the cars. There are caravans that follow some of the protests to try to create those crimes of opportunity that have nothing to do with the protests. So LAPD has been impounding a lot more cars. They say those cars stay in impound a lot longer than people that they are arresting and citing for being out past curfew. Some of those people are only in process for about an hour, then they come back out, then they`re arrested again in the same night. Brian?
WILLIAMS: All right. Gadi Schwartz in L.A. Gadi, thank you for that.
Out to Seattle we go, Jo Ling Kent, our correspondent there. And Jo, I`m told largest group thus far.
JO LING KENT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brian. Things have escalated quickly in terms of crowd size. There are thousands of people here in Seattle on what is the sixth day in a row of protesting.
And the news here is that after setting a 9:00 p.m. curfew the city of Seattle has now canceled the curfew because the chief of police, Carmen Best, has told the mayor according to the mayor`s office, that they will be able to maintain the peace as well as provide a safe environment for everyone here and maintain order.
Now, this comes, Brian, as we here, perched three stories above this gathering, have learned that the meeting that the mayor had today with organizers and activists was in some people`s eyes successful according to the Seattle Times. Others disagreeing.
But what you see right there on your screen is police in riot gear. They have just arrived and then replaced, perhaps a shift change. And we see the riot gear here. They are then supported by the National Guard directly behind them with full riot gear as well.
Now, police presence continues up the street. But what I want you to take a look at right now, Sam if we can flip over here, is show the umbrellas that we see. We have not seen this many umbrellas at the front of this Capitol Hill Seattle protest since this began. And the reason they have these umbrellas is not because it`s raining in Seattle. It is because they are guarding against possible pepper spray and tear gas. And that is exactly what happened last night. It was a very peaceful, very large protest. And then it devolved very quickly.
Now, the police has been criticized in recent days for saying that these are riots when they are protests in the eyes of the protesters. They are all calling for change and justice for George Floyd, calling for the protection of black lives.
Now, Sam, come on over here. I want to show you guys a little bit more what we`re seeing. This looks like one large group of people, right? But it`s actually multiple different groups of protesters. Some with slightly different agendas. And you can see how far it stretches. It shows the energy and the spirit of what is happening here in Seattle.
A lot of people also telling me, several protesters we`ve been talking to last night and in the past days, they believe this crowd is only going to grow, Brian, because of two things. First they want to see out justice for George Floyd. And they also, one protester in particular, says the economy is the big story that is not being told right now here in Seattle.
You have nationwide 40 million people who have filed for jobless claims and this passion is coming not just, according to this protester, not just from this current situation out of Minneapolis and George Floyd, and it`s coming from somewhere deeper. And several protesters also telling me that they`re out here and they`re wearing their masks because they`re willing to risk their health to make their voices heard.
This is a reoccurring theme across the country but especially here in Seattle. The big question is there`s no curfew right now, so what`s going to happen when night falls here in Seattle? What will it look like? Because the past couple of nights it has not ended peacefully. It has been tear gas. It has been pepper spray. And it has been flash bang grenades deployed by the police once night falls.
So we`ll be monitoring the situation for you here in Seattle. But one of the largest crowds that we`ve seen and certainly one of the most organized so far.
So Brian, there you have it. The police line live here in Seattle supported by the National Guard and thousands of people saying they are calling for justice for George Floyd and they want to see change right now. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Jo Ling Kent, Seattle, three stories above the action. Jo, we`ll come back to you if warranted.
Let`s shift our focus to New York. A couple of headlines today and tonight. This was the day the New York City police commissioner says he and his department stand with George Floyd`s family. That was a notable headline today. And then tonight news of sporadic arrests and at least two of the five boroughs. And sudden heavy rain which became a factor in tonight`s protests. Ali Velshi, our man standing by. Hey, Ali.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST, "VELSHI": Brian, so I`ve been out here for several hours. And we were following the large Manhattan protesters that had over 2,000 might have been 3,000 people. It was over ten blocks long. Started on the west side, moved its way up past Columbus Circle over to the east side and then dispersed shortly thereafter.
Now, we were getting reports while the rain was coming down about action right here. That next intersection is 50 and 3rd. We`re on 3rd Street. That`s 50th Avenue. There is video emerging. It`s going around social media. I am talking to the person who shot it or somebody who got it from them. And I`m trying to run it down. But it does show that prior to us arriving a couple hours ago, we heard the scanner activity that they were calling for a lot of police units here.
There was something that happened in that instance that is going to cause the police commissioner a big headache if it turns out to be true. I`ve seen the video, but I`m not able to confirm it yet. It does show a cyclist as part of the protests. A lot of protests on bicycles being beaten pretty severely by police in the process of being arrested. It was shot purportedly by a passenger or somebody driving in a car who was stopped because of this police action at this corner.
Now, again, I`ve been following these protests for days and for a few hours today and we did not see anything that was violent. Now, we did -- we do know these instances of smashing windows and looting are occurring. We saw evidence of it last night. We saw etched of evidence of it again but the main body of the protesters are chapters and walkers.
So what we are seeing happen there is very unusual because it was somebody on a bike. They didn`t have anything with them. And there are three police officers seeing beating this person with batons fairly violently. So I`m trying to run that down. The bottom line, though, now is it is empty. There is no news of more arrests in New York. All of the arrests we`ve seen like last night, the majority of those arrests are for breaking curfew. So they`re not for something else. That has generally happened in an orderly fashion.
We do have reports of some violent clashes between protesters and police in Brooklyn. And we have this report emerging now that has video support of it. So we`re going to try to figure out what exactly is behind this and who the law enforcement people -- who are on that video are. But I suspect by morning this will be a big deal for the NYPD to be dealing with. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Ali, you also have the 17th police precinct a couple of hundred yards to your left, which means the population of NYPD is very high in that neighborhood.
VELSHI: That`s right. In fact this is a massive police presence. We`re actually just a few blocks over from 30 Rock, where you and I spend most of our work lives. So it`s a very, very large police presence.
By the time we got here a couple of hours ago there was substantially more police in the area. But on the scanner what typically happens is you get calls for police units to come to a particular area and then you shortly thereafter hear no more units necessary. We didn`t hear that around here.
The rain seems to have put a damper on this but they kept calling for more people. They kept calling for more transports for those arrested. We saw a lot of people arrested and taken away in the last hour. But it does seem that in that short period between when we got here just prior to the rain it was hotter than the impression you get of the area right now.
So once again, most of the protesters are gone. There`s no evidence of looting or anything broken in this area. So this has been a bit of a mystery to me as to why the video I saw looked as violent as it was. But I do want to confirm to you that I don`t have confirmation on it. I`ve watched it. It`s going around social media. I`m speaking to the people who know who shot it. And I`m trying to run it down. 2020. So you can`t believe what your eyes even tell you sometimes. What it does show is a number of police officers beating a cyclist.
WILLIAMS: Ali Velshi on the streets of New York over on the east side of Manhattan. Ali, thank you very much. It has been quite a day.
This evening the President is calling his first defense secretary, "the world`s most overrated general." Former Four-Star Marine General James Mattis has broken his silence. That`s what brought about the President`s response.
Mattis has released a scathing critique of trump just days after Monday night`s federal show of force in order to clear protesters out of Lafayette Square, an order sent down by Attorney General Barr, to allow the president`s photo op holding a bible aloft in front of the church with the burned-out basement and the boarded-up windows.
Here is part of what General Mattis has written. "I have watched this week`s unfolding events, angry and appalled. When I joined the military some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution. Never did I dream the troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens, much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander in chief with military leadership standing alongside."
Mattis goes on to say, "Donald Trump is the first President in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people, does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
Well, as you might imagine, that`s going to leave a mark. In an interview with his first press secretary the President defended the decision to go to the church and his threat to use the military to put down the protests.
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DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We have very strong powers to do it. The National Guard is customary. And we have a very powerful national guard. Over 300,000 men and women. And we can do pretty much whatever we want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you go to St. John`s the other day?
TRUMP: I went there because somebody suggested it was a good idea and I thought it was a great idea. I think everything was handled very well. I will tell you religious leaders loved it. Religious leaders thought it was great. They loved it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: He was asked tonight if the nation needs healing. He answered, "The nation needs law and order." In an earlier interview Trump was asked about reports he had taken shelter in the White House bunker Friday night as hundreds demonstrated outside the executive mansion.
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TRUMP: It was a false report. I wasn`t down. I went down during the day and I was there for a tiny, little, short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection. There was never a problem. We never had a problem. Nobody ever came close to giving us a problem. They said it would be a good time to go down, take a look, because maybe sometime you`re going to need it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Despite the President`s claim that he was merely inspecting the bunker, as one does, tonight the Washington Post indeed reports Trump and the First Lady and their son Barron were rushed to the secure space Friday night after a few protesters jumped over barricades, coming within about 350 feet of the East Wing.
We also heard from a previous White House occupant today. Former President Barack Obama made his first public remarks about the protest, offering his support for those demanding police reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I`m urging every mayor in this country to review your use of force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms. There is something different here. You look at those protests, and that was a far more representative cross- section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting and who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they have seen. That didn`t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here to help us make sense of another consequential day in our country, long-time friend of this broadcast Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR Boston`s NPR News Station.
Kim, two points. Number one, no one who`s been paying attention can argue with that point about the diversity of these crowds. That`s one of the points that comes through to even a casual observer loud and clear. Number two, Mattis and Obama in what must have been a triggering day for this President.
KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it really makes a very clear difference. You can see the difference in the handling of protests like this, protests based on anger over the killing of unarmed black people, the way it was handled under the Obama administration and the way it was handled under the Trump administration laid bare.
You see Donald trump, someone who has always reveled in the power of military might. One of the first things Donald Trump did recall when he was elected was to reverse a policy implemented by the Obama administration that stopped the donation of surplus military equipment to local police forces. And the reason that the Obama administration stopped that was after Ferguson. Recall, after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri were met by a militaristic police force and that just exploded the controversy and the pain in that situation. And they so the to avoid that. The President put that right back. He said the local police need military might and that it would be useful for them.
So since the beginning there has been this stark difference where when the President -- when President Trump sees a threat he likes to bolster his military might. Certainly this report he went into a bunker seemed to really embarrass him frankly and made that even greater.
And you see President Obama instead saying look, I gave a playbook on what to do. And going around President Trump essentially, talking directly to municipalities, saying implement some of these suggestions, some of these plans and proposals that I laid out five years ago and report back and see how that works. So it really is a stark difference both in style and substance, from the current President and his predecessor.
WILLIAMS: Also, Kim, it`s the esteem and regard that the American people have for these two guys specifically. Yesterday it was Admiral Mullen. But today Jim Mattis, as revered as he is across the river in the Pentagon, Barack Obama, who along with his wife, the former first lady, has risen in public esteem since leaving two terms in office.
ATKINS: That`s absolutely right. In General Mattis you have someone who has long been respected not only in the Pentagon and throughout the military community but beyond. This isn`t the first time he spoke out against the President of course in his resignation letter he said that he did not share the same vision with the President, that General Mattis believed in building coalitions with our allies and supporting them and that`s something that the president didn`t. It took the president a day or so to realize that dig. And ever since then the president has falsely claimed that he essentially fired Mattis rather than he resigning.
But these words today coupled with the words of the current Defense Secretary, Secretary Esper before he walked it back a little bit, saying that he did not agree with the decision to disperse the crowd before the White House -- before the President walked to St. John`s church. He then called off military -- active duty military in Washington, D.C., a decision that he reversed a few hours later. So there are still those active-duty military folks here in the nation`s capital.
But there`s been pushback within this community that is frustrated that the military is being called upon to treat American citizens as combatants essentially. And to police them on U.S. soil, something that goes against the law and it goes against the spirit of the constitution. And so yes, you see that pushback. That`s something that did not happen at all during the Obama administration.
WILLIAMS: Kim, rest assured someday, someday we will see each other in person again. In the meantime, thank you as always for having us in. Kimberly Atkins, our first guest tonight.
A break for us. We`re still monitoring this ninth night of protests. You`ve seen the live pictures there in Seattle. But just ahead for us, more on the President losing the support of his own military men. And later, the former president`s message we`ve been talking about especially the young people in this country, that this country was founded on protest, that their lives matter in the year 2020, as The 11th Hour just getting under way on this Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: That`s Defense Secretary Esper, the one who said he didn`t know he was going to be part of some photo op over at the church. Publicly breaking ranks with the White House today right before he reversed his order of earlier in the day to return those military units to their home states.
Hours later the bombshell from the president`s very first Defense Secretary, James Mattis, who writes, "We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our constitution."
Very pleased to have two important guests back with us tonight, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon. Former chief counsel to House Intel.
Jeremy, I`d like to begin with you. Does Mattis speaking up at this time in this way by air cover or maybe even a little dose of courage to other people in the president`s circle who have been silent until now?
JEREMY BASH, NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF POLITICAL WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think so, Brian. When I worked at the Pentagon, there was a hand-painted sign over the corridor where the Marine Corps leadership had their offices and it was a quote by Jim Mattis and it said, "A marine is no better friend, no worse enemy."
And I think in the early days of the Trump presidency Trump had no better friend than Jim Mattis because he really conferred legitimacy and stature on the Trump presidency. But I think with each passing moment, with each presidential narcissistic act, each presidential lie, each act of national security degradation and after Jim Mattis grew tired of it, Jim Mattis became in some respects now the worst enemy for the Trump presidency.
Not I should add an enemy to President Trump the person but to Trumpism because as Mattis said in his statement he and every person in uniform takes an oath of office to the constitution of the United States.
After all, what`s our military defending if not the values of our country. The idea that all men are created equally, of equality, that people can peacefully assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights. And for the president to invoke military symbols, to invoke military rhetoric, to clear away peaceful protesters so he could go have a photo op holding a bible upside down, to Jim Mattis and to many others that was just a bridge too far.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, the president today heard from his predecessor and nemesis all in the same person. Barack Obama speaking calmly and coolly and exhibiting leadership all the while. Let`s just for the purposes of this conversation, because we`ve been wanting to talk to you for days, pretend you have been assigned the A-1 thought piece, front page of the "New York Times." Is the dashboard light of democracy flashing red? Where are we in your view by your accounting of it? Where is this presidency in history?
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are at a remarkable moment, Brian. You know, we had the religious leadership of the Episcopal and catholic churches saying the president was wrong to do what he did the other day. We have, you know, the military leadership in the form of retired generals like Mattis speaking out, Admiral Mullen speaking out and in effect Secretary Esper struggling to get to someplace independent of the president in any case to distance himself from what happened the other day.
And now we have President Barack Obama but also the other three living presidents in the last few days, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all three of whom have released statements of their own. And the combined message here from the established leadership and the religious, military and civilian spheres of the United States is something wrong is going on here.
And what President Obama and to some extent Presidents Bush and Carter and Clinton are saying is there`s a different way to exhibit leadership from the White House than to sit there and just threaten violence and to talk tough and further divide a country that is already polarized.
Each of the three -- the four of them, excuse me, provide sort of a model as you said about President Obama. The other three did in writing as well in their own way saying that -- in President Bush`s case, for instance, squelching dissent is not in fact the way to move forward, here we need to do is listen to these voices and hear a path forward that we can all join together.
Those are not the kind of sentiments we`re hearing out of this White House. And you`re hearing a moment when a lot of people who`ve had reservations about this president for a long time speak out in unison.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, I`m going to call upon your experience specifically at the Pentagon. As I said to you earlier today, it was one thing to see General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in camo BDUs looking for all the world like this generation`s Schwarzkopf walking over to that photo op.
Quite another as Garrett Haake continues to report tonight to have these units looking for all the world like dismounted combat infantry dressed for Fallujah and not friendship heights with no obvious markings. Only through digging have we found out some of them are Utah National Guard, some of them are bureau of prisons out of Texas. That kind of military stance in our public streets without markings and with faces covered is not something people identify with our country.
BASH: No, it`s not, Brian. And when the United States military goes overseas, they have to wear an insignia with the United States flag on it. Of course to not do that would be to violate the Geneva Convention. So what a symbol to the world we`re sending by having uninsigniaed, unmarked paramilitary-looking individuals in the streets to effect the will of the president over the protesters.
And again, you know, I think back to a couple of things. First, Brian, one of my earliest memories as a Washingtonian is going to Lafayette Park and participating in a protest. And who came and addressed the protesters? None other than the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, at the time. So that`s the tradition in the United States. The presidents actually join the protesters or they address them. They don`t clear them away with tear gas or horse-mounted military-style tactics.
And the other thing I have to remark upon, Brian, is that when the president had this march of the upside down bible, as I think we`re now going to call, where he held that bible upside down awkwardly, again, for someone who`s a preacher`s son I had to reflect, clearly this president hadn`t read genesis. It said all of humanity is created in the image of god. And he hadn`t read deuteronomy which said justice, justice, you shall pursue. Somehow the president has it all upside down.
WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker, more than that, apparently to believe the president you print guys got it all wrong, he was merely taking a look at the bunker, inspecting it, as one would, prior to perhaps needing it and wasn`t taken there at all.
BAKER: Yes. You know, you heard a lot today from this White House that bends the reality that we`ve seen with our own eyes. We reported obviously from our own sources. You know, you heard the White House say today that they acted to clear the protesters on Monday night because the police were under attack. My colleagues were there. That`s not the case. That`s not what they saw anyway.
They said that -- the president retweeted a post saying that the church, St. John`s church was fire-bombed. That`s an exaggeration to say the least. They had a fire in the basement. It was put out. The church is largely fine. In fact, we saw it just behind President Trump the next night.
They said a number of things which they tried to rewrite the history of this moment to rejustify it in a different way. But I don`t think that`s going to work. I think we all saw with our own eyes and on videotape, you know, and cameras.
I just got back from the White House a little while ago to see tonight`s protests. And to see these troops, however identified they are, in front of the White House just a block or two away is something that Brian, you and I have been here for a long time, I`ve never seen. I`ve never seen anything quite like that. Jeremy probably either.
And it`s a striking moment in our history, to have American troops guarding the White House against the American people. The protesters, by the way, tonight racially mixed, peaceful, you know, orderly crowd. The troops to their side were very disciplined. They were not doing anything aggressive either. It was a very, you know, more or less polite standoff between the two sides. Earlier in the day thousands of American citizens marched down the streets of Washington to make their voices heard. So this is actually not going away. Even though the president would like it to.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, Peter Baker, two more friends of this broadcast. Gentlemen, thank you so very much. The situation in Oakland deserves a look. We will do so as our coverage continues. Barack Obama now calling the events of the past few weeks as profound as anything he has seen in his lifetime. More on his message to our country with one of the leaders of today`s discussion with the former president when we come back.
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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I want to speak directly to the young men and women of color in this country. Who as plan just so eloquently described have witnessed too much violence and too much death. And too often some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting.
I hope that you also feel hopeful even as you may feel angry. Because you have the power to make things better and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that`s got to change.
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WILLIAMS: Former President Obama, increasingly taking on more of a national leadership role that many people find currently vacant. He voiced support today for the peaceful protests, called local officials out to lead on police reform.
We have three terrific guests with us tonight to talk about all of it. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post." Brittany Packnett Cunningham, co-founder of the Campaign Zero to end police brutality and a former member of President Obama`s 21st Century Policing Task Force, which he mentioned today. She was also a moderator for today`s town hall with the former president. And David Plouffe, former Obama campaign manager, senior adviser to the former president. Also on the board of directors of the Obama Foundation. His latest work is "A Citizen`s Guide to Beating Donald Trump."
Brittany, I`d like to begin with you. I watched the event. He sounded like our presidents used to sound. On big stuff on the big stuff, yes. But also on the quiet stuff. Talking about the right of people to stop in a park and look at birds. Kind of a perfect glancing blow against the Kathy-ization of society. But also as I said on the big matters of import too.
BRITTANY PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think you`re absolutely right. And the first time I ever met him in 2014 we were in the oval office in the midst of the Ferguson uprising, which was as horrific and violent, not on the part of the protesters but on the part of the police, as we are seeing right now.
And in that moment he offered some of the same encouragement then that he offered today about how important it is for young people to be raising their voices, how important it is for protests to be a critical lever to actually creating change at all levels.
I think the most important point of the conversation, though, was the diverse set of voices that followed his opening remarks because what we were able to see was the full continuum of what it looks like to actually keep black people safe in America. That we have to immediately reduce harm so the people are kept more safe now. But we know that those initial solutions like changing use of force policies that I work on so often, those are only the initial actions that we have to take. There`s so much more that needs to be done.
Tonight we saw Mayor Garcetti decide to pull back over $100 million of funding that was designated for the LAPD and is instead going to invest that in communities of color. That is because of the brave work of protesters. And that`s on that continuum that we were talking about tonight in the town hall. Because it`s first about reducing harm. It is second about actually divesting in police and investing in communities to make them whole and equitable from the ground up.
And ultimately it is about having enough radical imagination to know that our communities can keep one another safe without engaging in the kind of harmful tactics that we experience from police. All of that was talked about tonight. And I think it was important for America to hear the broadness of just how far we have to go and just how much the protesters are critical this getting us there.
WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, I`ve read every word you`ve written during this terrible time. Are we watching something getting born?
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTONG POST COLUMNIST: I do believe we are, Brian. I haven`t seen anything quite like this. The size and scope of these protests, the persistence night after night, the resilience of the protests. I was down like Peter Baker, I was down at the protest today just went down the one on 16th Street north of the White House near Lafayette Square, and the sense I really got was determination and persistence and we`re going to be here and we`re not going to be ignored.
I have a sense that this is a moment. It`s happening in all 50 states. It`s happening in hundreds of cities now. It`s real and it has to be paid attention to. The American people are speaking. This administration is not listening. But I think the country is hearing the protesters. And I think this is really an inflection point. And we`ll have to see where it leads. It`s not going to be easy getting from here to where we need to be.
WILLIAMS: David Plouffe, your former boss, notably said he would speak out if he feels the nation`s core values are at stake. As we said, he obviously entered what people see as a complete leadership vacuum. As we said, he sounded the way our presidents used to sound. Do you believe we`ll see and hear more of this?
DAVID PLOUFFE, FMR. OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, this is a very unique and challenging time for the country. So I think it was great to see his voice today. I thought his medium post earlier in the week giving people advice about what they could do to bring about change was also a terrific thing to do. So -- but it was jarring, Brian. I mean to see, you know, someone talk about community, not combat. Inspiration, not instigation. Policies, not phony photo ops.
And I think I agree with Eugene. What you see in the country, the business community, the athletic community, most Americans, you`ve seen massive rallies all around the world. I mean the world is united now that we have to bring about change. And Trump is isolated.
And I think he`s going to increasingly get desperate. You can see his screed against General Mattis today. His press secretary comparing him to Winston Churchill during the blitz. I mean, there`s been a lot of dumb things said at the White House podium that might take the list.
So, I think it`s important. But I think what was great today was Barack Obama really spoke to people who are protesting but want to take it further. What can I do? And to really ground people in the fact that so much of the change has to happen. As much as we need national leadership, at the state level, at the local level. at the community level. And that`s where so much of the policy change has to happen. So I think he laid out a good blueprint.
And what I`m excited about is i think this energy`s not going to dissipate. I think it`s going to continue to be on the streets and on social media. But I think it`s going to eventually be say legislatures and city council chambers, and I think this time people are not going to relent until we bring about the kind of changes to policing we so desperately need.
WILLIAMS: By the way, I hope people know while we`ve been showing the live pictures on the left-hand side of the screen, there are people walking around in Washington collecting trash from the people protesting tonight.
David, you`re right. I didn`t even get to the White House press secretary comparing the walk over to the church to Churchill touring the east end after the Blitz. Though I don`t recall the Brits had to gas the crowds prior to Churchill`s arrival.
Hey, Brittany, I noticed the mayor of Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms, who gave one of the spectacular impromptu speeches, borne out of anger and violence, in her town the night the protests were going down in Atlanta. She instantly took the former president`s challenge. What do local officials now need to do in your view?
CUNNINGHAM: So local officials have to take very clear incisive action. Look, a couple of things have to be true. She absolutely took President Obama`s pledge. But Mayor Bottoms also fired those police officers that we saw who summarily dragged two Atlanta university center students from their car for no reason at all. She recognized that that`s exactly the kind of violence that so many protesters are enduring even though they are engaging in their First Amendment rights and doing so in such a way that is clarifying for this country.
And so those are the kinds of incisive actions that we have to see not just for the short term but the long term. So every single mayor should be fixing their use of force policy at bottom, at the very beginning. We should also see every single mayor listening very closely to the protesters and organizers that have been out there because they have made their demands known and every single one of those local demands needs to be answered.
Then frankly mayors need to be taking on police unions. There are far too many options for police unions to come back behind policy changes, culture changes, and personnel changes and actually undermine all of the accountability that the community has worked so hard for.
We know that in places like Minneapolis officers who are fired for misconduct but appeal that decision, half of them are not only given their jobs back but they are actually receiving back pay when that happens. Police unions have to loosen their grip on what`s happening in our communities because as a former member of a teachers union myself I now better understand that police unions are not like my old teachers union at all.
They`re much more like the NRA and they are subverting justice for everyday people, especially black Americans. Mayors have to be bold. They have to be incisive. They have to listen directly to their community. Take immediate and long-term action. Nothing less will do.
WILLIAMS: I hope all three of our guests return very quickly to our broadcast. To Eugene, to Brittany, to David, thank you for coming on tonight. To our viewers, we`ve been watching what is admittedly a tense situation in Seattle. It is such a great joy, however, during this hour tonight not to be going to the scene of violence and clashes, and we hope it stays merely tense. A quick break. We`re back in a moment.
WILLIAMS: Your humble host has been determined this week to show you a moment of goodness. That was it in the shadow of the White House tonight. As the sun set over Washington, D.C. that will bring our broadcast to a close this Wednesday night. As always, thank you for being here with us. Good night from our temporary headquarters. MSNBC live coverage continues, next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END