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Taliban bounties TRANSCRIPT: 6/29/20, MSNBC LIve

Guests: Sean Patrick Maloney, Donna Edwards

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: It will be interesting to see how many people get together on that task in the months ahead. And that`s it for us, I`ll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 P.M. eastern. And right now, keep it right here on MSNBC.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki on a busy Monday evening.

Nearly a dozen states now have rolled back their reopening plans amid surging coronavirus cases. And some of the president`s advisers are warning him of the need for, quote, sweeping changes to his re-election campaign in order to avoid defeat in November. We will get to all of that.

But, we start tonight with bipartisan calls for answers from the White House over a report, parts of which NBC News has now confirmed that Russian intelligence officers offered to pay bounties to Taliban-affiliated fighters who kill Americans in Afghanistan. That is according to U.S. intelligence. One official told NBC that, quote, American service members died as a result of Russian payments to the Taliban. But other officials said the intelligence has not been corroborated.

The New York Times, which broke the story late Friday, also reported that, quote, the intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and one official said that it was, quote, included in the presidents` daily brief. That`s a top-secret document that is prepared for Trump each morning. According to The Times, the White House has not authorized any action in response to Moscow.

Now, NBC has not confirmed whether the president was briefed on this matter. And Trump this weekend claimed that he was never told of these reported Russian bounties. He did indicate that intelligence related to this does exist but tweeted last night, quote, intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible and therefore did not report it to me or the vice president. Possibly another fabricated Russia hoax.

However, a spokeswoman for -- a spokesman for the National Security Council said that, quote, the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated. And that was a line that was echoed today by White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who also backed up the president`s contention that he`d had no knowledge of the intelligence, but she didn`t say whether it was included in any of his daily briefing documents.


REPORTER: How could the president not be briefed on the Russian bounty story? Was he out of the loop by his own intelligence community?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. As I noted, there was not a consensus among the intelligence community. And, in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community, and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.

REPORTER: Does the president have a specific message for Moscow given these reports?

MCENANY: A specific message for Moscow? No, because he has not been briefed on the matter.

REPORTER: You say that he wasn`t briefed. Does that mean it wasn`t in the PDB either?

MCENANY: He was not personally briefed on the matter. That is all I can share with you today.


KORNACKI: Now, with the details still murky, Republican lawmakers, including Congresswoman Liz Cheney, have publicly voiced some concerns. Cheney was among a group of House Republicans that were briefed at the White House on this matter today.

And I am joined now by Courtney Kube, Pentagon and National Security Correspondent for NBC News. Courtney, thank you for joining us. Let me start with this. When it comes to what our National Security professionals in this country know here solidly, feel they have solid on this, where does that stand? What do they think they know solidly?

COURTNEY KUBE, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Okay. So this is one of the problems with this story. It`s been incredibly difficult to report, as a lot of intelligence and national security stories are. But this one, what is becoming clear is that there is not a consensus among the I.C., and the intelligence community. And, basically, what that means is there are some people in the community who feel that this intelligence was very strong and had been corroborated, and there are others who didn`t feel it was quite as cooked when they found out about it. And I think that`s why we`re getting so many dissenting opinions on it.

What we do know is there was this intelligence that came in several months ago that of some effort by Russia to provide money to the Taliban to go after U.S. and potentially coalition service members in Afghanistan. We know that some money was exchanged, the word, and that`s where things start to get a little bit murky depending on who you speak with. Was, in fact, money exchanged and American kills or coalition service members actually killed as part of this bounty program? That`s going to be incredibly, incredibly difficult to prove, the forensics of that.

I mean, think about it. You can`t go back and look through the Taliban bank account and figure out if money that came directly from Russia was deposited and was directly used to purchase weapons or for any kind of a planning in an attack that resulted in the death or even injuries of any coalition or American service members. That`s going to be really tough to prove, and that`s one of the things that we`re getting, again, some dissenting opinion on.

What is clear now and what we`ve been learning late today is that there is an ongoing investigation into what the intelligence showed and what may have happened. Did, in fact, Russia -- were they able to pay this money to the Taliban and was the Taliban actually able to carry out these successful operations on behalf of Russia?

We have to point out too, Steve, that, you know, the Taliban was already attacking U.S. and coalition service members. That just adds another layer of difficulty to this, is how do you prove that, in fact, they were carrying something out on behalf of Russia here.

KORNACKI: Right. So let me pick up on that point because we mentioned there were Republicans, a group of Republicans who met at the White House today and were briefed on this. There are Democrats, there`s a group of Democrats who will be briefed tomorrow morning. Two of the Republicans who were part of that meeting today, Michael McCaul, Adam Kinzinger, they released this statement. They said in a statement just a short while ago. They informed us there is an ongoing review, this is what you`re talking about, to determine the accuracy of these reports. And we believe it is important to let this review take place before any retaliatory actions are taken.

What do you know about this review? Who was conducting it? Is there a timetable on it? And you`re talking about how difficult it potentially would be to prove any of this. Is it seem likely that it`s going to land in a very nebulous place?

KUBE: So I`ve spoken with several people who are familiar with this review. We don`t have a lot of details about exactly who`s conducting it other than it`s being led by, we believe, the DNI and the intelligence community. But who else is taking part of it, we don`t quite know yet.

One of the people I spoke with though seemed very confident that this was going to get to the bottom of it and it was going to get to the bottom of it quickly. That after this review, they would be able to say with confidence whether this intelligence that came in and when the intelligence community was able to develop it, how strong it was, and it will give us a good sense of what exactly Russia and the Taliban were able to accomplish here.

You know, there`s another point that has sort of been lost in all of this, but Russia has been providing the Taliban with money and weapons for years in Afghanistan. We`ve known that. In fact, it goes back to the Obama administration. This is not a surprise.

What`s different here and why this has surprised so many people, these allegations and these revelations, is, if they were -- some at times, there was the belief that Russia was doing this to -- so the Taliban would battle ISIS, to keep ISIS out of Russia and to keep them somewhat contained up towards the north and eastern parts of the country. But if, in fact, they were doing it and with the express intent of going after Americans and going after coalition, then that adds an entire different element of seriousness to this discussion. That`s what we`re hoping that we get some kind of clarity on here, Steve.

KORNACKI: And, Courtney, we are short on time but, quickly, because this is an important point, I just want to get you on this. Whether the president knew about this before these reports, you have his spokeswoman today saying he wasn`t told but seeming with the language to leave open the possibility. It was in this briefing document. What is your understanding of whether the president had any knowledge of this, of the intelligence community looking into this, before these reports over the weekend?

KUBE: So, we just don`t know, but we do know a couple of facts here. One is raw intelligence, especially something at this level of significance, does make its way into the presidential daily briefing. But we also know from a number of officials who have been part of the briefing process since President Trump came into office that he doesn`t necessarily read his PDB, that there is a part where that is verbally briefed to him and he would listen to that.

But if it`s not actually verbally briefed to him, as some raw intelligence may not be, that may be where this fine line that the White House is walking on this, that they can say, you know, well, he didn`t actually hear it, and he didn`t actually read it, so he wasn`t briefed on it even if there was an intent to provide him with the information.

If that`s the case, then the question becomes, if the briefer thought that it was significant enough to put it in the PDB, why not mention it to the president as well? These are questions -- I mean right now it`s very much a he said/she said. The New York Times has definitely, they was the first one to report the president was briefed on it. They are standing behind their reporting, and the White House is pretty firmly backing off -- or pushing back on the idea that he was told about it but not really addressing whether it was in any kind of a written form to him.

KORNACKI: Okay, interesting. So there does seem to be a little area maybe in the middle that Venn diagram. Courtney Kube, thank you for joining us. I appreciate that.

And meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the president of ignoring the threat posed by Russia.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score.

The president wants to ignore any allegation against Russia.

He would think that the minute the president heard of it, he would want to know more and instead of denying that he knew anything.


KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York. Congressman, thank you for joining us.

The speaker there is saying that the president refusing -- criticizing the president, she says, for refusing to confront Russia over this. In your view, you sit on the intelligence community, is there enough intelligence right now for the president of the United States to confront Russia on this?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Well, look, I have been down in the SCIF for the last few hours getting up to speed on the intelligence, and I can`t comment on it obviously, so I can`t give a direct answer to your question. But what I can tell you is that the allegations, as reported in The New York Times, are extremely serious, and the White House has not answered effectively or to my satisfaction what the president knew, when he knew it.

And he was clearly derelict. Either he should have known about it and didn`t because he doesn`t read or he doesn`t listen, or he`s lying about it.

But the point is, is that there are allegations in The New York Times that Russia is paying people to kill our troops. That`s a serious issue. I don`t care what political party you`re in. And I think that`s why you`ve seen people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and other Republicans speak up today and say, we need answers.

KORNACKI: Well, so speaking of Adam Kinzinger, one of your Republican colleagues there in the House of Representatives, he and Michael McCaul put a statement out a short while ago. We read from a little bit of it. They were part of that briefing at the White House just a few hours ago. They said that there is an investigation that`s under way right now, they say, to determine the accuracy of these reports. They say they want to let that investigation play out. Is that your understanding, that there is an investigation, there is a process that`s in place and playing out right now to determine the veracity of this?

MALONEY: Yes. We have a process. It`s called the United States Intelligence Community. You don`t have investigations. You have assessments by intelligence agencies, and they are ongoing. So I don`t know what that means. But when Dan Crenshaw, a decorated veteran, says, we need answers, and he`s a Republican, I think it tells you how that`s going.

By the way, that briefing was a partisan briefing today. Since when do we brief congressional leaders by party on intelligence matters? And if I can just say, Steve, you know, I wear a different hat on this. I was White House Staff Secretary under the Clinton administration, so I know how classified information goes to the president. I did it for three years of my life. Every document is stamped, the President has seen, and it`s dated and a record is kept. This isn`t some guessing game. There`s going to be a detailed record of exactly what the president saw and when he saw it.

KORNACKI: Well, is it your sense -- I think what I`m asking here is, is your sense that the assessment, the ongoing assessment -- we just had Courtney Kube on saying folks she`s talking to, there`s some skepticism about whether that`s something that can ever be proven. Is your sense that this is something the intelligence community could track down and give a definitive yes/no on?

MALONEY: What I can tell you without getting into classified information is that we do that all the time. Maybe it`s not a definitive yes/no, but you will say, this is an assessment with high confidence, or here are the sources it`s based on, or here`s the reporting, or here`s the countervailing information that might make you be concerned that it`s not accurate.

The point being that these are highly serious allegations, you get these assessments from the intelligence community from time to time, and when they are explosive, like the Russians are paying intermediaries to kill our troops, it gets your attention, let me just tell you.

And I think the White House is all over the place on this, and the president has claimed ignorance, and I guess incompetence is now an excuse. And I wish my Republican colleagues would stay on track and hold his feet to the fire because all of us should care if the Russians are paying people to kill our troops.

KORNACKI: If it`s true, what`s the proper response?

MALONEY: Oh, I think everything is on the table. I think you have to have an absolutely, absolutely aggressive response by the United States. And what we should not do is we should not be inviting Russia back into the G8, which is what the president has been doing while these reports allegedly were coming to him. And that is inexplicable, as the speaker said.

KORNACKI: What about as diplomatic, what about a military response?

MALONEY: Look, I`m not going to get ahead of what is known publicly. What I can tell you is that the Russians need to get the message that it is not okay to target our forces, period. And we need to get together with our allies on this because these are coalition forces, not just U.S. forces, the reporting suggests. And there ought to be a coordinated and forceful response. This is as serious as it gets.

KORNACKI: All right, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat from New York, thank you for the time. I appreciate it.

And as we mentioned, there are several Republicans who have publicly expressed concerned about this reporting. Yesterday, Congresswoman Liz Cheney tweeted, quote, if reporting about Russian bounties on U.S. forces is true, the White House must explain, one, why weren`t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? That`s that daily briefing. Who did know and when? And, three, what has been done in response to protect our forces and hold Putin accountable?

Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas, he`s a veteran, he agreed saying this. We need answers. And Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina today said, quote, if intelligence reports are verified that Russia or any other country is placing bounties on American troops, then they need to be treated as a state sponsor of terrorism.

I am joined now by Noah Rothman, the Associate Editor at Commentary Magazine. Noah, thank you for joining us.

Let me ask you first about your perspective on this question of what exactly the president knew here. We have the White House insisting he wasn`t told anything, seeming to leave open the possibility this was in the presidential daily briefing. What is your sense of that question?

NOAH ROTHMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. The reporting that we`ve been privy to suggests that this was in the intelligence briefing. I have no reason to doubt that. There is a reasonable explanation for why you wouldn`t be hearing about this from the president or the White House, and that was illustrated by Courtney, which is that the intelligence is anything but rock solid here. And the last thing you would like to do in this situation is to prosecute these allegations, as serious as they are, and without incontrovertible evidence suggesting that these events actually happened.

Well, that`s going to open yourself up to two problems. One, a significant embarrassment for the administration and the nation if they can`t be proven or rather, even discounted, and, two, the prospect of an international incident with a near peer nuclear power spiraling in directions that we can no longer control.

What you`d like to do is adjudicate this covertly, in so far as you can, to interdict these events, to stop these events, to collect intelligence on these events, and then to perhaps prosecute a covert response that avoids the kind of escalatory tactics we would have to engage in if this was a public dispute with Moscow.

KORNACKI: I think hanging over this is that whole issue of the president and his posture toward Russia, more specifically Vladimir Putin. There was that time the two of them, of course, got together in Helsinki, all sorts of criticism that ensued. We show that statement from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. She seems to suggest that there is and there would be, if all of this intelligence were to be proven true and verified, that there would be a reluctance on the president`s part to act on it. What do you think of that charge?

ROTHMAN: It`s entirely possible, but we haven`t had a lot of evidence to suggest that the president -- rather his administration is reluctant to pull the trigger on covert operations that degrade Russia`s capacity to engage in these kinds of destabilizing activities.

The president himself has a rhetorical habit of going out for bat to bat for Vladimir Putin, and he`s had every opportunity to be disabused of the notion that Russia is a positive actor on the world stage. Just recently as last year, I believe, he was set on inviting Russia back to the G8.

As the congressman said previously in your previous segment, isolating Russia is long overdue. We don`t need evidence that this plot is true or verified in order to pursue that course of action. Russia has been an irresponsible, irredentist actor on the world stage, seizing an annexing territory in Europe for the first time in 1945. This alone should be enough to render Russia a pariah state. We don`t need more evidence to support that conclusion.

Nevertheless, these new allegations are very serious. If they do require retaliatory response, it must be proportionate. And in order to pursue that response, we need the kind of information that only civilian review can provide, and that is the province of Congress, specifically the House Intelligence Committee led by Democrats.

KORNACKI: All right. Noah Rothman from Commentary Magazine, Noah, thank you for joining us.

And coming up, a new tone from the White House on the pandemic as new hotspots develop across the country.


DR. ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The window is closing. We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social distance. We need to wear our face coverings if we`re in setting where we can`t social distance, particularly in these hot zones.


KORNACKI: How bad could this get? What is on the horizon when it comes to vaccines and treatments?

Plus, with the president lagging in all the national polls, some of his advisers are reportedly pushing for sweeping changes in his campaign and a different, clearer message. Will he shift gears in time?

Much more ahead, stay with us.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in nearly 30 states, after the U.S. hit a new record last week for daily infections three days in a row.

Notably, though, in many states where case numbers are quickly rising right now, the death rate remains relatively flat. Whether it will stay this way, obviously, is a key question.

A number of states in the South and West including Arizona, Texas, California, and a number of other states throughout the South and West are seeing a rise not just in cases, but also in the positive rate and the hospitalization rate.

And just moments ago, the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, announced that he is ordering the closure of bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters, and water parks for at least the next 30 days because of the virus.

Across the country, there is much more widespread testing available now than a month ago, but that only accounts for some of the rise in cases. "The New York Times" notes that -- quote -- "Broadened testing is revealing not only more total cases, but also a higher rate of positive cases."

Data also shows that coronavirus cases are on the rise among young adults in particular.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that, while this is good news, risk does remain.


DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: There`s some comfort in the fact that it`s younger people, but what starts in the young doesn`t stay in the young. Younger people have parents, uncles, nephews. They go out to places to buy food, and we`re going to see increasing spread.


KORNACKI: And for more, I`m joined by Dr. John Torres, MSNBC medical correspondent, and Colonel Jennifer Ratcliff, an orthopedic surgeon and commander of the 927th Aerospace Medicine Squadron based at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. She was deployed to help with the coronavirus in New York City.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Dr. Torres, let me start with you.

Looking at the stories coming out, I see Arizona, Texas, California, elsewhere, rising cases, rising positive rate. A lot of people are having flashbacks to March and April, in the New York metro area in particular.

We saw how bad it got there. What you`re seeing now in some of these hot spots in the South and West, how does it compare to what we saw in the worst days, towards -- getting towards the worst days in New York, in the New York metro area?

DR. JOHN TORRES, NBC NEWS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, luckily, we`re not at that point yet that we were in New York just a few months ago, when it was the epicenter of the pandemic here in the United States, but that doesn`t mean we`re not going to get to that point.

And what has happened is, you know, we have come up on the curve, plateaued the curve, and started to come down. But now, unfortunately, that curve is starting to go up again. So, we`re not even out of the first wave yet. And that`s the big concern.

We knew, once things started reopening, that there would be more cases. We were worried that those spikes would start turning into outbreaks. And that looks like exactly what is happening in certain parts of the country.

And part of this has to do with the fact that people aren`t doing those things that we know can keep everybody else safe as well, the masks, the social distancing, the small group gatherings.

And that`s why you`re seeing these governors start to close down some of the reopenings, to try and keep it under control, because the important thing is, if this doesn`t keep under control -- and Secretary Azar just mentioned it -- that it`s one of those things that, if we don`t keep it under control over the next couple of weeks, then it`s going to turn more into a wildfire.

And it could revert back to where we were a few months ago, which none of us really want to get to again, Steve.

KORNACKI: Dr. Ratcliff, let me bring you in.

You have an interesting perspective on it. And you`re doing heroic work here. Thank you for the work you`re doing.

You were in New York City for this time we`re talking about, when things were exploding. You`re back down in Florida now, where the cases are rising. Can you compare the two experiences?

COL. JENNIFER RATCLIFF, COMMANDER, 927TH AEROSPACE MEDICINE SQUADRON: I can say -- Steve, first, thanks for having me. I appreciate taking part in your program.

But I can say that, before I went to New York City, I was a little bit, I don`t know -- I didn`t know if this disease was as real, should we take it as seriously, until I got into New York City. And immediately upon arriving to the city to see how that the city had changed, there was really no one on the streets, the city was shut down, but the people were in the hospital.

American citizens were very sick in these hospitals in New York City. So, the question that was always asked to me, is this disease real, and 100 percent, it`s real. It makes people very sick. A lot of people lost their parents, their grandparents, their brothers, their sisters, their children.

And, absolutely, all of us need to take this disease seriously.

KORNACKI: Dr. Torres, as we talk about this rise in cases, some new hot spots, there was also this today. This is an important issue that`s being decided at the state and local levels throughout the country right now when it comes to reopening schools in the fall.

And the American Academy of Pediatricians put out a statement today urging the reopening of schools. They said: "The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in- person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020."

Doctor, what they`re saying is, incredibly negative impact on children from not having in-person learning. They`re also saying there is a low risk in that population of very young children that makes this worth it. What`s your assessment of a situation like that?

TORRES: And, Steve, you`re right, there is a low risk in that population, but because -- just because they`re at low risk doesn`t mean they`re not going to necessarily put other people at risk, especially the more vulnerable.

And we know that it can spread a symptomatically. And that`s one of the big concerns. But we also know that children need to get back to school, their social development, their academic development, extremely important that they get that under way.

But the bottom line here, Steve, is, we can do these things. We can reopen, we can get students back to school, and we can do it safely. But we need to make sure we do it safely. And that`s not just the public health experts. That`s not just the government come in mandating things, but that`s the individuals, the communities saying, this is what we need to do.

And, as a nation, if we come together, and everybody wears masks, everybody social distances, we are going to get this epidemic, this pandemic under control. And that`s the thing people need to understand. We can do both. It`s not binary one or the other. We can open and be safe. We just need to make sure we do it right, Steve.

KORNACKI: Want to take a closer look here at the situation in Florida. We have been talking about the rising cases, talking about the Miami area, where some of the reopening, it being rolled back here.

The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, offered this explanation for the rise of new cases in Florida. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Half the cases are in their early 30s or below. And then of the ones that are over that, there`s a huge bulk of them in their late 30s and in their 40s. So it`s been a real significant shift in terms of who`s testing, who`s testing positive and who`s testing positive at the higher rates.

But I think it`s something that can be dealt with by just doing -- taking some basic precautions.


KORNACKI: Dr. Ratcliff, I think the governor said the median age of these new infections in Florida is 36 right now. Does that -- is that your experience? Is that what you`re seeing on the ground there?

And, again, is that different when it comes specifically to hospitals than what you saw in New York?

RATCLIFF: In New York, it was mostly an older population of people that were sick.

This disease mostly affects people that are very sick prior to getting COVID. It just can make them much sicker. But the concern is not so much who gets the disease and doesn`t have symptoms. Honestly, that`s the biggest problem with COVID, is, there`s so many people that spread this disease before they`re symptomatic.

And it`s the asymptomatic people that we really have to be cautious about, because they`re the ones that think, it`s OK, I don`t have to wear my face mask, I don`t have a symptom, and they go visit their grandparents in a nursing home. And that`s exactly what we have to be worried about.

It`s really the younger population that`s out and about right now. They`re really the ones that have to protect themselves, so they can protect the rest of the citizens and their family.

KORNACKI: Yes, Dr. Torres, is there a way -- you were talking about, reopening can be done.

Is there some sort of practical -- are some practical lessons emerging here about targeting this? Dr. Ratcliff mentions nursing homes, the risk of somebody going into a nursing home?

Also, I`m seeing -- I saw New Jersey today was scheduled to begin allowing indoor dining this week. They decided, no, they think specifically indoor dining, specifically indoor restaurants are a particular risk here.

What are we learning about being able to maybe target the reopening policies that way?

TORRES: You`re right, Steve. And that`s going to be the new paradigm shift that`s going to go forward, I believe, is the targeting here, the -- trying to keep things reopened, but making sure that we get these spikes in cases under control.

And the more vulnerable, the nursing homes, like Colonel Ratcliff was talking about, the elderly in certain areas, those that are more vulnerable. We will be protecting them. And that means shutting those units down. Maybe you can`t visit your grandparents or anybody in a nursing home.

At the same time, if we start having spikes in cases, as in the bars and restaurants, like they`re doing, saying, nothing inside. Let`s put it outside. These are things we can do to keep it under control, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, Dr. John Torres and Colonel Jennifer Ratcliff, thank you both for being with us. Appreciate that.

And up next, we`re going over to the Big Board. Getting kind of close to the presidential election here. We`re talking about trouble in the Trump campaign. What do the numbers say?

Taking a look right after this.


KORNACKI: All right, the start of a new week.

We move closer and closer to Election Day 2020, or maybe -- maybe we call an election week, election month now. It`s going to be a slow count in November.

But November 3 is the big day, when it all gets under way. And we are getting closer. So, where does the Trump-Biden race stand?

Let me give you a couple ways of looking at this. First of all, this is the bottom line right now. This is the average of all the national polls that are out there right now. RealClearPolitics keeps this. And there you go, Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by more than nine points.

And if that looks like a lot, you ask yourself, well, how does that compare to recent presidential elections? Well, take a look here -- 9.2, that`s the lead here for Biden over Trump right now.

Let`s take a look at this exact same point, this exact same number of days before the election for recent presidential elections. That 9.2, how does that compare to where this race was in 2016? Well, it was exactly half of that. It was 4.6 for Hillary Clinton.

Now, remember, Hillary Clinton didn`t win the presidential election in 2016, but she did receive the most popular votes. That`s what you`re measuring here in the head-to-head polling. She won the popular vote by about two points. So, she did slip from this point to the end of the campaign, but not by as much as you might think there, because she didn`t win the election, by a couple of points, OK?

Take a look at 2012. Barack Obama was about three points ahead. That`s pretty close to what he won the election by over Mitt Romney. 2008, Obama at this point was nearly seven points up ahead of John McCain. That`s pretty close to what Barack Obama won the election by.

And in 2004, the incumbent President George W. Bush was about 2.5 points over John Kerry. That`s pretty close to what he won the election by.

So, really, when you take a snapshot of this moment in the past, you didn`t see a ton of movement. You see a couple points in Clinton`s case, and you didn`t see much there in those other two. What it was now is kind of close to what it turned out as.

So there`s room for this one to move, but compared to recent elections, this has got to move a lot for Trump. Remember, he doesn`t have to win the popular vote necessarily, but he`s probably got to get this down to under four points or so. So it`s got to move a lot for Trump.

Hey, it has been a wild, crazy year, obviously, so there`s volatility here. Maybe things could. But 9.2 is a lot more at this point than we have seen in the past.

And one other way of looking at this. Incumbent presidents going back 40 years -- go back to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Where were they in their approval rating at this exact same point?

Pretty easy here. These two, Clinton and Reagan, they were both reelected. They were both over 50 percent at this point. These two, as we just said, Bush, Obama, they were reelected in close, close races, both at 47 percent.

You see Trump, he is sitting between the two who were narrowly reelected, and the two who lost pretty decisively, Carter and H.W. Bush. And there`s Trump. He`s sitting there 41 percent. Actually, that is where Bush was at this point. Bush`s numbers dropped to the high 20s in the next few months.

We will see. Does Trump -- do Trump`s numbers move in that direction, or do they move in this direction? Going to find out.

Still ahead: breaking down some of the reasons why. We`re showing you here the trouble for President Trump`s campaign, some of the reasons why.

There`s new reporting that advisers want -- quote -- "sweeping changes" and Trump himself thinks he`s losing.

We`re back after this.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

There are multiple reports that there are concerns going all the way to the top of the Trump campaign about his prospects in the November election. According to "Politico", President Trump, quote, knows he`s losing. Quote, the president has privately come to that grim realization in recent days amid a mountain of bad polling and warnings from some of his staunchest allies that he`s on course to be a one-term president.

"The Washington Post" reports that his campaign is scrambling to revive his re-election effort with some allies pushing for a major overhaul. Quote, including the idea of a major staff shake-up and trying to convince the president to be more disciplined in his message and behavior.

The report adds this, quote, Trump`s advisers and allies have grown frustrated with some of the president`s incendiary and divisive behavior and comments in recent weeks.

Trump has responded to the turmoil by emphasizing his nativist and base instincts, attempting to rally his core supporters through controversial comments and tweets. That was certainly the case for the president on Twitter this past weekend, and that`s coming up next.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

After a wave of recent polls showing the president trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, "The Washington Post" reports that Trump`s campaign is urging a major shake-up and, quote, trying to convince the president to be more disciplined in his message and behavior.

But Trump spent much of the weekend tweeting and re-tweeting incendiary material. On Sunday, he quote-tweeted a video showing a supporter, a man in a golf cart with Trump campaign gear, shouting the words "white power." The tweet was removed from his feed hours later.

Today, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump did not hear those words but only saw the enthusiasm of his supporters.

In new reporting tonight, "The Washington Post" details how the tweet set off a scramble inside the White House, noting as soon as the tweet posted yesterday morning, senior advisers say they immediately realized they had a problem.

And for more, I`m joined by Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "The Washington Post", Donna Edwards, former Maryland Democratic congresswoman, and Carlos Curbelo, former Florida congressman.

Thank you all for joining us.

Well, Ashley, we bring up your reporting. Right there, this tweet got a lot of attention. If anybody was on social media yesterday, they probably saw it. Take us through what was happening inside the White House when they saw it.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure. So the tweet posted around 7:40 a.m. Sunday morning, and as soon as it posted, the president`s advisers began reacting because they realized they had a problem. The tweet basically went viral. It was condemned as racist, and so they started calling one another, and they finally got in touch with President Trump.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the president. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, spoke with him, and they all conveyed their concerns about the tweet. The president, they said, claimed that he watched the video but did not hear the shout of "white power."

But that the thing that swayed was when aides showed him when Republican Senator Tim Scott had said on the Sunday shows, which was basically that the tweet was unacceptable and the best thing to do was delete it and take it down quickly.

The final thing I will add is when the White House did delete the tweet, the president and his team never actually condemned that language. Kayleigh McEnany in the briefing today was not specifically asked about it. It was kind of shouted after her, but I was told that she came equipped with a bullet-pointed list where had she been asked, she was prepared to condemn it in the briefing room and was also going to try to turn it back on Democrats and cite what she believed was racially problematic behavior and associations with some of the Democrats, including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

KORNACKI: Carlos Curbelo, let me pick up on that with you. I want to ask you about Republican-elected officials, whether it`s your former colleagues in the House, senators, governors, elected officials around the country, their reaction to the president when he does this sort of thing. We`ve seen for the last few years generally is to try to not say anything, and I`m certainly not hearing a lot right now.

But we just put those poll numbers up where the president trails Joe Biden by over nine points right now. This race has moved into that territory over the last few weeks. I`m curious what your assessment is of how Republicans will handle the president when he makes inflammatory comments like this if his poll numbers remain where they are now or get worse.

CARLOS CURBELO, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Steve, in 2016 around this time, Mitch McConnell said that if the president continued saying absurd things and making mistakes, the campaign wasn`t going well, that Republicans would be willing to drop Donald Trump like a rock. The same thing is true today.

As we get closer to the election, Republicans in swing states, in swing districts, if the president is on this collision course because things aren`t going well right now, if he`s headed for defeat or if they think he`s headed for defeat as many thought in 2016, they will create a lot of distance between this kind of rhetoric, these kinds of words.

Now, of course in my opinion, they should be doing so now because it`s the right thing to do. But certainly politics will take over as we get closer to election day, and Republican senators and members of Congress are going to be trying to survive. And if that means dropping Donald Trump, you can bet they`ll do it.

KORNACKI: Donna Edwards, let me ask you, where do you think the race stands right now? Because, obviously, again, that example of 2016 kind of hovers over everything. You know, Donald Trump was written off toward the end of that campaign. He obviously won.

He`s down by a wider margin right now than in 2016. Some key demographic groups moving away from him. Do you look at this race as, yeah, he could get back into it and pull it out like he did in 2016, or do you look at this more like something more fundamental has changed recently?

DONNA EDWARD, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, I do think that the environment clearly has changed and it`s not in favor of the president. On the other hand, I also believe that Democrats recognize what happened in 2016 and are not about to let that happen again here in 2020. And I think that`s why you see a lot of Democrats saying they`re going to - - you know, they`re just hunkering down whether it`s at the state level or in these congressional and Senate races, focusing on their campaigns.

I think what you see from Joe Biden is in contrast, a very disciplined campaign, really clear about what they`re doing and when they`re doing it. I mean, I saw Joe Biden over social media over the weekend, and he is appropriately, you know, contrasting himself with the president.

And I just don`t think that the president has the ability to display the kind of discipline that is really going to allow him to continue to get out of these messes. And on the other hand, I think Democrats see, you know, Republicans who want to disassociate from the president but it becomes increasingly difficult when for three and a half years they haven`t done.

KORNACKI: So, Ashley, let me pick up that question of Donald Trump and discipline, communication discipline. We`ve got reporting there that there are folks around him surprisingly saying they would like more discipline, they would like a clear message. I think there`s an instinct here to say, it`s Donald Trump, look at the last couple of years, it doesn`t happen.

I -- I`m asking you this, though. I remember the closing days of the 2016 campaign. I would say it was the one week or ten-day period where I have ever actually seen Donald Trump exercise message discipline. He was off Twitter. This is hard to remember now. He was off twitter for the closing days of 2016. He was sticking to the script in his speeches. Is there any sense for the folks around Trump that they can get him back here for any time in this campaign?

PARKER: There is certainly that hope. One of the changes they made to the campaign somewhat recently in recent weeks was adding Jason Miller back into the campaign as a senior strategist. Jason Miller is someone who worked on the 2016 campaign, had a good relationship with the president. The president now especially looks at 2016 with rose colored glasses.

And there is the hope that someone like Jason Miller will be able to do what aides were able to do in 2016. For what it`s worth, I remember that well, too. I covered his campaign for "The New York Times." and one thing we reported was that the president`s aides for that final stretch literally showed him a photo of an animal chasing its prey, a cartoon of an animal chasing its prey off a cliff.

And they basically said, you can do this. You can catch Hillary Clinton. You can catch your prey. But if you do, you do will plummet over that cliff. And that sort of visual I was told finally got through to him.

So it has happened before. He can rarely stay disciplined for an extended period of time but everyone in his orbit would love to see that, absolutely.

KORNACKI: Let me -- let me switch, Carlos Curbelo to this -- the question here of Donald Trump`s base, the conservative Christian base, religious conservatives. He put this tweet out today on his arrival rating among Republicans. He wrote, 95 percent of approval rating, he says, among Republicans. I would imagine he writes the 5 percent are RINOs and stupid people, 95 percent approval rating, stupid people who don`t want to see great judges and Supreme Court justices. And he goes on from there.

I bring this up because today brought news from the Supreme Court with a majority of Republican appointees in the Supreme Court striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. This was John Roberts, who was not a Trump appointee, who was a George W. Bush appointee, but nonetheless, it was a Republican who sided with the Democratic appointees to strike down this Louisiana abortion law.

It came a couple weeks after another ruling from this Supreme Court that upset social conservatives.

Have these recent Supreme Court rulings undercut the president in some way with his religious conservative base that has talked about the importance of the judiciary.

CURBELO: They certainly have because that`s what a lot of these Christian conservatives were told in 2016. They were told, hey, we understand that a lot of your values don`t align with Donald Trump. We understand you`re uncomfortable with him for a number of obvious reasons.

But the courts -- the courts are all that matter. And now, of course, the courts in my opinion, the court is showing that it`s an institution that can be trusted and has integrity and regardless of whether Republicans appointed the justices or Democrats, each justice seems to be doing what they actually think is right according to the law. But what they`re going to try to do now, Steve, is say, see, even with the president`s two appointments it`s still not enough. You still need him if we`re going to get this court to do the things we want it to do.

KORNACKI: All right. Carlos Curbelo, Donna Edwards, Ashley Parker -- I`m sorry we`re out of time. But I enjoyed this discussion. Thank you for being with us.

And up next, big changes in the state of Mississippi. Stay with us.


KORNACKI: In Mississippi, the state flag that has flown for more than 120 years will be coming down after lawmakers yesterday voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate symbol from the flag.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By a vote of 37-14, the bill passes.



KORNACKI: Mississippi is the last state in the country to include the Confederate symbol. The bill will also create a commission to design a new flag. Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, said on Saturday that he would sign the bill and with his signature, the flag will become the latest Confederate symbol to be toppled following weeks of nationwide protest.

That is it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" is up next.