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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 3/15/21

Guests: Murtaza Akhter, David Plouffe


CDC warns of possible COVID resurgence even as vaccinations increase. New fears variants may hasten spread over sprig break. Italy locks down again as cases spike. White House is preparing to launch a multimedia advertising blitz aimed at Americans skeptical of getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Deb Haaland was confirmed as Interior Secretary. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson defends comments about fearing Black Lives Matter protesters. Texas GOP introduces bills to restrict voting. State Republicans ramp up push to restrict voting. Governor Andrew Cuomo`s accuser details complaint to attorney general. Half of New Yorkers believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo should not resign amid escalating allegations of sexual misconduct. Two arrested in assault on police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died after Jan. 6 Capitol riot.


JANE FONDA, ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS: They`re called the center for protest law and litigation. We`re going to get these guys. They can`t get away with this. Some foreign company paying off police force, it`s supposed to be looking after the local population. And instead they`re violent, they`re harassing, they`re breaking the law.

They don`t do this to anybody else up here. They`re doing this, because these are indigenous people, on the very day that the first Native American has made a cabinet secretary, Deb Haaland, the Secretary of Interior. This is what they`re doing to indigenous people (inaudible) press to stop.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Jane Fonda, thank you very -- we`ve gone into overtime, but it`s worth it. Thank you very, very much for joining us tonight from Minnesota. We really appreciate it.

FONDA: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Jane Fonda gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening, once again, day 55 of the Biden administration. And tonight, we may be entering the most critical point thus far in our nation`s fight to crush this virus. We`re being warned that we could still see another surge of infections. Even as the new data are out showing we appear to be headed in the right direction.

The vaccine rollout is expanding. Nearly a fifth of all American adults have had at least one shot, we`re averaging nearly two and a half million vaccines a day while hospitalizations continue to decline. Yet, experts are sounding the alarm that we are not out of the clear not by any means that concerns are mounting that we are next going to see a spring break spike in cases giving highly contagious variants a chance to spread in our country, that plus a rebound in air travel has the administration`s coronavirus team on high alert.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: This past Friday, we saw more travelers pass through our airports over 1.3 million. This is the most travelers that we`ve had in a single day since last March before the WHO declared the global pandemic. We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless. This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day.


WILLIAMS: So look for a good reason, the Feds are keeping a close eye on states and cities that are reopening and doing away with mask orders.

Today Los Angeles County allowed indoor dining at restaurants and the reopening of gems and places like movie theaters. As many more cities in the U.S. are opening up the opposite is happening across much of Europe. Italy has now imposed yet another lockdown in an effort to stop the latest wave of infections there. Germany, France also embarking on crackdowns of their own because of their own spikes in cases. We`ll have more on this later in the hour.

The CDC for its part says Americans need to pay attention to these overseas trends.


WALENSKY: I`m pleading with you for the sake of our nation`s health, these should be warning signs for all of us. Cases climbed last spring, they climbed again in the summer, they will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we continue to get more and more people vaccinated.


WILLIAMS: Meantime, the Biden White House is planning a new effort starting in a few weeks to boost this vaccination rollout. Stat news is reporting tonight the administration is going to spend some $1 billion to encourage young people, people of color, political conservatives, Trumpers by another phrase to get their shots.

This afternoon, Biden launched his campaign to sell the COVID relief bill to the American people.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: 100 million checks in people`s pockets in the next 100 days. Shots in arms and money in pockets, that`s important. The American rescue plan is already doing what it was designed to do make a difference in people`s everyday lives.


WILLIAMS: Vice President Harris already on the road promoting this bill. Today she visited a vaccine site in Las Vegas, while First Lady Jill Biden made the case for it as at a New Jersey Elementary School.

Biden goes to Pennsylvania tomorrow as part of the road trip to talk up this legislation. The theme of this travel campaign is help is here. The President did get a win on a history making cabinet appointment today. The Senate confirmed Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, former Congresswoman. She will be the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation`s history. She is a 35th generation New Mexican, making her by one way of thinking of it the most American cabinet member in history. All of this was going on as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was on the southern border with a dozen others calling attention to the increasing numbers of children arriving at our border without their parents.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) CALIFORNIA MINORITY LEADER: This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There`s no other way to claim it that Biden border crisis. The safety and security of Americans and our border is the job of the President. He`s the one who created this and he`s the one who can fix it.

WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Monday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, A.B. Stoddard, Veteran Washington Journalist, Associate Editor and Columnist over at Real Clear Politics, and Dr. Mu -- sorry, Murtaza Akhter, he is a Clinical Assistant Professor. Doctor, I`ve gotten that right 30 times previously, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona`s College of Medicine in Phoenix, and he`s on the air tonight with my apologies over mispronouncing his name.

Ashley, let me start with you. Joe Biden is on the roll -- road selling the benefits of this bill. He continues to sell the benefits of vaccinations. Republicans, as we`ve seen are TBE, to be expected, they`re doing the Republican thing. Can Biden count on uniform support of all Democrats as of now?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: No, Biden`s goal right now, again, is not even so much his people would claim to sell the bill as to explain what is in the bill and make sure that Americans can access those tangible benefits. It`s called, as you mentioned, help is here. Not Help is on the way because what Biden and his team want to stress is exactly what he said today in his remarks, which is shots in arms, money in pockets. And this is something that Americans can start seeing tangible results with right now.

And I will add one final thing, which is the Biden administration, which is comprised of a lot of veterans of the Obama administration, learn from the mistakes of the 2009 Obama stimulus bill, the 2010, Affordable Care Act. But one of the differences is both of those were infusions and plans that promise that things would change or get better in the future. This is much more immediate. And when Biden and his team set out across the country trying to keep Democratic support, and frankly, Republican support, maybe not in Washington, but in mayors and governors, in voters they`re trying to stress that the help you need, to keep your home, to relieve your debt, to keep your farm, to get vaccinated, to get your kids back in school is here right now, immediately.

WILLIAMS: A.B., you`ve done nothing to deserve this. But we`re going to talk about Ron Johnson, when last heard from on Friday, he talked about the protesters who loved America that yes, they happen to have stormed the Capitol. Yes, they had plans perhaps to hang the Vice President Speaker of the House, and they killed a cop along the way. However, he said had they been Black Lives Matter protesters or Antifa, then he would have had something to worry about. He was asked to answer for those comments. Today we`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: There was nothing racial about my comments, nothing whatsoever. This isn`t about racist about riots. And I was -- you know, I have been attacked and criticized because I pushed back on the narrative that, you know, there were 1000s of armed insurrectionists. And that`s just part of a small part of the 74 million Americans that voted for President Trump that also need to be suspect of being potential domestic terrorists are also potentially armed insurrection. So this is a false narrative. And so the few of us that have pushed back on that, we get mercilessly attacked. I mean, I was quite honestly, I wasn`t surprised, but still pretty shocking that that would take what I consider completely innocuous comment, and turn it into, you know, use the race card on me.


WILLIAMS: So A.B., number one, we`ve learned he`s a victim. Number two, he says, his comment was innocuous. He proceeded his comment on that radio show by saying, this is probably going to get me in trouble. He knew exactly what he was doing. Is this a precursor for the senator announcing he`s going to go home to Wisconsin and spend more time with his conspiracy theories?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST: You know, so interesting that he said publicly recently that he`s not so sure he`s going to run again and leaning towards not doing it, because all of these comments and we talked about the ones that the hearing, a few weeks ago on your show about him saying it was a jovial gathering of good people who would never do anything wrong, who are police loving and all of that, we talked about the fact that a former police officer from New York was seen a beating, I believe, fatally a police officer defending the Capitol with the U.S. Marine flag. He heard from the FBI Director again, that there was no Antifa and that these people, these violent people who, you know, took seeds of the Capitol and produced seven deaths, five that day, and to subsequently, he is doing this all intentionally knowing that this is disinformation.

And it was good, Brian, that you pointed out that throw away line in the radio interview, I guess the radio interviewers name was Joe, he said, you know, Joe, I know this is going to get me in trouble. And once he came back to Washington, he`s just so shocked that people are coming for him and his comments were innocuous. He`s so much smarter than what he`s pretending to be. He`s smarter than Devin Nunes and all these goofballs that like to do, like to use this kind of rhetoric. It`s very deliberate. I don`t know if he`s going to run again to Wisconsin, I don`t know if he`s going to -- try to run Breitbart or InfoWars and not be a senator again, but what he`s doing is so deliberate, and so offensive. And I guess he`s got -- probably getting a lot of small dollar donations out of it. But again, no Republicans pushing back, no one`s saying that`s over the line. And I just wonder what Ron Johnson is going to come up with next week.

WILLIAMS: It is a mystery. Doctor, again, thank you very much for being on, this speaks to your line of work. And our current circumstance, including where you practice medicine, when I point out the polling on vaccine acceptance, a heck of a problem right now with one specific demographic group and it`s Republican men, a lot of them saying no to the vaccine of that subgroup. A lot of them were Trump supporters. What are doctors like you in the field to do about this?

DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, Brian, if the Republican men who are refusing to get vaccinated, all stayed isolated, then I suppose it would be OK because they wouldn`t be spreading the disease. And some of the Democrats won`t be happy to if those Republican men stayed isolated but from a biological standpoint, if they`re going to be out and about which they have been doing, and they don`t get vaccinated, they`re going to spread disease, it`s as simple as that, unless they`re wearing masks, which you seem to not enjoy doing, and unless they`re distancing, which they`re also not doing. So really is an uphill battle.

Remember, there are plenty of countries who without a vaccine beat COVID, Taiwan, Singapore, et cetera, they have so few cases that they effectively beat COVID. So there are ways of not getting vaccinated and still defeating the disease. But clearly, where are the kind of country that needs that vaccine the most, because we refuse to take those measures. And for people that say, I`m not going to get vaccinated either, is really adding salt to the wound, that would have been hundreds of 1000s of dead.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, let me go back over our question and answer in the first round tonight, and that is President Biden trying to avoid the mistakes that Obama made in real time not knowing that things like stimulus needed emphasis to the American people. Here`s why we did this. Here`s how it will help you. Obviously, portions of the Biden presidency are going to be informed by the years he spent as Obama`s number two. Let`s talk about the left, the progressive block in the party. It was thought Joe Biden was going to have a problem keeping everyone in line but in a policy sense. He has addressed a number of concerns and has over indexed correct on that front?

PARKER: Absolutely. So far, at least, the progressive left on the whole is quite happy and the Biden administration is taking the lessons that for instance, they were able to pass this $1.9 trillion stimulus bill with very few changes. It was the exact same high dollar amount that they set out to do. Minimum wage was removed because the parliamentarian ruled against it, but they`re still talking about a $15 minimum wage elsewhere and it passed with some minor tweaks and so they have taken this and their belief is they need to double down on what they say and what Biden ran on as a bold, progressive, ambitious agenda. And you`re seeing Republicans starting to try to message this, Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, tweeted that Biden is boring, but radical, and there is something about Joe Biden, where what he seems in his demeanor and his true sort of genuine desire for bipartisanship in unity. He is very moderate in temperament, but not necessarily an ideology. And what he`s trying to propose, so the left is very happy. I think if there is going to be one tension point we see emerging with the next set of issues. It`s going to be immigration, which is an inherently tough situation for any administration, the Biden administration now and we`re the progressive activists who have been fighting this fight, not just during the Trump administration, but for decades, are eager for real action right now, including a broad immigration overhaul.

WILLIAMS: A.B., Ashley couldn`t be more correct on immigration and how large it looms for this still new White House. But where the Republican answer to Biden is concerned, some days last week, it appeared to be just how about voter suppression?

STODDARD: Well, I mean, the Republicans are roaming around trying to find things to agree on, because there`s not a lot of policy they agreed on under Trump. And in the post Trump era, they`re really unmoored about whether or not they`re going to be for debt reduction, or a deeper safety net, which Trump supporters and voters wanted, where they`re going to go on trade, rejecting the Trump era trade policies. So they`ve leaned into the culture wars.

The one issue on policy that`s working very well for them, is the crisis at the border that is now happening on Joe Biden`s watch, that is going to unite them. That`s why a bunch of members went to the border to come message on this today because they don`t want looking at a 70% or more popular COVID relief package to sort of taunt Democrats and Joe Biden on the relief package when they know that their own voters support it and are happy to be getting shots and arms and checks in the bank account.

So this is really again, it`s a salient issue. But it`s the only policy issue at this point. I see them rallying around because they don`t agree on health care. They don`t really agree on debt reduction, and trade and all these other issues that they struggled with even the last four years. They agree with pretty much these days and Dr. Seuss and Andrew Cuomo. And that`s about it. But immigration is a soft spot for Joe Biden. It`s turning into a real crisis. He`s being advised by his own members of his party, that this is a political crisis. And it`s one Republicans are seizing on.

WILLIAMS: And Doctor, back to your bailiwick, Italy and we have a report later on in the hour on this, is ordering another lockdown. Very quietly, New York`s numbers have ticked up. What is your level of trepidation right now, does anything about what we`re looking at right now? How much travel is going on? How many variants have arrived inside our shores? Does anything remind you of when you and I had our first conversation around about a year ago?

AKHTER: Yeah, absolutely. I don`t want to sound like a Debbie Downer. And there`s lots of good news. I mean, the vaccination numbers have been amazing in terms of reducing severe disease, hospitalization, death in the places where people have been vaccinated. But it`s kind of a race against time, getting people vaccinated before more people get sick. And as you mentioned, the variants are here. And Europe, as you know, from last summer was the ones that had the surge before we got one. So Italy`s locking down now because of an increase in cases. What`s to say that that won`t happen here as well. And that is the fear. Now we have been doing a pretty good job of vaccinating people even better than the European Union. And so that gives me some hope. But unfortunately, the virus is very rampant. The variants are particularly transmissible. And as you mentioned, with all the people traveling and having spring break, I don`t know why they couldn`t wait just two more months, maybe, to really, you know, at that point, once a large majority of people are vaccinated, to then begin some level of normalcy. The fact that states said we`re 100% open, for example, but we`re not going to have massive mandates. It`s so preposterous. It`s like being given -- being given the Holy Grail and saying, you know what, screw it. We were so close to being able to beat this with the vaccine. And my fear is we`re going to have another surge before people are vaccinated, which is really unfortunate. We just had to hold on a little bit longer. And I hope people will continue to do so. But unfortunately, from the images we`ve seen, and the travel that we`ve heard of, I`d be surprised if there wasn`t at least a little bit of a search.

WILLIAMS: Your fears are duly noted and widely heard. I guess Americans have got to, American at the end of the day, Dr. Murtaza Akhter, thank you Ashley Parker, A.B. Stoddard as well. Big thanks to our big three for starting us off on this Monday night.

Coming up for us, do Republicans really want to be known as the party of voter suppression? They are saying it out loud after all, our political guests on this question and others standing by. And later, 68 days after the failed attempt to reverse our presidential election and update on the case of the police officer who died as a result of that riot. Will have the very latest, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on a Monday night.



GREG ABBOTT, (R) TEXAS GOVERNOR: Our objective is very simple, and that is to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote, is also to ensure that only eligible votes are the ones that count at the ballot box.


WILLIAMS: Texas, one of 43 states where bills to make it harder to vote have been proposed. NBC News describes an avalanche of bills to curtail voting in Texas, "More than two dozen GOP sponsored election bills are under consideration in the legislature as lawmakers seek to tighten ID requirements on voter rolls limit early voting and up the penalties for errors. On Sunday, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams said this about similar efforts in her home state of Georgia.


STACEY ABRAMS, VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVIST: These bills are nothing more than a pretext for returning to Jim Crow and stopping voters they don`t want to hear from. And my belief is that voters across this country when they see that their right to vote is being thwarted, we`ll do what they can to push back, but they shouldn`t have to fight on their own. That`s why we elected the Congress, that`s why we have a constitution, and that is why Congress should be held to account for defending our democracy.


WILLIAMS: Back with us tonight, David Plouffe, former Obama Campaign Manager, Senior Advisor to President Obama, also on the Board of Directors of the Obama Foundation, and Matt K. Lewis is back with us, Conservative Commentator, Senior Columnist for The Daily Beast.

Gentlemen, good evening, and welcome.

So David, I guess money in pockets and shots in arms is the new chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. It is indeed a slogan that sums up the early success this new President has had. So that brings me to you and the question. Now what, and how about voter suppression as an effort for Joe Biden to get behind?

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: He has to, Brian. So on January 6, you know, flagpoles were tried, fists and fear to topple our democracy, it failed. So Republican politicians all over the country have taken the baton from the insurrectionists, and now are filing legislation to make it harder to vote, make it harder to register, some of these states like Arizona would actually say the legislature can decide who wins elections, no matter how the votes are cast. So this is an existential threat to our country toward democracy.

And so at the end of the day, Joe Biden`s off to an amazing start. I`m sure he`ll continue to make great progress on the vaccine, on the economy, on immigration, as you were talking about the previous segment. But if basically, our democracy is torn apart, and Republican politicians can choose who votes and how those votes are counted. We don`t have a democracy. We don`t have a country. So for the people act, the John Lewis bill, maybe it`s a combination of those things, is going to have to be the law of the land.

Now, whether you get rid of the filibuster entirely or reform it, this has to happen. This will echo through decades, if not generations, if these voter suppression efforts are successful.

I`ll say one last thing, Brian, as a former practitioner. Donald Trump actually showed some ability to gain votes, among some particularly male, Hispanic voters, a little bit in some of the rural African American male community. What they should do is a, how are we going to invest and try and build our numbers with minority voters with young voters so that they could become more competitive because this country continues the inexorable demographic March. They`re not going to do that. They`re going to try and basically cripple our democracy so they can win the next elections. And with this party that`s increasingly comfortable with open racism, with open voter suppression, if they gain back the House and Senate and the White House in 2024, we are going to be living in an autocracy, sorry to say.

WILLIAMS: Well, Matt Lewis, that kind of takes your breath away. I was going to ask you a question about the now former president, could you make an argument that Donald Trump`s impact is already diminishing? And would you have been surprised to know this at the time he left office?

MATT K. LEWIS, THE DAILY BEAST SENIOR COLUMNIST: Yes, and yes, I thought that those people who said that Donald Trump might fade away. I thought they were being really naive. And we saw him speak at CPAC, we saw polling that showed that he`s still, you know, had a lot of control over the Republican Party. But it is, it does feel like Donald Trump has receded from the center of attention, finally, after years, and I think a lot of it has to do with not being on Twitter. I think it`s really hard to overestimate the importance of Twitter in terms of Donald Trump staying relevant, staying in the public eye, driving debates and discussion. And of course, not being president not having the bully pulpit is also a part of it.

And I`m reminded of Sarah Palin. You know, Sarah Palin had a couple of years there where she was really the de facto leader of the Republican Party. I remember when she was flirting with running for president, sort of teasing the press at around, I think it was 2011. They were -- the media was basically chasing her bus around on a book tour, to see if she would say that she`s running. But what happened was Sarah Palin is she actually endorsed an entire generation of competitors, who basically cannibalized her, people like Nikki Haley, and Marco Rubio, and all these younger conservatives who were actually in office. And I think that`s part of what`s going to happen to Donald Trump. It`s not that Donald Trump goes away and the Republican Party is going to get sane, again, all of a sudden, it`s that Donald Trump goes away and somebody else more exciting. Maybe even a younger, more relevant Trump will inherit that mantle.

WILLIAMS: Wow, strong stuff right out of the box from both of these gentlemen who by the way have agreed to stay with us as we sneak in a break coming up. However, an update on the Democrats dilemma. One problem being the political future of one Andrew Cuomo the man in the blanket.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president head of the Democratic Party. What message is he sending by not calling on the New York Governor to resign?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, let me first say that, like everyone who continues to read stories and new developments seem to happen every day. We find them troubling. The President finds them troubling, hard to read, and every woman who steps forward needs to be treated with dignity and respect.


WILLIAMS: On the subject, one of the women accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment has now spoken with the New York Attorney General at length. Charlotte Bennett`s lawyer said she answered questions via Zoom for four hours today.

Bennett has accused Cuomo of making inappropriate advances while she worked as an aide in his office. Cuomo has apologized for making women uncomfortable but denies having ever touched anyone and appropriately calls for his resignation grew louder today amid new reports his appointed vaccines are has been calling around to state Democrats but to gauge their loyalty to Cuomo.

Still with us are David Plouffe and Matt K. Lewis. Matt, the polls in New York are interesting to watch, though not dispositive certainly. 50 percent of respondents say no, the governor should not resign, 35 percent yes. Hefty 15 percent with no opinion, hard to believe in New York. Should that be his barometer?

LEWIS: Well, I think we have to separate the moral and ethical question from the political question. But if I`m advising him in purely Machiavellian terms, I say stay where right where you are. Ralph Northam had a similar turn of events, where everybody was calling on him to resign, telling him he had to get out. Unlike Al Franken, Ralph Northam just, you know, stayed in office.

And now is the problem with resigning as that becomes the last word on you. Right? That is the first -- that becomes the first line in your obituary. If you stay put and ride this thing out, again, I`m, you know, as a conservative, I am not you know, I have an agenda here. You know, where I shouldn`t really be giving advice even to the Democrats. But I but I think that history has shown actually, that the better bet is not stepping down. And so I think that smart politicians, like Governor Cuomo have learned that lesson.

WILLIAMS: To David Plouffe, who modestly refers to himself as a former practitioner, how big a problem is this for your party, especially considering he is head of the National Governors Association right now?

PLOUFFE: I don`t think it`s a problem for the party. I think this is while he`s getting national attention we`re talking about today I think it`s concentrated on New York.

So I think -- what I think will happen here, Brian is, you know, there may be more revelations. And I will say this about Andrew Cuomo, long past the point where most people couldn`t take it anymore. You know, he`ll stick. He`s got a constitution. He likes to give out pain, it`s well recorded, but I also think he can take.

But I think what`s looming is a primary next year. So those polls, look at the general election, the question will be if Andrew Cuomo believes that he might lose a primary, you know, that would be the last word, and he doesn`t want to lose a primary.

So if this -- if he begins to wobble a little bit, you may see him say, I`m not going to resign, but I`m not going to run again, as a way to kind of put this frenzy about whether he`s going to resign or not now, but also, so he doesn`t lose a primer because as much as he doesn`t want to resign, the thing I think he probably fears most is to limp into a primary next year and get beat.

WILLIAMS: David, I`m already telling you, we`re going to have you on to continue to discuss your first answer to my first question tonight, in light of Texas, and 42 other states, in light of the danger you see to our democracy, to our viewers, commend to your attention.

Matt Lewis, his latest piece in The Daily Beast, here`s the headline, time for the other 49 states to bow down to West Virginia, his meaning the mansion of Laurie, that man that currently very powerful. Most of the time Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, it`s a thought provoking piece that is also by way of saying, gentlemen, we could do this all night. Thank you both for coming on. David Plouffe, Matt Lewis, greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us some important updates on the investigation into the insurrection, which has been almost 10 weeks ago now.


WILLIAMS: Two men have been arrested and charged with assaulting Capitol Hill police Officer Brian Sicknick on January 6. Court documents a video footage shows the two men working together to hit members of law enforcement with what is believed to be bear spray. It`s a toxin. Officer Sicknick died a day after the riot.

So back with us tonight is Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, also happens to be author of the new book, The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau`s Code of Excellence."

Frank, I`d like to get to the Sicknick case, specifically in just a moment. But knowing about your book and knowing something about how former Feds and current Feds keep in touch and text threads among you. I know that you`re in touch with your FBI brothers and sisters who you served with and those currently on the job. Is there any way of expressing to our audience? What new territory This is, in terms of domestic terrorism? And how huge a scope of an investigation This is.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: You know, we throw around words like unprecedented, Brian, but what I`m hearing is it is unprecedented and it has become the largest, most active investigation in terms of the breadth and depth of what`s going on and each and every field office right now.

Now throw on top of that, the newness of this domestic terrorism channel, by newness, I mean, the social media volume of data, the speed with which people can transmit threats, and hateful rhetoric and the inability to distinguish between merely aspirational messaging and the person who`s actually going to execute on it and then all the legal hand wringing that`s going on about can we monitor this speech? Will this be a violation of civil liberties or privacy, all of that going on simultaneously in a race to prevent the next act of domestic terrorism.

WILLIAMS: And I suppose we should be thankful for the intersection of stupidity and hubris that so many of these criminals live streamed the crimes they were committing in real time, though, to your point, it leaves us with a mountain of electronic evidence which brings us to the case of now former officer Sicknick.

Why no charge of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, attempted murder, murder in this case, it is so far merely at the charge of assault.

FIGLIUZZI: So far is the operative phrase here, Brian, you`ve got that right. And that`s because they are still waiting for more evidence. What does more evidence look like? It means an autopsy or medical examiners report that might get into extreme detail about the level of toxic spray in officer Sicknick`s system. Was it a lethal dose? Did he have an underlying condition, the condition like asthma or some preexisting thing that would have exacerbated massive exposure to bear spray.

I say bear spray because in the charging document, the two suspects refer to it as bear actually expletive deleted, but it`s the word that describes what bears do in the woods typically, and so they certainly refer to it as bear spray. And that`s what it appears to be.

What`s the significance of that Brian? Bear spray is propelled out of the canister at 70 miles an hour, a directed in your face. In your eyes, particularly, you`re looking at permanent damage at that point. And exposure to that on a steady high speed stream with a volume that exists in a large canister can easily disable a human being, maybe even kill them. If that evidence materializes, don`t be surprised if you see an upgrade of the charges to manslaughter or some degree of murder.

WILLIAMS: Yes, indeed for people who haven`t spent time in the west or in the wild when we toss around this, the name bear spray it is a product designed to stop a grizzly in mid charge and bring them down. Now imagine the effect on a human being, a fellow human being.

Frank Figliuzzi, we`ll continue to lean on your time and expertise. Thank you so much for taking our questions. Frank Figliuzzi, our guest again tonight.

Coming up for us the word from Europe is as we mentioned, pretty devastating. Another lockdown. We`ll take a look at what it might mean for us on this side of the Atlantic after this.


WILLIAMS: At the start of the pandemic, Europe was our preview in a perverse way, we watched the death toll in Italy and Har then we watched the lockdown across Italy. It was all there if we`d had a president willing to follow the science and protect the American people.

And now, as our CDC warns us about the overseas variants, we`re watching European countries shut down again even as the vaccines roll out there too. Our report tonight from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.


Richard Engel, NBC NWES CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Poor Italy. It was the first country to lock down a year ago. Today it`s doing it again. From this morning, half the country faces curfews. All of Italy will shut down over Easter.

France is closing to region by region.

With ICU occupancy at its highest level since November, Germany says it`s facing a third wave and weighing lockdowns. The EU simply isn`t rolling out the vaccines fast enough.

In the US over 20 percent of the population has received at least one dose. In Italy, France and Germany vaccination rates are less than 8 percent.

The 27 nation EU didn`t buy enough supply on spec when the vaccines were still being researched.

MARTIN MCKEE, TROPICAL MEDICINE PROFESSOR LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE: The European Union took a view at the beginning that it would procure jointly but of course it takes time to get agreement with everybody.

ENGEL: Distribution of what they have has been painfully slow. Today it got even slower. Germany, France, Italy and Spain all pause distribution of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of blood clotting. Six other European countries have recently hit pause too. The WHO said today the vaccine is safe.

(on camera): This is Europe`s biggest modern test of its ability to act collectively and it`s failing. European governments are blaming vaccine hoarding side effects and manufacturing delays. But opinion polls suggest most Europeans believe the EU is doing poorly, Brian.


WILLIAMS: Richard Engel, our thanks to you for that report and coming up for us call us obsessed with holding people to account but there`s something about a half million dead that focuses the mind.



DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: And I like this stuff. You know, my uncle is a great person. He was at MIT, he taught at MIT for I think, like a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. It was impressive. I understand. Every one of these subjects that have you know so much about this, maybe I have a natural ability, maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, how blessed we were to have a president with such a natural ability with these viruses. But seriously, back here in the real world, when we count up the top 10 moments of the four years we just survived the Trump years. Not everyone is going to agree on a playlist of the truly worst moments.

But this next one is right up there. Certainly in terms of national embarrassment. Let`s set the scene. White House briefing room April 23 of last year, as of that day, the U.S. death toll was just under 50,000. The virus was in the process in other words of carving up our country.

The President was a virus denier, of course, and remember, that was the original big lie that it was the flu and it would go away. The pressure on the people around the president to also pretend it wasn`t serious was so intense that Trump was able to demand the silence of people who knew better starting with that guy, Mike Pence who chaired the Coronavirus Taskforce.

And let`s not forget Dr. Deborah Birx`s military veteran who was all about chain of command it turns out meaning she was cool with whatever her commander in chief said. But on that day, that`s the day the President decided to go deep and take his supple mind for a spin in the world of medicine.


TRUMP: And then I see the disinfectant which knocks it out in a minute, one minute and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning.


WILLIAMS: So much was said and written back then about the look on Dr. Birx`s face and by the way that look was all we got. We apparently didn`t deserve more than that. That look didn`t stop people from showing up in emergency rooms having ingested bleach. That look did nothing to stop the exploding anti-Vaxx population among Trump supporters that we`re living with to this day. She said nothing.

Still on brand, she is talking now in a new interview, she tells Terry Moran of ABC News quote, you can see how extraordinarily uncomfortable I was. Frankly, I didn`t know how to handle that episode. I still think about it every day.

Here`s the part we think about every day. The death toll in America which as of tonight stands at 538,091 Don`t worry about Dr. Birx. She`s enjoying a soft landing in the private sector. ABC News report she has joined the board of the pharmaceutical company, Innoviva, and since we know you have a choice in air filtration products, please no she is the chief medical and science advisor for ActivePure Technologies based in Dallas. In case such a thing is important to you.

Dr. Birx to take us off the air tonight and with it, that is our broadcast on this Monday evening as we start a new week together with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.