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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 7/14/21

Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Claire McCaskill, Gary Ginsberg

Summary

COVID cases rise across U.S., driven by Delta variant. White House officials are devising ways to fight the spread of dangerous falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines. Olivia Rodrigo visits White House to urge young Americans to get vaccinated against COVID. Health officials warn new U.S. COVID cases include many young, unvaccinated people. Dems face uphill battle in passing $3.5 trillion budget deal. Extreme heat and drought conditions have fueled wildfires across the West, with dozens actively burning in the region.

Transcript

BOB KERREY, (D) NEBRASKA FORMER SENATOR: You got to brackets age line, and they haven`t done it. And it`s a real problem it seems to me, because it creates permission for him to continue.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Former Senator Bob Kerrey, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

KERREY: You`re welcome.

O`DONNELL: We really appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

KERREY: Anytime.

O`DONNELL: My friend Bob Kerrey gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening, once again, day 176 of the Biden administration. We are now getting some bracing new revelations about Donald Trump`s final year, his final days in the White House and they come from the Pulitzer Prize writing duo, friends of this broadcast, Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post in their new book, I Alone Can Fix It. They will be our guests here next Tuesday night.

The authors detail the concerns of U.S. Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about an attempted coup in our country after Trump refused to concede the election. They say Milley told his closest deputies, "They may try but they`re not going to, expletive, succeed, he told them. You can`t do this without the military. You can`t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We`re the guys with the guns."

The book also details the exchange between Milley and Pelosi on January 8, remember that`s two days after the attempt to overthrow our election. "Pelosi reminded Milley of the oath he swore to the constitution and asked him to review precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating war by ordering a nuclear strike. Ma`am, I guarantee you that we have checks and balances in the system, Milley told her. He walked her through the process of nuclear release authorities. Ma`am, I guarantee you these processes are very good, he said. There`s not going to be an accidental firing of nuclear weapons."

There`s also important news tonight about the ongoing story of our time, the pandemic what was supposed to be our summer of recovery from the pandemic now appears in some places at least to be turning into a race to get ahead of the surge in new cases. This is being fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant which the CDC says is now 58% of all new infections.

Nearly every state is affected now and hospitalizations and deaths are rising with it across the country. Scientists say this latest spread is largely among the unvaccinated. Each week fewer and fewer Americans have been getting the shots, New York Times notes it highlights what is in effect to America`s those vaccinated and those who are not. Now the White House is focused not just on getting people to get the vaccine, but at the same time on fighting rampant disinformation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All of us social media companies platforms where a lot of this misinformation travels, the media, state and local officials, it`s important for everybody to step up and spread the word about the vaccines. The pushback against disinformation information that is, you know, literally a matter of life and death is something that is going to be a continued focus of this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Now the administration says it`ll lay out more details of this plan tomorrow. Earlier today, the emphasis was on convincing younger Americans to get vaccinated when popstar Olivia Rodrigo visited the White House to meet with the President and Dr. Fauci. One medical expert says getting the message through to adults and young people will be the key to stopping the spread of this virus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PETER HOTEZ, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Unless you`ve got all of the adults and adolescents vaccinated transmission will continue to accelerate because this Delta variant is twice as contagious as the original lineage so we can expect a lot of them to get COVID. Now, what the conservative lobby says is the death rates among young people is quite low and that`s true but what they omit telling you is that long haul COVID is quite common 10 to 30%.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And with that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this busy Wednesday night, Shannon Pettypiece, Veteran Journalist, Our Senior White House Reporter over at NBC News Digital. Claire McCaskill, former Democratic Senator from the great state of Missouri and General Barry McCaffrey, decorated combat veteran of Vietnam former Battlefield Commander in the Persian Gulf, former cabinet member, member of the National Security Council, he retired as a four star general in the U.S. Army.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. And General, it is you we must begin with tonight because of the news at the top of our broadcast. I want to get your reaction to these stunning quotes out of General Mark Milley. I know you`ve been a fan and supporter of his and remembering he is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He as well as you know that they`re supposed to be civilian control of the military. But you also shared a worry about those final days what the President might attempt and you were also looking for the guardrails.

[23:05:23]

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (ret.): Brian, there`s no question that the president of United States, Mr. Trump was literally unhinged, certainly during the last year in office, and following his defeat in the election was a very dangerous situation. The Chairman of JCS, Mark Milley, I`ve known since he was a colonel, who won tough customer, most of his life been deployed in combat or operational areas. Former Army Chief of Staff, 39 years in uniform, Princeton Columbia educated, a very bright, capable officer. He doesn`t command any soldiers and airmen, any Marines, any sailors. The 11 combatant commanders are under the control of the Secretary of Defense and the President of United States. So we really have a dilemma.

Now the chairman has open access to the president of the National Security Council to senior members of Congress. And he holds a lot of influence. But when Trump appointed a retired lieutenant colonel acolyte as Secretary Defense and fired Mark Esper, you know, if I`ve been a foreign intelligence officer, looking at the United States, I would have concluded this guy is about to lead a coup against the government. And I think that`s what he was noodling with as the days went by.

WILLIAMS: Senator, you heard what the General just said there. And indeed, this constant chaos has brought numbness. It`s been compared to the frog boiling experience, experiment. Even the coverage of 1/6, we tend to shorthand as the riot or the insurrection. It was straight up an attempt to change the results of an election. Are these books that are coming out in rapid succession, there will be four of them out and on the market just in a few weeks time. Are they useful as a break, a reminder to us to slow down, look back, see how close we came and realize the grave danger that continues?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I hope so. I do think we forget how crazy this guy was at the end after he lost. I do think that we forget. And as somebody who was honored to work with both General McCaffrey and many other generals during my time in the United States Senate, I got to tell you that when they started cleaning out the professionals at the Pentagon, and putting in these Trump`s stooges, at the very end of his administration, when Bill Barr said I`ve had enough, and when Esper was fired, and when others walked off the stage, there was a moment where our country was really in jeopardy. And I do think we`ve forgotten that. I think we dress it up. And whose team are you on? And are you pro-Trump or anti-Trump, instead of you got to be on the American team. And we cannot allow there to be someone in that office that abused power the way he did.

Now, thank goodness, General Milley was there and other generals, I think, all saw this guy`s flaws and how -- what a terrible leader he was, because I`ll tell you one thing they get right at the Pentagon. They teach them how to be leaders. And they saw that this was a flawed leader. And I do think that not only Mark Milley, but others would have been a backstop. Had Trump really gone off the reservation, gone off the rails, I should say.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, for so many of the officers that leadership training starts at the service academies and continues throughout their career. Shannon Pettypiece, it falls to you to talk about your beat and this president and specifically, this Delta variant, can Joe Biden beat the clock when the foot race choose your metaphor between the spread of this variant and shots in arms?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I mean, the administration certainly knows the urgency of this. And they`ve been trying to articulate that for weeks now, trying to articulate the threat posed by the Delta variant to unvaccinated people, particularly to younger people as a way to urge them to go get vaccinated. When you look at the numbers, though, of the rate of vaccinations, what they`re doing is not working. And you can argue that vaccinations would be slowing even more if it wasn`t for what they are doing, but at the pace that the vaccinations are going at right now, it`s Take a number of weeks to get to that 70% goal that the President wanted by July 4. And even once you get to that 70% goal, obviously public health experts say, that`s not the stopping point. You can`t just end there. You know, that`s still going to leave millions of Americans unprotected.

[23:10:16]

They have sort of thrown the kitchen sink at efforts they can try and deploy. They have called June the month of action, they had the free beer, they had free childcare, paid time off, there were all the lotteries, you know, they keep going down the line, there`s a pop singer at the White House today, trying to incentivize people and week after week, you just see the numbers going down and down. I know a lot of public health experts are now starting to talk for more of a stick approach, like mandates the frightening m word that no one in Washington wants to hear. And the White House though, continues to say they`re not going to deploy any federal mandates. If those are going to happen, they`re going to have to come at the local level or at the private sector. They`re staying away from that. So I think the real question is going to remain, what are they going to do now? Because the numbers just keep tick, tick, ticking down.

WILLIAMS: Hey, General, quick follow up on Milley and then a question on another topic. Another quote from the book, I Alone Can Fix It. General Milley saw parallels between Trump`s rhetoric of election fraud and Adolf Hitler`s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior. This is a rice stag moment, Milley told aides, the gospel of the Fuhrer. At some level General, are you happy there was a guy with his number of stars on his shoulder, on the inside speaking truth to power or if not to power his immediate staff?

MCCAFFREY: Sure, look, you know, I`ve vehemently tried to deny any comparison between Mr. Trump and his gang and the Nazi (ph) administration of Hitler in the `30s. There is a shocking parallel, though, in some ways, by their essential denial of the rule of law, and the norms that allow this terribly brief constitutional document to work in which we all agree that certain things are going to happen, that you`re not going to spend money unless Congress appropriated, you`re not going to violate the judicial systems decisions and the Trump administration, none of that was a case and many of them. So I, you know, I think Milley was in there in the room. By the way, I`ve heard a lot of these reports out of that book, firsthand, contemporary to the events taking place. So there`s no question in my mind that Trump walked up to the edge of using the armed forces, and the federal law enforcement could try and carry out a coup to not leave office. He didn`t have the guts to do it. You didn`t have the smarts to do it. He certainly didn`t have any agreement, fortunately, in the executive branch behind them, but we were in some peril during that period of time, and Mark Milley history is going to be kind to him as a hero of that era.

WILLIAMS: Next up, General, I want to play for you and our audience comments today by former President George W. Bush. They have to do with the peril in the wake of our pullout from Afghanistan. We`ll discuss on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. FORMER PRESIDENT: I`m afraid, Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it a mistake, the withdrawal?

BUSH: I, you know, I think it is. Yeah. I think -- because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad. And I`m sad. And I spend a lot and I spend a lot of time with Afghan women and they`re scared. And I think about all the interpreters and people that help, not only U.S. troops but NATO troops. And they`re just -- it seems like there`s you can be left behind to be slaughtered by the very brutal people and it breaks my heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: General his sentiment aside, I`m entitled to one tiny point before I asked you the question, it`s an interview with German TV, former president turned down numerous interview requests with American media during things like the attack on our democracy without comment during the Trump years. So there`s that as long as we get that on the record. Now, General, do you concur with his settlement there?

MCCAFFREY: Look, I have absolutely no argument with the Biden administration decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. They`re just zero political support for that war. None of the four presidents involved built a base of understanding among the American people. So I think the Biden administration`s decision was politically, the only one they could make. Having said that, I think we need to be ruthlessly objective in understanding the consequences and a lot of nonsense words floating around right now.

[23:15:07]

U.S. combat forces are already out. U.S. Air Power, intelligence, special operations are no longer engaged. We`re not going to be able to send money to a corrupt central regime in Afghanistan in the coming year. There`ll be no Americans to monitor. It will be going right in somebody`s pocket. And looks right now as the Taliban, they`re claiming they control 85% of the country, I think it`s probably more likely, around half the districts are under their control, going to be a sad outcome. We`re going to have millions of people fleeing under the joining nation states. It`s not 2500 interpreters, for God`s sakes, it`s 10s of 1000s of Afghans that cast their lot with the NATO forces, CIA commandos, Special Forces, political leadership, they all have families, we are walking away from -- they`re going to be left to a brutal fate. The only thing that may push back on this is Afghanistan`s now devolving into ethnic civil war in the militias will rearm and try and protect our own people that -- you know, to the Hazaras in particular in great peril of genocide of Shiite Muslims and the Taliban. So there`s going to be an ugly couple of years coming up, if it lasts that long.

WILLIAMS: Claire McCaskill, we careened into a domestic topic that you`re familiar with, and that is the spike in virus cases in your home state of Missouri, does this necessarily have to do with its color on the political map. Is this anti-vaccine come home to roost?

MCCASKILL: It has. And it`s the abject failure of the leadership, political leadership of the state, which is now dominated by the Republican Party, the governor, all of the statewide elected officials except one who`s a Democrat. And this is happening, Brian, you know, this part of my state you used to hang out there, and you`re -- many years ago, but this, we`re talking about southwest Missouri. And I would say we`ve talked a lot about pop stars and community leaders, I don`t need to tell you that may be the most important people that need to do some soul searching and read some of the New Testament or the evangelical ministers that are sprinkled throughout the states that are having problems with accepting the vaccine that Trump not only developed, but he took. This was Trump`s vaccine until he left office. And if we don`t get beyond the political issue, and get to the health and the safety issue, we`re going to -- we have more people in ICU units in the hospital now in Missouri that we had a year ago. And that is primarily because of the failure of the Republicans in this state to take it seriously. And I think the failure of evangelical ministers in rural Missouri that they are failing the people that come to them for spiritual guidance, they should be helping them, talk to their doctors, find doctors and do the right thing and take the vaccine. It`s heartbreaking to see how many people are in ICU units right now that don`t need to be.

WILLIAMS: From Nevada to Carthage to Neosho to Joplin, I remember southwest Missouri very well and have every reason to agree with the point you just made. And Shannon, this gets to you and the White House effort to counter this information.

PETTYPIECE: Right, we`ll see they`ve been highlighted some sort of report that the Surgeon General is going to present tomorrow at the press briefing. I mean, we`re six months -- well, well beyond six months into the steps information campaign, but slightly over six months into this administration. And, you know, just now they`re getting to the idea of disinformation, if this disinformation has been out there really for 18 months since this pandemic began when people questioned whether it was even real or whether it was made up and it is only continued now into the vaccine. I mean, there`s been disinformation about vaccines for well over a decade now.

So -- I mean, it`s beyond trying to put the horse back into the barn. The information is out there. And, you know, it is also out there outside of the White House`s control. You know, we`ll see what they have to say about it. They have been trying to get counter information out there, through a number of CDC websites, through local community groups, organizations, and there`s an acknowledgement that people don`t necessarily trust information that comes from the government. So they`ve tried to find other channels to get information out there. But if there`s also another firehose of disinformation coming out, they`re countering it. I mean, it makes it really difficult, you know, problem to take on. So I think that`s why, you know, you see, you know, public health officials saying, you know, they just have to sort of flood the zone with a message and hope they can drown out the information that`s coming across on social media and other platforms. But yeah, they have been trying to do that for months now. So it`s going to be difficult to change that trajectory.

[23:20:22]

You know, and I will add too, it`s not just its information, the vaccination rates are the lowest among younger people, 18 to 24 year olds, and a lot of them just say it`s because they`re not as concerned about it, because statistically, the virus doesn`t affect them as much. And so, and that is, you know, has been a statistical fact. So they`re going to have to, you know, counter that information, though, with the new reality we`re living in with the Delta variant.

WILLIAMS: So appreciative to our starting frontline tonight, a lot of news Shannon Pettypiece, Claire McCaskill, General Barry McCaffrey, our thanks for starting us off.

And coming up, more on those bracing details emerging about the Trump White House, Eugene Robinson, Mike Murphy standing by to weigh in.

And later, maybe the former president just needed a best friend. There`s a new book out it`s all about an underrated, rarefied small group of Americans, the people who have served as BFPs, Best Friends of the President. Will talk to the author tonight, we`ll have all of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday evening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: It is sad for me to say, as I know it is for you to identify the Republican Party is an autocratic party that doesn`t care about democracy anymore. January 6, is an extension or the beginning of this process of an attempt to take away people`s voting rights and to nullify elections. The Republicans know full well that if they do this, they no longer are accountable to the voters, all voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That`s the Political Strategist, Matthew Dowd, friend of ours who happens to be a Texan, who happened today to underscore why Texas Democrats traveled to D.C. to urge Congress to pass protections against restrictive voting measures.

[23:25:11]

Washington Post editorial board is on the board with this, the direction of Texas`s anti-voting campaign and the fig leaf excuses with which Republicans justify it, reflect a lack of confidence in their own popularity and a toxic disdain for democracy that should offend every American, strong words.

With us again tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for The Washington Post, and Mike Murphy, Veteran, Republican Strategist, co-director of the Center for Political Future at the University of Southern California, also happens to be co-host of the Hacks on Tap podcast.

Gentlemen, good evening, and welcome to you both. And Eugene, I just want to get your reaction. I`m going to put another quote on the pile from the new Phil Rucker, Carol Leonnig book, I Alone Can Fix It. This is Liz Cheney described being together with Jim Jordan during the siege of 1/6. While these maniacs are going through the place, I`m standing in the aisle and he said, we need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you. I smacked his hand away and told him, get away from me. You -- the word is f***ing did this.

Just your reaction Gene, we have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs invoking Hitler and the Reichstag. If there`s a quote you need on a subject about the unraveling of the Trump West Wing, it`s in here.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Yeah, it`s in there. I mean, you know, as you know, I`ve said before, the first real rule of column writing is, you know, don`t go for the Hitler analogy. Don`t go for the Nazi analogy. But the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went there, as it was happening and saw the January 6, potentially a Reichstag moment, or attempt to undemocratically sees power, the way Hitler -- I mean, it`s just -- this is gobsmacking. And just when you thought you couldn`t be surprised at how bad it was, it turns out, it was worse, it was much worse. And the fact, you know, Rudy Giuliani, sort of, you know, just declaring wasn`t to say we want -- that surprises me, much less than the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was so concerned at that moment of what might happen and what Donald Trump might do. It is just stunning.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Mike Murphy, the Texas Democrats meet with Joe Manchin tomorrow. At this point, I should point out, it would be easier to enumerate the Americans who have not met with Joe Manchin about voting rights, who or what will turn Joe Manchin on voting rights?

MIKE MURPHY, VETERAN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, Manchin is holding the power in the 50/50 Senate, as we all know, and he`s put out his own framework of something he could support and I don`t think you have to be a rocket scientist if you`re a Democrat that kind of take the hint and get on board that, you know, when the guy holding the control lever says, here`s what I need to pull the lever. I would listen to him.

HR1, in my view is kind of an overshoot bill, it`s politically at nonviable and Manchin is kind of explain that. So, if I were them, I listened to the guy with the vote. And, you know, we`ll see. I mean, the Republicans, of course, are making a complete dog`s breakfast out of this with the overplaying down in Texas, in narrow provincial democratic -- excuse me, Republican primary politics down there. Yeah, maybe it`ll help but when you have half your legislature running away in the middle of the night, you know, the stop something, that tells you how the vis of it is. It`s not good politics. So I don`t think the Manchin thing is really going to move it one way or not. He said where he is the Dems going to follow, the meeting, I don`t think will drive any new outcome.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen, Eugene and Mike have agreed to stay a bit longer.

Coming up, Biden`s asking for a lot of money from Democrats and because they`re Democrats, nothing`s easy if and -- even if it is money for the folks at home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:33:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): It`s kind of a big gulp. It sounds to me like their approach to paying for $3.5 trillion packages to increase taxes. And if that`s the case, I don`t think you`re going to have a single Republican.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Well, the $3.5 trillion number is a shocking figure. I think the infrastructure plan is a separate plan altogether. What impact this will have I can`t tell you at this stage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So you saw it there. Republicans are already casting doubt on the Democrats go it alone spending package that is intertwined with a bipartisan infrastructure agreement. And regardless of Biden`s visit to the Hill today, the road ahead is tough. NBC News policy editor, Benjy Sarlin sums it up this way, quote, past legislative fights might be instructive. But there`s not that much precedent for a party trying to pass almost its entire domestic agenda in one gigantic mega bill with 50 votes and zero margin for error. We`re in pretty uncharted territory.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Mike Murphy. Eugene, Republicans obviously have the vapors. No one would blame Biden for having flopsweat. Does Biden have a chance of pulling this off?

ROBINSON: Well, actually, I do think he has a chance of pulling it off. The, you know, the bipartisan hard infrastructure bill is one thing. And as Mitt Romney says, he and others who agree with that, want to keep that separate from the soft infrastructure of climate change, human infrastructure, 3.5 trillion separate bill that the Democrats would have to do by themselves.

I think that if they can keep it separate if they can keep that idea of division, things are two separate things that we`re talking about apples and oranges. I think he`s got a chance. I don`t know if people get the full 3.5 but I think a lot of money.

[23:35:04]

I think Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will get on board for a lot of money and you know how the Senate can do when it comes to scoring packages and deciding how it`s paid for and they do dynamic scoring. And listen, there are ways to get this through. It`s going to take a while, I think, but there are ways to get it done.

WILLIAMS: Let`s go up to the banks of beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee, and throw a question to Mike Murphy here with a quote from our mutual friend, Jon Allen. And he writes and, Mike, I`m asking you this because this is something you have been predicting and talking about. The serious question democrats must start asking is if or when will moderates and independent voters rebel against such record levels of spending and the, wait for it, higher inflation that might follow, said one democratic strategist who has worked on Capitol Hill and presidential campaigns. Quote, if they do rebel, we will get slaughtered in the 2022 midterm elections.

So Mike, the point here is inflation may take the place of defund the police as a way to beat the Democrats.

MURPHY: Yes, look, inflation is political nitroglycerin. You got to be very careful playing with it. And at least now it`s the beginning of an economic cycle word. See, they`re real signs of inflation. So the Democrats have to curb their appetites. I mean, we`d say 3.5 trillion, you know, I`ll put that in English. 3.5 trillion is about 82 percent in real dollars of the cost to the U.S. government of the Second World War, which was around 4 trillion. So this is a very big ask.

I think Gene is right. It`s going to get whittled back. I mean, we`ve all heard of too big to fail. There`s also too big to succeed. And then a 50-50 Senate, you know that. That`s hard enough. It`s hard enough to order lunch with that. So doing 3.5 trillion, we will see.

I think the Democrats ought to remember this infrastructure thing as a standalone would be a big political win for Joe Biden. I would -- I think it`s not in their interest to get into a huge spending war, an issue that may become even more relevant, particularly in those suburbs and take away from they`ve got a bird almost in the hand there. They ought to keep an eye on 3.5 trillion could be controversial.

WILLIAMS: I`m only noting the sign behind you that says, Winnipesaukee, I happen to know the Romney`s have for years had a place up there. You could take those oars off the wall, roll over to their little compound, go interview and make some news.

MURPHY: You know, it`s true. They`re not far away from here. I dropped by and haunt him once in a while, so I`m going to go check his pulse after that spending number if I see him tomorrow.

WILLIAMS: Our friends Eugene Robinson and Mike Murphy, our thanks. We`ll do this again. Thank you both gentlemen.

Coming up for us. They are unelected. They`re hugely influential. A fascinating new book tells the story of the people who have been best friends with our modern day presidents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:41:18]

WILLIAMS: Welcome back. We talk all the time around here about First Ladies, first children even first pets but often the most influential person in the president`s immediate orbit is left out of the history books until now. On that topic, our next guest writes in his new book called "First Friends," quote, the deeper I delved into dozens of presidential friendships, the more convinced I became that those presidents who did have first friends were almost always the better for it, and so was the country.

With us for more bestselling author Gary Ginsberg, his new book is "First Friends, The Powerful Unsung And Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents." We should note it is now and already a New York Times bestseller.

Two disclosures for our audience. Number one, Gary is my friend. Number two, your humble host thought he knew just about everything about presidential history, especially in the modern era had read every book, I learned a ton in this book and had a really hard time putting it down. So, to my friend, well done.

And let`s start at the beginning, which would mean the most recent past president who were Donald Trump`s friends, and did this most transactional of all presidents in our history have anyone with the title best friend?

GARY GINSBERG, AUTHOR "FIRST FRIENDS": Well, first of all, thank you, Brian, for having me. It`s great to be here. I wanted to do a chapter on Trump and engage with somebody who was close to him who might help me figure it out. We went around and around for about two months.

So this person finally confirmed that the President really doesn`t have a first friend. Nor did he say he needed any close friends. He said basically, the friendship just wasn`t part of his emotional makeup. He has people he speaks to frequently like the founder of Marvel, like promo letter.

But in the end, I think his closest friend, just to shorthand, it was really his Twitter feed before it was shut down. I mean, all he I think really needs for friendship, it seems, is public affirmation. And one person said, this kind of gives some flavor to it, that he would take a big group of family and so called friends up to Camp David, for weekends. And then he would basically to sit by himself in the cabin, all day long talking to supporters around the country on the phone. That was his idea of hanging around with friends.

And I guess the reason why I raised it in my preferences, you wonder, how do you have that close friend? Would he not have made the mistakes he did, particularly those last two months that resulted in his second impeachment, you know, history could have been different.

WILLIAMS: Your chapter on Harry Truman could have been the stuff of fiction in a novel, it moves and reads like that. Tell the folks watching about this rarest of friendships, forged in warfare that went on to have a great effect on us and global policy.

GINSBERG: It did. I think it`s the single most powerful example actually Brian of how a lifelong friendship can change the course of history. Eddie Jacobson and Harry Truman ran haberdashery together for a couple of years in Kansas City before it failed. But they stayed best friends is Truman rose, you know, senator, vice president, president. But because of their long friendship, relationship that I think was built on complete trust and candor, right, they`re Midwesterners.

Jacobson could fly halfway across the country in March uninvited into the Oval Office in March 1948. And convinced the president to meet with someone that he really refused until then to meet with Chaim Weizmann, a war hero from Britain from the first World War, all in an effort to get had him do what he knew in his heart he needed to do which was recognize an independent state of Israel.

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No aide could have spoken to him the way that he did no Cabinet Secretary, only somebody who had an equal relationship with him, who -- neither needed nor wanted anything from him which he never actually asked anything from them.

So it goes in. He speaks to him. He says, basically get over your childish anger. He got to do what you know you got to do. Truman gets pissed. He turns around and he strums his desk, turns around, he says, OK, you win, you bought it, son of the bee, I`ll do it. He sees Chaim Weizmann, and then two months later, he`s the first foreign leader to recognize the independent state of Israel 11 minutes after it`s declared. It`s really -- it`s a great story.

WILLIAMS: Your chapter on Nixon is no less interesting. Anyone our age and older and we share a generation but I got a few years on you. I`ll concede that as well. That`s transparency number three for tonight`s segment.

Anyone our age or older knows the name Bebe Rebozo right away. It`s distinctive. It was in news coverage when we were little kids. Dick Nixon`s closest friend. You go there, however, on the really shaky optics that polite people didn`t talk about, about the amount of time and unnatural, inconceivable amount of time these two guys spent together and how it had tongues wagging again, sort of O`Shea (ph), but among members of polite society.

GINSBERG: It definitely did. It went everywhere from, you know, what was going on to where they gay lovers, which I don`t think was ever any remotely proven. But what intrigued me about Nixon`s first friendship with Rebozo was just how different they were in personality and temperament.

Nixon was this quintessential as you know, dark brooding intellectual, Rebozo was his hail fellow kind of guy, a high school graduate, whose first job was an airlines tour. But together, it just worked. Nixon was a loner, but thankfully he had the self-awareness to know that he needed company. And Bebe was the perfect companion. He never challenged him. Nixon says he was a sponge. He could entertain him when he wanted to entertain, stay silent as you just said he could mix martinis, grow steaks.

In fact, you just said, they would sit together for literally hours and John Dean tells me a great anecdote in the book about sitting in the boat and the Secret Service agent can`t figure out what`s great doesn`t hear a word. So he climbs down and peers in. He sees two guys are staring out at the sea for literally hours.

But, you know, where it goes all wrong that Bebe was loyal to a fault. And he couldn`t say no when Nixon was president. And when Nixon asked them to raise illegal campaign funds that was Bebe`s great failing. His loyalty blinded his judgment. And as I write about he accepts as 100 -- $100,000 bribe from Howard Hughes and I think that leads to Watergate and ultimately his impeachment and resignation.

WILLIAMS: Our guest this evening has been Gary Ginsberg, author of this terrific new book called "First Friends," The Powerful, Unsung And Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents." If there`s a presidential history buff in your life, or if that buff is you recommend it. Gary, thank you for coming on. Best of luck with this book.

GINSBERG: Thanks a lot, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us why this year`s fire season in the American West is now weeks ahead of schedule, with one mega fire already burning out of control.

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WILLIAMS: This summer has been one of extremes thus far for much of the country. If you`re watching us from out west tonight, then you know. Parts of the region are headed into a fourth temperature spike in just five weeks. The last thing we needed was an early fire season and yet sadly already, wildfires have consumed over a million acres. NBC News correspondent Jacob Ward has our report tonight from California.

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JACOB WARD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, dozens of wildfires raging out of control in the West.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess, we`ve had what three four fires around here in the last month and it`s kind of getting scary.

WARD: Two million people under red flag warnings across five states, California, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon.

The bootleg fires the first official mega fire of 2021. It`s burned more than 200,000 acres, doubling in size for four straight days. Now nearly seven times the size of San Francisco.

And drought conditions in 94 percent of the West are making it all worse.

KRISTEN AVERYT, NV CLIMATE POLICY COORDINATOR: It has never been this low. It really truly is unprecedented.

WARD: Lake Mead only a third full is lower than it`s been since the 1930s. It`s one of several depleted reservoirs across the Southwest.

AVERYT: Climate change has a very strong fingerprint on exactly what we`re seeing right now at Lake Mead.

WARD (on camera): This weekend, authorities plan to close this boat ramp on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe citing low water levels and danger to boaters.

(voice-over): Without enough water in lakes and reservoirs, vegetation dries out and becomes ready fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s like a stock fireplace tender packed ready to go up.

WARD: Symptoms of climate change fueling the fires. This fire season is about six weeks ahead of schedule. Outbreaks behaving like they typically would in August or even September.

(on camera): Firefighters are preparing to not only fight fires overnight in order to avoid the possible heat exhaustion that would come with exerting themselves in these triple digit temperatures. They`re also trying to grapple with just the new behavior of fire, walls of flame higher and moving faster than we`ve ever seen.

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WILLIAMS: And we thank our friend correspondent Jacob Ward for that report from California tonight. Coming up, where were you 25 years ago tomorrow. When we come back why tomorrow is a big day around here.

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WILLIAMS: The world is an amazing place every day it changes. Problem is until now you haven`t always been there to see it. A lot of people don`t get to see the early news and they think the late news is on too late. But with our primetime news hour on MSNBC, you can see all the day`s stories on your schedule. You can even get into the news by getting on the internet. When the day is just about done, the world isn`t going anywhere. It`ll now be there waiting for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The news with Brian Williams next only on MSNBC.

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WILLIAMS: OK, that was from a quarter century ago and it`s been noted your humble host is still working nights and cable. Which brings us to the last thing before we go tonight and I hope you`ll indulge the briefest reminiscence Forgive me by a self-avowed MSNBC OG.

Anniversaries often bring about wistfulness. And for those of us who were present at the creation of this network 25 years ago tomorrow, there`s a lot of wist in the air.

Those were the lean years in those early days. When we first got started, we felt like we were just like a real Cable News Network only without the viewers, but we kept at it. Having good people on camera even more good people behind the camera, and having big stories to cover, we found our audience.

In fact, on our third night on the air, we got word the TWA Flight 800 had gone down off Long Island. Put it this way our early graphics department couldn`t render a long island map. So we used a road Atlas that was in someone`s trunk in the parking lot and pointed to the crash site off the coast of East Moriches, New York.

The march of news just kept coming after that much of it tragic. Diana was killed just over a year later. Then claim -- came the Clinton impeachment, 9/11, the dual wars that 9/11 spawned. A few contested elections, few spectacular elections, a threat to our democracy, and look at the time. Here we are.

The network asked 25 of us to write an essay for tomorrow`s 25th anniversary. They asked me to sum up these past 25 years. They further asked that I keep it to 300 words because I guess they`re familiar with my work.

So starting tomorrow, you can read the mini Opus on our website which includes the early mystery as to what those first two letters stood for in our name, MSNBC.

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Importantly, thank you, thank you for being with us and bearing with us. Thank you for watching all or part of this journey. Without you, we`d all just be talking to ourselves just like those first few nights on the air.

So with that, that is our broadcast for this Wednesday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all of my colleagues at all the networks of NBC News, good night.