BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again on this Friday night. Day 1,268 of the Trump administration. 116 days to go until our Presidential Election.
Tonight, the breaking news we`re covering, the President commuted the prison sentence for his friend of several decades, Roger Stone. Stone was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for lying to Congress in an investigation that threatened the President. We will, of course, have much more on this development in just a moment.
But first, the President said today the United States is doing very well and winning the war against the coronavirus, all evidence to the contrary as tonight we set yet another record for new cases.
Again, today he called it the flu, called it the China virus. The fact is today the U.S. recorded over 70,000 new cases, by far and away a new record. According to The New York Times, coronavirus cases are now increasing in 36 of our 50 states. We`re getting there with big surges in Florida, Texas, and Arizona.
Overall, the U.S. is at nearly 3.2 million confirmed cases now. Over 134,000 souls have lost their lives. The Washington Post reporting tonight Trump has been complaining about the pandemic and has taken on a sullen demeanor around the West Wing.
Ashley Parker, Phil Rucker, Josh Dawsey reporting, "Trump often launches into a monologue, placing himself at the center of the nation`s turmoil." The President has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.
Earlier today our own Jose Diaz-Balart spoke to the President about the current state of this pandemic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSE DIAZ-BALART, MSNBC ANCHOR: Is the United States losing the war against COVID?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, we`re winning the war, and we have areas that flamed up, and they`re going to be fine over a period of time. But unfortunately, we had this plague sent in from China, and it`s a disgrace that they didn`t stop it in China. They should have stopped it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In an interview with the Financial Times, Dr. Fauci said the country is living in the middle of a perfect storm as this virus spreads. Amid recent tension with the President, Dr. Fauci said, "I have a reputation as you probably have figured out of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven`t been on television very much lately."
The Financial Times also reports, "Fauci last saw Trump in person at the White House on June the 2nd, says, `he has not briefed the President for at least two months."
During an interview earlier today, infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said new shutdowns could happen regionally, and he added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: When are we going to finally say we have got to understand that, you know, being in an argument with this virus, we have less chance of winning that than arguing with 2,000 cranky, tired 2-year- olds, OK? We have got to deal with this virus, and the way we`re going to have to do it is shut down again and then bring it back gradually. That`s the only answer. That`s not a partisan answer. That`s a public health answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Exactly what the President does not want to hear. The New York Times reporting that states across the American south and west are being flooded with new coronavirus patients. The Times putting it this way. "Doctors worry that the escalating hospital crunch may last much longer than in earlier hit areas like New York even as regular wards are being converted into intensive care units as we saw in New York and long-term care facilities opened for patients still too sick to go home, doctors say they are barely managing."
And the White House is still pressing hard to reopen schools this fall, let`s not forget. Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow made it very clear today sending kids back to school during a pandemic shouldn`t be a big deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: The President has been very vocal about going back to school, and I would add to that, as I said, all these fancy colleges and universities of which I went to one, they should get with the drill, you know? Put the guys in classrooms and let them learn or god knows what they`re teaching, but whatever. I`ll put it in good faith. Just go back to school. We can do that. And, you know, you can social distance. You can get your temperature taken. You can be tested. You can have distancing. Come on. It`s not that hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, tonight the White House released a statement partially citing medical reasons for the commutation of Roger Stone`s sentence. This reads in part, "Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison likely due to the ongoing pandemic. He has appealed his conviction and is seeking a new trial. He maintains his innocence and has stated that he expects to be fully exonerated by the justice system."
A lot to talk about as we end another week, and here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-Winning White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, Co-author along with his post colleague Carol Leonnig of the best-seller, A Very Stable Genius, Susan Page, USA Today, Washington Bureau Chief, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.
Mr. Rucker, because this is your day-to-day beat, we begin with you. It is so bracingly brazen what happened tonight, the President`s decision. I`m wondering that when merged with your reporting about his sense of victimization, is there commonality? Is there perhaps cause and effect? Did that affect this decision?
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Absolutely, Brian. The President has seen for a long time now the case against Roger Stone as really a case against himself. In fact, he views the entirety of these federal investigations into the Russia matter, into all the related matters, into all of Trump`s associates as a way for what the President terms the deep state to go after him, to get him. He thinks he`s the victim here, and that`s according to our reporting over many, many months.
And so what you have here is an opportunity for the President to commute the sentence of his friend, of his political ally, and somebody that the President sees as a street fighter for his cause, Roger Stone. But it also again is a case of the President seeming to believe he`s above the law because he`s the President. That`s according to his critics, and it fits a pattern of behavior that we`ve seen 3 1/2 years into this administration where the President has taken actions again and again that go beyond our norms and our traditional boundaries and indeed beyond what some would say is the law. And he`s not been punished for it, and so he feels like he can do and act like this. And I think that`s one of the reasons why he was so emboldened to act today on behalf of Roger Stone.
WILLIAMS: Susan Page, this is, as they say, cinematic but not in a good way. This is Francis Ford Coppola-Esque in that we all have a reality check here. Is this going to be a test to see the state of our national numbness? Does this become a campaign issue, or do we blow past this?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I think that there are people in the White House who are concerned about the politics of doing this. This is the pardon or clemency power that the President uses for the person closest to him, a person who is close to him and worked on his campaign.
But I think that any American who is outraged by this action is probably already outraged at President Trump. For those who either haven`t made up their minds or for those who support the President, it`s hard for me to believe that in an age of coronavirus and economic collapse and this debate over racial justice, that the clemency extended to Roger Stone is going to have very much of a political punch in November.
WILLIAMS: Frank, before I come to you, a bit of Roger Stone appearing in front of cameras tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, PRISON SENTENCE COMMUTED BY PRESIDENT TRUMP: He said, you understand I have the option, I have the authority to either grant a pardon or commute your sentence. He says, you should understand that a pardon would be final and that in accepting a pardon, you are accepting guilt. And I would rather see you fight this out, which is why I`m commuting your sentence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, frank, it`s shades of Tessio. Isn`t there something you can do for old time`s sake. This is Roger Stone, who gave an interview today saying he didn`t turn on the boss. He could have, but he didn`t. That sure indicates he had damaging material on the boss. Frank, please remind us why Roger Stone was convicted.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Yeah, lest anyone feel any sympathy for this man, let`s just spend a minute recapping what he was convicted of and why the President commuted his sentence. Roger Stone tried to subvert, undermine our Presidential election system, and he did so in concert with two foreign entities, namely there`s evidence indicating that he was the intermediary between the Russian intelligence hacking unit known as Guccifer, and the WikiLeaks organization.
And I`ll point to federal court testimony by Rick Gates, the former Deputy Chairman of the Trump 2016 campaign, who said in court, I was riding in a Chevy suburban to the airport. Trump took a call from Roger Stone. They talked about WikiLeaks and the release of the material from the DNC. When Trump ended the call, he turned to Gates and said, they`re going to release more information.
This is why Trump had to commute Roger Stone. Roger Stone can put Donald Trump in federal prison for lying. Lying when? Lying in his written responses to the special counsel when the President told Robert Mueller, I never heard anything about Roger Stone talking to anybody about timing or the release of the hacked DNC and Clinton materials. That was a lie, and tonight Trump is going to hit the pillow in the White House and have to wonder that if Roger Stone has one bad day and decides to dime out the President, Trump could end his presidency and eventually go to prison.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, Dan Goldman, who is standing by, is from the world of law and not politics. I guess he lives near their intersection. He tweeted tonight that to him, this indicated that Trump believes he is not going to get re-elected. The brazenness of indicated. To your first answer that there had been a little calculus that went into this about taking the political hit, can you add anything to that?
RUCKER: You know, the truth is we don`t know. I don`t know what the President`s state of mind is with regard to his re-election chances as he made this decision. I will say, I would have expected this decision regardless of whether he was in a strong, commanding position heading into the November election simply because the President has been previewing this decision for some time now. He`s been complaining publicly at length about the way he thinks Roger Stone was treated by federal authorities and how unfairly he thought that prosecution was conducted. And so it`s not a surprise in that regard that the President would do this even though it`s a very brazen act and something that in any sort of normal presidency in normal times would be a five-alarm fire level of scandal.
That being said, the President knows he is losing the election right now. You know, all of the public polling shows him behind Joe Biden by substantial margins. His advisers argue that, you know, they`re much closer in their internal numbers. But, you know, most people around the President would acknowledge privately that if the election were held today, he probably would not be re-elected to a second term.
WILLIAMS: Frank, on the law enforcement front, back to you. You may find the DOJ and FBI of your era unrecognizable today. How do you think this is going down in these hallways?
FIGLIUZZI: I think there`s a sense of shame and disgrace among the career professionals both at the Hoover Building and across the street at Main Justice. They know they are being led by an attorney general who has an ulterior motive, and that is to essentially undermine our rule of law and the constitution in support of some bizarre philosophical agenda that he has in concert with the President.
This will go down in history as a time period where justice was actually beaten to the point of almost dying, and we`re going to look back and study this era. Roger Stone was somebody who threatened a key witness who knew what Roger was up to with regard to undermining the election process. He said to that witness prepare to die in the context of if you testify against me. He was convicted of all seven counts he was charged with. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison, including for witness tampering, obstructing Congress, lying to Congress, lying to investigators. And yet today the President has given him a pass. That`s who Roger Stone is, and that`s who our President is.
WILLIAMS: Susan, on that, let`s back up to the backdrop of life right now in America 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. The President was in Florida today, made three stops in a state where testing is showing one in three people testing positive for the coronavirus. It`s a first in history that when this President has public rallies, they are feared to be super- spreader events.
This President was scheduled to be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, tomorrow night for an outdoor rally, called off today. Reason given was Tropical Storm Fay, which will be long gone. The forecast for tomorrow night is cloudy skies. What else do you think might be at work here?
PAGE: Yeah. Well, you know, the folly, I think, was in scheduling another one of these rallies at a time people continue to be so concerned about getting together with lots of other people in a situation where you know a lot of them won`t have masks. You`ll all be jammed together. Just exactly the kind of thing that we believe has led in Tulsa to a spike in cases two weeks after the rally the President had there.
I think the White House breathed a sigh of relief when they found an excuse to use with Fay to cancel this rally. And the question now is does the convention, the Republican convention, go forward? Does the big event the President wants now move to Jacksonville for him to accept his nomination, the Republican nomination for president again? Does that go forward because I hear from Republicans who are working on convention planning that there is some doubt even within their own ranks about whether that event is going to be feasible. And that will not be good -- that will not be news, that is well received, I think, by Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: As we said, it`s a lot for a Friday night, which is why we called on three of the very best, Philip Rucker, Susan Page, Frank Figliuzzi, much oblige for starting us off, you three.
Coming up tonight, Roger Stone says he`s relieved his personal nightmare is over. But, again, same as our conversation with frank. What must be the reaction inside the Justice Department? Perhaps we should say what`s left of the traditional justice department.
And later, virus cases in Florida are up by almost 1,400% -- not 1,400, 1,400%. What the frontline workers there are doing to keep up with the caseload. It`s a lot. The 11th Hour is just getting under way on this Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What they did to General Flynn -- and by the way, to Roger Stone and to others was a disaster and a disgrace, and it should never be allowed to happen in this country again. Look at Roger Stone, look at the horrible treatment he`s gotten. He`s going to be OK. He`s going to be OK. Roger Stone had a jury foreman for a woman. Who was a disaster? Roger Stone was treated very unfairly, unbelievably unfairly, and I watched that. And I thought it was incredible the way that man was treated. I think Roger Stone was very unfairly treated as were many people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Other question in all this, of course, are Manafort and General Flynn next?
Here we are a Friday night in July with the President attending a $10 million fund-raiser at the Florida home of a beef jerky CEO. A perfect time for a major news story to drop, and sure enough on this Friday night, the White House announced the President is commuting the prison sentence of his decades-long friend Roger Stone.
Stone was set to report to prison, serve three-and-a-half-year sentence just a few days from now, as Frank Figliuzzi reminded us, convicted in February of lying to Congress to cover for the President during the Mueller investigation. In a rambling, multiple-page statement tonight, the White House defended the decision saying in part, Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia hoax that the left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump presidency. Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man. That`s a statement out of the White House tonight. The commutation is not unexpected. It is nonetheless remarkable.
We quoted our next guest in the previous segment. We`re happy to have back with us tonight Daniel Goldman, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Also happened to be General Counsel for the House Intel Committee during impeachment where we last saw him questioning witnesses in front of a live national audience.
Daniel, I quoted you, what you said on Twitter tonight, saying that this has you convinced the President has written off re-election. Is that because it is so unprecedented because of its brazenness?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS: Well, certainly it`s brazen. Certainly it`s unprecedented. But I think what Phil Rucker said is probably true, that this was going to happen at some point.
What jumped out to me, though, is why is it happening now? Why is it happening four months before the election? What we`re seeing is the President essentially commuting a co-conspirator, someone who covered up for him as the district judge said, covered up for Donald Trump by lying, by obstructing justice, by threatening witnesses.
And the only trigger here is the fact that Roger Stone was going to jail on Monday. And if there was any question as to what was on the mind of Roger Stone or what was on the mind of President Trump, Stone cleared it up today when he said that he could have flipped on Trump, and it would have eased his situation. Those are his words according to Howard Fineman. But he didn`t. That is a clear implication and indication that he has incriminating information about Donald Trump. And there`s an inference there, an implied threat, that if he were to go to prison and serve any of his sentence, that he might have to provide that information to prosecutors in order to reduce his sentence.
So why is Donald Trump doing this four months before the election and not the day after the election? And the only thing that jumps out is what Roger Stone said today that he`s got incriminating information, and the President is trying to protect himself.
WILLIAMS: Andrew Weissmann, the former Mueller deputy, is among those on social media in your circle tonight saying, put Roger Stone in front of a grand jury. So let me ask you, is there any rule against that? What would that do? And despite his commutation in this case, could Roger Stone be in further legal jeopardy depending on his performance in front of a grand jury?
GOLDMAN: Well, the issue that would arise is whether Roger Stone would have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination still available to him. He was obviously convicted of these crimes. But the question remains is it just these crimes that he committed with Donald Trump, or are there additional crimes that he would have to testify to and incriminate himself?
So it would be a tricky calculus. But the fact that he`s out of jail and that he has pled guilty, he has no more Fifth Amendment right for the crimes of which he was convicted. And if those included covering up for Donald Trump, but we already know that he covered up for Donald Trump because it came out in the Mueller report, and it came out at the trial of Roger Stone that Roger Stone told Donald Trump during the summer of 2016 that the WikiLeaks dump was coming. He indirectly informed Trump, and Trump knew it. And that is also politically potentially damaging to the President and perhaps why Donald Trump so much wanted Roger Stone to lie to Congress and to cover up his crimes, and perhaps he`s just simply rewarding him. But, again, the timing of that reward is very odd.
WILLIAMS: The attorney general has said he`s not a Roger Stone fan. He called the prosecution in this case righteous, called the sentence correct. Does he just not matter in a case like this?
GOLDMAN: Well, he doesn`t matter in terms of commutations or pardons. That is entirely up to the President of the United States, and it`s within the constitution itself. But it has got to be very difficult to -- I mean if Bill Barr is saying that, who`s gone to such great lengths to completely undo the special counsel`s investigation of which the Stone prosecution was a part, and he`s even saying that the Roger Stone prosecution was a righteous prosecution to some extent, there are thousands of federal prosecutors across this country who have to be fuming that this kind of miscarriage of justice that the President is using, the awesome power of his office to benefit his own allies, his own cronies, and himself to some extent is completely undermines our rule of law.
And, look, we probably say this in some form or shape every week, but this feels a little bit like we`ve crossed a Rubicon because unlike some of the other actions that the President has taken, that Bill Barr has taken, this one is so clearly Donald Trump doing something, using his power to protect himself at a minimum politically and perhaps criminally. And that is just not permitted in a democracy based on the rule of law. Our State Department goes around the world preaching to other countries that they cannot do things like this. We no longer have credibility around the world, and our institutions are falling apart at the hands of this President.
WILLIAMS: Dan Goldman, our guest tonight. Counselor, thank you very much, great to have you on the broadcast on this night, of all nights.
And coming up for our coverage, the dire situation in the State of Florida, hospitalizations continue to surge. What one doctor is seeing with his own eyes? We`ll hear it from him after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR DAN GELBER (D-FL), MIAMI BEACH: We`re about to hit an all-time high out with folks on ventilators, and of course the concern is that the current spikes from the last week have not even been felt in the system yet. Things are not looking great right now, and dramatic action has to happen if we`re going to stop this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Florida continues to report troubling numbers while the Governor there continues to insist there`s nothing to be fearful of. He argues the state did not reopen too soon. As the state with one of the worst outbreaks in our country, new daily cases remain at record highs. Hospitals are now seeing some of those aftereffects. "USA Today" among those reporting, quote, a total of 95 hospital ICUs or at least 90 percent full Thursday. According to the Florida agency for healthcare administration, nearly half of the 207 ICUs that the agency is tracking.
For more, we`re happy to welcome to our broadcast, Dr. Charles Lockwood. He heads the College of Medicine and the colleges of nursing, public health, pharmacy at South Florida University. He`s also a published author and has been behind some groundbreaking research in his work as an OB-GYN. Doc, how dire is the situation in Tampa tonight, and when abouts will it have you thinking it`s an echo of, say, New York in mid-April?
DR. CHARLES LOCKWOOD, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, SOUTH FLORIDA UNIVERSITY: Yes. Well, we`re not quite there yet. I think that we probably are seeing a little bit of a different epidemic than New York did. When you look at cases in Florida, we`ve increased cases about fivefold, but we`ve increased hospitalizations now about 2.7 fold, and deaths have increased about 1.6 fold. At this point, in this phase 2 of this epidemic, we would have expected hospitalizations and deaths to begin to match cases, and they haven`t.
In fact, our case fatality rate has dropped almost threefold. It`s dropped in the state down to 1.7 percent and in Tampa, it`s now less than 1 percent. So this is an unusual situation, and the good news is that the hospitals aren`t being overwhelmed in the way New York was. And secondly, folks that we`re seeing are much younger. They`re less sick. And we are much better prepared for this than New York was.
We`ve invested heavily in ventilators, PPE. We have better medications, better strategies for treating these patients. And so all those things, I think, have led to a lower fatality rate. But we`re just squeaking by, and if we have a further increase in cases, we will begin to overstretch our capacity.
WILLIAMS: Well, I am happy to hear about the good news that was embedded there in your comments about the situation in Tampa. Do you have an average age of patients in your ICUs?
LOCKWOOD: Yes. So the average age is still in the 60s in the ICUs. The average age of patients, new patients that are diagnosed in Florida and in Tampa is around 34. So there`s a disconnect between the folks that get hospitalized, who tend to be in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, and the folks that we`re diagnosing, the peak of which is between age 15 and age 44.
WILLIAMS: If you were the in-house physician at Disney, would you be advising them to reopen Disney World?
LOCKWOOD: I`m glad I`m not. That would be my first answer. I think that probably the timing is a little bad given the surge. They`re going to have to be scrupulous about distancing, about face covering. And, you know, if I were -- if you`d asked me would I want to go to Disney, no, I don`t think yet.
WILLIAMS: In happier times, the happiest place on earth. Dr. Charles Lockwood, we wish you luck down there in Florida. Thank you for your candor and your expertise and for coming on our broadcast tonight.
Coming up for us, another Friday night favor from the President to one of his loyal confidants. The historian and author Jon Meacham will react to the President commuting the sentence of his friend of so many decades.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What we can do, I think, when this President is gone is we can enact a whole series of what I`m calling our post-Watergate reforms where we try to attack these abuses of the pardon power or the power to commute sentence. There are remedies, but it`s hard to see what remedy we can use now beyond the ultimate remedy in November when we get to vote these bums out of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Truth is there`s nothing Schiff or Schumer can do about what we`ve witnessed tonight. That was the House Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff of California. Remember, he served as the lead impeachment manager, admitting there is little Congress can do now after this commutation of the President`s friend of several decades, Roger Stone.
Presidential Historian, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Jon Meacham is here with us tonight. He is the host of a thoughtful and timely new podcast called, "Hope, Through History." It`s a five-part documentary audio series exploring other trying times in our history, how we dealt with those crises from the great depression to the polio outbreak and then some.
Jon, I mean no disrespect when I tell you that it was either invite you on or Francis Ford Coppola. Given what we are covering tonight, here is a guy who said publicly, I didn`t turn. I didn`t flip on the boss. I could have. I could have helped myself. That certainly indicates that he has knowledge that would be deeply damaging to the President. Jon, where does this put us in the contemporary history of rule of law?
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I take it that Francis Ford Coppola was busy because if he had said yes, I wouldn`t be here. I think that ultimately this is the life we`ve chosen with Donald Trump. Many of us didn`t want to choose it, but it was what was thrust upon us.
Look, the pardon and commutation force in the Constitution was part of the separation of powers. It`s absolute. It`s in the document`s plain reading. It`s for to pardon or provide clemency for those who commit offenses against the United States. Alexander Hamilton, who can do no wrong these days, wrote that it was a part of the power to conciliate and possibly to check abuses. And so, it`s an unusually monarchical vestigial power in the Constitution where, you know, let`s look at the whole week, right?
So a couple of days ago, we were saying that the rule of law was sturdy and continuing to exist because of the Supreme Court decisions. Tonight, as ever in the age of Trump, Disneyland may not be open, but the roller coaster continues, and we`re looking at it anew. And that is fundamentally the American story. And I`m not saying that to be falsely reassuring, but the push and the pull here is inherent in a government, a popular government where the framers had to find a way to divide powers, to check singular abuses.
There are many of us who believe that this fundamentally an abuse of power, and I think what Congressman Schiff said is exactly right. The ultimate remedy here is what`s going to happen in November.
WILLIAMS: By the way, strong Hyman Roth come back, quote, duly noted on this end. Jon, what do you think stirs or does not stir inside the attorney general when he walks past the portrait of Elliot Richardson at main justice?
MEACHAM: Such a great question. There are so many mysteries of the age, right? The Russia question, what Stone is not telling us and what he said to our colleague Howard Fineman in a "Washington Post" piece tonight. Stone saying, you know, he could have made this harder on the President.
Donald trump is, as ever, an exaggerated example of one of the truths of history, which is that reality is often like an iceberg. We see part of it, but there`s an enormous amount we don`t see. And Trump is an extraordinary version of that. So we don`t know about Russia. We don`t yet know about his finances and the tax returns. It`s amazing, isn`t it, by the way, that we`re saying this 3.5 years into an American presidency.
Bill Barr is one of those mysteries to me anyway. A man who served Bush 41, who seemed to be an institutionalist, but who has decided that -- and we might as well just torture this metaphor -- he is going to be a wartime consigliere for Donald Trump. And he`s not Elliot Richardson. He`s not Bobby Kennedy. He`s not Eric Holder.
And what he`s got to -- what he`s made his decision on apparently is that he wishes to be viewed favorably in an ever shrinking slice of the Washington and the broad American legal community with an extraordinarily conservative vision of presidential power. That seems to be what he wants us to see when we look at his portrait. I think that`s a bad historical bet, but that`s the one he`s made.
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham has agreed to stay with us over this break, and let`s go one more. When we come back, Donald Trump goes to the mattresses in terms of going deep on the subject of race as he prepares for re-election. We`ll play for you the echoes from another time.
WILLIAMS: It doesn`t happen by accident. The President`s decision to go deep on race as we head into this election is not sitting well with voters. A new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows a majority of Americans, 67 percent, do not approve of how he is handling race relations.
An ad by the Republican group, the Lincoln Project compared Donald Trump to former Alabama governor and veteran segregationist George Wallace back in the 1960s. Indeed, any look through the archives proves to you there are echoes, similarities between what we`re hearing now and what we heard from Wallace back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALLACE, FORMER ALABAMA GOVERNOR: The most important thing in our country is maintaining law and order.
TRUMP: Right now I think the nation needs law and order.
WALLACE: I would use the office of the presidency to restore order in the District of Columbia. If I had to call federal troops into this city.
TRUMP: When rioting and looting broke out in our nation`s capital, I quickly deployed, I came in. I deployed the National Guard very quickly.
WALLACE: And I would give my moral support to the police in the country.
TRUMP: I will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement.
WALLACE: I don`t regard myself as a racist, and I think the biggest racists in the world are those that call other folks racists.
TRUMP: The world is so overuses. It`s such a disgraced. And I can tell you, I`m the least racist person there is in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham is our guest for this segment. Jon, what demographic is the President chasing here? Are we suddenly producing, by percentage, more people who feel the wrong team won in the civil war?
MEACHAM: I don`t think there are more, and in fact, I think it`s shrinking ever more. It`s remarkable again that it`s taken this long to be able to say that. But they are devoted. They are vocal, and they vote.
And let`s not kid ourselves here. I think I`ve picked up -- I suspect you have too -- not a sense of overconfidence in the center and the left about Vice President Biden, but a sense of confidence at least. Donald trump is not an aberration in the broad sweep of American history. He is the fullest manifestation of forces that we have to do everything we can to make aberrant. He is very much in the Wallace tradition. Wallace was very much in the Strom Thurmond tradition.
You can do the same sort of thing with Strom Thurmond`s 1948 states` rights campaign when he ran in -- when he ran in that four-way race in 1948. Go back to the Woodrow Wilson era, the eugenics era, which T.R. was a student and an advocate. Go back to reconstruction. Go back to the Civil War. Go back to the antebellum order where we made fundamental white supremacist decisions about how we were going to organize the Republic.
I`m a white southern Episcopalian. I`m sitting in the state of Tennessee. Things tend to work out for people who look like me. America is at her best when we, all of us, do what we can to actually live up to the implications of what Jefferson wrote in that sentence in the summer of 1776.
So Trump is top of mind. He wants to be top of mind. I think every previous American president might have killed for his cultural mind share. But remember, even if he is defeated, the forces that elected him and the forces that gave George Wallace, whom you just showed -- Wallace got 13.5 percent of the popular vote in 1968 and carried five states on a segregationist platform 50 years ago.
So -- And 1968 ended, a year of great chaos, with a Nixon plus Wallace, 55 percent of the country voted for Nixon or Wallace. So if you believe deeply in redeeming the country for a time from Trump, you have to be devoted to this campaign, and you have to work perennially to understand what can truly make us not only great but good.
WILLIAMS: Democrats would be well advised to listen to a historian, especially the one who`s been our guest tonight, Jon Meacham. Jon, great to see you. Thank you as always.
Coming up for us after our final break, something a lot of people didn`t realize when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, here is the President from earlier today on the current Republican Party and a really famous former Republican president.
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TRUMP: People don`t remember, nobody ever heard of it until I came along. Nobody remembered it for a long time, or they didn`t use it at least. I use it all the time. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. You know, you say that, people say, I didn`t know that. But he was a Republican.
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WILLIAMS: By now, very few people don`t know that when the President says people don`t know something or people don`t realize something, it`s often a tell, a bit of a marker for something perhaps he didn`t know before, and he has learned late in life. You can only imagine his apparent surprise when he learned Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican, something a lot of people apparently didn`t realize.
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TRUMP: I realize that Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
It`s also the party of honest Abe Lincoln. We forget that.
Abe Lincoln was a Republican. A lot of people forget that. I think we have to start bringing that up a little bit, OK?
The party of Abraham Lincoln, we can`t forget that. People forget.
And it`s the party of the great Abraham Lincoln. We forgot that, right?
People forget Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. We have to remember that.
And remember this, the Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln. We forget.
I wish he were here. I`d give him one hell of an introduction. But he was a Republican. Abe Lincoln, honest Abe.
I`ve always said I could be more presidential than anybody, but I`m not sure I can beat honest Abe when he wears the hat. That hat is too much.
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WILLIAMS: The 45th president of the United States commenting on the 16th to take us off the air tonight. That is our broadcast for this Friday evening and for this week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Please have a good and safe weekend. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END