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AG Yates testifies TRANSCRIPT: 8/5/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Jose Vasquez, Irwin Redlener

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,294 of the  Trump administration leaving exactly 90 days to go until the Presidential  Election.

As we come on the air tonight, which is something of a miracle here in this  region over 2 million people in the northeast are in the dark without  electricity a day after a hurricane that transition to a tropical storm  moved on through. And onto the north from the Carolinas there are towns in  the New York suburbs completely paralyzed, some with close to 100% power  loss. Hundreds of roads remain closed.

Goes without saying it`s simply added to the hardship of trying to manage  life while trying not to get sick in the midst of a pandemic. And there are  startling new data out tonight that point of a highlight of the risk of  getting this virus.

NBC News has found that over the last seven days, one person died roughly  every 80 seconds from the coronavirus in our country. That`s according to  the data from around the country.

We`ve now lost over 159,000 Americans, over 4.8 million, just under 5  million have been infected with the virus. University of Washington  computer model that`s been frequently used and cited at the White House now  predicts almost 231,000 souls will be gone from this virus by November  first two days before the election. Even with all of that, as well as the  devastating economic toll from the pandemic, the President has not backed  down from his insistence that this is all a temporary state of affairs.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The country`s in very good shape  and we`re set to rock and roll this thing`s going away. It will go away  like things go away.


WILLIAMS: That was from this morning, if the rock and roll part sounds  familiar, it`s because Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, use that very  same wording back in April when he predicted the virus would be on the  retreat by now and the economy humming. This afternoon, Trump stuck to his  assertion.


TRUMP: It`s coming down, and pretty substantially in many locations. It`ll  go away like things go away. Absolutely. It`s -- No question in my mind. It  will go away. Please. Go ahead. (Crosstalk). Hopefully sooner rather than  later.


WILLIAMS: His comments today simply get tossed on the pile with all the  others all of his comments in the past that were designed to diminish the  threat of this virus as the death toll just kept climbing.


TRUMP: It`s going to disappear. One day, it`s like a miracle. It will  disappear.

We`re prepared and we`re doing a great job with it and it will go away.  Just stay calm. It will go away.

But I think what happens is it`s going to go away. This is going to go  away.

This virus is going to disappear. It`s a question of what --

We`re doing so well after the plague. It`s going away.

I said it`s going to disappear. I`ll say it again. It`s going to disappear  and I`ll be right.


WILLIAMS: Earlier this week, the President criticized Dr. Deborah Birx for  saying the virus was more widespread than it was when it first hit the U.S.  this past spring. He even said that his administration had a "under  control."

Today Dr. Anthony Fauci offered this warning about failing to recognize  that this virus is not going to just go away.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND  INFECTIOUS DISEASES: As long as you have any member of society, any  demographic group who`s not seriously trying to get to the end game of  suppressing this, it will continue to smolder and smolder and smolder. And  that will be the reason why in a non-unified way, we`ve plateaued at an  unacceptable level.


WILLIAMS: Today we learn Florida now has over half a million infected  residents and now has the second most cases of any state right behind  California. Testing has resumed there in the wake of the passing hurricane  this past weekend. But there are remain delays when it comes to getting  results.

The nation`s third largest school district has announced they`ll begin fall  2020 semester online only. Chicago official scrapped the idea of holding a  mix of in person and remote instruction. Out of safety concerns, city  health officials said their seven day average of coronavirus cases has been  on the rise. That`s what worried them.

We`re also following new developments in what may be one of the most  serious legal threats facing the President right now, the Manhattan  district attorney`s criminal investigation into Trump`s business practices.  New York Times reporting tonight the prosecutors who are seeking to Trump`s  tax records have also subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, his longtime New York  lender. The Times says the bank has complied with that subpoena. So we`ll  see.

The origins of the Russia investigation also back on the front burner today  at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring testimony from former  Obama Appointed Deputy A.G. Sally Yates. Trump and his allies on the Hill  have tried to imply without evidence that President Obama and Vice  President Biden were behind the FBI investigation into the incoming Trump  administration, and that there was some sort of plot to keep Trump from  winning the 2016 election. Yates, who is the one who blew the whistle on  Trump`s first National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, pushed back against  that narrative put forth by Trump and his allies.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: President, Vice President  and the National Security Advisor did not in any way attempt to direct or  influence any kind of investigation.

SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUSIANA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Isn`t it true that  there were a handful of people at the Department of Justice during the  Obama administration that despised Donald Trump and did everything in their  power to keep him from being president?

YATES: I`m not aware of anyone at the Department of Justice doing anything  to try to keep Donald Trump becoming president.

SENATOR TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Ms. Yates, when did you  first become aware that the Obama administration was surveilling the Donald  Trump campaign?

YATES: The Obama administration was not surveilling the Donald Trump  campaign.


WILLIAMS: NBC News reports Barr`s inquiry into the origins of the Russia  investigation may be nearing its end that the prosecutor running it is now  making plans to interview former Obama CIA Chief John Brennan who has  agreed to talk to him. Just last month, you may recall Barr was asked about  that report during a hearing in the House.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you commit to not releasing any report by Mr.  Durham before the November election?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don`t commit to that?

BARR: No. I would be very careful -- 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you won`t go by the Department of Justice policy  that --

BARR: I know Justice Department policy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that you interfere in any political investigations  before the November election?

BARR: We`re not going to interfere.


WILLIAMS: Of course before the election, there will be party conventions,  at least what passes for them electronically. Joe Biden has announced he  will not be traveling to Milwaukee. For the Democratic National Convention,  he`ll accept the presidential nomination from his home state in Delaware.  In fact, the entire convention is now basically going to look like a zoom  meeting because of the pandemic.

Republicans are also working out their convention logistics. This morning,  Trump gave us an indication of how he might accept the nomination.


TRUMP: I`ll probably do mine live from the White House if for some reason  somebody had difficulty with it, I would -- I could, you know, go to -- go  someplace else. The easiest least expensive and I think very beautiful  would be live from the White House.


WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Wednesday night, Ashley  Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for The Washington  Post, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter also with the Post on  moderator of Washington Week on PBS and Frank Figliuzzi, back with us as  well, former FBI Assistant Director for counterintelligence.

Good evening and welcome to you all. Ashley, the President is back to  telling us, it will simply go away and seemingly the more he says it, the  more it`s dismissed/the less attention it gets. Similarly, he remains the  only industrialized leader continuing to float out the theory. It may have  been a bomb and attack in Beirut, too to very little attention, given what  he`s putting out there. What does it say about not the presidency but this  President`s role in American life right now, if anything?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s exactly  right. This president on a range of issues you just laid out some is  increasingly becoming a non-entity. He says stuff. He tweets stuff. He does  stuff and the world in some cases responds with a collective shrug.

Now compare that to three years ago where every tweet was parsed by, for  instance, diplomat scrambling to figure out just what it meant. That`s the  President what he said on the explosion in Lebanon saying with no evidence  that he believes it was perhaps a bomb or an attack, then you take what  he`s saying on coronavirus. The governors are largely ignoring him and  doing what`s best for their states. He said repeatedly he wants the schools  to reopen and the schools are largely ignoring that. You just mentioned  Chicago starting with all remote distance learning then let`s move to  Capitol Hill for instance, where even his own party, Republicans largely  ignored his wish for a payroll tax cut in this set of negotiations. And  while, you know, his side is being represented by his emissaries, he  personally has been largely absent from these discussions.

The real challenge here and I was talking to someone from Joe Biden`s  campaign today is because people don`t trust the President on a lot of  issues and are sort of fed up with his noise. It also means that some of  his attacks against Joe Biden are not landing as well.

And so as the President receives a bid into where he can make a difference  in where he matters, that`s not a great position for a sitting president to  be in.

WILLIAMS: So Frank Figliuzzi, while the world would love to know why the  hell that much ammonium nitrate was in a warehouse in the central port,  which is the focal point of Beirut, it is roundly being called a tragic  accident, but I`m looking at my notes from the President`s briefing today.  "Nobody knows yet. Perhaps it was an attack. He says." We`re looking into  it. Of course, the only way they look into things these days is, "very  strongly."

And he says in either event, the net effect was it ended up being a bomb.  What are the national security implications from your world talking that  way from behind the lectern at the White House briefing room?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Yeah, there are serious national security implications because our standing  in the world and our credibility in the world is inexorably tied to our  President and his credibility and his posture and believability. So there`s  short term danger in saying that the Beirut explosion was an attack because  it literally could put nations troops on alert, it could cause terrorism  organizations to consider launching a counter attack against something that  never even happened.

And then there`s long term damage to our standing in the world that`s going  to take a lot of time to recover, as we used to be the go to nation for the  latest Intel. This is A country that has a president that doesn`t listen to  his intelligence prefers. All of this Intel is available, the CIA, the NSA,  all of our organizations know what`s happening on the ground in Beirut,  Lebanon, and could have told him rather quickly. Instead, he made up a  story about his generals, his great generals, who actually say to  reporters, they have no idea what he`s talking about.

WILLIAMS: Robert, most of our presidents have seen red, white and blue.  This President is the exception he seems to see red and blue. So the topic  of reopening schools came up today. He injected politics in the following  way. We`ll talk about it on the other side.


TRUMP: I can say that republican areas want to see him open and the  democrats probably want to keep them closed until after November 3, because  they think it`s good for them politically. I actually don`t think it`s good  for them politically.


WILLIAMS: So Robert, the families who are facing intensely personal singed  by economic decision. Do you think they`re making that decision based on  red or blue or politics at all?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The President`s statement is not  accurate. I`ve seen it up close with my reporting in my recent trip to  Texas, talking to voters and officials in both the Democratic and  Republican Party in red states. While Democrats in certain states may not  like President Trump, Republicans in red states are telling me that they  are having the same anxieties, the same challenges with reopening schools  as their counterparts on the other side of the aisle. And this is a  challenge for the White House politically because this is not a blue state  or a blue city issue anymore. If they saw it that way at one point, that is  no longer the case. It was never the case.

And you see Florida, Arizona, Texas struggling to contain this virus just  days in many places before school begins. And this is why to Ashley`s  point, governors are often taking the lead as the task force in Washington  recedes into the background.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, I have one for you here is the President promoting Dr.  Birx`s upcoming road tour.


TRUMP: Next week, Dr. Birx will be visiting Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas,  Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. And also I believe they`re trying to get  in West Virginia, great place, a great state and I`m sure that will happen  because we`d like it to happen. They`d like to see her. So we`re going to  try very hard to get the Doctor to West Virginia in addition to those  states to deliver aggressive, tailored and targeted guidance.


WILLIAMS: So Ashley, bears repeating this is not a live nation tour of  outdoor concert venues with Birx`s merch for sale as you enter. If your  state is on the list of this road trip by Dr. Birx that`s probably not a  good thing, she`s been going to the regions where it`s been spiking. What  do you think is going on here other than the kind of social media drop line  today that he is happily sending her out on the road?

PARKER: Well, I was talking to the White House about this just today and  it`s basically part of what they`re calling their embers tour, which is  exactly right. She`s getting sent out not just to places where it`s  spiking, but also where they are expecting a next wave. So you`re  absolutely right that if you are one of these people getting a visit from  her, portends something quite negative.

But it is part of the administration`s overall again, broader effort to  have medical doctors including Dr. Birx, she is perhaps the most high  profile. But I believe already they have sent about a dozen doctors, had  done 100 interviews in these local media markets. So it is something that  is happening the level below the President or the president may get out  there and say it`s going to disappear, it`s going to go away. And then  coming into your local media market is a doctor who`s saying, it`s not  going away. It`s not disappearing, and here`s what you can responsibly do  to try to protect yourself and your community.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Frank, let`s talk about the Durham investigation. Durham was  put in place by Barr under Trump, and he`s been looking into the so called  origins of the Russia investigation. When you and I last spoke 3 o`clock  eastern time today. We heard Joyce Vance say that Democrats would be smart  to inoculate the public to the idea that indictments may becoming really  big names late in the game before the election. It`s supposed to be a  hands-off go silent period at DOJ. But why would anything else be normal  during the year 2020. Do you concur?

FIGLIUZZI: I think we need to understand that the October surprise is  coming. And it might actually be in August or September surprise and that a  component of that is going to be this great revelation, the big reveal of  whatever it is that the attorney General Barr thinks that John Durham has  found.

And so I know that they`re hunting for anything that could be indicted, I  would expect at least a mid level manager to be under consideration for  indictment within the FBI or Department of Justice. I`m not saying that  that is something that should be happening, but I`m saying we should  prepare ourselves for that.

And we should understand something the attorney general has told the rest  of the Department of Justice, hands off as we approach an election. No one  should do anything or indict anyone that messes with the election or  perceptions of the election. But it`s essentially do as I say, not as I do  because he`s already told Congress he absolutely intends to release this. I  would challenge the Attorney General he thinks this isn`t going to impact  the election. Let John Durham testify before Congress on his findings. Let  John Durham issue his own report that you haven`t edited. Let him do it.  Let his team do it. He`s a respected prosecutor. Let him do his job. I  don`t think that`s going to happen.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, we move to shear politics. I`m going to ask you  about the status of the latest coronavirus relief measure. And here`s the  sheer politics part with roughly a third of the Senate up for reelection.  Do more of them not want their names on a piece of legislation that goes  out in a timely manner, I guess that horse has left the barn, to help  people during a pandemic?

COSTA: Brian, just a couple hours ago, I spoke to Senator Cruz from Texas  for half an hour on the record and he`s one of the outliers in the  Republican conference. There`s a group of probably 15 to 20 Republicans who  don`t want to vote for any extension of the $600 unemployment supplement.  But many Republicans privately are telling me including a couple senators  they do want to support it because they`re up for reelection. And they see  Speaker Pelosi now just waiting. That`s your strategy. She sees the  Republicans coming to her as they get nervous in the election nears.

And at this point, it`s not really a question based on my conversations  whether the unemployment benefit will supplement will be extended. The  question is, how much will it be? Will it be $600, $500, $400? For now,  Speaker Pelosi believes, I`m told, that she can get Republicans to go  along. Leader McConnell wants to keep his majority, he`s the voice to watch  at the end here, does he lean in and say, let`s have the deal done.

WILLIAMS: Three of our best to start off on a consequential Wednesday  night, Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Frank Figliuzzi, much obliged, thank  you gang.

Coming up for us, there is no easy way to say this we are losing the battle  against coronavirus in the places that are unable to put up a decent fight.  We`ll talk to a doctor from a hospital with no ICU and as many deadly cases  as a big city teaching hospital.

And later, with 90 days to go now why it actually matters, who Joe Biden  picks as his running mate and who the leading candidates are just days  before, the at least virtual Democratic Convention. All of it as THE 11TH  HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.



TRUMP: Children are almost -- and I would almost say definitely, but almost  immune from this disease. The fact is that they are virtually immune from  this problem and we have to open our schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said, children are virtually immune from COVID-19  but children have contracted this virus and some have dead for it.

TRUMP: Well, listen, I`m talking about from getting very sick. Children  handle it very well. And they may -- they may get it, but they get it and  it doesn`t have much of an impact on them.


WILLIAMS: To be clear children of course are contracting, transmitting and  dying from the virus. They are not immune. Those statements from the  President won`t even too far for Facebook. They remove the President`s  video of that Fox News clip saying it violated their policies around  harmful COVID misinformation. That`s a first for Facebook, first time  they`ve ever removed content from the President, as Trump also continues to  falsely claim this virus will just go away.

New York Times is out with this report. "Like a horror movie, a small  border hospital battles the coronavirus." Hospital in Starr County Texas  has been transferring patients that doctors are unable to help as the  County Health Director Dr. Jose Vasquez told us tonight, out of 37 patients  they have transferred by air and helicopters only one made it out of a  ventilator and was discharged alive.

We welcome to the broadcast, Dr. Jose Vasquez, President of the board for  Starr County Memorial in Texas. He`s also the Health Director for the  county itself. And back with us tonight from New York. Dr. Irwin Redlener,  a Pediatrics Physician, Clinical Professor with the School of Public Health  at Columbia University. He is also the Director of Columbia`s National  Center for Disaster Preparedness with an expertise in this sort of illness.

Dr. Vasquez with thanks to you for spending some time with us tonight, tell  us about the situation currently where you live and work?

DR. JOSE VASQUEZ, BOARD PRESIDENT, STARR COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: Good  evening. The situation over the last few weeks has been very live (ph) in  Starr County, Texas. We are in a small community south of the border or  South in the border of Texas with Mexico about 65,000 people. We have a  rural hospital here with 45 beds. We do not have ICU services. We normally  handle our situations well, and whenever we need to manage difficult cases,  we transfer to the neighbor, counties.

Now since the pandemic has hit us very hard that had not been possible. We  have been transferring patients in helicopters on a daily basis out of our  county to remote places sometimes out of the state, causing tremendous pain  and suffering to patients and families as well.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, this quote from the New York Times is unbelievable. I`ll  put it on the screen as I read it. "Facing an overwhelming number of cases  the hospital said in July that it would convene an ethics committee to help  make difficult decisions about which patients to treat, which to medevac to  better equip hospitals and which to send home to die." That is a dramatic  way of putting the fancy medical term of triage only writ large. These are  of course decisions you probably could not have guessed you`d be making on  a large scale in med school. Has that kind of pressure on all of you at the  hospital east somewhat lately?

VASQUEZ: Yes, that`s over the last week and a half. We have got much needed  help from the Veterans Administration. They have been receiving our  patients over that period of time. And they have been fantastic for us.  They have been a game changer in our community. They felt that the veteran  administration had offered to Starr County.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Redlener, Donald Trump said again today things are getting  better. He said again today, it`s just going to go away. And of course, the  last quote in the news was him summing up the death toll by saying it is  what it is. What`s your counter argument to that?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Well, every one of those  statements, Brian, of course is completely outrageous and not true.  Especially the continuing to try to sugarcoat the reality and the reality  is horrendous. We`re still in the midst of a terribly severe outbreak, a  pandemic that is killing people at a rate of 1000 a day in the United  States. So any kind of statement to the fact that things are getting better  is just blatantly false.

And the second thing is that this issue has claims about children is  completely inappropriate and incorrect, and especially at a time when we`re  thinking now about really opening the schools to 55 million children who  have been -- who have missed school during the last -- during the spring  semester.

Right now we`re actually facing great deal of danger of a lot more spread  among children. And to minimize that or suggest that children are not at  risk is just absurd, Brian, I`m just -- I was stunned even from hearing  this from Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: And Doctor, because pediatrics is your specialty, I was going to  ask you about that looking at these quotes, children are almost immune.  "They`re able to throw it off very easily." These are words, again, we`ve  been talking about quotes from the President of the United States, this  intensely personal decision for families. There are families who are going  to hear that and perhaps make a decision based on it.

REDLENER: Yeah, you know, Brian, it`s always incredible to me that he  actually attempts to make these statements publicly as if he`s oblivious to  the fact that people pay attention to what he says. He`s surrounded by some  very competent physicians, including Birx and Fauci, and many, many others  in the CDC. And why on earth he doesn`t let those people the experts  actually speak and make those any kind of medical statement is beyond me.

I don`t know whether he`s just trying to impress the public that he knows  something, which he doesn`t and -- or what his goal is here but it`s not  working and it`s going to backfire on him probably and hopefully in  November. But in the meantime, it you`re exactly right, Brian, he`s making  a statement that`s going to influence whether parents decide to let their  children go back to school or not. It`s just outrageous to hear him talk  like that.

WILLIAMS: I want to thank our two physicians for coming on with us tonight  and talking about this difficult topic, Dr. Jose Vasquez who is just in  this life or death fight every day. Dr. Irwin Redlener, thank you,  gentlemen, greatly appreciate your time and effort.

Coming up for us. Alexi McCammond on this broadcast told us to be ready for  it. And it`s here. A new report tonight on who may be the final to standing  in the VP race on the Biden campaign. We`ll have more on that after this.


WILLIAMS: New reporting today from Axios says Joe Biden is closing in on  his VP pick. Hans Nichols and Alexi McCammond, friends of this broadcast  both report that confidence of Biden say it`s down to Kamala Harris and  Susan Rice and that they would be surprised if he picked anyone else at  this point.

Well, along comes Anita Kumar of Politico, another friend of this broadcast  to report, Rice is definitely the Trump campaigns number one pick she  writes, quote, Trump`s aides and allies accuse Rice without delving too  deeply into the evidence of helping cover up crimes for two of the  President`s favorite foils. Wait for it, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton  making her just the kind of deep state villain who could fire up his mega  base.

Lot to talk about two great guests to do so back with us tonight. Eugene  Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post and  Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee,  former lieutenant governor of the great state of Maryland. These days, the  host of the Michael Steele podcast, he was so chosen because he had the  perfect name for it.

Eugene, your reaction to this list apparently boiled down to these two  women?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINTONG POST: Well, first of all, that may be  correct. I have a feeling that the one person who knows which way Joe Biden  was leaning as Joe Biden. But those are two really powerful women. And you  could make a case for either of them. You could certainly make a case for  Kamala Harris as having been in the arena. Have been run a campaign. And  she has prosecutorial chops. She could throw a punch in a debate. She  landed on a budget or Joe Biden.

So she would be formidable and Susan Rice arguably, the women on his list  could potentially be the best vice president in that she has all of a  sudden administration experience as national security adviser. She is their  systematic thinker. She`s also very tough woman or blunt. And she has a  close relationship with Joe Biden which is something he will prize. I think  his he thinks about this because of his close relationship with Barack  Obama and his eight year experiences as vice president. So could be one of  those two.

WILLIAMS: Michael Steele, when people hear the President is floating out  the idea of the White House as the backdrop for again, what is basically  going to be a Zoom meeting the substitute for a political convention. How  does a guy like you react to that?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: I had hair before I heard that. What are  you talking about? It`s the craziest thing on the planet.

You know, the politicizing of the White House, the politicizing of the of  the men and women who are, you know, up to this moment were dedicated  public servants, many of whom wanted to come in and serve the  administration now put into this political hot box in which they know that  they have a hatch problem.

I mean, so you`re going to host this on the South Lawn of the White House.  Who`s going to do it? Because nobody who works in the White House can work  on it. You know? Yes, Mr. President, you`re not hatched, we get it. But  everybody else in the building is hatched. Right?

And if they have a half of grain of sense left in their heads, that is the  last thing they want to do, because guaranteed the day after that event,  there are going to be a whole lot of people showing up in front of the Hill  and prosecutors and others who are going to have a lot of answer for him.

So this is the President kind of throwing these bromides out here throwing  out these bright shiny objects for people to get excited about at the end  of the day, it is a lame brain idea to do that. But more important, and I  think this is the key thing for me. It shows such disregard for the house  that he works in lives, it shows so much disregard for what that building  represents to this country, and to those who serve inside that building.

So at the end of the day despite all that, all of the political wranglings  and the legal obstacles and all of that, the White House should not be made  your political playground to try to get one up on your opponent just  because it serves as the best looking backdrop.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, as we continue to skip around, because we have so much to  talk about the Joyce Vance assertion that what the Democrats should be  doing right now is inoculating the public to look out for this potential  October surprise, from the very sober Mr. Durham handed to the very sober  and very obedient Mr. Barr, and released with shock and revulsion to the  media and Congress in the form of potential indictments to some boldface  names.

ROBINSON: Right. And so maybe that will happen. It looks like it,  potentially being timed to come out as an October surprise. What is it  exactly? I mean, it`s -- I think there probably are limits to what even  this justice department can gin up.

But yes, this could be the, you know, the equivalent of the of the Comey  letter, I guess, in 2016. I mean, it could be a last minute potential  factor in the election. This cake may be so big that it`s hard to call it a  potential game changer, but, but we`ll see. So, how do you inoculate  against something when you really don`t know what it is? I guess, an all  purpose journalistic vaccine.

WILLIAMS: I hate when you raise good questions like that. Both of these  gentlemen have kindly agreed to stay with us through the break. Though  their spouses have reassured us they have no other plans. And after all,  they`re at home.

Coming up for us, why the Trump campaign says starting the presidential  debate season in late September is too late for them. We`ll talk about the  strategy that may be afoot.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will do any amount of  debates, you understand what I mean? If I say I want to do 10 debates,  they`ll say, Oh, he`s afraid, he`s afraid, he`s going to lose. No, no. What  I want to do is I`ll do two, three, and I`ll do any amount that they want.


WILLIAMS: Tonight, it`s the Trump campaign that wants to add a debate to  the schedule Axios exclusively reporting this a good week for them that he  wants one now in early September ahead of early voting. According to a  letter written by a Trump attorney named Rudy Giuliani. We`re looking into  him who`s heading up the negotiations quote, our campaign again requests  the commission modernize its lineup to include an additional earlier debate  in September, bringing the total number of presidential debates to four.

Still with us, our guests and friends Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele.  So, Eugene a couple of things here. The President may feel like he`s the  one who`s going to -- go into these debates like his favorite cartoon  character, Yosemite Sam with both guns blazing.

But there is a -- there`s an axiom. There`s an adage in politics that if  you`re the one asking for more debates, you`re losing. Do you believe it?

ROBISON: Oh, first of all, would you say Yosemite Sam, you know, the image  that comes to me is John Bolton with the mustache. But anyhow, I digress.  The one thing you need to know about this story and this debate story is  that the side that`s asking for more debates is losing. That is a universal  truth about that the side that wants to add debate is behind is losing.

And this is a clear sign that the President side believes it is losing this  election and therefore wants as many debates as it can possibly get. And  the Joe Biden side, I will confidently predict will be very coy and very  reluctant to bury and won`t want an additional debate and might be very coy  about the debates that are already scheduled because they`re ahead.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael, the topic of cognitive testing came up against the  day hell, maybe I should take one but Joe Biden was asked. Yes, no, it is  Wednesday. Joe Biden was asked about the topic today I`m going to play his  answer during this interview we`ll discuss on the other side.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I haven`t taken the test. Why  the hell would I take a test?

Come on, man. That`s like saying you before he got in this program, you`re  taking a test where you`re taking cocaine or not. What do you think, huh?  Anyway, I am very willing to let the American public judge my physical,  mental filt, my physical as well as my mental fitness and to, you know, to  make a judgment about who I am.


WILLIAMS: So Michael, and the first part of that Starsky and Hutch called  one of their dialogue back. Secondly, did he just prove or disprove the  need to take the test that famously resulted in the President`s list of  whatever was cat, dog, bird camera person.

STEELE: No, no, no, I think this whole thing is silly. Donald Trump is all  about setting traps. And, you know, the press over the last three years  have found themselves to be gullible political leadership on both sides  have found themselves be gullible. And now the next the next up to bat is  the Biden campaign and Joe Biden himself where these traps are set for you  to go into these rabbit holes and wind your way into crazy.

On the debate point, why would Joe Biden debate crazy?  That`s just  standing there listening to Don. Would just go back and replay the `16  debates and ask yourself, would you debate that? And then when you look at  -- when you look at this situation, where Donald Trump is claiming he has  more mental stability than Joe Biden, the trap is to sort of throw this  thing out here and get people to start asking that Joe Biden are you going  to take the test? Joe, just do your thing, Boo. Don`t worry about no test.  You`ll be OK. It`ll be OK. Don`t worry.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thank you both gentlemen for having us in tonight.  Yes, go ahead.

ROBINSON: One thing, person, woman, man, camera TV. There.

WILLIAMS: You`re a better man, person, woman or camera or TV than I am.  Eugene Robinson, and wearing the Michael Steele casual collection for men  tonight, Michael Steele host to the Michael Steele Podcast. Gentlemen,  thank you both for having us and always a pleasure to have you.

Coming up an update on this situation we have been seeing in Beirut, our  President continues to be the outlier, and throwing out a theory as to the  cause. We`ll get an update from Richard angle right after this.


WILLIAMS: While our President continues to cast doubt on the cause,  insisting still today it could have been an attack. He said it acted like a  bomb in Beirut. The desperate search for the missing continues after the  massive explosion yesterday that leveled entire portions of the city at  least 130 killed, including one U.S. citizen upwards of 5,000 people  injured. Hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Now some are questioning if officials knew the risks of what appears to  have been a combination of an accident and negligence. We get our updates  and from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPNDENT (voice-over): New videos  tonight show how the powerful blast changed this city in an instant.

A church service was underway when the roof begins caving in.

A bride posed for a wedding video. You can hear the first blast. A reporter  in the upper corner doing a live television interview in Arabic. She  survived. Tonight we learned at least one American is among the more than  100 people who died. At least 5,000 were injured and hundreds are missing.

Hospitals already struggling with COVID are beyond capacity.

DR. IBRAHIM MELKI, TRAD HOSPITAL PLASTIC SURGEON: We have a small hospital  it`s a 60-bed hospital, and it`s not equipped to receive this number of  casualties. I`ve never seen something like this.

ENGEL: Lebanese officials say the blast was caused by fire. You can see it  popping and sparking what started it remains unclear, but it grew setting  off the big explosion at a storage facility. Lebanese officials say packed  with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate commonly used in fertilizers. It can  also be used for bombs.

Timothy McVeigh used it to destroy the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The Beirut blast was 1,300 times more powerful.

Tonight Lebanese officials are investigating why so much of this explosive  chemical was left at Beirut`s port. Lebanon officials say it was seized  from a cargo ship six years ago. Customs officials claim they asked to get  rid of it, but it never happened.

Instead, this was the port area before and after. Like it was never there.

(on camera): The Lebanese government says it`s placing an unspecified  number of Port officials under house arrest while the investigation  continues. Apparently out of concern. They tried to leave the country.  Richard Engel, NBC News, London.


WILLIAMS: And coming up for us the Trump campaign has taken a few liberties  with photos of their opponent as the Photoshop campaign of 2020 is  apparently already in full swing.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, false and misleading  campaign ads are nothing new. However, wrong. Some of them are effective in  the end, but not all. Doctored photos are nothing new either. They`re just  much easier to doctor now, because the president is unable to run on the  economy or his robust response to a pandemic, as many of our guests have  pointed out. He`s going to run by going after all things Biden.

In the coming weeks you may hear more about Hunter than Joe but as the  Trump campaign season, anything that ends with Biden.

To that end, they are out with a new campaign ad which we will play here  while I talk. It`s intended to paint the former vice president as isolated  and handled downcast and diminished. But as the journalist and fact checker  Daniel Dale was quick to point out today, they`re using fakery for their  imagery. He says this new Trump ad edits the microphone and trees out of a  photo of Biden in Iowa to claim he`s hiding in his Delaware basement, that  it uses a photo of Biden at an Iowa party to claim he`s hiding in his  basement. meant that it uses a photo of him praying after George Floyd`s  death to portray him as defeated.

For Biden`s part, perhaps aware of the ad his campaign put out a video of  him driving and rhapsodizing about his vintage Corvette where he appeared  to be neither hiding nor defeated, but you get to be the final judge.

With that, that is our Wednesday night broadcast with our thanks for being  here with us 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