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John Bolton TRANSCRIPT: 6/18/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Kate Gallego, Michael Steele, Steve Schmidt

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. Day 1,246 of the Trump administration, 138 days to go until the Presidential Election.

And Donald Trump is about to re-launch his campaign for re-election on the defensive by presiding in the COVID-19 era over an event that defines a public health risk. More on that later.

The nation of course still in the grips of a pandemic. A former White House official is telling highly unflattering tales about his former boss. Two big Supreme Court cases have gone against Trump just this week, and issues of policing and race still very much on the front burner in this country in terms of public opinion.

Tonight in a streaming interview with his eldest son, Trump took a swipe at Joe Biden.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he had a long time to do a lot of things, and he didn`t, and he`s certainly not in condition to do it now. He is not equipped to do it.


WILLIAMS: A Fox News poll out just this evening has Biden widening his lead on Trump, 50-38. That compares to 48-40 a month back. Proviso, it`s a national poll. We have some state-by-state polling to show you later on in the broadcast as well.

Today in a surprise ruling with political implications as we mentioned, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Trump`s campaign promise to immediately end the DACA Program, protecting people who were brought to the U.S. as children. It`s the second setback this week for the White House on Monday the court ruled gay and transgender workers are indeed protected by civil rights law. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer celebrated the DACA decision in the emotion of the moment live on the Senate floor.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-CA): The decision is amazing. I am so happy. These kids, their families, I feel for them, and I think all of America does.


WILLIAMS: Trump had a very different opinion, asking on social media, "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn`t like me?" Later he added, "We need new justices on the supreme court." And he promised to soon release a new list of conservative Supreme Court justice nominees. Trump`s also pursuing his escalating legal battle to try to keep former National Security Adviser John Bolton`s new book from being published even though -- and we have to stress this -- a number of people already have the book before them, have read it and reviewed it. A federal judge hears arguments on the case tomorrow. Bolton wrote about his 17-month tenure in the Trump inner circle, and he kept up the attacks in another excerpt from his interview with ABC News.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don`t think he`s fit for office. I don`t think he has the competence to carry out the job. There really isn`t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what`s good for Donald Trump`s re-election.


WILLIAMS: John Bolton in his interview with Martha Raddatz. Trump contends Bolton`s book is, "A compilation of lies and made-up stories all intended to make me look back." This afternoon the President re-tweeted this mash-up of Bolton praising Trump.


BOLTON: President Trump accomplished what other leaders had repeatedly promised but consistently failed to deliver. He looks out after the best interest of the American people. They`re the ones who elected him. They`re the ones he`s responsible to. And his administration will deliver, I am confident. He`s not going to make the same mistakes that President Obama made.


WILLIAMS: Of course praising the President is a condition of employment and, indeed, tonight in an updated interview, John Bolton fired back.


BOLTON: I think it`s unbecoming of the office of President. I think it degrades the political civil discourse in our country, and I`m just not going to respond to it.


WILLIAMS: Trump is now just two days away from his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, notably a city and state both in the midst of a dramatic spike up wards.

NBC News reporting Oklahoma far surpassed its record for newly reported coronavirus cases in a single day today. Today was the highest daily count since the start of the pandemic. Tomorrow the State Supreme Court is expected to rule on a request that the Bank of Oklahoma Arena require social distancing and face masks for attendance at the rally. The arena has also requested the Trump campaign provide a written health and safety plan.

At the White House this afternoon, Trump and the Governor of Oklahoma tried to signal everything`s fine here. Everything`s under control ahead of Saturday`s big event.


TRUMP: We`re sheltering individuals at the highest risk. If you look at really high-risk individuals, we are really watching them, and we`re taking care of them. And we know what the high risk means. But largely it means older people, especially older people, senior citizens.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): We had an uptick in the number of cases, and so something -- the media tries to talk about that. But we knew we were going to have an increase a little bit because we`re 56 days into reopening. We have to learn how to be safe and how to have to move on.


WILLIAMS: Trump continued to put a spin on the pandemic during a wide- ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal. "Asked if he would be fine with Ivanka Trump, his eldest daughter and a Senior White House Adviser, sitting in the crowded audience inside the arena. He said he would, first of all, she`s young, he said, adding that elderly Americans were more likely to become severely ill or die from the disease. He`s also quoted as saying, "Testing for COVID-19 was overrated and allowed for the possibility that some Americans wore facial coverings not as a preventative measure but as a way to signal disapproval of him."

White House Coronavirus Task Force has been largely silent, awol, out of public view for the past 52 days as states grapple with rising infections in the midst of reopenings. Yet we did get this from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was asked about all the mixed messaging these days during a podcast.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately there is a combination of an anti-science bias. They just don`t believe science, and they don`t believe authority. So when they see someone up in the White House, which has an air of authority to it, who`s talking about science, that there are some people who just don`t believe that, and that`s unfortunate because, you know, science is truth.


WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press. Errin Haines, a 19th veteran at the A.P. where she last covered race and society, now editor at large for the 19th, a nonprofit, non-partner newsroom focused on gender, politics, and policy. And Dr. Vin Gupta is back with us as well, an E.R. doc specializing in exactly these kinds of illnesses. Also an Affiliate Assistant Professor with the University of Washington Department of Health Metrics Sciences.

Good evening and welcome all of you to the broadcast. Jonathan, because of your beat, we`ll start with you. Are the people around the President at least aware of the danger when he uses words like "minuscule" to talk about the number of cases? He said in the last 24 hours, it`s dying out. It`s fading away. Even members of his base and especially folks in the Sunbelt may find out all evidence to the contrary.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Brian, this is meant to be, this week, the start of the President`s comeback. That`s what his aides had hoped it would be, capping off with of course his rally Saturday night now. It was Friday. It`s now Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were encouraged by some of the economic news in recent weeks. They had really wanted to shift the page, turn the page publicly to focus on the reopening of the nation and the restarting of its economy. The pandemic is stubborn and is not really letting them. As you just said, the coronavirus task force, we haven`t seen much of them. There`s been no briefing in a month and a half. They`re only meeting now once or twice a week. They are monitoring, we`re told -- Dr. Birx is leading this, the uptick in cases. It`s too early to say still whether or not we`re seeing any from the mass protests that we have seen across the nation.

The rise we are seeing is clearly from the reopening. It`s from states that have gone back to work, that have begun phasing back in, and that is indeed a lot of the Sunbelt states. The President is being advised to proceed cautiously this weekend. In fact, Republican Senator Lankford of Oklahoma, whose state is hosting the rally, said on this network earlier this week that he would not advise any senior citizen or anyone with an underlying health condition to go to this rally. They`re being urged even now -- local health officials are suggesting to the President to either move it to an outdoor event you`re or postpone it altogether. Neither of those things have happened.

We anticipate that it will go on as scheduled Saturday night. It was, of course, going to be Friday. It was moved because that was Juneteenth in that same interview with The Wall Street Journal, my friend Michael Bender asked the President about Juneteenth. And he said more and more people are hearing about it because of me. He took credit for that.

There is concern though that if there was to be a spike of cases stemming from this rally, there would be an issue. And in fact, campaign aides have told me in the last couple days they`re waiting to schedule the next rally until they can see some of the impact of this one.

WILLIAMS: We indeed have a segment on Juneteenth before the end of this broadcast tonight. Errin, I`ve been thinking a lot about you these past two weeks because of the scope of your work on this topic, what we`ve seen play out. It`s great to be able to talk to you tonight. In your view, has the President decided his audience is the police part of the phrase "police reform," and is that going to earn him a single vote beyond his already widely expected base vote?

ERRIN HAINES, THE 19TH EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, good evening, Brian. Glad I was on your mind this week. Listen, I think that what we know is that this President is not really acknowledging either the pandemic currently ravaging this country, that of coronavirus, or that of system racism particularly as it pertains to policing.

You know, as my former colleague said, you know, the President is not really responsible for Americans` broader awareness of Juneteenth or issues of race in general. And the reason that most Americans frankly know about Tulsa is because they watched this season of the watchman, which if anybody is at home still sheltering in place, I encourage to watch. But, you know, I think, five years ago this week we saw the President coming down that escalator talking about the need for law and order. That is a message that he has hammered as a candidate and now as President throughout, asking black people what the hell they have to lose while also saying that he was going to bring law and order to their communities in a way that sent a very specific message to them. Black voters did not support this President in large numbers despite, you know, his claims that he has support from the black community and will have support from them again. But that certainly does not seem to be the case looking ahead to this November either. And so you have to wonder who his messages around race are for. Who is that meant to resonate with? And I think that they are meant to resonate with his base, which is, you know, what I expect to see when he shows up in Tulsa on Juneteenth. I don`t think you`re going to see an arena full of African- Americans in the crowd.

WILLIAMS: And, Dr. Gupta, speaking of Tulsa, if reasonable people can agree that the worst possible public health threat is an indoor mass gathering in the time of a pandemic, then I guess it stands to reason that the President is about to preside over the worst kind of public health threat in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You nailed it, Brian. It makes you think that he`s giving tacit approval for a super-spreader event, and that he wants to prove public health experts wrong. And he`s taking a risk. He`s playing Russian roulette here, and it`s really irresponsible. What`s happening here? This morning he makes an analogy to H1N1 in 2009 and tries to distract our attention to what happened with H1N1, which was a blip in the radar when it comes to pandemics. It wasn`t even a pandemic. 12,000 people died relative to 120,000 right now. Orders of magnitude different. But he`s distracting from other issues that really matter like masking.

Now we have data we didn`t even have two weeks ago, Brian, when you and I had this conversation that if we follow the tales of Hong Kong or South Korea where 90% of the public wears masks, COVID would be gone. But right now one in two Americans wear it, less if you`re Republican because you`re listening to the President. You`re about to go to Tulsa, who knows if people are going to wear masks Kayleigh McEnany said they`re optional. So this is irresponsible on a host of levels. And because we don`t hear from Dr. Fauci, we don`t talk about contact tracing. Even though the U.K. and Germany are doing excellent initiatives in contract tracing.

We don`t talk about the novelties in antibody testing. Now we`re finding out that maybe if you`re asymptomatic with COVID, you only have antibodies for two months potentially. That`s a huge deal. We need to talk about the implications of these issues. The President, however, is trafficking in lies, dishonesty, and he`s trying to distract us, and that`s the problem.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, including the question of where is the public in the public health, CNN reported tonight they invited Fauci to be part of their special broadcast on coronavirus, and the White House did not allow Dr. Fauci to come on television. The disclaimer, the release form you have to sign to attend the Tulsa rally, is more straightforward and forthright about the existence of COVID-19 and its risks than the folks we`re watching in the White House.

LEMIRE: That`s certainly right, and that release form is pretty jarring if you were to sign up to try to go to the event Saturday night in Tulsa, you have to waive liability, say the campaign cannot be held responsible if you come down with COVID-19 which is sort of an extraordinary statement of where we are and how the pandemic is still raging. I mean, yes, the West Wing a few weeks ago started controlling, as we`ve reported, started controlling the media appearances of Dr. Fauci and others on the task force and have dramatically scaled them back. Yes, he`s still appearing on the occasional podcast but has done very few major interviews, just a few in the last couple of weeks. And in fact it should be noted also that CNN tonight is back in the President`s crosshairs. He tweeted out a video that was of a CNN clip, but it was altered. It was digitally altered and it led to twitter again flag it as part of their new disinformation campaign. So I suspect we`ll hear from the President about that if not tonight, then tomorrow morning.

But this is all part and parcel of a plan to really de-emphasize this pandemic, to try to turn the page to the economy, to try to turn the page to the re-election campaign, not just the rally tonight, but we`re seeing Vice President Pence. He`s got an event next week in Wisconsin, an in- person event where supporters can go and get tickets and attend with him. We`re seeing them try to ramp up. We`re seeing them try to ramp up their attacks against Joe Biden, saying he`s, you know, holed up in his Delaware basement even though we have seen Joe Biden out on the campaign trail, including in Pennsylvania. Earlier this week he held an event. And we`re seeing them also unleash more attacks on China, suggesting that Biden`s -- playing up Biden`s ties to China while he was Vice President, which is a particularly tricky argument to make considering the President`s praise for Xi Jinping in the early days of the pandemic. And as a final point, these revelations in Bolton`s book I which he says the President tried to curry favor with Xi Jinping and even urged him to help him get re-elected earlier this year.

WILLIAMS: Errin, a lot of the live cameras have gone away but for 23 straight days and nights, people are still outside. They`re still marching in cities and towns across our country. What do you reckon happens next, and is anyone really rationally waiting to see what Mitch McConnell and Congress come up with?

HAINES: Yes, I think so, because I think that what the protesters are saying is now is that now is the time for action and accountability in this country, and they are also expecting that from their elected officials. You know, pushing President Trump frankly to talk about systemic racism, to acknowledge systemic racism as reality in this country, I think, is happening as a result of the current climate that we now find ourselves in.

Listen, I think what happened you saw in Atlanta today, the two officers that, you know, have been charged and arrested for killing Rayshard Brooks, turned themselves in. That happened in six days. You know, I mean the swiftness with which that happened speaks to a responsiveness that is being required of black people in this country for equal justice under the law, which is the central question of why these protesters are in the street now. And so, you know, I think that, you know, Congress is now being called not for, you know, kind of incremental change but structurally to really address the issues that we have known about for so long but that we have not nearly taken far enough action on because they remain with us generation after generation. Will this be the generation that finally and fully confronts the issue of policing in black communities in America?

WILLIAMS: Doctor, Errin appropriately points out not one but two epidemics ongoing in this country. To the other one and your area of expertise, it strikes me that New York has gone from highest to lowest in terms of caseload, in terms of being the epicenter for this illness in the space of 129 days. They are midway through their cycles of reopening, expecting another 300,000 New Yorkers in Midtown Manhattan by this time Monday. What is the danger at their low ebb now in terms of cases, what is the danger, and what would you advise them to look for?

GUPTA: Brian, the danger is that we`re going to see in New York what we`ve seen in Texas, what we`re seeing in Tucson, what we`re seeing in Florida, that there will be a resurgence. Let`s be clear. We are very much still in phase one, and it`s been an extended phase one with a dip and now we`re back. So we are seeing an extended phase one and New York is very much at risk for the same thing here. The infection growth rate of coronavirus never fully came down to the chances for a resurgence remain quite high, which is why we need to listen to our leaders.

Governor Cuomo thankfully has been out in front. Listen to Governor Cuomo. Don`t listen to President Trump. Don`t model the behavior of Vice President Pence. Listen to the governor on social distancing. Listen to him on masking. That`s your best chance here, masking. It`s as simple as that. Same message two weeks ago. It`s the same message now.

But Brian, I mean to your point, the metric to follow more than anything else is hospitalization rates. Hospitalization rates are going up in ten states. That`s what we want to keep an eye out in New York City. Our beds filling up. Because we`re seeing they`re filling up in concerning rates in Florida, in Tucson. That`s what we want to keep our eye right on. That needs to be the trigger to shut it all down if that ends up again being a pressure point.

WILLIAMS: Still an amazing sight while you`ve been talking, doctor, to see a live picture from Times Square still desolate. To your point about the Vice President, he said days ago with a straight face that the State of Oklahoma had flattened the curve. That is wrong. That is false. Whatever`s happening in Oklahoma, it statistically is the opposite of flattening the curve. They`re in the middle of such a dramatic upward spike.

Our thanks to three friends of our broadcast tonight. To Jonathan Lemire, to Errin Haines, to Dr. Vin Gupta for starting us off.

Coming up for us, critics are calling the mayor of Phoenix an authoritarian dictator. But as she tells the story, she would just like people to wear masks. We`ll talk to her just ahead.

And later, Trump once called John Bolton a patriot. Now he calls him a sick puppy. Will the President`s change of heart over another one of his former hires make any difference to voters now that the damage from the Bolton book is out there and done as The 11th Hour is just getting under way on this Thursday night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How close are you to imposing something like a 14-day quarantine for folk arriving from Florida?

GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: I have experts who have advised me to do that. I`m considering it now.


WILLIAMS: There is a reason for the New York governor`s concern as you may have noted in his voice. Florida set another daily record today with 3,000 new coronavirus cases.

Experts now say the state has, "All the makings of a large epicenter." And there`s a little bit of payback at work here because at the height of the coronavirus in New York, you may recall Florida forced all arriving air passengers from New York to Florida to quarantine upon arrival.

In California, another state dealing with a record-high number of cases, the governor has now ordered face masks to be worn in most public settings. The mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, Kate Gallego, is hoping to do the very same thing. As we`ve said, her opponents have painted her as an authoritarian dictator. We will let the viewers make the choice for themselves. The mayor has been kind enough to join us tonight.

Mayor, do you think you will be successful first off?

MAYOR KATE GALLEGO, (D) PHOENIX: I do. We have seen broad agreement from Arizonans that we need to change the path we are on. Public health officials are saying if we don`t do something differently by the July 4th holiday, our hospital system will be in crisis. Wearing a mask is a simple step that we can take to slow the spread. Public health officials tell us it will work. Dr. Gupta just told us it will work. The national academies of science recommends it. The city of Phoenix has gone as far as we could with requiring masks, so we operate our airport and we had the ability to require masks there, which we did. We on a bipartisan unanimous basis had voted to require them on our bus and transit system. Yesterday the governor gave us the ability to do it for our entire city, and tomorrow morning we`ll vote.

WILLIAMS: I know the President has now said that he suspects that mask- wearing is a way of showing publicly a knock on him. When your opponents in public hearings and in public settings make the case for no masks, what do they say? What`s the argument?

GALLEGO: There are many people who don`t want any type of government involvement, but it really has not been as partisan here in Arizona. Yesterday the governor allowed cities finally -- we have been asking -- to require masks, and multiple Republican, conservative mayors including in a city that`s known as America`s most conservative city, have said it makes sense.

Our health officials have broad agreement. There are certainly some in our community who say, we just have to - everyone has to get sick. We have to get to herd immunity. But the majority are deeply concerned about the trends we are seeing in our hospitals. Most Americans want to save American lives.

WILLIAMS: Mayor, thank you very much for coming on tonight. Good luck in tomorrow`s vote. We will be tracking it along with you. Kate Gallego, mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, who has been kind enough to join us on the eve of the vote live.

Coming up for us, the pandemic has crippled the U.S. economy. It has also boosted a certain unwanted type of trade. We have an unusual report from overseas to show you tonight.

But first, Susan Glasser of the New Yorker calls it Washington`s score settling on an epic scale. The political fallout from John Bolton`s book with two of our political veterans here tonight when we come back.



TRUMP: We`re going to get the best people. We`re going to make the best deals. I joke sometimes. I go, we`re going to win and we`re going to win again and again and again. And you`re going to be begging me, please, Mr. Trump, please President Trump no more victories.

I have the most dedicated people. I have the best people. I have the best people. I have the best people. And they get it. I have the smartest people, the best people in that world. We have the best generals, the best admirals. I have the best people in the world. I think we`re doing an extraordinary job.


WILLIAMS: About those best people that he hired in every case, the president has since derided wacko John Bolton as a, quote, disgruntled, boring fool -- that`s harsh -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was dumb as a rock. Harsh. Defense Secretary James Mattis was a most underrated general and teribility. Harsh. And Chief of Staff John Kelly, who again Trump chose, was apparently in way over his head.

Back with us tonight, Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, former lieutenant governor of the great state of Maryland, now the host of "The Michael Steele Podcast." and Steve Schmidt, veteran political strategist who led the McCain `08 effort, has since left the Republican Party. He was among the founders of the Lincoln Project, dedicated to the defeat of one Donald Trump and Trumpism.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Michael Steele, here`s my question. Does the book change any minds in your party? Do we all watch together as Mitch McConnell, for one, just one member of that red wall, finds a way to say he`s not bothered by asking China to help in the re-election?

MICHAEL STEELE:, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN At this point I don`t think the book changes anything in terms of what Republicans are going to do. They`ve already exposed what they`re going to do. We saw the play from the Mueller hearings and from the impeachment trial.

So the book at this point is more like a coda, you know. It`s just like the final note on a song that we are all too woefully familiar with. I don`t know how this incentivizes the GOP or Mitch McConnell as the leader to take a different tone or tack with china at this point.

You know, there will be the typical, you know, platitudes about, you know, the potential threat that China has or any of our adversaries may have in our upcoming election. And, you know, the bromides that go with that. But other than that, I don`t see what changes at this point.

WILLIAMS: Steve Schmidt, is Bolton`s courage dependent on a Simon & Schuster imprint? Where was his testimony? Where were these stories in real time that could have changed the course of our history?

STEVE SCHMIDT: Good evening, Brian. Bolton`s conduct here is disgraceful. There`s no other word for it. John Bolton was the national security adviser to the president of the United States. He swore an oath as he`s had many times in his career to the constitution of the United States to preserve and to protect it, to defend it. He did no such thing.

He acknowledges that the president is completely unfit, that he`s incompetent at a degree that`s hard to describe, that he is inappropriate, abusive of his office, that he`s solicitous of foreign hostile powers to help him in his re-election. And he didn`t say a word about it. Didn`t go to the Congress. Didn`t go to the oversight committees. Did nothing about it except get rich on a book deal with Simon & Schuster, which is his prerogative to do.

But let`s compare John Bolton to General Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army during the Second World II, secretary of state, secretary of defense. General Marshall, in his retirement, one of the most esteemed men in the country, would not serve on a corporate board because he did not want to be seen as monetizing his public service. He thought it was inappropriate.

And how far have we come from the probity and rectitude of men like General Marshall and the people of that generation that had some understanding of their commitment and duty to the country to the John Boltons of the world, who has been an architect of disastrous foreign policy, and in his last public act -- and it will be his last public act because he should obviously never serve in government again. It`s to do this to the American people. What he did to the American people here is failed them rather profoundly.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us through the break. Coming up, a president driven to distraction. We will show you when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. I want to show you something. Today the president held a roundtable with governors and small business owners about reopening the economy during a pandemic. But as our friends over at the recount pointed out in vivid detail, while his invited guests spoke and shared their stories about the struggle to stay in business, Trump was on his phone.


MELISSA HEGARTY, BUSINESS OWNER: So increased labor would be probably the biggest effect on our bottom line. Additional employees have been added to answer the phones and runners are needed to take orders out to the guests waiting in their car. By mid-may, sales were picking up, and we did have our bet mother`s day ever seeing double-digit growth after last year`s weekly sales.


WILLIAMS: Still with us are our friends Michael Steele and Steve Schmidt. Steve, I`d like to begin with you. I would kill to have the curb your enthusiasm music to lay over that, but we`d get in all kinds of rights troubles by doing it.

But here`s the thing. As these people are pouring out their stories of staying in business and staying afloat, this isn`t happening in just any venue. He isn`t even sitting in front of just any fireplace. I know you know about where he is seated and what is written on the wall just above him.

SCHMIDT: Written on the wall above him and was inscribed there in 1945 is John Adams prayer that only good men, only wise men would ever rule under the roof of the White House. And if you think about our founders, they spent incredible amounts of time debating, wondering, fearing the possibility that one day the country would elect a president like Trump.

In fact, the entire American system of government is set up anticipating that moment, and we`ve reached it. There is no president who has ever served in the White House -- and we`ve had a couple of scoundrels for sure. But there is no president ever who is so utterly lacking in the capacity for moral leadership, for the human quality of empathy, who has any interest in doing right by the country, serving the American people.

What you saw there today is someone who just doesn`t care. He`s not interested in doing the job. He doesn`t look at those people with any love, any concern. And leadership in the end is always an act of love. The president of the United States has to love the country, and he`s got to love the American people who fill it, and that includes all of the American people. It includes Republicans and Democrats and independents and the people that didn`t support and didn`t vote for you.

So we just see there again, on a day where 40 million people are unemployed, where we`re closing up on 120,000 dead Americans and many, many more to come, we see America`s decline in the world, and we see a president staring at his phone disinterested.

And understand this. That`s exactly what he does in his intelligence briefings. That`s exactly what he was doing when they came and told him in February and March that a pandemic was coming and we needed to get ready. He doesn`t get it. He lacks the intellectual, the mental, and the moral qualities to be able to lead, and that`s why when we get ready for this election, the fundamental choice is between a good man, Joe Biden, who cares, and a bad man, Donald Trump, who does not.

WILLIAMS: Michael Steele, to that end, about Mr. Biden, I`m going to put some state polls on the screen. In all of them -- and they are really valuable states politically -- Trump is underwater to Biden. Admittedly in a lot of them, this is margin of error stuff. But as we say every night, 138 days to go now as of tonight until this election, maybe the Chinese can goose some of these numbers. Where do you put this thing?

STEELE: Well, I put it in a number of spots right now. The first thing, though, that everyone needs to keep in mind and stay focused on is this is June. There are 138 days to the election. And there`s a lot that`s going to transpire between now and August let alone September and October. Biden is going to pick his choice for VP. Trump is going to stay or do whatever Trump is going to do. So there`s a lot of politics to come.

But what these numbers are telling the campaigns right now, if you`re Joe Biden, this is the moment where you step it up another notch, where you go out and you make a louder noise because now you don`t have the problem he had in February and March where people were looking rightly to the president and governors of their states to give them inside information, direction, examples, et cetera on COVID-19.

Everything`s now exploded open in a new way with the crashing of the economy and the struggle to recover and where we are now on civil issues. So Biden has an opportunity to make those numbers grow over the next few weeks, which puts pressure when you get into the full-throat of the campaign in the fall.

WILLIAMS: Our friends Michael Steele and Steve Schmidt. Gentlemen, it`s always a pleasure. Thank you so much for having us in tonight.

And coming up for us, we have seen what this pandemic has done to our economy. Ditto around the globe. But tonight a new report from overseas about one unlikely trade seeing a serious boom. The answer when we come back.


WILLIAMS: This pandemic has brought the business world pretty much to a halt, but there`s been an odd outgrowth of a lockdown. Some in law enforcement are working to intercept illegal drugs abroad. They have actually seen an uptick in activity during the pandemic. NBC News correspondent Willem Marx has our report from Belgium tonight.


WILLEM MARX, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Earlier today Belgian authorities prying open crates of mangos. Yesterday it was bags of coffee concealing more than a ton of cocaine. Coronavirus may have devastated most global businesses, but officials hunting drugs here have seen a boom.

SCOTT ALBRECHT, COUNTRY ATTACHE, U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN.: Specifically on the flow of cocaine into Antwerp and other ports by way of containerized cargo, we have not seen a decline.

MARX: Scott Albrecht is the DEA`s most senior agent in Belgium. He and Jeff Darin, the Department of Homeland Security`s top investigator here work closely with local counterparts for a reason.

ALBRECHT: For every load that makes it into the lucrative cocaine market of Europe, it just strengthens those groups in South America that can send their cocaine to the United States.

MARX: As head of Belgium`s customs force, Kristian Vanderwaeren is trying to contain this cocaine cascade that`s spiking alongside the pandemic.

KRISTIAN VANDERWAEREN, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, BELGIUM CUSTOMS AUTHORITY: What we have this year until now even exceeds what we had last year, and last year has been a top year in relation to seizures.

MARX: Since January 1st, some 22 tons of coke has been seized in Antwerp alone. Thanks to X-ray technology designed to spot concealed illicit cargo that scans dozens of trucks each day. Jeff Darin sometimes helps select those trucks. He says coronavirus has refocused his efforts on seaborne containers.

JEFF DARIN, BELGIUM ATTACHE, HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS: I think maritime was one of the few transportation sectors that was allowed to remain operating almost unabated.

MAEX: This transatlantic collaboration has been effective not only for the cops but for the criminals too. In South American seaports, drugs are often hidden inside commercial containers, say the DEA, then shipped to Antwerp and distributed to other big cities across the continent.

This port`s size and geography makes it near impossible to police. Over the past several years, international authorities have witnessed a surge in cocaine shipments and seizures destined for this Belgian city.

(on camera): The DEA says all that cocaine captured either on route to Antwerp or here in the port itself represents just a fraction of the total amount that makes it through. And so even before COVID-19, that translates to billions of dollars of narcotics arriving in the city each year, making Antwerp the undisputed cocaine capital of Europe.

(voice-over): The history of trade here dates back centuries, but it`s the future that concerns many of those involved in tracking the traffickers.

BOB VAN DEN BERGHE, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME: They are waiting until the situation gets back to normal again and that that would be the moment to send huge amounts of cocaine again towards Europe, towards North America and other continents.

MARX: The COVID crisis hasn`t crushed the cocaine trade. It`s forced the cartels to be more creative. And as coronavirus restrictions loosen, U.S. officials say even larger drug stockpiles could soon be shipping out. Willem Marx, NBC News, Antwerp, Belgium.


WILLIAMS: Fascinating look at a story we otherwise would not have known about.

And coming up for us, the president congratulates himself for discovering and bringing importance to a day which, by the way, millions of Americans were already poised to commemorate tomorrow.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is about the event, the anniversary, the remembrance, the commemoration, the holiday in some places that begins here in just a few minutes, the 19th of June, Juneteenth.

Tomorrow senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Tina Smith, and Ed Markey are going to introduce a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday in our country.

In an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," the president said this week, quote, I did something good. I made Juneteenth very famous. It`s actually an important event, an important time, but nobody had ever heard of it. The president went on to say he polled the people around him. None of them had heard of Juneteenth. But apparently fell to a Secret Service agent to tell him about the significance of the day, and he was surprised to learn his own White House put out a statement every year on Juneteenth, perhaps indicating the day`s importance prior to Trump`s discovery of it.

Back in the real world tonight, the story of Juneteenth is roughly as follows. The emancipation proclamation was signed by President Lincoln and became official law of the land on January 1 of 1863. Two and a half years later it was announced in Texas. All slaves were declared free. It resulted in shock, celebration, immediate flight to states like Oklahoma where communities and economies eventually formed and thrived.

June 19th therefore became and remains a big day on the calendar while it marks nothing less than a national shame, a choice to delay telling men and women in human bondage that they were in fact free citizens. It has grown in popularity as a social event that celebrates achievement and friendship and family now.

And so tomorrow despite a pandemic in yards and parks and on beaches, families and friends, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters will gather. In many cases, much barbecue will be consumed and washed down by many beverages including but not limited to the traditional strawberry soda. And because it will fall on the 24th day of national protest, this Juneteenth is going to feel different, especially knowing we may live to see it as a national holiday.

That`s our broadcast for these waning moments of the 18th of June. Thank you so very much for being here with us. On behalf of all of 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