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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 5/31/21

Guests: Peter Baker, Abby Livingston, Neal Katyal, Tim Miller, Caroline Randall Williams, Barry McCaffrey


President Joe Biden honors the fallen and warns of threat to democracy in his speech on Memorial Day. Democrats in the Texas State Legislature staged a walkout to stop a sweeping Republican overhaul of state election laws. President Biden, in his speech, stressed the need to preserve democracy in the country. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin honors Gold Star Families in his speech on Memorial Day. Michael Flynn appears to endorse a Myanmar-style coup in the U.S. in a QAnon convention.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For me, and our family, just like it is for so many of you. It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal. I always feel both close to me on Memorial Day. I know exactly where I need to be, right here, honoring our fallen heroes.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: That is tonight`s LAST WORD on this Memorial Day. The "11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening, once again. A special two- hour broadcast far from our normal time slot on this Memorial Day, day 132 of the Biden administration. The President indeed marked this national holiday with a deeply personal remembrance and a passionate defense of democracy. And that`s because this Memorial Day 2021 comes at such an uneasy time in our nation`s modern history.

Biden began the day at Arlington Cemetery with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, honoring those Americans who died on battlefields. After laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, Biden spoke of his late son, Beau, and reflected on the fallen veterans who he said, made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our democracy.


BIDEN: Each and every day, democracy itself is imperiled here at home and around the world. What we do now, what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure. Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong. And people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently when a free and independent press pursues the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda.


WILLIAMS: Now, to why it`s such an uneasy time in our democracy, the President`s very words come as several states are in the midst of passing laws that will restrict voting in our country, a legacy of the falsehood that the 2020 election was somehow rife with fraud, somehow stolen.

Late last night, Democrats in the Texas State Legislature staged a walkout to stop a sweeping Republican overhaul of state election laws. Their movement that last night`s session lacked a quorum, the minimum number of lawmakers required for a vote before the midnight deadline.

Republican Governor Abbott who supports the restrictive voting bill has already indicated he will call for a special session of the legislature to restart this whole process. Democratic Texas lawmakers say they will be ready for that.


TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER, DEMOCRATIC STATE REPRESENTATIVE, TEXAS: We have plenty of tactics and strategies that are disposable. And we will fight every single day to protect the sacred right to vote in Texas.

We know what happened in Georgia. We know what happened in Florida. And if they steamroller us here in Texas, they`re just going to march all across this country until they`ve made it very hard for everyone to vote.


WILLIAMS: Meantime, all the way in the East in Washington, Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to figure out their next move after Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the 1-6 riots. The New York Times reports it this way. Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are now planning their own committee investigations into the attack. Pelosi could also set up a select committee focus solely on the attack, handling Democrats` unilateral subpoena power and a much longer timeline to investigate whatever they want.

Democratic Congressman Jason Crow who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then famously witnessed the 1-6 attack from the balcony in the gallery says his caucus needs to find some way to get to the bottom of what really happened on that day.


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): This has to get done. I am sick of playing the game of whack a mole with GOP members in Congress. You know, every time we, you know, address one of their concerns, another one pops up. You just can`t continue to do that forever. We need to get answers.


WILLIAMS: Today was also the first holiday with the pandemic seemingly in retreat in our country with restrictions largely rolled back. And over 51 percent of adults now vaccinated, there were crowds just about everywhere the weather would allow it. There`s still much work to be done, though. The President has set that goal of 70 percent of American adults to be vaccinated fully by July 4th. That`s a number the experts now say should be very achievable.

With all that in mind, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this special edition of our broadcast this Monday night. Peter Baker, the veteran journalist and author, happens to be Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times. Neal Katyal, Department of Justice veteran, former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama Administration. He has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. And with us by phone on the important story out of Texas, Abby Livingston, Washington Bureau Chief for the Texas Tribune.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. And, Peter, I`d like to begin with you. Given the life you have led in this country and overseas, given all the stories you have chronicled as a journalist, how bracing, how striking was it to hear an American president declare our democracy in peril on this memorial day 2021?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we`ve learned in recent times is that the democracy we all thought was pretty well cemented is in fact fragile. The institutions, the norms, standards, the traditions that we believed were rock solid in the United States had their vulnerability just as we`ve seen in other countries around the world.

I spent four years living in Moscow where I was a correspondent for The Washington Post. I traveled and reported from the Middle East. I`ve traveled from countries all around the world. And we`ve seen, I think, in recent times, you know, stories here that I would have only imagined we would have covered as foreign correspondents.

And I think that`s why you`re right that today has a certain poignancy, because of the people who fought and died to protect this country whose memories we honor today did so with the idea that they were, you know, defending a robust and healthy democratic system. One, I think that we do need to continue to protect and guard whether it be on the battlefields or in our society today.

That`s I think, one thing we all focus on today no matter what party we`re in, whether the journalism, whether in government and politics. We give thanks for those who have stood up for us, we think about the role that we ourselves have to play in making this a more perfect nation as they say.

WILLIAMS: Abby, to Peter`s last point, that somehow brings this story to you because it brings the story to Texas. And the prong of this that Republicans in that state are busy and trying to achieve. Tell us how long Democrats can stave this off? How long can the impact from a walkout last and what power the governor and Republicans have regarding a special session?

ABBY LIVINGSTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TEXAS TRIBUNE: Well, the special session is called by the governor. Otherwise, he`s -- Texas actually has an incredibly weak executive. But the "how long" is really not the specific question it`s with. So, the governor, there will be a special session in the fall almost no matter what your account for redistricting and the census delay of that.

But the governor`s -- lieutenant governor Dan Patrick is urging him to call when in June. So, it`s a matter of when do they pick it up again in June or the fall. And it`s very unlikely Democrats will in the end be able to override this. And in some ways, this bill could get worse for them. And so, it`s very much up in the air.

But I think it did inject some enthusiasm and to the state party and to national Democrats to have a cause specific on this voting rights issue to jump on to.

WILLIAMS: I want to return to this topic with you in a moment after we hear from Neal. And Neal, we`ve asked 30 different versions of this question to you and the former Feds who we rely on during times like this. What power does the federal government have? What power does the Department of Justice have when states, when Republicans in legislatures are working so hard, and in some cases, passing laws signed by the governor to restrict voting?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: So, before getting to that, Brian, I think there`s a bigger point here. There`s a forest. And this forest, I think, unites a lot of what we`re talking about tonight, not just Texas in this state, but the January 6 Commission, Biden`s remarks you just reverted to.

And the name of it is that the Republican Party has become an anti- Democracy party. And when the Democratic Party was named and originated, I don`t think anyone thought it`d be controversial to be like in favor of democracy. Who would be against that? But now we know that you have to view this Texas vote in light of so much else that the Republican Party has been doing, like a concerted effort in Georgia and other states to rollback voting, slavish devotion to a filibuster that bears no relationship to the filibuster our founders knew that`s totally empowering of a small minority.

You`ve got a party who`s scared, you know, heaven forbid, to have people vote in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. You`ve got a party who`s hell-bent on getting their nominees to the Supreme Court to strike down legislation that they don`t like that`s been passed by majority of people. This is an anti-majority party in the end.

And it`s a collapse party. It`s a party that`s lost its moral ground. You know, it`s like the USSR in the Cold War. Yes, they`ve got bluster and strength and insults, but they don`t have any purpose anymore.

And so, to answer your question, because of the Supreme Court decision in 2013, the federal government is fairly limited in the powers it has. You know, I argued the case in 2009 that saved that part of the Voting Rights Act, but it was reversed in 2013 by a five to four vote. And so, right now, pending in Congress is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore that act.

And so, when Texas tries to pass a bill like this, it would require preclearance in Washington D.C. by a court or by the Justice Department. That`s the way stuff is operated since 1965. But now, it isn`t because of that new Supreme Court decision. So, we need that law passed. Without it, I do fear we`re going to have more and more antics like this from a party that`s bent on these antics.

WILLIAMS: So, Peter Baker, with all of that in mind, let`s talk about this White House, this administration you cover. If Joe Biden was our guest on this broadcast tonight, if I asked him, OK, starting startup business tomorrow, Tuesday, post-Memorial Day 2021, name your number one priority, if you had to. What do you think, Peter, the answer would be?

BAKER: Well, I think his number one priority is finishing up the, you know, the end of this pandemic, right? To makes sure that the vaccinations continued to be distributed, to encourage as many people as possible to take them in order to get closer to this herd immunity, and to make sure that in the process between now and then we don`t step backwards, we don`t have some new flare-ups, new variants or something else like that.

And obviously, along with that, comes the rebuilding of the economy that collapsed a year -- a year or several months ago. So, I think those are the number one. That`s what he`s been doing since he took office. Legislatively, I think his top priority is infrastructure. And so, he`s trying to make this democracy argument an infrastructure argument. He`s arguing that the way we compete against the authoritarian countries of the world like China and Russia is by building ourselves up stronger.

We have to be a stronger, more vibrant country. And one way we do that is to make sure that our airports and roads and bridges and broadband and all these other things are strong. Now, that`s a way of taking one argument in transitioning into the other, but that`s the big issue this week. Will they in the next seven days, as Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation laid out, be able to come up with a deal with Republicans, pay for some new infrastructure and to go ahead and get that done on a bipartisan basis? Or will they proceed on the strength of their very, very narrow Democratic majorities and create another partisan issue or something that you think most -- both parties actually kind of agree on?

WILLIAMS: Abby, back to you. As no one needs to remind you, the Democratic fever dream of a kind of blue wave in the state of Texas did not materialize this time around though Trump did not carry the state by all that great margin though what we have seen is Republicans doubling down on the Republican.

Abby, if you were to take a statewide poll, layout clearly and concisely what this voting measure would do, what it would outlaw that`s now allowable, where do you think Texans, the entire population would come down?

LIVINGSTON: That`s a hard question to answer. But what I will say is, the smartest piece of analysis I heard in all of 2020 came the morning after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. And I had a democratic source say, and this was back in September, this puts all the more emphasis on winning the state house back then when Democrats thought they had a shot.

And the problem there is many people voted for Joe Biden. And he walked by six points, which was one of the closest margins in a generation, it probably not the closest. And but the problem with the Texas State Legislature and why people outside of Texas should care if they don`t agree with the legislature is this is where Supreme Court -- this is the laboratory of cases that go to spring court.

So, this -- the Democrats were not able to take back power. That means that they can pass laws like this and keep pushing the envelope. And now there`s a Supreme Court that`s much more in favor of conservatives.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, before we lose you, let`s talk about Mike Flynn. He was National Security Adviser, if you can believe it for all of 22 days. And now a story that has gotten a lot of exposure. At a QAnon convention, he was asked by a member of the audience why, what happened, and Myanmar can`t happen here.

As the audience of conspiracy theorists cheered, Flynn responded, no reason. I mean, it should happen here. And Neal, people have been casting about in a country where we consider speech protected. Is there any remedy, certainly any legal remedy for talk that is straight-up dangerous? This network won`t air the clip because of its ability to incite. And that`s how dangerous the words are.

KATYAL: Yes. I mean, it`s a ridiculous preposterous statement. The idea that it comes from a former flag officer of the United States is beyond appalling. I understand he`s tried to walk back the comments. They trying to say it means something else. But you know, everyone can listen to that tape for what it is.

This is coming from a guy who pled guilty to two different felonies before two different federal judges. So, yes, he got a pardon from, you know, Donald Trump later on. But let`s not forget, this guy admitted in open federal court to being a federal felon while he was the national security adviser. The National Security Adviser is like one step below God in the White House. It`s like the most important job imaginable, maybe the Chief of Staff, but that`s it. And this guy was a felon while he was doing the job.

So, you know, I don`t put much stock in him. I sure hope nobody else does. But absolutely, Brian, you know, if someone is, you know, giving speeches like this, they do start coming close to and they can trample that line between protected speech and something beyond that. And so I think that, you know, our networks doing something responsible here by not airing it. But this guy is doing nothing responsible whatsoever. He`s a disgrace to our democracy.

WILLIAMS: More than that, Neal, to your point, wasn`t he accused by a federal judge in open court of having sold out his country, not a charge you hear often, to a retired flag officer and a former National Security Adviser.

KATYAL: Exactly. Like, look, if someone wants to have a coup, I`m not sure if this is the guy who`s leading it. So, you know -- so you know, it`s just -- this is a guy who had lacks any credibility, any sense of honor, any sense of decency. You know, he should go back to Russia.

WILLIAMS: To our guests, we are so grateful you`ve been able to join us on this holiday Monday night. Peter Baker, Neal Katyal, Abby Livingston, we greatly appreciate starting off our conversation with the three of you.

Coming up for us, as the President put it today, democracy itself is in peril as states tried to make it harder for Americans to vote. We`ll talk about this growing political divide with two of our favorite thinkers.

And later, a man who has fought and bled for our democracy, Retired four- star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey on the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the words of a fellow retired general, and on the meaning of this day, all as this special two-hour edition of the 11TH HOUR is just getting underway indeed on this Memorial Day, Monday night.



BIDEN: The Americans of Lexington, and Concord, of New Orleans, Gettysburg, Oregon, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Korea, and Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and thousands of places in between, these Americans weren`t fighting for dictators, they`re fighting for democracy. They weren`t fighting to exclude or to enslave, they`re fighting to build and broaden and liberate.


WILLIAMS: President Biden using his first Memorial Day as president to stress the need to preserve our democracy. His words were especially pointed as Republican-led state legislatures push ahead with their effort to make it harder for Americans to vote. So, back with us again tonight, Caroline Randall Williams, author, poet, academic, observer of all things political, also Writer in Residence with the Department of Medicine Health and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. And Tim Miller, a contributor to the Bulwark, former communications director for Jeb Bush.

Good evening, and welcome to you both. I really appreciate you lending us some of your time on this holiday Monday night. Tim, I`m going to start with you by playing some of what Texas Democratic Congressman Collin Alread said on this network earlier.


REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Stopping certain Americans from voting, you know, that`s how you lose your democracy. We`re having a very sanitized conversation about this pretending so to speak is it`s kind of Democrats and Republicans and the usual push and pull. This is not usual. This is not normal.

Talking about being able to overturn elections because you want to have fraud allegations or that you can stop certain groups explicitly from voting is totally outside of the bounds.


WILLIAMS: Tim, we long ago prohibited normalizing reporting on broadcasts like this one. But my question to you is, are we diminishing this threat by not treating it as an emergency with each passing day?

TIM MILLER, CONTRIBUTOR, THE BULWARK: Possibly, Brian. And first, I just want to thank any of the veterans watching this, anybody who has a family member that was lost fighting for this country. It`s good to be with you all today. And look, I totally agree with what Representative Allred was saying and what President Biden was saying earlier today.

I think that there is a danger sometimes in diminishing this threat. And I think in politics, you know, that manifests itself in two ways sometimes with the Democrats. Sometimes it manifests itself as, you know, we`re not acting enough like it`s an emergency and maybe you are willing to sacrifice enough or to give up enough to make some changes to get something passed.

You know, I look at this H.R.1 debate. Sometimes like, an all-or-nothing attitude is not right in the middle of an emergency. Another way that it manifests is by not using all the tools at your disposal in an emergency. And I think that is what the Texas Democrats did exactly right today. The national Democrats but that allies, you know, former Republicans like myself can all learn from and just say, hey, this is an emergent situation. We need to act as such.

And sometimes acting as such means going outside of your usual norms of opposition, going outside of your usual procedural rules and regulations in order to block something from happening. So, obviously, this is just kicking the can a few months in Texas. But I think it sent a signal and planted a flag out at an important state in this fight because Texas, you know, is I think ideally for Democrats, the next Georgia, right, the next place of emerging, diverse, big stage where these fights need to happen. And the pressure needs to be put on Republicans that, you know, they -- if they`re going to try to block voting rights, well, the people in the suburbs of Houston and Dallas who have been leaving the Republican Party need to know about it. And despite needs to be front and center in the Texas Democrats have done a good job -- excuse me, a good job with that.

WILLIAMS: Professor Williams, this is where I say I am older than both of our guests. And this is where I add that I have grown up in this country trying to pay attention to events like anytime our president speaks at a gathering of note. I can`t recall other presidential addresses, even on Memorial Day, going back decades. I fear I will recall the day an American president in the modern era declared our democracy in parallel.

Speaking of moments, you never think you`re going to witness and words you`re never going to think will be spoken seriously by the President. Caroline, did you find that as bracing as I did? And is there any remedy in your bag of tricks at Vanderbilt that you reach to that you think of during times like this?

CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS, WRITER IN RESIDENCE, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I found it bracing in the way, you know, jumping into cold water that you meant to jump into is bracing in the sense that I think it`s clear-minded and it speaks truth. The way that I see it, I think that, you know, there`s -- there are a lot of us that have been raising the alarm about democracy being in parallel for a long time.

I mean, Thomas Jefferson wrote about how democracy was in peril when it began because we built it on the foundation of slavery. And we`re still paying -- we`re still paying backwards. That owed debt to the descendants of enslaved people in this country. And we`re still paying that debt in the way that we treat a, you know, broad swathes of minority populations in this country. And I think that figuring out how we navigate a democracy that has right-minded, open-minded, tolerant people on both sides of a so- called political aisle is a crucial way forward.

And it`s hard to see how that will work. But I think naming that that`s what`s necessary is part of it. It can`t be that the Republican Party is the party of white people, and that the Democratic Party is a party of everyone else, everyone decent and sane who has colored or not colored or other in any other way.

And so we need to figure out how to rectify that part of the conversation. And I think that is the -- and that will be where the hope for democracy lies, and I hope that we get to that.

WILLIAMS: Let`s let our viewers roll that around a bit. Thankfully, our guests are going to stay with us while we fit in a break. And coming up, when our conversation continues. the President`s visit to Tulsa tomorrow. It comes at an especially divisive time as you`ve been hearing. The challenges that lie ahead of us in his pursuit of unity when this Memorial Day edition of our broadcast continues.



REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): We will say to America that we too, are America. We too are Americans. We too deserve. We too should be memorialized. We too should be repaired, restored. And there is as the church said yesterday, no reconciliation without justice.


WILLIAMS: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee spoke while flanked by two of the three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The President will be there tomorrow and that`s important. Earlier today, he issued a proclamation to commemorate the centennial of a massacre thoroughly wiped from the history books.

Still with us, Caroline Randall Williams, Tim Miller. Professor, I`d like to begin with you. LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter wrote this today, there is a direct connection between what happened 100 years ago in the Tulsa massacre, the January 6 insurrection, and the recent attack on voting rights, the same rationale, and same source.

Professor, isn`t it another lesson that we`re witnessing today that if you -- if you try hard enough, if you get enough people on board, you can alter history, you can try to whitewash history, sometimes that works not forever, but for a good long time?

RANDALL WILLIAMS: I think we`re seeing how well it works or doesn`t in real-time, Brian, because as we said in the last segment, democracy is still at stake. And as we speak, there are legislators all across the southeast, trying to silence the tools and power instruments of an equitable, just democracy in America.

I think that we as people of color, as people who have been -- come from downtrodden communities in America, as we -- as we grow and find our own voices in power, we will be goodness for ourselves on our own behalf. We will always empower ourselves to tell our stories. But whether that translates equitably into power at the ballot box, into power to make tangible change, that is still just a question.

It`s a question of whether or not we will be bearing witness as we are wrong done by and we have found our voices and we will speak loudly about it, or whether or not America will come to its senses and come to work on our behalf to make an equitable America for all Americans.

And I don`t know. I don`t know if we have that in us. Because I know that the people of color do, I know that the people who are in other communities do, but I don`t know if there is enough of a critical mass of comfortable white America who does. And that`s what`s going to take because we all have to vote together. And we have to rise together.

Benjamin Franklin said it. We must all hang together or we will all hang separately. Democracy is right there right now. I mean, we have to hang in together. And I don`t know how many people understand how high the stakes are and how quickly they will come to that awareness if they will find it in time to save this precious thing that we`ve got here.

WILLIAMS: Tim Miller, I`m tempted to say that, unlike Tulsa, on 1-6, there was social media. After 1-6, we received hundreds of video clips. We play them on this and other broadcasts like a kind of perverse, endless video wallpaper. So, I`m tempted to make that point, and then I`m reminded, there are Republicans trying to tell us that we didn`t see what we saw. There are Republicans trying to tell us who the rioters and insurrectionists were, unlike those we saw carrying out the violence.

MILLER: Look, Brian, think about how easy it is to erase a massacre that happened 100 years ago when they`re successfully erasing something that happened five months ago, at least in conservative circles, at least among people that are consumers of conservative media (AUDIO GAP) conservative media ecosystem.

You know, half of those -- of Republican voters right now don`t know what happened on 1-6. So, they`ve convinced themselves that something completely separate has happened. And this is where education and raising awareness about this matters, to Caroline`s point.

I`m about to admit something embarrassing. I think Caroline will look over at me and like, oh, my goodness, how could you not know about this? But I think it`s an important anecdote. David French who`s a conservative wrote in the dispatch today about when our forefathers fail. And he, he said in that article, in the lead, he said, I`m embarrassed to admit I learned about us on my (AUDIO GAP). I learned about the Tulsa massacre relatively recently. And it was just a lunch just a few months ago, I learned about the Birmingham church bombing by four members of the KKK.

I`m a fairly educated person. This was something that was completely new to me. We cannot raise awareness -- we cannot get white American comfortable with the history of black American, the pain, and the reality of how we got here if people don`t know what happened.

And there`s a big debate happening right now about how to discuss our history in schools. And I think that this is absolutely critical and it`s a critical fight that in our schools, that young Americans are taught about the great things about America, the sacrifices, we`re here on Memorial Day that people have put forth for this country, but also our sins.

And until people are fully aware of that, then hopefully, we can move to this next step. You know, you`re always going to have this portion of people that want to believe what they want to believe. You`re always going to have people that are bigoted. But to get a critical mass, as Caroline said, aware and comfortable, we need to educate folks about it. And so I think what Biden`s doing tomorrow is a good step in that regard.

WILLIAMS: I can`t thank our guests enough. Tough topic and an honest conversation. Caroline Randall Williams, Tim Miller, I greatly appreciate you spending part of your holiday Monday evening with us.

Coming up after our next break, General Barry McCaffrey is here to talk about what he calls a very dangerous period as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan. That`s even before we talk about domestic conditions in this country with the general coming up.



BIDEN: We owe the honor debt and debt we can never fully repay. We owe them our whole souls. We owe them our full best efforts to perfect the Union for which they died.


WILLIAMS: President Biden at the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. We also heard from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who paid tribute to Gold Star families.


LLOYD AUSTIN, UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: For the loved ones of those who have fallen, let me simply say, we know the depth of your sacrifice, but we can never truly know the depth of your loss. What we can do is honor the memory of those who lost by caring for those who mourn them and by seeking to perfect our union and defend our democracy.


WILLIAMS: We are so thankful that on this of all days, our next guest has been willing to spend a few minutes with us. General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf, former cabinet member, a member of the National Security Council. He retired, of course, as a four-star general in the U.S. Army. And general who are you thinking of even if it`s a long list on this Memorial Day?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think for a lot of us who are combat veterans with an intensely personal kind of memory. By the way, Brian, I always object to the notion of families healing from a loss with one of their loved ones in combat. They don`t. They`re putting it in context. They understand that. They admire the people that they`ve lost, but it`s never really a healing process.

The first time I ran into casualties in Vietnam was August in 1964. I was in airborne school at Fort Benning and my brother-in-law, Captain Dave Reagan, was killed in action along with three other soldiers in Vietnam, serving with the 41st Vietnamese Ranger battalion. My Westpoint class lost 24 of our class killed in action and Vietnam. And then, of course, on to the other wars to include the Gulf War.

So, the country has been privileged to have millions of young men and women step forward and be willing to stand between us and danger. That`s the whole purpose of Memorial Day.

WILLIAMS: Fast forward to now, and I want to read you something from the New York Times on our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The United States troops and their NATO allies intend to be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, well ahead of President Biden`s September 11 withdrawal deadline, military official said in what has turned into an accelerated ending to America`s longest war.

General, what is the danger to you and how grave danger is it?

MCCAFFREY: Well, look, anytime you`re involved in a withdrawal, pulling your forces out of combat, that`s the most dangerous of all military operations. We`re fortunate we got the four-star General Scottie Miller there. He`s got more time in combat than anyone in uniform.

So, I think it`s going to go OK. Thankfully, the Navy has come in and backed up with a carrier battle group, this withdrawal effort. But it`s a very tricky. It looks to me as if the Afghan security forces are starting to come apart, in particular, the police. The central government is corrupt and incompetent, and the Taliban are going to wreak vengeance on that country.

So, we`re watching a likely humanitarian disaster with millions of refugees, with the return of women and girls to servitude. I`m not sure the Biden administration had any options. But I think we ought to be clear-eyed and what`s coming up in Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS: I have not had the opportunity, General, in the days since a sitting U.S. senator from Texas tweeted out a straight-up propaganda video, a recruitment video for the Russian military and followed it with a video meant to diminish recruiting tactics and standards in the modern day military. I know that as a retired four-star, you keep up constantly with the state and readiness of especially your branch, the modern U.S. Army. Where do you put things and how do you assess the actions of the senator?

MCCAFFREY: Well, this is just base political warfare. Look, back off the whole situation. We got 20 percent of the Air Force and the Navy (INAUDIBLE). When you look at the army drone, 50 percent, range around nine percent. There is no serving officer who doesn`t think we`re better prepared to protect America because of these high-quality young women in our range.

We had young men we`re recruiting out of the top 25 percent of American males. The women tend to be around 15 percent. Now, look, you know, we`ve had over 1,000 women killed or wounded in the war on terror, 149 killed in action. So, this is political warfare, but it`s harmful to the morale of the armed forces. We have never had a more competent fighting force than we have today.

WILLIAMS: And now, I have to go to the sorry subject of Michael Flynn. Liz Cheney put out a tweet after his comments were widely disseminated. I know he has tried, attempt at a walk back today. But let`s put the Liz Cheney tweet up on the screen so our viewers can see it. Very simple, picture of Flynn, "No American should advocate or support the violent overthrow of the United States."

Indeed, that`s what he did at this QAnon convention. I know you`ve been through the wringer over the course of his career as a general officer in the army to present day including but not limited to his 22-day term as our National Security Adviser. What do you make of it other than the fact that it`s extremely dangerous talk?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think that`s the most important thing to say. This is actually very dangerous rhetoric. This is harmful. This is putting the country at risk. I have never heard anything like this probably in the last 100 years this kind of just completely irresponsible, provocative language. I think Mike Flynn has a mental health problem, could be blind. But this whole notion -- 15 percent of the country, by the way, believes in QAnon conspiracy theories. You know, a global network of Satan worshipping pedophiles is just crazy stuff.

So, he has slipped into a different realm. I think it is a mental health condition. But as a senior military officer, retired as he is, to be calling apparently for a coup against our democratic country, and he`s done this before, is extremely dangerous. Department of Justice is going to be hard-pressed to not consider whether this language is criminal in nature.

WILLIAMS: What do you think turned him, General? because for him to hold these views now means a dramatic reversal of all the training and indoctrination that our flag officers go through to work up to the rank he occupied in the U.S. Army. It was alarming to see him enjoying a banquet dinner with Putin on the Russia television coverage of that event early on. But what turns a man like Mike Flynn?

MCCAFFREY: I don`t know. I follow him in Afghanistan. And he -- you know, he was an important part of the McChrystal effort to stop terrorism from coming back to American shores. So, he`s a very capable intelligence officer. He got to DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and he failed there. And he essentially got fired by the Pentagon and by President Obama. Then he started to go off the deep end.

So, I mean, all the way through the campaign where he`s chanting lock her up, this is not the language we expect of any public servant, never mind, a senior military officer. So, again, I think it`s a sad situation, but he`s becoming a threat to the security of the United States. He`s lost it.

WILLIAMS: Yours is one of the voices we desperately wanted to hear from today. We appreciate every time you take our questions, but especially on this day. General Barry McCaffrey, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, a deadly holiday weekend is confirming our worst fears that our country is becoming a more violent place.


WILLIAMS: Investigators are searching for the suspects involved in a mass shooting over the weekend in Miami. Officials there are calling it an act of domestic terrorism. And there`s no denying it`s part of an unmistakable wave of violence in our population centers especially as summer will shortly be underway.

We get our reports a night from NBC News Correspondent Sam Brock.


SAM BROCK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, new video showing the moments before a mass shooting in Miami reveals a jarring sequence. Three shooters clad in black leaving their SUV with assault weapons only to return six seconds later, after firing countless bullets and shooting 23 people, killing two. Now, just hours ago, investigators revealing this murky dot in a Miami canal is the stolen vehicle.

As families face indescribable pain, this father lost his son and carried his anguish from Sunday scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You kill a good kid.

BROCK: To Monday`s press conference. Miami-Dade`s mayor calling what happened an act of domestic terrorism with a manhunt underway for the suspects.

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MAYOR, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: We will do everything, everything we can. We must get these killers off the streets.

BROCK: The gun violence continuing unabated. In Houston overnight, two killed and two others injured at a nightclub. The violent behavior getting more brazen by the day. In South Florida, this man firing from his car window days ago, spraying gunfire in broad daylight.

The El Mula tragedy wasn`t even the only mass shooting in Miami this weekend. I`m in the Wynwood District were seven people were injured, 60 reported gunshots, all this part of a nationwide spike in gun violence. Every town for gun safety highlighting that 57 of the largest cities in the country saw a 36 percent jump in gun homicides from 2019 to 2020. The largest increase since data was available.

RODNEY THOMAS, FATHER OF SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I`m angry, I`m hurt. I`m relieved. I`m disappointed.

BROCK: Tonight, communities across the country hoping some course of action can calm the constant heartache. Sam Brock, NBC News Miami.


WILLIAMS: And coming up in our next hour on this Memorial Day edition, two of our favorite doctors on the frontlines of the pandemic talk about their service beyond the emergency room when our special edition continues.