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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, August 21, 2020

Guests: Melissa Murray, Marty Walsh, Irwin Redlener


President Donald Trump on Friday slammed his 2020 rival Joe Biden and the Democratic National Convention, which concluded with Biden's presidential nomination acceptance speech Thursday night. Trump launched a fresh attack on mail-in voting, making a series of false allegations to suggest the 2020 election will be tainted by fraud. Trump's Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is under fire for policy changes. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Friday that the city's public schools will begin the new academic year with a phased-in approach, though the year will start with remote learning.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Zerlina, thank you for your unique perspective that you always bring to us. Good to see you my friend. Zerlina Maxwell, thank you for joining us tonight. That is tonight's last word. I'm going to see you tomorrow morning and every weekend morning starting at 8 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC. We've got a great show lined up. I hope you'll join us.

The 11th Hour with Brian Williams begins right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,308 of the Trump administration, 74 days now until our Presidential Election.

It is another number that is making news at this hour on a Friday night. Tonight a new projection from the folks at the University of Washington says nearly 310,000 Americans will be dead by December 1. Right now that death toll is over 176,000 with over 5.6 million known infections in our country.

Today Donald Trump had little to say about the virus or its toll but he did go hard after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris after all, Biden's widely praised acceptance speech was a takedown of Trump's leadership. And so 24 hours later, Trump was in front of a conservative group with a rebuttal and a dystopian vision of a democratic victory.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last week, the Democrats held the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history. They spent four straight days attacking America as racist, and a horrible country that must be redeemed. Joe Biden grimly declared a season of American darkness. And yet look at what we've accomplished until the plague came in.

I'm the only thing standing between the American Dream and total anarchy madness and chaos.

If we don't win, it's all gone. OK. It's all gone. We have to win the election. I'm the one. You know, there's a theory that if you don't have it by the end of the year, crazy Nancy Pelosi would become president, you know that, right? No, no think of that. Think of that.


WILLIAMS: Just a fact check here on Trump's allegation about Nancy Pelosi because remember, it was our last president who taught constitutional law and not this one. The speaker would only become president if Congress when it counts the electoral votes on January the sixth. Can't figure out who's president. In that event, the election would go to the house, with each state voting only if that step yields no result. Would a Pelosi presidency come into play?

It is a scare tactic, though for the Trump base, as are his false charges about fraud and mail-in voting.


TRUMP: I don't like this mail-in ballot deal. They're going to send out 51 million mail-in balance to people that haven't requested them. And nobody knows who's going to come. We're not prepared for these 51 million ballots. It's it will be a tremendous embarrassment to our country. They also think I'm trying to steal an election just the opposite. I want the fair results of an election.


WILLIAMS: (Inaudible) to the President's appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy big Trump donor who records show has given over 1.2 million to the Trump victory fund and millions more to the party organizations and candidates. He's only been on the job since mid June. No prior postal experience. He has put into place a series of controversial changes including the removal of key sorting machines in what short looks like an effort to hinder mail-in voting. The changes have already slowed our mail delivery. There was no other expected outcome.

And last week, there were reports several states were warned about mail-in ballots for the November election. How they could be delayed or disqualified. DeJoy was questioned about all of that today at a virtual Senate hearing.


SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Did you discuss those changes or are there potential impact on the November election with the president or anyone at the White House? And remind you you're under oath.

LOUIS DEJOY, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: I have never spoken to the President about the Postal Service other than to congratulate me when I accepted the position.

PETERS: Prior to implementing the changes, did you discuss these changes or their impact on the election with any Trump campaign officials?

DEJOY: No sir.

PETERS: Do you -- do I have your word that you're not going to mandate that states send out any ballots using either the more expensive first-class mail? And will you continue the processes and procedures to allow election mail to move as expeditiously as possible and treated like first class?

DEJOY: Yes sir. We will deploy processes and procedures that advance any election mail, in some cases ahead of first class mail.

PETERS: Will you be bringing back any mail sorting machines that have been removed since you become Postmaster General, any of those come back?

DEJOY: There's no intention to do that. They're not needed, sir.

PETERS: We're being told that you're limiting over time and this could possibly add to backlogs. Are you limiting over time?

DEJOY: We've never eliminated overtime.

PETERS: It's been curtailed significantly is what I understand.

DEJOY: It has not been curtailed by me or the leadership team.


WILLIAMS: No matter what you heard right there as for that last response about overtime NBC News has obtained an internal post service document showing DeJoy's policy changes, prohibit extra or late trips and mandate that mail carriers return on time.

One other thing we learned DeJoy told the Senate he supports voting by mail and like his boss, the president. It happens to be how he votes. On Monday he'll get to answer more questions before a virtual House Committee hearing.

Next week, of course, Republicans will hold their own nominating convention. It all begins in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday. Trump will be in the state. Politico's reporting he's expected to stop by the actual convention site where the roll call vote will be held. While much is still unknown about this event, including the official title, we have learned that Trump will likely speak on more than one of the four nights of the convention.

Meanwhile, Washington Post reporting Democrats are planning to counter program throughout the week with a series of events by calling attention to the contrast between Trump and Biden. Even as his quest for a second term becomes official, there are Trump's legal troubles after all.

Today, his lawyers filed an emergency motion with an appeals court to stop the release of his tax returns, which of course had been cleared for release to the Manhattan DA.

Trump's former senior advisor and close chum Steve Bannon also vowing to fight federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. Bannon has been charged with fraud and more money laundering in connection with a crowd funding effort to build Trump's border wall. Bannon has pleaded not guilty today. He called the prosecution politically driven.


STEVE BANNON, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ADVISER: I am not going to back down. This is a political hit job. Everybody knows I love a fight. You know, I was called honey badger for many years. You know, honey badger doesn't give. So, you know, I'm in this for the long haul. I'm in this for the fight. I'm going to continue to fight. This was to stop and intimidate people that want to talk about the wall.


WILLIAMS: And a late development and a story we have been following steadily, NBC news reporting the late word that former CIA Director John Brennan was indeed interviewed today at Langley CIA headquarters for eight hours by US Attorney John Durham, who is reviewing the investigation into those ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Brennan's former Deputy Chief of Staff says Brennan was told he is not a subject or a target of any criminal investigation but only a witness to events.

Now earlier this month, sources told NBC News that a Brennan interview could signal that Durham is nearing the end of his inquiry.

It's a lot. And with us to talk about a three returning veterans on a Friday night, Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, who is the co-author along with his very stable colleague Carol Leonnig of the bestseller, A Very Stable Genius. John Karl, Chief White House Correspondent over at ABC News. We get to talk to him because he too is an author, the must read Front Row at the Trump Show. And Melissa Murray, she is an NYU Law Professor clerked for Judge Sonia Sotomayor while on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Phil, I'd like to begin with you and your beat what was the real West Wing reaction to the four night democratic show to the final speech by Joe Biden. And give us as much of a preview as you can of the RNC convention?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, so Brian publicly the President's advisors and aides are saying that the Democratic has been on a convention of doom and gloom to use the phrase that we hear out of the Trump White House. They believe that was too negative of a tone and a message from the Democrats. But privately there is an acknowledgement among the President's advisors that he is behind in this race that Joe Biden clearly has momentum and has the advantage at the moment. And that the Democratic Convention was pretty well executed from a technological standpoint, from an innovation standpoint, from a message discipline standpoint, all things that matter in politics.

And so looking ahead, the Republicans want to try to project a sense of optimism and give voters a feeling that for more years of President Trump will help us get out of this pandemic and rebuild the economy after the recession this year. But there are a lot of big shifts in this convention including some of the cultural warriors who are going to be speaking and may have very controversial and divisive messages.

There are also some ethics questions that are being raised about the way the President is going to be conducting this convention. He will be giving his acceptance speech Thursday night from the White House itself. That is federal property, of course. And there are also concerns about so much of the activity happening in close proximity to his own hotel, the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

WILLIAMS: Jon Karl, can we just assume that after four nights of the Republican convention, they're simply going to insist that the Democratic ticket is Hunter Biden and AOC?

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Essentially delock, Brian. This is going to be dark, particularly I believe, the President's acceptance speech. This is going to make American carnage looked like morning in America. And we've seen these telegraphed this in Scranton yesterday. He actually compared himself to a wall. He said, we are a wall between the American Dream and the complete and total destruction of the greatest country on earth.

He said today, they are coming for you. They're coming after you. This is going to be a very dark vision. And I think Phil raises a great point. I mean, we've, you know, all been under the assumption that you can't do over politics on federal property and certainly not at the White House. And he will, the President will deliver his acceptance speech right there on the White House, right there at the South Lawn, presumably White House officials, White House aides, people on the government payroll, doing the work of preparing and executing that very critical day of the Republican Convention on federal property, on the federal dime.

WILLIAMS: Because a piece of legislation called the Hatch Act, at least used to matter.

KARL: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Hey Professor, it's not like all other news stopped happening while our attention was focused on the Democratic Convention. And specifically, I'd like you to weigh in and let our viewers know the state of play on the President's tax returns.

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: Well, so far it seems that the President has suffered another blow on that case. Yesterday, Judge Victor Marrero on the Southern District of New York said that the subpoenas could go forward if the President hadn't been able to prove that they were over broad. He tried to get those stayed. Victor Marrero denied that stay and now he's proceeded to file for a stay with the Second Circuit.

The Second Circuit did not accept that emergency request first day but did set oral arguments on the stay for September 1. So that will happen. And the real question is what happens after that whether those subpoenas will be made available to Mazars, whether Mazars will produce those documents. Either way, the American public doesn't get to see them. These are grant documents that will be released to a grand jury, and all of those remain sequestered from public view.

WILLIAMS: Jon Karl, has the President found out the hard way and in public that somewhere north of 90% of us happen to love the post office and a good number of especially men and women who've served our country depend on it to stay alive?

KARL: He absolutely did. I mean, you saw it in the way he talked about this. You know, at first it was the threats that he was going to withhold funding from the post office, by the way, he reaffirmed that threat today saying he would veto the Democratic bill to provide $25 billion dollars in additional funding. But the talk seemed to be anti post office, you know, decrying this idea of voting by mail, which he is still doing.

But what you saw happen as the story have blossomed and people saw their mail slowing down, is that people rely on the post office. All Americans rely on the post office but especially Americans in rural areas. I can tell you as somebody who spent time growing up in South Dakota in those places you need your mail. Your mail is your lifeline. And those are, in many cases, those are Trump voters. These are rural areas. This is -- this extends. This is not simply targeting democratic cities. He was appeared to be targeting an institution held dear by Americans all across the country, including many of his supporters. And, you know, by the end of the week, he was saying save the post office.

WILLIAMS: Professor, back over to you to the speaking of news that happened this week that didn't get its proper attention. This Republican approved joint report from the Senate Intel Committee, in which thousand or so pages we learn. The Intel Committee made criminal referrals on the president's son, DJTJ on Jared on Bannon and two others. And, Professor, it remains I think the largest undercover story of the week.

MURRAY: Well, it's definitely one that's managed to stay under the radar for over a year like this letter was sent over to the U.S. attorney and the D.C. Circuit back in August of 2019. It doesn't necessarily say that Jared or Donald Trump Jr. were engaged in any conduct that would be illegal, but it does note that there were discrepancies between their testimony before the Senate chamber and the testimony of Richard Gates. So that's something that is worth noting.

The most, I think, damning conclusions from that letter were about Steve Bannon, some other Trump associates where they were sort of accused of providing misleading statements to the Senate chamber and that, of course, could be referred on to criminal investigations, but we don't really know what happened. There hasn't been any discussion. The U.S. Attorney for the D.C. district hasn't said anything, nor has the Department of Justice and that by itself might be worth thinking about as well.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, back over to you, the headline is so numbing tonight at or about 300,000 projected deaths by December 1, just in time for our country to head into the holiday season. Joe Biden told John's network today that he would be willing to indeed shut down the country again, if that was the advice of science.

According to your reporting, has there been any attempt at refiguring the official position of this administration on this virus and its slow march from CDC other than their current policy statement, something like it is what it is.

RUCKER: You know, not exactly, Brian. There is there has been a slow recognition this summer that the virus is not going away, which of course, is what President Trump has repeatedly projected. It's also by the way what Vice President Pence declared in that Wall Street Journal Editorial a couple of months ago. They now acknowledged that that these numbers are bad that they are growing, that we're going to have this virus with us for some time. But there is not any sort of a new national strategy for how to confront it, and how to get rid of it.

In fact, testing remains a problem in some places, people are way are taking days, sometimes as long as a week or longer to get the results of their tests which render those results relatively moot if they're trying to control community spread. And there's very inconsistent rules around the country when it comes to precautions like wearing a mask, or social distancing, or what to do about restaurants in any of the other number of public gathering places where this virus has been spreading.

And so we have a patchwork solution out in the states and we have from the President, somebody who's trying to demonstrate command of the virus and focus on the public relations aspects of it without really forcefully confronting the virus in the way that scientists and public health officials believe is necessary in order for the United States to control these numbers.

WILLIAMS: Jon Karl, you get the last word before we lose you before you return to the friendly confines of ABC News. So is what we're looking at during this campaign, as masks have been red and blue politicized. Are we going to see rallies politicized, meaning it's the Trump campaign that will allow and promote gatherings of humans?

KARL: I think that's what you're going to see next week. I mean, the President -- we don't know much, frankly, because they're still cobbling it together. They weren't planning anything remotely like a virtual convention until it dawned on them that they wouldn't be able to do the big convention in Jacksonville, Florida. But I think in every one of these -- every one of these nights there will be an audience of some kind. We saw the President before an audience today in Virginia. By the way, almost none of the people wearing masks there. We saw him out in Scranton yesterday. Same drill. He knows he can't get those big arenas because the states simply won't allow them. But he will be doing events with people and try to make that a contrast to draw with Joe Biden who will not be doing that.

WILLIAMS: Great thanks to our big three after the week we've had on this Friday night, to Phil Rucker, to Jon Karl, to Professor Melissa Murray, thank you.

Coming up for us, Donald Trump says a Biden presidency would mean mayhem in our streets. But our next guest calls Trump's leadership a disaster.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is managing a big city in a pandemic, is here to tell us why he believes Joe Biden could manage our big country in a pandemic.

And later, as the Democrats exit stage left some unconventional wisdom from presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss. All of that part of the 11th Hour just getting underway on an exhaustion fueled Friday night.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I will be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives because we cannot get the country moving until we control the virus. That is the fundamental flaw this administration's thinking to begin with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if the scientists say shut it down.

BIDEN: I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientist.


WILLIAMS: Biden's approach to the coronavirus is in stark contrast to the President. Trump has been pushing for reopening all science seemingly aside and pressuring schools to reopen as well. As you know, just today, the city of Boston announced all public schools will start the school year remotely.

And here with us tonight mayor of that city, Marty Walsh. Mayor, talk about your decision, as we've been saying, night in and night out, going back to school is the most intensely personal decision for parents, for the educators. Because of everyone in your network, everyone you go home to your level of risk in there. So tell us what factored into your decision? And honestly what the reaction has been?

MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D-MA), BOSTON: Well, first and foremost, we're going to do in phases here in Boston, and it's an all opt in so parents choose not to send their kids to school. They're not comfortable. They don't have to. We're going to start on September 21 all remote. And we're going to be gearing up. I think it's October 1. It'll be special needs, kids with real special. And then after that, I think it's October 5 will be K-zero, K-1, K-2 and then every two weeks afterwards.

But we're basing all of this on science and it's going to tell us where the science is at that particular moment where our testing rate is right now in Boston, our testing rate is 2.8%. Test positive for coronavirus. If we get to 4% will not be opening school. If we -- if we're opening school in a row in a hybrid model, and we get to 4% we'll be closing it back down.

So with we're hopeful, I mean, I think the best education kids get in schools, elementary schools and in high schools is in-person, but we are putting our kids first and we're putting the safety of them and their teachers and the staff first. So our hope is to get to a hybrid model. But again, we're going to base it on how coronavirus is, what the rates are in the city of Boston. What the emergency room rates are, as we've done everything here in the city.

WILLIAMS: One point at a question. First off, not enough has been said during this pandemic and locked down about the special burden on special needs parents during this time. So I'm happy to hear about that and publicize it.

Number two, though, you heard Joe Biden said he would shut down again, if that was the advice, if that was the science. That sounds an awful lot like the makings of a potential national plan. What price do you pay as mayor of a big New England city for the absence of a national plan on this for everything kind of being adlibbed?

WALSH: We're paying a price right now in the city. We went through our search back in May and June, and in from July and August, we've seen numbers level off. We're averaging like I said, over seven day period, anywhere from 1.9 to 2.8%. We're a college town in Boston. We have, you know, dozens of colleges. And right now quite honestly, we're concerned about all of these students coming from the states that the numbers are just going through the roof states that shut down for a very short period of time. States that aren't mandating masks, states that really didn't take the virus seriously. And I think as a country, if we shut down university across the country in the beginning of this virus would be in a lot better shape, as the United States of America was in terms of the coronavirus.

But now we have hotspots all over the country. It's not under control. And from the very beginning of this, the Trump White House has been affiliated, not providing PPE, not providing ventilators. We all watch the story of New York City and New York State and the beginning of this. There has been no national pain from the very beginning. There's still no national plan. And it's great to hear that Joe Biden's talking about that. And you know, if he shut the country down, even if Boston's numbers are lower, I would support him because it's about containing and eliminating the virus.

WILLIAMS: I have to ask you, what are you hearing about your -- from your constituents about mail service in Boston?

WALSH: You know what concern in the city of Boston as of -- I don't get the number today, but as of last week we've received, we've sent out 75,000 ballot applications to folks. We've returned -- they've returned, we've given back 60 ballots -- 60,000, excuse me, 60,000 ballots. We've received about 6000 ballots back in the mail. So there was major concern last week when the Postal Service reverse what they what they did wrong, was little more comfort here.

But people now are very skeptical of the mail and we have a primary election here in September first in Massachusetts, and then we have the general election in November. And to send that type of fear across America is really a bad thing. I mean, I think that a lot of people want to vote by mail. They don't want to go in-person. Coronavirus is going to be very much front and center. And having, you know, hundreds of millions of people going out to vote is a problem. Actually hundreds of millions but over 100 million Americans won't vote in the presidential election is concern.

WILLIAMS: Time for all good Bostonians to get to the cape. Few hours left in this Friday night. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston, Mass, thank you very much for making time for us tonight, we greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the claim Mike Pence makes when confronted with something he said about the coronavirus, a quote that hasn't aged well, more on that when we come back.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You said the panic is overblown. You said that on June 16. How was the concern overblown?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, John, what was -- at that time, as you will remember, we were seeing cases declining and most of our scientists believed that we were well on our way toward upward lowering cases. But sometime around Memorial Day things changed.


WILLIAMS: You may remember when Mike Pence told Geraldo Rivera the pandemic would largely be behind us by Memorial Day. For that matter, you may faintly remember Memorial Day. You may also remember back on June 16, Mike Pence insisted all available evidence to the contrary that the U.S. was winning the fight against the invisible enemy.

Nearly 60,000 souls have died just in the time since he said that. And this week's outbreaks have forced some big colleges like you University of North Carolina and Notre Dame to change classroom learning plans again. In fact right there and Mike Pence is home state at the student run newspaper at Notre Dame, an editorial with the headline, "Don't make us right obituaries."

Joining us tonight for a status report, Dr. Irwin Redlener, pediatrics physician, senior research scholar at Columbia University's Earth Institute, also the founding director of Colombia's National Center for Disaster Preparedness with an expertise in pandemics.

Doctor, simple question to start you off. Where do we stand as a nation? And where does this virus stand as of tonight?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Yes, so we remain in serious trouble, Brian. We still have the highest number of cases and proportionately the highest number of deaths of any country in the world. This is nowhere near over for us. And now we're about to open schools and I'm really kind of very concerned about where this is all going to go.

And I think the experience that you just cited about what's happening in the universities is a good warning for us that this is not going to go necessarily well or easily in terms of controlling the spread of this virus, once we put 55 to 56 million children back in school in one form or another, so we have a lot to watch out for, Brian.

WILLIAMS: And is there something we're doing wrong on college campuses? Can it be done better? Or are we just bumping up against human nature, trying to separate humans and keep their distance kind of bumps up against what college is all about?

REDLENER: Yes, you know, that's a really good point too, because, you know, these are talking about 18 to 22-year olds who already go to school thinking they're pretty immortal and really craving and who doesn't remember being that age, craving, the social context and the interactions. It is an extremely difficult asks of college students to remain separate into follow the basic public health rule as the grandfather of a 20-year-old at Ohio State. I know firsthand. He went back last week and I'm really worried about him. But I think the point you're making is extremely well taken. Are we asking too much of America's college and university students?

WILLIAMS: Have there been moments I was looking at the Biden event last night, the Democratic ticket came out the back door of the event center in Wilmington, to this parking lot of looked like a drive in movie on an August night, cars people on their hoods, but they had come as a unit. They were all watching fireworks, watching the proceedings on a big screen.

It was an instance of the public figuring out public health because we have not been able to look to our government at all times. Do you do you can congratulate those workarounds that have worked? Or do you look at everything and think, go slow, we can't guarantee any of these events before a vaccine.

REDLENER: You know, we have a lot to think about Brian. And I think going slow, is the key direction here, going slow, but going in some sort of coordinated, consistent manner with good national leadership. And by the way, you know, Biden made that remark that, you know, on day one, he's going to change everything about the way we fight COVID. And usually, that's just kind of like a political rhetoric and, you know, whatever.

But in this case, I actually think on day one, the Biden-Harris team is going to change everything about how we've approached this, this COVID threat and we'll see national leadership, we'll see honesty, it's going to be a shock to America, but we're going to see truth telling, we're going to see scientists dependent upon not derided by the Federal leadership and we're going to see a team that's going to take this very seriously and I'm looking forward to that.

But in the meantime, we do have to look for these signs of hope. And, you know, I don't want to be Dr. Doom here. I just do think that we have to go slowly. We have to watch very carefully when we start putting our children back in schools, but I think we got a taste of serious grown up politics and policymaking over this last week with the Democratic Convention.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Irwin Redlener, our thanks as always, especially for staying up late with us on a Friday night after I keep saying after the week, we've all had. Greatly appreciate it. Coming up after the week we've all had and right when we need a presidential historian, Michael Beschloss happens to be standing by to talk with us after this break.



BIDEN: This is our moment. This is our mission history be able to say at the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight, as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle we will win and we'll do it together. I promise you.


WILLIAMS: We're going to talk to a man now who takes the long view of history and also assesses it right then and there on the fly. And indeed, our next guest called last night's remarks by Joe Biden quote, easily the best and most affecting speech Biden has ever delivered.

Back with us again tonight, our friend Michael Beschloss, author, presidential historian, as many must read works include his latest "Presidents of War." Michael, Trump today called this the darkest convention in history. I'm duty bound to remind everyone watching. The theme of his inaugural address was American Carnage and his go-to thematic line on the stump these days is they're coming for you. So how do we process that?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, well, like being called ugly by a frog, I guess. This was only dark because the Democrats were saying that this country is in a very difficult situation. When Brian, can you think of a convention I've been trying to where there was so much talk about the possible destruction of democracy, if the president wins a second term. That was the theme of what both Obama said, it was a little bit of a theme of what Joe Biden said last night.

You have to go back probably to 1860 when speakers at all the conventions were talking about the fact that there might be a civil war that might end the United States or 1940, when people on the convention floor of the Democrats in Chicago, were talking about the fact that we were facing a world possibly dominated by Adolf Hitler and the Imperial Japanese, what could we do? There's that kind of apocalyptic talk. And if it was dark this week, that was the reason. And the reason was the world that Donald Trump has, in a way created.

WILLIAMS: And with that vote coming up, the President has tried his best to diminish mail in voting. Remind the folks watching the roots, deep roots in our history that the post office has the deep affection that American generations have had for the post office. This is not a partisan issue.

BESCHLOSS: No, it's not. And it's a big part of American law, who was the first Postmaster General of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, 1775. Abraham Lincoln was the postmaster of new Salem, Illinois. I'm sure you've been there and seen his restored post office you can walk in. Now if you go to visit, 1960 the first fully automated post office in the United States, Providence, Rhode Island.

The founders had an almost reverence and sentimental view of what the post office could do for this country so much so that they put it in the constitution. They said that our government is responsible to provide post offices and post roads, they knew that that was the only way to pull the state's of a very diverse nation together.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk about what was lost and what was gained not having the usual convention crowd and you and I have talked about this before. Instead, it was kind of a laptop friendly convention. Joe Biden, for one was able to modulate his speaking style between something just shy of a shout and just north of a whisper and have a very intimate conversation. No one needs to mind you that the average acceptance speech even at the worst live convention, there's that by rote need to applaud at the end of virtually every sentence. This was not that.

BESCHLOSS: No, it wasn't. And I was sort of bracing myself not to like this convention because I thought compared to the conventions of the past, which we all love, a lot of things about them. This would be sort of or well meets a Broadway play of the best man that this would be like something we've never seen before. And actually, the artistry of the people who put this convention together and appeared in it made this not only something that was a worthy substitute, but the certain way is better.

I love the roll call of the states to be able to not just hear some guys saying, you know, we're here as the vote of the Sunshine State, but instead, go to Wyoming and see the parents of Matthew Shepard, the gay young man who was beaten and killed for the beauty of New Mexico is showed America in all of its beauty and its richness.

And the other thing is that I think the Obama's addresses were extremely powerful, extremely moving, give you an enormous sense of what is his take of this fall, Joe Biden very much the same. I'm not sure that those addresses would have been so powerful if they had been just as you were saying, Brian, in a big hall with balloons coming down, and applause and people you know, blasting profits.

WILLIAMS: Michael, in our closing seconds, we saw a striking image today a casket coming out of the North Portico of the White House after services for the President's brother. When was the last time we saw such an image?

BESCHLOSS: Pretty rare. We saw for instance, Abraham Lincoln's son, Willie is, you know, died when he was president. And presidents do have a lot of leeway over how they use the mansion. So, this was a sad occasion today and does have some precedents and others in American history.

WILLIAMS: Michael Beschloss, our thanks as always, we hope you enjoy a good weekend. Thank you for staying up with us tonight. Coming up for us, the news comes so fast now. It's hard not to turn away when the next thing comes along. But tonight, we must turn back and update you on something that shocked the world when it happened.


WILLIAMS: While we have been focused on politics this past week, let us please not forget that Lebanon is dealing with dueling emergencies. The government has imposed a two-week lockdown to contain a surge of coronavirus and of course the city of Beirut now has hundreds of thousands of newly homeless people following that gigantic explosion there earlier this month, and a troubling percentage of these struggling recent survivors are children. So we get an update on the situation there tonight from NBC News foreign correspondent Matt Bradley.


MATT BRADLEY, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shockwaves nearly three weeks since the explosion that destroyed Lebanon's capital. For six year old Celeste Zarm (ph) or is it the blast we're happening now? Over and over again in her mind. Boom.

I screamed. I was calling Grandma, Grandma. She's terrified of loud noises, suffers from nightmares and speaks constantly of death.

I get scared from the sound and sometimes I can't get to the bathroom in time she says.

The Beirut blast killed 177 people and injured thousands more among the casualties, the delicate minds of Beirut's children.

(On camera): How long will the children be living with these psychological scars?

JAD SAKR, COUNTRY DIRECTOR, SAVE THE CHILDREN LEBANON: I can tell you that if they're not addressed, the scars can collapse a last time.

BRADLEY (voice-over): Even before the blast, Lebanese children were suffering along with their parents first a devastating financial crisis. Then COVID-19 and finally, one of the largest non nuclear explosions ever recorded. 80,000 homes destroyed 300,000 people left homeless, including 100,000 children, some injured, others orphaned, most scarred.

Lexa Hag (ph) and his twin sister Rida (ph), both six years old. Every afternoon for the first week they would wait for another explosion.

Explosion hasn't loved my ears since (INAUDIBLE). What it did to our house, it's still in my eyes.

DAYANE DAOU, HEAD OF HEALTHCARE DEPT. CARITA, LEBANON: This is not normal for a child to witness such things, you know, in terms of what they saw and what they heard.

BRADLEY: Relief agencies like Caritas, UNICEF and Save the Children are rushing to reach these children and offer guidance to parents. But finding space is another struggle. 120 schools were either damaged or destroyed. With so much desperation, aid agencies worry parents may sacrifice education.

SAKR: We hope that this blast alongside the economic crisis we had before will not lead to, again a decrease in enrollment in education, because then it's basically their entire future that jeopardized.

BRADLEY: Leaving a mark on children's minds long after the city is rebuilt. Matt Bradley, NBC News.


WILLIAMS: What a devastating situation there. Coming up for us, something to watch over the weekend, something the Republicans will be forced to watch during their convention next week. When we continue.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go on this Friday night, something to watch over the weekend, something to put on your calendar for the start of next week in addition to, of course to the beginning of the Republican National Convention.

We are looking at the possibility of a first in our history, the first time since they started keeping records that two named hurricanes will be churning side by side at the same time in the Gulf of Mexico. Their names are Laura and Marco. They're not there yet, but they're getting there.

Meteorologists assured they won't merge, but there's a bigger chance they could spread out the misery and dance alongside each other or steer each other. And we have to pray that the Gulf cannot support two big storms.

There's also a chance that competing for food and affect, heat and tropical air would lessen one storm or the other or both. It's still a long way off, but it's still possible. We don't need to say this to the folks there. But as we mark the 15th anniversary of Katrina, and as nerves remain raw in Houston, where hurricanes are concerned the Gulf States gave at the office a long time ago. And in the worst-case scenario, one of these is headed to Texas, the other to Louisiana, during a pandemic that has hit both of those states hard.

Still, it's early, but we ask that you spare a thought for the folks in the gulf between now and when we next see you on Monday night.

For now that is our broadcast for this evening and for this week, please try to have a good and safe weekend and on behalf of all my colleagues here at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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