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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, December 14, 2020

Guests: Cynthia Alksne, Debbie Ford, Robert Gibbs, Steve Schmidt

Summary

Joe Biden's election win is now officially confirmed by the Electoral College. This comes as health care workers across the country get the first clinically-tested COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. NYC nurse is first American to get COVID vaccine. Attorney General William Barr will leave his position this month, President Donald Trump said in a tweet. The news comes not long after Barr said there was no widespread fraud in the election, defying Trump, who has made baseless claims the basis of a failed legal bid to overturn the results and stay in power. Hackers who targeted the federal government appear to be part of a Russian intelligence campaign aimed at multiple U.S. agencies and companies, including the cybersecurity company FireEye.

Transcript

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,425 of the Trump administration, 37 days until the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President.

We come on the air at the end of a history making day, a day that saw the first vaccinations in our country, a day when the Electoral College maids Joe Biden's election already official, even more official if that's possible. This was also the day Attorney General Bill Barr decided to spend more time with his family.

There's one more thing as we enter the teeth of this dark winter of the pandemic, our nation's death toll today surpassed 300,000 souls. It will take months perhaps a season or two before the vaccine is our ticket out of this and we're anywhere closer to being in the clear. But that journey started with a single shot today when an ICU nurse in New York became the first person in our country to get the vaccine, and afterwards spoke with more emotion and more understanding of public health than we heard from the President today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA LINDSAY, LONG ISLAND JEWISH MEDICAL CENTER CRITICAL CARE NURSE: I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning to the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe. We're in a pandemic. And so we all need to do our part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: How about that and the virus has tightened its grip on this country. Indeed, the outgoing president ignored the crisis again today while keeping up his campaign to deny his defeat at the ballot box and overturn the election. Today, the Electoral College cemented Joe Biden's victory after weeks of legal challenges that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The effort was focused on six battleground states that have now all affirmed the will of the voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The electors of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have cast 20 votes for the honorable Joseph R. Biden for President of the United States,

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The electors have unanimously cast 16 votes for Joseph R. Biden

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Secretary, we have six votes for Joseph R. Biden for president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wisconsin cast its 10 electoral votes for President of the United States of America to Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people of Arizona selected Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris. And the electors will cast their votes accordingly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 16 Electoral College votes on behalf of the State of Georgia for Joseph R. Biden as President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: California has 55 Electoral College votes push the Biden-Harris ticket. Over the threshold of 270 tonight, Biden spoke this evening after his win was confirmed and cemented and for the first time he attacked Donald Trump's attacks on our democracy and Trump's efforts to overturn this election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: The Trump campaign but brought dozens and dozens and dozens of legal challenges to test the result. They were heard again and again. And each of the time they were heard they are found to be without merit. None of this is stopped baseless claims about the legitimacy of the results even more stunning 17 Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of the Congress, actually, they actually sign on to a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas. That lawsuit asked the United States Supreme Court to reject the certified vote counts in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It's a position so extreme. We've never seen it before, a position that refused respect the will of people, refuse to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Tonight, Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain confirmed that several Senate Republicans have now at least reached out to the president-elect. Biden is also looking to help the Democrats in this runoff in Georgia's dual races. Early voting started there today. He will campaign in Georgia tomorrow. As already mentioned, Bill Barr will soon be Donald Trump's former Attorney General.

Barr's apparent resignation became public less than 10 minutes after Biden reached 270 electoral votes. As usual, Trump notified the nation via Twitter writing this, "Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job as per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen and outstanding person will become Acting Attorney General."

Well, Bill Barr indeed wrote a parting letter to Trump immediately branded by journalists as a letter in praise of the Dear Leader. It reads in part, I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people. Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless implacable resistance.

The letter also notes Trump and Barr talked about so called election fraud allegations today. Barr said recently, he seen no evidence of election fraud that did not endear him to the boss. Barr's power in the cabinet was once unparalleled or so we thought he is now rocky relationship with the president underscored by a mutual belief and expansive executive power at one time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Bill Barr, one of the most respected jurists in the country, highly respected lawyer.

BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Your declaration of an emergency on the southern border was clearly authorized under the law. And from the standpoint of protecting the American people, it's imperative.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Bill. That's great. So you'll be defending it?

BARR: Yes. I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed and obstruction of justice offense.

TRUMP: Our great Attorney General made an immediate decision. There was no obstruction. Bill Barr can go down as the greatest Attorney General in the history of our country, or he can go down as just an average guy. It depends on what's going to happen.

BARR: The elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS: Mr. President, can I ask you to respond to the comments by your attorney general who indicated he has not seen at this point, any evidence of fraud enough to overturn the election results?

TRUMP: Well, he hasn't done anything. So he hasn't looked?

WELKER: Do you still have confidence in Bill Barr?

TRUMP: Asked me that in a number of weeks from now. Bill Barr should have stepped up. All he had to do is say an investigation is going on. But when you effect an election, Bill Barr, frankly did the wrong thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: With that, let's bring in our leadoff guests on this Monday night as we start a new week. Phil Rucker, Pulitzer-Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, co-author of the bestseller, A Very Stable Genius. He along with his post colleague Carol Leonnig are teaming up once again for a forthcoming book on this final year in office for Donald Trump. Also with us, Errin Haines, a veteran of the Associated Press, who's now editor-at-large over at the 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom focused on gender, politics, and policy and Cynthia ALKSNE is back with us former federal prosecutor and the Civil Rights Division over a DOJ, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney who served under Bill Barr during his first tour as Attorney General in the Bush era.

And Cynthia indeed, by way of welcoming back -- welcoming you back, I'd like to begin with you with two things before we start our discussion. Here is the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page cementing their title as House Oregon tonight. Bill Barr has certainly earned the right to leave early. He has been the right man at the right time for that difficult job with the principles and toughness to make difficult decisions despite bitter Democrats in Congress and a willful President Trump. Neal Katyal appearing tonight with Joy Reid seemed to disagree in his assessment of the outgoing Attorney General.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: This Attorney General is just despicable. I mean, attorneys general have historically stood for the rule of law, and this person is spit on it. And Attorney General Stanford even handedness and just as being blind. And this Attorney General stands for justice being about who your friends are. Attorney generals are supposed to stand up for a career men and women of the Justice Department. He openly defines them and makes fun of them. And attorney generals most of all, Joy, are supposed to protect Americans not tear gas them. He's going to go down as the worst Attorney General in our lifetimes, which is fitting because President Trump is going to go down as the worst president in our lifetimes. So I guess these two have managed to accomplish something in the end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Cynthia, you and I were on television part of the coverage back when he was named, you and I must add everyone else, long timers at the Justice Department applauded the naming of Bill Barr. You said he was an institutionalist, everyone thought, well, here comes a human guardrail. In retrospect, your view of what he did to the law, what he did to presidential powers and what he leaves behind the Department of Justice.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, well, I've certainly eaten my share of Chrome on that, I will say that that this Attorney General, I would agree with Neal is the worst Attorney General in my lifetime. And that includes Richard Nixon's attorney.

He has done generational damage to the Department of Justice, and just the general concept that no man is above the law. He has lied to the American people. He has lied to Congress. He has helped President Trump's friends. He has punished his enemies. He has even tried to get the Justice Department help President Trump out in a personal rape case.

There is no way anybody can defend the job that he has done as an attorney general. And I don't know how long it's going to take to repair that damage in the eyes of the American people, and future jurors in cases.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, it goes without saying if anyone watching can find someone in their lives to write a letter to them, like Bill Barr wrote to Donald Trump tonight, keep cherish and hold that person close for the rest of your life. It's we didn't even read the mushy part. It's quite a letter. Phil, what do you make of the timing and circumstances of the AG's departure?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, look, Brian, I think clearly the Attorney General wanted to leave on his own terms, or at least make that publicly appear to be the case and said, you know, he knew that his relationship with the President was going south and it had been for many months, frankly, but it really worsened in these last two weeks, when Barr contradicted the president publicly admitted interview and said that there simply was not any evidence found by the Department of Justice, to support the President's claims of widespread voter fraud, to have changed the election. That was a big deal. And we've seen through these four years of this presidency, that when cabinet members publicly cross the president, or disagree with him in some way, that that can be a breach that cannot be repaired.

So it seemed like it was a matter of time before Trump may have tried to fire Barr. Barr in this case, resigned and is leaving office on his own terms. There's not much time left in his presidency, but there still are three or four weeks that are going to be remaining and there is a lot that President Trump may want to do and may seek to do with his new acting Attorney General.

And that letter you mentioned it really was extraordinary to see Barr keep the praise on the president and to have in that letter particular disdain for the Russia investigation, which of course is what Barr's former friend Robert Mueller oversaw the special counsel for so many years, Barr clearly trying to curry favor with the president in that letter where he was resigning.

WILLIAMS: Somebody said on another network tonight it says if Barr broke into Mike Pence's love letters that he had written to Donald Trump in the past.

Hey, Errin, let me keep you clear of this wreckage. Let's talk about Joe Biden. He broke his silence today on Donald Trump. As I said at the top of the broadcast, his election was already official. Today, it was really, really more official when the electors cast their ballots. What did you make of his breaking his silence? He can't obviously be critical in something like the State of the Union, which will get a broad audience.

ERRIN HAINES, THE 19TH EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Right. But you know, for the past month, you have had the president, you know, discrediting this election, discrediting the people, the Americans who carried out this election discrediting certain voters who, you know, he said, voted illegally in the in this election, seeing the Electoral College process play out across the country, on live television, for voters who many of whom were actually quite engaged in watching this process unfold during the course of their work day really helped to reverse, you know, a lot of the narrative that our elections in our institution, as a democracy and a franchise are not working.

I think that Joe Biden was trying to reinforce that in the speech that he gave tonight saying, reiterating again, that the dozens and dozens of legal challenges that Donald Trump put up against this election were allowed to play out. The outcome has not changed, it continues to not change, it will not be it is not likely to change over, you know, the next less than 40 days, until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the next president and vice president of the United States. And so, you know, days like today, again, just reinforce the -- that our institutions are working, that the transfer of power, while it may not necessarily be peaceful is happening nonetheless.

WILLIAMS: Cynthia in your first answer you, in a reverse way, kind of laid out the damage lists that a new person will have to repair when they walk into DOJ. The names I've seen floated for Biden Attorney General remain Sally Yates, Deval Patrick, Doug Jones, Merrick Garland, what qualities now that we have some distance on it, what qualities if you were Biden would you be looking for in this job at this time?

ALKSNE: Well, I'm looking for someone who tells the truth, and all four of those do. And I'm looking for someone who can really rally the troops and try to bring the morale back up. And I would say probably, that means Sally Yates, or Doug Jones, or Deval Patrick would be my gut, but any of them would be fine.

But before we get too carried away with who's next, remember, there's a lot of time at the Department of Justice between now and January. And many terrible things can happen. There can be, you know, pardons handed out like Christmas cards, there can be special counsels appointed, who will be embedded, who can go after the President's enemies and who will be there for the new Attorney General to deal with. So it's too soon to take our eye off the Trump Justice Department and just focus on the Biden Justice Department, unfortunately.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, here, here, there's all evidence that you're absolutely correct.

Phil, today on paper, could have been a good day for the Trump White House, though we did not see the President on this day when vaccine shots arrived in American arms.

RUCKER: Yeah, you know, Brian, you're right, that it was a good day, in terms of the vaccine rollout. And I'm frankly surprised we didn't see the president. This is the one element of the coronavirus response over all of these months that have animated the president and that he has tried to be in the spotlight for and that is the Operation Warp Speed, the vaccine development and now of course, the vaccine deployment and administering this vaccine into the arms of millions of Americans as quickly as possible. I'm surprised he didn't try to do some sort of a press event to claim credit for the miraculous shots that we saw on television this morning. It was really a sight to see that that health worker on Long Island getting the shot in her arm.

And it's meaningful, because it's a sign that this pandemic may actually be overstating that we can see light at the end of the tunnel. And yet the President was so focused, so engrossed by the Electoral College developments and his loss in this campaign that he couldn't focus on the management of the pandemic today.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Errin, one more political note, you have never let us down on this broadcast. And I'm not asking for a straight up prediction. But how do you see the races in Georgia?

HAINES: Oh, wow. Well, you know, if early voting is any indication, the electors in Georgia, we're not the only ones casting their ballots today is early voting got that started. I think that, at least from what I'm hearing, the black women organizers that are on the ground, trying to get people out even in the midst of a pandemic, even as this pandemic is surging and hitting people, especially black and brown people from a public health and an economic perspective here at the end of the year, they are seeing the connection between this pandemic and policy and the stakes of the future of the Senate. And that is motivating them to participate in this democracy to do it safely.

You know, Joe Biden is going to be in Georgia tomorrow making his case for why those voters should come out one more time and make Georgia blue once again. I think that, you know, it really is extraordinary to, you know, to be thinking about asking these folks to come out again, with you know, the voter suppression that has loomed over the state, but also the rhetoric around the rigged election that has loomed over the state. That can be something that depresses voters, but it can also be something that motivates them. And I think that we are seeing both of those dynamics, you know, playing out here and that are going to play out here over the next few weeks.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, thanks so much to three friends of this broadcast, Phil Rucker, Errin Haines and Cynthia Alksne for starting us off as we begin a new week together.

Coming up for us, she's been on the medical front lines from the start of this pandemic for 10 months of it now. She's the first person in her state to get the COVID vaccine. Our special guest joins us just ahead.

And later how Donald Trump's refusal to accept defeat has the GOP tearing itself apart before our very eyes, THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a busy Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: This weekend shipment of vaccines is 2.9 million doses, enough to vaccinate 2.9 million people. With 2.9 million doses held back and sent in 21 days for people to receive their second dose.

GEN. GUSTAVE PERNA, OPERATION WARP SPEED CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: As it is available, it's allocated to the States. The states tell us what location they want it on at what quantities, we package and we deliver. It is a constant flow of available vaccine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: You heard it from the four-star the flow has started. The vaccine is making its way to airports, hospitals and into arms, most importantly. Today the first recipients received the vaccine. They include our next guest.

We're happy to welcome Debbie Ford to the broadcast. She happens to be Chief Nursing Officer for Ochsner Health in New Orleans and this morning became one of the very first people in our country to get the clinically tested COVID-19 vaccine.

Thank you very much for being with us. I have to ask Debbie, did you feel anything? Do you feel any different? How does it feel?

DEBBIE FORD, OCHSNER HEALTH CHIEF NURSING OFFICER: I just feel great that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The shot itself I didn't even feel it. I think I was too excited and so I didn't even feel that she had given me the shot.

WILLIAMS: I have to say watching people on the television coverage this afternoon and tonight I saw a surprising number of people getting emotional either during or after receiving the vaccine. I understand it because of who we're giving it to. These are the people who have seen far too much death and suffering the frontline medical heroes, like yourself, did you have an emotional reaction to it?

FORD: We have seen so much suffering, and along with death, and so I'm just standing there in line with everyone to get the vaccine, as another layer of protection, you know, we still want to wear masks, we still want to social distance, wash our hands. But to know that we've been on this marathon for the last nine months of, we're doing all we can, but there's no cure in sight, and to now finally be able to start to be -- start the beginning of ending this crisis, I think was very emotional for us. We were talking about it in line.

WILLIAMS: Talk about your role now in public health, the importance of getting folks to get this vaccine, especially the importance of getting black folks to get this vaccine.

FORD: I would like to encourage everyone to get the vaccine, is just -- I just feel this deep sense of hope that we can eradicate this. We can live longer lives with our loved ones. We can spend time with them, not have to limit or our time. So I think that as a healthcare worker, as a Chief Nurse Executive, my mantra is less protect ourselves. I ask my nurses, let's protect ourselves to take care of the communities we are privileged to serve. And then I asked the community to protect themselves so that we can all get to the end and the other side of this pandemic.

WILLIAMS: There should be purely happy day, Lord, knows you're in a town that doesn't need an excuse to celebrate anything any day of the week. But it's not purely a happy day, because of the gut punch of learning. We went over 300,000 dead in this country. Because New Orleans, a city I love so much took it so hard at the start of this pandemic. Let our viewers know how you're doing tonight.

FORD: Right now, I'm just ecstatic. We've been able to discharge inpatients from my facility, nearly 3000 in-patients and so that is just a great feeling to be able to be part of that and to know that we will have less people undergoing this disease, we're really be great. I feel like we're finally getting on a different track. And so I track that I'm very glad to be on of saving people versus having people fall so ill and suffer.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I fear we're in for a darker winter. But you're right. I think we're finally on a new track. Please give my best to everyone down there. Debbie Ford, thank you very much. After the big day you had in New Orleans for joining us here tonight.

A break for our coverage coming up, he says the republicans defending Donald Trump have crossed the Rubicon and should never win another presidential election again. That would be Steve Schmidt and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, both gentlemen standing by to talk with us when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The political world has a new independent tonight because earlier today, Republican Congressman Paul Mitchell of Michigan, decided to leave his Republican Party over Trump's efforts to cast doubt on the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL MITCHELL, MICHIGAN: It became clear to me that I could no longer be associated with the Republican Party that leadership does not stand up and say the process the election is over. It's over today. I voted for Donald Trump. I supported the administration policies 95-96 percent of the time, the last two terms. I've been active in the national state party, but this party has to stand up for democracy first, for our constitution first, and not political considerations. That's just a candidate not simply for raw political power. And that's what I feel is going on and I've had enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Back with us tonight, Robert Gibbs, former Obama campaign Senior Advisor, former White House press secretary under one President Obama and Steve Schmidt, longtime political strategist who led the McCain campaign who has since left the Republican Party, and is among the founders of the Lincoln project, which set out to defeat Trump and Trumpism.

And Steve, that's why I'm going to start with you. What have they unleashed? I got a poll to show you. Fox News poll, 77 percent of Trump voters feel that the election was stolen from their guy. Then this weekend at a mega rally in Washington. A chance starts up destroy the GOP. What have they uncorked here, how will anyone fix this? And is a guy like Mitch McConnell, ready for the consequences?

STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, let me just say, Brian, that several years ago, a book came out and it was by an author named Jay Winnick and he posited that April 1865 was one of the most important historical moments in the history.

And I think when we look back November of 2020, is going to be such a month it's a before and after month, they hinge in our history, and it was the month where faith and belief and American democracy was deliberately premeditatedly and intentionally poisoned by Donald Trump and by his supporters, including by many elected Republicans and culminating with 126 members of Congress and 18 Attorney Generals signing an amicus brief.

Now, it's important to understand that citing that amicus brief was not a legal act. For the junk lawsuit, it was preposterous. It was a political statement. It was a repudiation of the bedrock of the American system, the idea that a government of the people, by the people, for the people, the people are sovereign, the people decide who our leaders are, and their attempts to maintain in power, the defeated in common president over the clear and legitimate victor is something that will do to American democracy, what the Exxon Valdez did to Alaskan waters, or Deepwater Horizon did to Gulf waters, it poisons that fundamental faith and belief, which the system can't survive without.

And then lastly, we saw in Washington DC, we saw right-wing extremist violence with these Proud Boys. And just because they weren't wearing brown or black, doesn't mean that they're not the same people that you saw in 1935, or 1927, in Italy, or in Germany, is a fascistic organization trying to impose through violence, political will on the country.

We're in a lot of trouble as a country after this month of November, and we're going to be fighting this fight for a generation. And this is the month where American politics realigned. We have on one side, a pro democracy coalition. And on the other side, we have an autocratic coalition.

Within that autocratic coalition, for example, in the House, you have a conservative leader, Liz Cheney, and you have an autocratic leader Kevin McCarthy, in the same way that the Kansas Nebraska Act, broke the Whig Party in 1854, and led to the emergence of a new party, the Republican Party, I suspect that what we've seen play out over these last weeks with these members signing on to this, in time will break the Republican Party into its conservative faction and its autocratic faction, but either way, we have one institution politically in this country that stands for the ideals of American democracy, and that's the Democratic Party, the oldest political party in the world.

WILLIAMS: While you've given us a lot to think about there, and I can turn on your assessment of April 1865, the book by Jay Winnick, which I loved and is on my bookshelf.

Hey, Robert, think of the senators as I like to call them in the witness protection program, the Lamars, the Blondes, especially the Portmans. They insist on being upstanding Republicans, all of them to a man have taken a dive for this president and have sold out their seats and votes when it's come down to it. How are they going to react when perhaps as the ultimate extension of Trumpism. These chants start up about destroying the GOP, they didn't make that bargain. They just went along with a president a cult, they were scared of getting tweeted out who doesn't understand that. They didn't go along with destroying the party that got them to the dance.

ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, they didn't, Brian, but I think they cut a deal, essentially, with Trump and bought something that they may not be able to now return. Because this is going to land on them. How are they going to sit across from a president that a 77 percent of their own party believes is illegitimate, and try to govern the country, it has to start Brian with not just a recognition of what happened today at the Electoral College. But why and how it happened. Because of an honest, free and fair election.

50 some court cases which heard wild accusations about fraud that never got proven, and an election that delivered a president elected a vice president elect, and if they don't begin to explain that to their own voters, that this wasn't just a happenstance on a calendar for the Electoral College, but in fact, a result of an election that was had in this country, then they too are going to be able to govern.

The idea that this is just making Joe Biden less and less of a legitimate president and that they own or quite frankly, aren't going to feel the effects of this on them, I think you're beginning to see it, whether it's the chance that you saw in Washington, whether it's the questions that the senators that are up for re election in Georgia or getting, they go to these rallies, they pitch their candidates for a vote, and then somebody says, well, what are you doing to protect democracy for the presidential campaign?

And if they don't start to let the air out of that balloon in a real way, nobody's going to come vote for them in January because nobody's going to have confidence in the system, even their own base.

WILLIAMS: It boggles the mind. We're going to take a quick break. Both gentlemen have agreed to stay with us. They have no other plans. They're at home. Coming up, will bipartisanship make some sort of a comeback under the new president? Also quick question, which Republicans are they going to find to be bipartisan exactly? And Steve Schmidt has a story to tell about AOC when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Let's continue our conversation Steve Schmidt and Robert Gibbs have kindly stuck with us. Hey, Robert, Jennifer Epstein on Twitter from Bloomberg tweeted this tonight, Biden says seven Senate Republicans profiles in courage all mostly senior have called him tonight. He spoke to one of the most senior members who expressed a willingness to work on China and infrastructure. It's going to take six to eight months but GOP will work with him. Quote, you're going to be surprised.

So Robert, since the horse is already dead, let's beat it some more. They've already looked at the possibility of destroy the GOP being chanted at their district offices. What could be worse than that? Oh, I know, cooperating with the guy 70 percent -- 77 percent of Trump voters believe is legitimately elected. So can you tell me even in a man of the senate like Joe Biden, where the bipartisanship is going to come in?

GIBBS: Well, I do think there is a possibility on certain issues, as was mentioned here, something like an infrastructure might be a good place to start.

And people like, you know, Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania who's retiring, we have seen remarkably different political outcomes in those that are leaving than those that are staying around. But I would also look at somebody like Mitt Romney, Alisa Murkowski from Alaska, Susan Collins from Maine, who have a bipartisan record of reaching across the aisle. I think these Georgia races are going to be important to see what the final makeup of the Senate is.

But understand that it's going to take a Herculean effort by the president elect and his team to get this Senate and to get this Congress and really to repair our democracy to get it in a place where governing is something that is a possibility. We're a long, long way away from it being a probability. We've got to get it back to being a possibility.

WILLIAMS: Before people hop on Twitter, no horses were harmed in the production of this broadcast. Hey, Steve Schmidt, I want to quote from a letter you have written as part of an outreach to AOC, perhaps making for one of the best political pairings of the year that ceases to surprise us.

I would like to officially reach out reach out to AOC on behalf of Lincoln project in defense of democracy. We disagree on many issues, and that is okay in our view. By the way, we don't look down on waitresses, we admire them. We are all the types of guys who always tip 50 percent or more. I have an idea. Let's approach each other on our points of view with good faith. We say the following with respect and seriousness, ma'am, our hand is open, and we need to work together, or we are going to lose America the fight will last for many years.

Steve, I got the impression when she first tweeted about Lincoln project, she might have misinterpreted your cause she might have gotten you guys wrong at the outset. Do you think she has come around to knowing your work? And what is the extent of the cooperation you think you can have?

SCHMIDT: Well, here, let me just say first off, I got dinged a little bit on Twitter for being condescending when I made the waitress point. And the point I was trying to make is she had said last week that a lot of Republican members have made fun of her for waitressing and she made the point that most of them couldn't survive a single shift. And certainly she is right about that fact, when it comes to actual hard work. And I think that more people have actually had the experience of work for at least a day in their life serving in the United States Congress is a good thing.

Look, ideologically, she's as far as you can get from us within the Biden coalition. You know, the Lincoln project has 600,000 donors, we have millions of followers. When you look at the actual vote chairs and how the Biden coalition came together and how it won, it's essential that we keep it intact.

I'm a single issue voter now. And I work for a single issue organization. We care about American democracy, full stop and period. The debate between progressives and conservatives ends if we have an autocratic leader, and we have an autocratic movement in the United States that's flourishing. And I think it's naive not to call it what it is.

When we saw the type of violence playing out Washington, DC this weekend, this isn't violence that comes from a rage of having nothing and burning down at city, the type of rage that Martin Luther King diagnosed while at the same time condemning in the 1960s. This was fascistic violence. This was right wing political violence in the streets of the nation's capitol, incited by the President of the United States, at the same time when every one of these members of Congress, except for I suppose a handful of the truly craziest ones, knows that Joe Biden won the election.

So what I believe to the core of my being is that the coalition that elected Joe Biden has to hang together, because the pro democracy side of a great debate in American politics cannot lose an election, not ever again. Because if we lose an election, they may not give up power next time and make no, no, no -- I have no doubt about it.

What you saw play out over November and December that would played out as a farce was in fact, the first coup attempt in American history. And that poisoning of American democracy were you see 77 percent of Republicans.

The system requires one side being willing to lose, and to come back and try and win the next time that is at the center of democracy, and it's in trouble in this country because of Trump and the extreme Radical Republicans.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you both Robert Gibbs, Steve Schmidt on a Monday night greatly appreciated.

Coming up for us. It just might be that Trump initiative to launch it joint cyber security effort with the Russians remember that, that could have been among the worst ideas of modern times for reasons. We'll show you just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: So we found out this weekend we've been hacked U.S. agencies the latest victims of Russian hackers. So far at least five have been targeted, including Departments of State, Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce.

For starters, the hackers appeared to be after information from government clients, but the extent of the breach isn't yet known. It's a good reminder, however, that after the five years we have just lived through of how we should probably and properly view Russia and Putin.

And further on that score. There are new details tonight about the poisoning of that Russian opposition leader who was almost killed last summer. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has details on new evidence that strongly suggest Vladimir Putin's government was indeed behind the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin was on a flight over Siberia when he suddenly began to moan in agony. German doctor say he was poisoned by a nerve agent behind the attack a special Chemical Weapons Division of the Russian Intelligence Service the FSB, according to the investigative news site Bellingcat, which analyzed over 100,000 phone and internet connections, some bought on the black market. Christo Grozev is the lead researcher.

CHRISTO GROZEV, LEAD RUSSIA INVESTIGATOR, BELLINGCAT: think that totally shocked me was that Russia maintains a murder machine within the downtown Moscow that employs 30 people who are trained medics plus trained chemists plus train muscle.

ENGEL: Author Andrei Soldatov is one of the world's leading experts on Russian intelligence.

(on camera): What do you make of these claims these accusations by Bellingcat are they credible?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN SECURITY SERVICES EXPERT: Well, yes, I think they're actually both credible.

ENGEL: A spokesman for the Kremlin once again denied involvement in Navalny's poisoning and it that it maintains a special chemical weapons hit team. But experts say today's reporting naming names could set back Russian activities by forcing the Kremlin to do damage control. Richard Engel, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WILLIAMS: And coming up for us, he wasn't a man of medicine. He had no patience yet we'd never dream of calling Dr. King anything but Dr. King. There's a lesson in this stemming from something that happened over this past weekend. We'll have the story for you after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight involves the history of modern first lady's. Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton both had Ivy League law degrees. Laura Bush had a Master's, Lady Bird Johnson had two different bachelor's degrees. They have been a well educated group going back decades.

But Dr. Jill Biden will be the first holder of a doctorate it's a title uniformly used in her work her world of education. And this weekend and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal took issue with the title in a spectacularly patronizing fashion. Our reports tonight from NBC is Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like many people with doctorates Jill Biden calls herself Dr. Biden, think of Dr. Kissinger. But Joseph Epstein a former university English instructor, who has a bachelor's degree argued Biden should drop the doctor from her name because she is not a medical doctor.

DR. JILL BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S WIFE: From the moment I stepped into the community college, this is it, I'm home.

MITCHELL: Dr. Biden earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware it has taught at community colleges for 35 years.

BIDEN: I have always loved the sounds of a classroom.

MITCHELL: The op-ed drawing fire in part for its tone. Epstein addressing Biden in his opening line as Madam First Lady, Mrs. Biden, Jill, kiddo, perhaps he should know better than to mess with a woman who body blocked a protester from getting to her husband last March.

A spokesman for Biden calling the column disgusting and sexist.

Doug Emhoff, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris has been tweeting. This story would never have been written about a man. Michelle Obama writing all too often, our accomplishments are met with skepticism, even derision. Biden taking the high road tweeting, together, we will build a world with the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated rather than diminished.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell with that reports and I take us off the air with our thanks for being here with us. That's our broadcast as we start a new week on behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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