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Russia bounty plot TRANSCRIPT: 7/2/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Thomas Friedman, Raven McGregor, Jonah Stillman, Uche Blackstock,Natasha Bertrand, David Frum, Curtistene Smith McCowan, William Schaffner

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: In the meantime, THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Katy. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

And, tonight, we`re reporting what experts are telling us, the COVID crisis breaking records and maybe approaching a point of no return.

Later this hour, we have updates on President Trump`s new Russia scandal, the bounty payments offered in order to kill U.S. troops.

And do you remember Donald Trump`s talk of travel bans? Well, he just got a new one, but it is against the United States and his administration`s approach to COVID.

"New York Times" journalist Tom Friedman here on THE BEAT to explain later tonight.

Plus, Bill Barr`s clash with the famed Southern District of New York is back in the news, because prosecutors there just indicted a woman linked to Jeffrey Epstein for a sex trafficking plot. We have that development later, brand-new legal story.

But our top story right now is, of course, and, sadly, this pandemic raging across America, coronavirus cases hitting a new daily record right now across the wires, 53,419 cases just in the last 24 hours. That is an all- time high.

This is still, obviously and enduringly, an humanitarian crisis, which also brings upon the further risk of greater economic crises, new signs now that the Trump administration`s failure to curb this virus, pushing to reopen, sending mixed messages on masks and the other guideline issues, all of that, now indications are rattling the economic projections about whether or not the U.S. will really turn a corner.

Going to get to that, but let`s look right here at the facts, over 50,000 new cases here in the last 24 hours. You see where we are on the upper right, an acceleration showing why most states, 38, now are in this bad category of a rising case count. That`s up 87 percent over the last two weeks, as you can see on your screen, across most of America.

Now, people remember how bad this was when it first was spiking in April, the fear, the deaths, the recession. Well, numerically right now, this is worse than April tonight. This is a fire spreading possibly out of control, while the president falsely says the fire is actually being put out.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the crisis is being handled.

Some areas that were very hard-hit are now doing very well. Some were doing very well, and we thought they may be gone, and they flare up. And we`re putting out the fires.


MELBER: That`s just not true.

In fact, if you could hear it, the sound we`d all be hearing across the nation right now is not fires just flaring up and being put out. The images you see of the federal government`s point person on this virus, Mike Pence, is more like watching the fires burn.

He`s been literally on what critics are calling a failure tour of the hot spots that are pummeled precisely for following Trump`s approach of a swift and rushed reopening, like Florida, where Trump ally Governor Ron DeSantis has been changing his tune.

Pence also was just in Texas, which has been running from Trump and is now mandating masks in public, along with other states he`s been visiting. Florida`s governor also sounding bullish when he contrasted his state to New York back in May. It`s become a different story.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about our Florida was going to be just like New York. Wait two weeks. Florida`s going to be next. Just like Italy. Wait two weeks?

Well, hell, we`re eight weeks away from that, and it hasn`t happened.


MELBER: That hasn`t held up well.

And despite the insinuations, speaking only on behalf of this program, of this media you`re watching, no one in media here is rooting on the case count or the death.

The emphasis, the pressure, the reporting on all of that was precisely to try to prevent the rising graph that you see there. Again, though, the tune in Florida changing.

Now, the virus is surging in the United States months after its arrival. So, the big question is, was this avoidable? And the evidence says, yes.

Now, that`s important, because, while many countries did get hit hard at first, the countries that applied science and a cohesive discipline among citizens did drastically better. They were able to combat the virus.

That provides an example. We have reported this crucial point several times on the show. And, right now, I want to show it to you clearly. European countries are similar the U.S., rich democracies, packed, dense cities, plenty of travel in and out.

And look exactly where they were with us in April. That`s what you see on the left. The surge in April, we were in the same boat, Europe and the U.S. peaking. You can see the lines right here on the left your screen.

Most of those countries, the blue peaking European countries, they were applying strict rules as it peaked. The Trump administration and some U.S. states, of course, did not.

And then, boom, you see it here, the European blue line drastically cutting down the virus, and they`re benefiting from it, while the U.S. red line didn`t drop initially, and today, on the right of your screen, July, where we are, it is surging now more than ever.

Science is complicated, but sometimes policy is simple. Right here, this is the whole story of virus policy in one chart. The medical rules can work. Witness the dropping blue line. That shows they did work. They saved lives over there.

In U.S. politics, there`s a lot of talk about American exceptionalism to simplify the basic idea that our nation is exceptional, the greatest. And you know what? In some ways, we are. In other ways, sometimes, we`re not.

But right now, on the most significant threat to health, safety, the economy worldwide, this isn`t a story about exceptionalism. It`s about an exception. We right now are an exception in the worst way. We are the outlier. We are that red spike that didn`t have to be that way, which means the only potential positive, the reason why I want you to see this, I want everyone to see this, share it, talk about it, it`s not about politics.

It`s about policy. It means we can also literally do better and save more of our American lives, which is an exceptional kind of thing to do, if we learn these lessons.

And that may also be why Dr. Fauci is out today stressing this same Trump administration exception, in contrast to, yes, Europe. Take a look.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you look at the fact that we never got things down to baseline, where so many countries in Europe and the U.K. and other countries did, they closed down to the tune of about 97 percent lockdown.

In the United States, even in the most strict lockdown, only about 50 percent of the country locked down. That allowed the perpetuation of the outbreak.


MELBER: With all that in mind, we bring in our experts, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt. He`s advised the CDC. David Frum, who served in the Bush White House and has been writing about these issues at "The Atlantic," and the mayor of DeSoto, Texas, Curtistene Smith McCowan.

Well, good evening, all.

Doctor, what can we learn from other countries that have curbed the virus? And is it too late?


But this is a summer conflagration. There`s no doubt about it. What we need is a national policy. We need everybody doing the same thing in all of the state. We need every person in the United States, when they leave their front door, putting on a mask.

We need everyone conscious of six-foot distancing. We have to stop the large gatherings. And then we can tamp down this virus. It`s not too late. But we need national guidance. We can`t have a scattershot approach, different things in different places.

That`s obviously not working. We need a new approach. And we can`t have the federal government standing off to the sidelines. They need to be the conductor of this orchestra, bringing us all together, singing the same song.

MELBER: David, we are up 87 percent just in the last two weeks. We have a daily case record tonight. I`m going to put the chart back up, David, because the chart is partly about things that are related to America and may have occurred, and the chart is partly about an exception that does stem from Donald Trump`s failures.

Your view?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You said earlier that this is a story about policy, not about politics.

And maybe that`s true as we look forward. But it`s not true as we look backward. It is politics that brought us here. The United States reached its low point, its recent low point, in the virus on the 11th of May.

President Trump, even before touching down on the 11th of May, at about half the cases that there were at the peak in April, was urging the reopening of the economy as rapidly as possible. He was driven not by policy, not by science, but by his own ego needs, this couldn`t be happening to him, and by his desperation to stimulate the economy, to get some good news, in order to get his poll numbers up, to get the stock market up and then his poll numbers up.

And so he pushed. He pushed and he pushed, and he demanded that there be not only rapid reopening, but he sabotaged the very thing needed for the reopening. He interpreted the mask as a criticism of him.

When reporters at his press conferences wore masks, he asked them to take them off. He belittled them because they were critics of him. And he was asked that question point blank and agreed, yes, that he interpreted the mask as a criticism.

So, in order to create an illusion of normality, he attacked the very tool he needed to achieve what he wanted to do. Even from his own terms, it was irrational. But the goal was always not the protection of the public health, but to move as fast as possible to create the appearance of economic activity to get his poll numbers up again.

MELBER: Well, and you lay that out, David.

I was reading some of your writing about this in-depth, as you say, on the political mistakes. Take a listen to something you cited in your article, which was how it sounded to many of Trump`s most loyal allies -- and this stuff matters -- how Tucker Carlson sounded back in April.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The virus just isn`t nearly as deadly as we thought it was, all of us, including on this show, everybody thought it was. But it turned out not to be.


MELBER: Why were you drawing attention to that, David?

FRUM: There are hundreds of examples of this.

And I singled out the Tucker Carlson example because he had been a low, rare voice in early March for doing something. But FOX News, I mean, it`s like the "Daily Worker" under Joseph Stalin. It pivots on a dime.

So, through March, until the 12th of March, FOX News insisted that the virus was a hoax invented by the Democrats to make President Trump look bad. On the 12th of March, President Trump had a press conference and, suddenly, bang, everyone at FOX, we take it seriously, we never didn`t take it seriously.

But at -- beginning in April, as the true sacrifices of the lockdown began to accumulate, as the economy suffered, as small business owners protested, and as this problem seemed to be one that affected only big cities and minorities, the snobs and the ungrateful minorities, FOX News said, why do we have to put up with this?

And so they offered quack cures, anti-malaria drugs, and they began sounding the drum, reopen as rapidly as possible, reopen as rapidly as possible.

Now, the FOX News "Daily Worker" approach is undergoing another pivot right now, where not only are they endorsing the mask, but they now deny that they ever didn`t endorse the mask. But that, of course, is also a lie.

MELBER: Right.

And, as you say, it was this early period, when you look at the chart, where it mattered most whether people were getting the right scientific information.

Mayor, I have mentioned that, for example, in Texas, your governor changing gears, requiring masks in public. What do you view this as, in terms of the priorities, where you`re coming from?

MAYOR CURTISTENE SMITH MCCOWAN (D-TX), DESOTO: Well, it`s something that we have been looking for.

I am very pleased to see that the governor has issued an order today hot off the press requiring masks and giving the -- that -- just some direction, so that, on a statewide basis -- there are some counties, as I understand it, excluded from this, but Dallas County certainly is one of the counties covered, and as it should be.

There over 21,000 cases to date. And even in our city of around 55,000, we have had a number of cases. We`re almost at the 400 mark, with six deaths, and one death is too many. So, I believe the governor`s order is right on time.


MELBER: Mayor, do you see Texans` attitudes or approaches shifting here in the last few weeks, or is it too early to tell?

SMITH MCCOWAN: Well, I think it`s too early to tell.

We`re doing all we can to continue to educate the public. And we have just -- we have had great conversations with mayors in the North Texas region. And we have also been on calls on the statewide level, the national level with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

So, in Texas, all of us are stressing the -- and I would say, at least in my city -- I`m going to speak for my city and this region. We have been pretty consistent with stressing the importance of wearing masks.

MELBER: Right.

SMITH MCCOWAN: It is very important, social distancing, washing your hands, yes.

MELBER: Right.

And let me bring in the doctor on another piece that Dr. Fauci has spoken about today. We have we have heard from experts that some of these changes as it goes, and then the information changes.

This was Dr. Fauci today:


FAUCI: The data is showing that there is a single mutation that actually makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads.

We don`t have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible. But this is still at the stage of trying to confirm that.


MELBER: Doctor, is that the kind of thing we just need to keep an eye on, or does it actually affect people`s behaviors?

SCHAFFNER: Well, Ari, it`s certainly something that we need to keep an eye on, and it`s not the virus moving in a good direction.

If anything, the virus may become more transmissible. And that`s certainly not something we want.

MELBER: Understood. We certainly don`t want that.

Before I turn to the campaign politics of this, I want to thank the mayor and the doctor for kicking off our coverage with your expertise and what you`re learning and seeing on the ground. We appreciate both of you.

David Frum stays on the campaign side of this.

Take a look at what Chairman Powell has been saying, of course, technically a Trump appointee, supposed to be independent. He dropped this -- quote -- "The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain, and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus."

Well, David, everyone cares about the economy. It affects people`s lives. The president has said bluntly he cares about it for his reelection.

Mr. Powell, who knows a lot more about this that I would claim to, is yoking these together at a time where the virus is obviously, clearly, historically not under control.

Your reaction, and does this scare Trump for his reelection?

FRUM: There`s a tendency, I think, to overestimate how much of a strategic thinker the president is. He is impulsive.

President -- Joe Biden compared the president to a child who can`t believe this is happening to him. Donald Trump has always relied on magical thinking. That`s why he goes bankrupt so often. He doesn`t want to hear bad news. That`s what happened to him with the Russia bounty story. He just didn`t want to hear it.

Well, if you won`t hear bad news, you can`t act against bad news. So the president kept insisting there was a magical cure, on anti-malaria drug, or the virus would go away by itself, anything except him having to do his job.

And part of his job was to bring the country serious warnings, to unify the country, which again goes against his instinct, which is always to divide it, to pit one group against another.

Well, viruses are less bigoted than human beings. They jump from person to person without regard. We`re all -- in a viral pandemic, you are all in this together. And Donald Trump is never in this together with other people. He is always on behalf of his group against the other groups.

MELBER: Plainly stated and a lot to process here.

David Frum, thank you very much. Always good to see you, sir, and all of our guests.

FRUM: Thank you.

MELBER: I want to fit in a break because -- yes, sir.

We have got some special stuff coming up. I have two young people who actually have fought COVID and have warnings for their peer group, as we see this hit younger and younger groups. It`s a special Zoom interview we`re doing later tonight on the show.

Also, the Trump White House saying it will not take any public action against Russia in that new Russia scandal story about bounties. Special guests on that, including Maya Wiley.

And an associate of Jeffrey Epstein now indicted on charges linked to his alleged sex trafficking plot.

And if that doesn`t sound like enough, because, boy it`s a lot of stories, Tom Friedman also here tonight on THE BEAT.

I`m Ari Melber, and we will be right back.


MELBER: President Trump still under fire for his new Russia scandal, no public response to that country`s plot to pay bounties for the killing of U.S. troops.

Now, today, congressional leaders met with top intelligence officials about it, amidst reports words that Trump won`t respond because he doesn`t believe the reports are true.

We`re joined now by Natasha Bertrand, who has been reporting on this story, national security correspondent for Politico, and Maya Wiley, a former prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who has kept an eye on many things Russia, legal and otherwise for us.

Good to see both of you.



MELBER: Natasha, you have been reporting this out. Where are we in a story that has had so many turns?

BERTRAND: Yes, well, it remains to be seen.

The White House still has not formulated a real response to this. It`s unclear whether they will, because there are still a lot of gaps in what the intelligence community knows about this operation.

And while they have concluded, it seems, that the Russian GRU, the military intelligence agency, was indeed paying bounties to Taliban fighters of up to $100,000 per head, according to "The New York Times," they`re still unclear about the motives, for example, whether this might be revenge for the 2018 battle in Syria that killed off lot of Russian troops, or whether it might be an attempt to force the U.S. out of Afghanistan, and -- or whether it`s both.

And that, of course, is apparently going to impact the way that the U.S. responds. But the fact is that the president has known about this for at least a week now, given press reports, even if he didn`t know about it beforehand.

And he still has not issued a strong response or any response, really, to the reporting, and he has not really stood strong here in telling Russia, hey, cut it out.

So I think that`s what people are really waiting to see, is for the White House to stop responding to the fact of the leak and the fact this got out, and start responding to the actual substance of the reporting.

MELBER: Maya, take a listen to Speaker Pelosi on this today.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think the president should have been verbally briefed on it.

This is -- at the same time as the White House was aware of this threat to the security of our men and women in uniform, the president was still flirting with the idea of having Russia be part of the G8.


MELBER: Maya, it`s a hugely important story. At this point, it does risk devolving into a bit of a Washington version of the issue, the briefing, written vs. verbal.

What do you think is the core substance here, which, as Natasha points out, is now on the table? Even if you grant them some debate or confusion about the information flow, now he knew, and he`s not doing anything?

WILEY: Yes, I think the headline here is, if it involves Russia, see no evil, hear no evil, Americans get hurt, because the best face you can put on this is yet one more example of an administration led by a man who we know now, from the Roger Stone trial and from the release of some of the redacted material from the Mueller report, was actively asking and engaged with Roger Stone about whether he had tried -- whether he had talked to Julian Assange about what more was coming on Clinton e-mails, clearly seeking and looking for any support he could get from foreign governments in his election.

There`s no question that the pattern here is that Donald Trump wants to protect his relationships with Russia and with other dictators, quite frankly, if it suits his interests and needs, and is significantly less interested in whether or not there`s any danger to our democracy or to our people.

MELBER: Right.

It sounds really terrible when you say it like that. But it`s largely just factually evidentiary, based on what he does, what he says, what he won`t do, who he won`t stand up to.

And, Natasha, your reporting, I want to read a bit of that, because we have seen a lot of documentation of the phone calls he`s doing. He talks to Erdogan a lot. He likes talking to Putin, the G8 thing, as mentioned. It`s sort of like, this is -- for whatever he wants to deny it, these are the people that he`s choosing to prioritize and bend to.

And then you write, Natasha, Russia`s bounty flap also highlights other breakdowns in this administration. "Intelligence wouldn`t be included in the daily briefing, while simultaneously being considered too unreliable to brief the president orally about, because the assumption is the president will read the PDB."

To translate that, Natasha, how much of that just dovetails with Maya`s point that the people who are left working for Trump, be they political or career, know that he`s not going to hear it when it comes to Putin?

BERTRAND: Yes, so this is the issue, is that there`s essentially become this kind of two-tiered briefing system inside the White House, where you have the PDB, which includes a couple of -- probably a dozen articles per day that the president`s expected to read about major hot spots, about national security threats that just needs to be on his radar.

And then you have his intelligence briefer, who only has a few minutes with him every day, has very limited amount of time, especially given the president`s tendency to go off on tangents and kind of rant during these briefings. And they need to choose what to prioritize in that moment, so that the president can know, what is the most urgent thing that he needs to attend to that day in the realm of national security?

So, with regard to the Russian matters, his intelligence briefers have essentially internalized this notion that, if you bring up Russia around him, he`s just going to explode. He doesn`t want to hear anything about Russia. He doesn`t want to be second-guessed about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and whether or not that may have impacted the 2016 election.

And to that point, he`s already called this intel a hoax on Twitter. He has not actually said that he believes it and that he is working on it and that he is coming up with a response with his -- with the National Security Council, with his administration.

So this is more of a clear pattern of his intel agencies just really struggling to get through with him on this issue.

MELBER: As the saying goes, not good. It`s not good.

Natasha Bertrand, who has been reporting the story, I want to thank you for joining us.

Maya, stay for a minute.

Thank you, Natasha.

Maya Wiley, longtime viewers will know we have relied on you for your legal analysis, friend of THE BEAT. I appreciate your work, look up to you.

But now, because of the news out there, I have to ask you a question as a journalist, not as a colleague...


MELBER: ... because there have been reports in multiple outlets about some people discussing whether or not you might run for mayor of New York.

So, not as friend of Maya, but as journalist, I have to ask, do you have any comment on that? Are you considering running for mayor?

WILEY: Well, my first comment, Ari, is, I`m always going to consider you my friend, no matter how you behave.


WILEY: But -- but, seriously, I have been so overwhelmed by just the amount of support and kind words and outpouring I have gotten as a result of these news reports.

All I can say to you is, I am certainly exploring it. I am, because I have been extremely privileged to be to be asked by folks to think about it. And for me right now, the biggest issues for this city is whether or not we`re going to have a bold and transformative future, not one of tinkering, where we have leadership that`s really taking on and advancing the fundamental historical moment we`re in, which is to do history-making, not deal-making, so that this is a city we can all stay in, this is a city we can all live in.

It`s a city I love. And I`m going to be working hand in hand with people around this city as long as I live here in every possible way I can. ` So, thank you for being my friend, Ari.


MELBER: Well, so it sounds like, in your heart and in your gut, you`re -- you`re really seriously looking running?

WILEY: In my heart and my gut, I`m really serious about doing the work that this city needs done.

I have done it in many different roles, and I`m going to keep doing it in many different ways.

MELBER: Very interesting.

Obviously, I had to put the question to you. Appreciate the answer. And I suspect -- and we would welcome any and all mayoral candidates, obviously, to talk about whatever they might do -- but I suspect there are people out there very interested in the prospect, the potential of Mayor Wiley.

Thanks for coming on, as always, Maya.

WILEY: Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We`re going to fit in a break.

Donald Trump`s effect, meanwhile, though, on the global standing, the talk of travel bans, and why it`s boomeranging on him.

Special guest Tom Friedman when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s never exactly been known for public policy.

But the policy he`s most known for is probably hardline immigration tools like the wall. Trump insists the U.S. must protect itself from foreign dangers, but now his failure to curb this coronavirus has that very approach boomeranging on him.

Think about it. Other countries are now barring Americans at their borders, like European allies now banning some Americans because we don`t have the virus under control. That`s a real travel ban in Europe, while some protesters in Mexico making a similar point by blocking the border until there are better COVID screenings.

Trump`s own rhetoric haunting him, as his administration is now, yes, overseeing a population that does pose some medical risks to people in other countries.


TRUMP: Look, we have to have the wall. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in. And, in many cases, it`s contagious.

Now, was it Dr. Fauci or D.J. Khaled who said, congratulations, you played yourself, because that rhetoric there and that kind of talk and that rationale is what Donald Trump is facing overseas, because we have a time now where Americans are the ones subject to travel bans abroad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Eleni Kakalou, who`s treating COVID patients in Greece, told us she`s saddened by what she`s seen in the U.S.

DR. ELENI KAKALOU, GREECE: What is the job of the state? The job of the state is to keep its citizens alive.

QUESTION: Would you want to go back to the U.S. right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, no. And I`m not really going to put my kids in a place where I know that they`re at risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s incredibly smart. And it`s really just quite sad that the U.S. is on that list.


MELBER: I`m joined now by Thomas Friedman, "New York Times" foreign affairs columnist, journalist, author of the bestseller "Thank You For Being Late," among others, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Good evening, sir.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Good evening, Ari. Great to be with you.

MELBER: Tom, Donald Trump got his travel ban.

FRIEDMAN: It really is ironic that it`s now the world putting a wall around us.

But let`s go beyond the irony for a sec, Ari, and talk about why this is so important, obviously, for American business to engage with the world. It`s going to have long-term implications.

If there is one silver lining that we can see in this coronavirus, it`s going to be this. We live in an age now, Ari, where more people have the tools to innovate, to invent and create new things, cheaper tools and access through the cloud to massive computer power.

At the same time, the entire world is now facing this incredible challenge of a coronavirus. The amount of innovation that`s going to come out of this moment, it`ll be the equivalent of a war or an asteroid hitting the world.

This is exactly the time where we want all the H-1B visas, we want all the most energetic people, we want all the high-I.Q. innovators to be coming to our country. And just -- because there`s going to be massive innovation. You can see it already.

Think of just things you have done at MSNBC since this started, and then multiply it over the whole economy, as we go to e-learning and distance work and so many other things.

And so this is the time when we want more access to the best minds in the world, the most energetic minds in the world as well. And we find at this moment we`re a pariah for a lot of the world. And we`re actually, on top of that, telling the smartest people, the most energetic people, go home. Stay away. Get off our lawn.

MELBER: Yes, get off our lawn, when people don`t want us on their lawn.

And that`s -- I wonder, given how much you have tracked these things, and you have reported abroad and Middle East and other places, where we do know that it can become a cycle, where it feeds on itself on both sides. You have documented that.

I mean, just look at Canada, where we share this long border and things are usually pretty chill. But you see this "Washington Post" reporting. A majority of Canadians don`t want Americans let in; 24 percent of people in Quebec somewhat or strongly agree with the idea. In British Columbia, the figure was just 6 percent.

Well, how do you how do you deal with that, particularly when you could argue that some of that antipathy towards -- quote, unquote -- "America" is actually antipathy towards Donald Trump`s failed COVID response, not all Americans?

FRIEDMAN: What I`m going to answer you, Ari, really ties together the first half of your show with this half.

And I really only have one answer, and that is, vote for Joe Biden, drive someone to the polls to vote for Joe Biden. Canvass for Joe Biden. Raise money for Joe Biden, because none of this is going to change.

It`s only going to get by orders of magnitude worse if Trump has four more years. The only real response is a political response. This version of the Republican Party needs to be destroyed. We need a conservative party in this country. We need a principled conservative party in this country.

If we have that, we will have a -- I believe a more healthy liberal party. This version, this Trump version of the Republican Party has become a menace, is actually a public health menace.

And so, like, thinking he`s going to respond the right way between now and November, no, no. What we are doing, Ari, the way we are behaving, no one else in the world is behaving this way, not China, not Singapore, not South Korea, not Germany.

MELBER: Right. Right.

FRIEDMAN: We are not leading. We are not following. We are lost.

We are out somewhere in the Milky Way galaxy on a policy all our own. And the only way it`s going to change is not because Kayleigh McEnany, or whatever name is, decides to respond different, or Trump decide to respond different, or Republicans in the Senate caucus decide to respond different.

This only changes if Donald Trump is removed by the popular will of the American people, and this version of the Republican Party is crushed, I hope in a 50-state crushing, and then out of those ashes comes a principled conservative party.

That`s the only way this changes.

MELBER: Well, Tom -- Tom, there`s a lot of Tom Friedman readers out there over the years, and some watching the program tonight. This is a different Tom Friedman.

I mean, you were once considered "New York Times"` centrist, someone who would talk about, you need a Bush Sr. approach.

Has the Trump era -- my final question, has the Trump era made a resistance radical out of Tom Friedman?


FRIEDMAN: Yes, I mean, because what always motivated me, Ari, was my sense of what would work for the country. And I have always known this, that we have big, hard things to do.

And big, hard things can only be done together. And, right now, we do not have a president who is the least bit interested in mobilizing a national coalition, beyond his base to rise, to the challenge of this coronavirus, let alone all the other challenges we face down the road.

So, yes, that`s where I`m at.

MELBER: Hey, that`s where you`re at, straight up.

Tom Friedman, we always like hearing from you and your candor. And I appreciate you being on the program tonight, sir.

FRIEDMAN: My pleasure, Ari. Any time.

MELBER: Hey, thank you.

When we come back, a story we haven`t even had time to get to yet, and it is a big legal one. That Jeffrey Epstein case which dogged the Trump administration, well, now his longtime associate indicted in that related sex abuse plot probe.

Before we get to that, though, something I am so excited to share with you. We did this before. A lot of you guys said you liked it. We`re doing it again, a special Zoom conversation with real people and a doctor, digging into COVID -- when we come back.



MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT.

We often hear from experts and political people about the coronavirus. But, right now, we turn to people who`ve lived it, specifically some young people who are increasingly contracting this virus.

Like many these days, we`re going to go ahead and do this via Zoom.

I`m joined now by two people under 30 who got this virus.

Jonah Stillman just turned 21 and got sick after traveling abroad for work. Raven McGregor is 27 and got sick, she believes, after going to the gym. And we will get into whether there was enough social distancing. And we`re also joined by Dr. Uche Blackstock, an emergency medical physician who does clinical work at a Brooklyn urgent care center. She also works with Advancing Health Equity, where she was a founder, and partners with health organizations on equitable care.

Thanks to all of you for doing this.



MELBER: Raven, how did you get the virus? And were you surprised?

RAVEN MCGREGOR, CORONAVIRUS SURVIVOR: I think that I got the virus when I was at the gym, and I was really surprised. I did not think that I was going to get sick.

I kind of thought I was immune because I was young.

MELBER: You felt immune because you were young. And does that mean you weren`t necessarily always following the different guidelines?

MCGREGOR: I`d say so.

I basically stayed at the gym until the governor mandated that it was closed. So, I really wasn`t doing what I needed to do in the beginning to not get sick.

I first lost my taste and smell, and that wasn`t even a symptom at the time. So I just thought I had a sinus infection. And then, a few days later, I had the shortness of breath. I had the high temperature of 103.

I decided to go to the emergency room and have a chest X-ray, and there was some fluid in my lungs. So it definitely was way worse than I even expected the virus to be, honestly.

MELBER: How about you, Jonah?

STILLMAN: Yes, a lot of my symptoms were honestly pretty similar. I lost my smell and taste for over a month. That was one of my first symptoms, along with scratchy throat and a cough.

But, yes, my symptoms, I had a high fever for about 10 days, was relatively sick. And I`m not someone that gets sick very often. But it was not a pleasant experience, and I don`t wish it on anyone.

MELBER: So, a question to Jonah and then Raven.

What do you say to other people who, like you, are in their 20s and think, I don`t need to follow every rule, and, if I get it, it won`t be that bad?


STILLMAN: I would say, you`re wrong. I had it. It was not pleasant. I was definitely very sick.

You`re not immune. You`re not -- it`s not impossible to get it. There`s reasons and guidelines, these restrictions for a reason, and we have a responsibility to follow those to an extent.

MELBER: So, Raven, if someone in their 20s like you says, if I get it, it won`t be that bad, you say?

MCGREGOR: I would say very much the same thing that Jonah said.

We are not immune. We can get very sick. But we also have to think about others, right? So, you could get over it, but you could pass it to someone else that could die.

And, to me, that matters more. So, let`s not be selfish. Let`s wear our mask. Let`s do what we`re supposed to do to make sure that we stay healthy and that we don`t get others sick, and try to keep everyone else healthy too.

MELBER: Dr. Blackstock?


No, I think they are both bringing up such excellent points. I think, initially, in the pandemic, the data we were getting from China, we were getting this message that it was mostly elderly people who were affected.

But now we`re seeing, especially with the reopening, like, over half the cases are people under 40 years old. And so, when you have this many young people infected, they actually can infect other people, as Raven pointed out.

And so that is really the danger. And these young people can actually get sick, as your other guests have shown. And they can even get hospitalized and end up in the intensive care unit.

I actually have taken care of a number of these young people. And that was the scary part. I think this virus is incredibly unpredictable. I had young people even in their 20s with no medical problems coming into my urgent care with low oxygen blood levels because of coronavirus.

MELBER: Raven, what portion of your friends, roughly, it appears, are following the rules?

MCGREGOR: I`d say maybe half and half. I have these friends that know that I was really sick from it. And now if they see me, like, walking somewhere, or like going somewhere to eat, they`re like, why are you going out? Like, this is still really bad.

So I have those friends that take it very seriously. And then I have friends that just aren`t taking it seriously at all. I think everyone`s tired of being inside. So, the weather is nice here in North Carolina. People are going out on boats and having fun.

So, I have those friends that are like, I`m not going anywhere, and I have those friends that are like, you know what? We`re going out. We`re tired of being inside. So, yes, half and half.

STILLMAN: Actually, if I can jump in there, what -- the biggest change that I saw, actually, is when I have it, and I told my friends, similar to what Raven said, is, once they knew I was sick, that kind of -- my close inner circle took it more seriously.

MELBER: Now, Doctor, I have an easy question for you.

Raven said half and half. Is half and half good enough?

BLACKSTOCK: No, actually, not good enough.

No, we need everyone to take this seriously. And I think that what we have seen it other countries that have really contained the virus very well, everyone got on board, and with wearing masks, and physical distancing.

And that`s what we`re really going to need to do to see any progress over the next few months.

MELBER: Dr. Blackstock, Jonah Stillman, and Raven McGregor, thanks to each of you for joining our special Zoom interview today.

STILLMAN: Thank you.

MCGREGOR: Thank you.


MELBER: And when we come back: Jeffrey Epstein`s associate indicted on criminal sex charges.


MELBER: Major legal news.

A close associate of Jeffrey Epstein indicted today on six counts related to his alleged sex trafficking ring. Ghislaine Maxwell was by Epstein`s inside for many decades.

The charges include perjury, as well as enticing minors into alleged illegal sexual acts.


AUDREY STRAUSS, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Maxwell was among Epstein`s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old.

Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse. In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.


MELBER: The federal indictment details disturbing allegations of Maxwell`s role in Epstein`s alleged sex trafficking, saying she would try to normalize -- quote -- "sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein" -- end quote.

Prosecutors call Maxwell an extreme flight risk. They are seeking to have her held incarcerated until trial.

They also cite three passports and -- get this -- over $20 million in different bank accounts. Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing in connection with this case previously.

We should note, of course, Epstein was believed to have committed suicide in jail before his looming trial last year.

It`s a big story.

Meanwhile, the top Manhattan federal prosecutor, which Trump fired, is actually going to speak out to Congress. We have the update on that related story next.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s Justice Department and William Barr have had all kinds of controversies. And here`s an update on one aspect today from Capitol Hill.

The House Judiciary Committee says that ousted SDNY attorney Geoffrey Berman, that top federal prosecutor in New York, has now agreed to a closed-door interview next week. So we`re going to get a lot more on this soon.

Berman had been investigating Trump associates and finances. He ultimately resigned last month, which came after very public pressure from Attorney General William Barr.

As we noted on this program, the attorney general made a very rare move to announce that Berman was resigning. Berman then said that wasn`t true, effectively accusing the attorney general of being misleading or lying about it.

So, there is a lot to get into. We`re going to keep a close eye on that closed-door session. I think anyone who watches Congress knows, sometimes, we get a fair amount of leaks, clues and even follow-up action from those closed-door meetings. A lot riding on it for Attorney General Barr.

So, that`s an update I wanted to bring you.

One more thing before we go. Sometimes, we work for days or weeks on special reports that then we try to bring you. If you have watched THE BEAT before, you may have seen one from time to time.

We have been working very hard, our whole team, on something very special that we`re going to debut on tomorrow night`s show. So, if you happen to be a regular viewer or you`re watching right now waiting for another program, I urge you to consider coming back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

We have a special report on the history of police brutality in America, what we can do about it, what we can learn from it.

That`s tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern on THE BEAT.