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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, December 15, 2020

Guests: Michael Osterholm, Tim Miller


U.S. COVID-19 deaths now top 304,000. FDA may soon approve second wave vaccine. FDA approves at-home, non-prescription COVID test. Mitch McConnell recognizes Joe Biden as President-elect. Putin congratulates Biden as U.S. probes Russian cyberattack. President Donald Trump remains obsessed on subverting election even after Electoral College vote. Biden has chosen former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be his Transportation secretary. Several U.S. agencies said to be compromised by Russian hackers.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: I guess you are entering the Guinness Book of Records in a tie with me for a highest price zoom call discussed on this show that's where it is.

BEN STILLER, ACTOR: Nice. Well, let's take this on the road and do it more often because I think we're committed on many groups for charities, all right.

O'DONNELL: Ben Stiller gets tonight's last zoom call and only zoom call. Ben, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.

STILLER: Thanks, Lawrence. I'm a fan.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,426 of the Trump administration meaning 36 days remain until the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th. President, yet as the nation prepares for a new political era and as medical breakthroughs provide hope in the midst of this pandemic offer us a glimpse of hope at least, that grim reality remains, a record number of Americans are hospitalized tonight with the virus, over 300,000 of our fellow citizens are gone. Tonight the bells of the National Cathedral in Washington told 300 times in their memory.

The vaccine rollout continues across our country with more states inoculating healthcare workers and others in high risk frontline groups. Today Dr. Fauci said President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris should be on that list.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can. We want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January.


WILLIAMS: And again, the simple math here the two shots have to be administered 21 days apart. The Democrats have 36 days before being sworn in.

And there is yet another vaccine on the horizon. Tonight the FDA is saying Moderna's vaccine has been found to be highly effective. New York Times reports the agency could sign off on an emergency use by this coming Friday.

Today the FDA approved the first at-home coronavirus test that you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription though it's unclear when we will all see it in stores.

This was also a big day because the most senior Republican in the United States Senate finally acknowledged there will be a new administration come January 20.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: The Electoral College has spoken. I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. I also want to congratulate the Vice President-elect our colleague from California Senator Harris.


WILLIAMS: For the past six weeks, McConnell had joined Donald Trump and resisting any recognition of the Biden victory.

Tonight Axios reports McConnell indeed alerted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before he spoke on the Senate floor. And NBC News is reporting that during a conference call McConnell urged members of his Republican caucus not to mount an objection when Congress affirms the Electoral College vote that's coming up on January the sixth. This afternoon Biden confirmed that he and McConnell have been in touch


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I had a good conversation with Mitch McConnell. I called him to thank him for the congratulations. I told him although we disagreed on a lot of things there are things we can work together on. We've always been straight with one another, and we agreed we'd get together sooner than later.


WILLIAMS: Biden also heard from Vladimir Putin today, who offered his well wishes and a telegram said he hopes the U.S. and Russia can work together despite their differences. Problem is that just got harder given Russia's alleged extensive cyber attack on our own government agencies, including but not limited to Homeland Security, the very people we put in charge of preventing such strikes, much more on the hacking ahead in this broadcast.

We have heard nothing yet from Donald Trump about the electronic attack on our country. Instead, he remains focused on his own future and his dreams of overturning the results of the election.

Today, the White House Press Secretary was asked if yesterday's decisive Electoral College vote would prompt Donald Trump to finally recognize Joe Biden as his successor.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President is still involved in ongoing litigation related to the election. Yesterday's vote was one step in the Constitution Process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump had the benefit of the Senate starting hearings and starting the process before he was inaugurated in January of 2017. Does the President oppose the Senate taking up Joe Biden's nominees before the Inauguration?

MCENANY: I think that's a hypothetical. And, you know, he won't get ahead of that activity actually happening but he has taken all statutory requirements on necessary to either ensure a smooth transition or a continuation of power.


WILLIAMS: Trump also remains focused on settling scores. Tonight The Associated Press reporting he is considering pushing his incoming acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to appoint a special counsel to carry out a federal tax investigation of Hunter Biden. That would mean in effect the new president would be powerless to stop it from going on within the Justice Department.

Also today Trump retweeted a message from a Georgia attorney threatening the state's governor and top election official because they refuse to subvert the state's election results in Trump's favor. "Donald Trump is a genuinely good man. I bet he dislikes putting people in jail, especially Republicans. He gave Brian Kemp and the Georgia Secretary of State every chance to get it right. They refused. They will soon be going to jail."

Joe Biden was in Georgia today, the state he managed to turn blue to help out get out the vote for democratic senator candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The January 5 runoff election will determine nothing less than the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Biden underscored how much is at stake here.


BIDEN: We got a lot of work to do. And I plan to get to work right away doing it. I need two senators from the state, who want to get something done. Not two senators who are just going to get in the way.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, there is this Trump's neighbors in Florida are bracing for the possibility he just might spend his post White House days right there alongside them. Tonight the Washington Post is reporting that some of the neighbors down in Mar-a-Lago want the city of Palm Beach to prevent Trump from settling down there. They argue he signed away his legal right to live there full time back in the 90s when the resort was originally converted from a private residence to a private club.

With that, let's bring in our leadoff guests on this Tuesday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for The Washington Post, back with us is Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at the CIA and Pentagon former Chief Counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael Osterholm, Professor and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy out of the University of Minnesota, also a Member of the President-elect's COVID-19 Advisory Board.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Ashley, I'd like to start with you and your beat. And just like that it's over because Mitch McConnell says it is, has there been any appreciable, measurable migration and Donald Trump's thought process toward accepting the loss at the polls?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Not in Donald Trump's thought process and not even in the thought processes or at least the public actions and words I should say of a number of Republicans. It is significant what Leader McConnell said on the Senate floor. But keep in mind when he said that, according to a Washington Post tally, just 20 of the 52 Senators, were acknowledging Joe Biden is the president-elect and according to a broader tally of the surveyed all Republican lawmakers under 40 of over 200 Republican lawmakers House and Senate say Joe Biden is the president-elect.

Now very few of them to be clear say that Donald Trump actually won another term. But, you know, you're seeing a drip, drip, drip. But as long as the people around the president, the enablers and as long as the Republicans in Congress who know better many of them but fear him will not come out and state the obvious it is going to be very hard to answer your original question to see a change in the thought process of a man who can imagine nothing worse than being a loser.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, this talk is increasing of Donald Trump embedding a special counsel into what would become the Biden era Justice Department to investigate the son of the 46th President. This talk got a big boost tonight on Fox News from one Lindsey Graham.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We can't live in a country where you take a wrecking ball to the Trump family for three and a half years based on nothing and ignore business relationships on the buying side that really could compromise our ability to push back against China and maybe Russia itself, so now's the time for us to have a special counsel to look at the Biden's the way that Muller looked at Trump.


WILLIAMS: So Jeremy, this new acting A.G., Mr. Rosen doesn't start until December 23. It appears, his first major decision may be laid out for him long before he takes office?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER, CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, and that may turn out, Brian, to be the reason why Bill Barr was pushed out and Jeff Rosen was elevated. But just to remind viewers, the reason why we had a special counsel in the form of Bob Muller was because Donald Trump fired the head of the FBI who was investigating Russia's 2016 election interference. And but for that event, there would have been no need for a special counsel. So when senators come forward and say we need a special counsel, they haven't established any facts proceeding that would justify such move. In fact, it looks completely political. It looks like retribution. It looks like sour grapes, frankly, for president who lost the election, big time trying to use the engines of law enforcement, our country to investigate a political rival. That is banana republic stuff, Brian. We don't do that in the United States of America. And any senator who claims we should needs understand and reread our Constitution.

WILLIAMS: And now, Michael, over to you for what is the backdrop of human life in this country right now, I'm still calling it an uncontrolled pandemic, until and unless proven otherwise. Talk about the split mood of this week, the great celebration, the arrival of the first vaccines, coupled with the warning I know you have about the winter we are just starting to enter?

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, MEMBER OF BIDEN CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Well, thank you. In fact, we are living in the best of times and the worst of times. The fact that we can see light at the end of the tunnel with these vaccines is really something that we will go back in history. And remember, for many decades to come, it was a Manhattan Project as such.

The challenge we have those vaccines will only be here in limited amount in the first few months of this next year. And it really won't be until much later in the year that we are going to see enough to vaccinate most Americans. And in the meantime, just as you pointed out, we are living with this ever increasingly dangerous pandemic, where today we are watching hospitals in this country being overrun with all the cases, the deaths are increasing substantially. And I don't think we have a sense yet what the ceiling will be over the course of the next several months in terms of both number of cases and deaths.

WILLIAMS: And, Michael, while I have you talked about the differences, appreciable differences between these two vaccines, assuming we get an approval of Moderna on Friday. I believe I've heard it said they are not at all interchangeable. If you get the first shot of one brand, the Pfizer, you must get the second shot of the Pfizer, is that correct?

OSTERHOLM: That's correct. However, they are very similar vaccines. They use the same platform is what we call is the way to deliver the material to the body that then causes the immune response. They're both we call messenger RNA vaccines. And so in that sense, the action will be very similar and how they work. And we surely have early data that's been made public for both vaccines, the one that was approved by the FDA for Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine, which will be evaluated and considered on Thursday, which we all anticipate that vaccine will also be approved and they are highly effective vaccines.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, back to you, back to politics and the West Wing. Trump has a rare cabinet meeting on the schedule tomorrow. You know, the tableau, you know, the scene. Cabinet meeting was the scene of the kind of dear leader session early on in the administration that we witnessed. Do you expect this to be at all infused with even the hint of feeling that this is a departing administration?

PARKER: It's a great question because the West Wing in general sort of has this feel of the last guests at the wedding. So there's a bit of nostalgia, a bit of ruefulness and a bit of regret, there's less foot traffic to the Oval Office. People are working from home. So you very much could have those sorts of toasts to, you know, to keep the wedding metaphor going that the President so likes and demands from his cabinet secretaries and especially Vice President Pence is sort of classic of that genre.

But, you know, be interesting to see if either in public or in private, A, the speeches and toasts happen. And B, if they are sort of infused with a sense of ending of looking back on for years and not really looking ahead to the four years, the next four years that he's very much not going to have.

WILLIAMS: And Jeremy Bash back to your bailiwick, and a serious question, it was theorized that the delay in the transition might actually make us more vulnerable to the kind of electronic attack we just suffered apparently days ago. Do you believe that or have we, for all the wrong reasons, been at the same kind of static level of vulnerability for these past four years?

BASH: Well, it's vitally important, Brian, that the incoming team receive all the intelligence all the information about cyber espionage efforts. You know, I don't know yet whether or not the delay itself makes us more vulnerable. But this cyber hack from Russia is a deadly serious event. I mean, just think about it, Brian, all the threats that we face as a country are technological in nature, the major ones at least, this is biological threat from the pandemic. China's effort to dominate artificial intelligence and the global internet, of course, Russia's brazen cyber attack of the 2016 election, and now their attack of our government in 2020, and we have to, I think, elevates science, evidence, facts, truth over ideology and politics.

I think the one of the greatest shortcomings of the Trump era will be the elevated political ideology. They were big time deniers of the virus, big time deniers of the facts of the election results.

America has never been, you know, a country of political ideology. We've left that to the mouse (ph) and the Khrushchev's and the Castro's. We're the ones who flew an airplane, discover electricity, split the atom, developed the iPhone. We are the country of technological innovation. We're going to need that technology and that practical realism to defeat the threat to the 21st century.

WILLIAMS: Wow, a lot to think about there. And, Michael, you get the last word. We mentioned the approval of this at-home test for coronavirus. Can you help us fill in the blanks? When will we start seeing it? Where will we start seeing it? And is there any early word on efficacy potential false positives, false negatives. A lot of people have been looking forward to this development?

OSTERHOLM: We surely want to expand testing. This is very important part of our response to this pandemic. However, I would offer a note of caution that many of these tests that we have heard about that are easy to administer, quick results have given us in really a problem results, meaning that they have tested negative when you really were infected. They've tested positive when you weren't. And so I think we have to really be very cautious here and see how this works in our hands before we can say this is a new major breakthrough.

WILLIAMS: Michael Osterholm on medicine and science, Jeremy Bash, National Security, Ashley Parker covers the White House and is good for an occasional wedding metaphor. Our thanks to the three of you for starting us off on this Tuesday night broadcast.

Coming up for us, now that Mitch McConnell has finally stated the obvious, what to look for in a fractured GOP?

And later, the former ambassador to Russia, who says it's time indeed the U.S. gets serious about cyber security, just as Jeremy was saying, and the threats posed by Russia. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just now getting underway on this Tuesday night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any concerns at all about what the President has been saying? And should he accept these results?

MCCONNELL: Look, I don't have any advice to give the President on the subject. So this morning for me, and I think on the basis of the way the system works. The decision by the Electoral College yesterday was determined.


WILLIAMS: Earlier today Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris was asked about McConnell's finally acknowledging this, the Joe Biden victory.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden have spoken he has acknowledged that he is the president-elect.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How important do you think that is?

HARRIS: I think it's critically important. I applaud Mitch McConnell for talking to Joe Biden today, you know, would have been better if it were earlier, but it happened. And that's what's most important. And so let's move forward. Let's move forward, and where we can find common purpose and common ground. Let's do that.


WILLIAMS: For you kids out there, that's the definition of a positive spin.

Back tonight, two of our returning veterans, Jason Johnson, campaign veteran, veteran journalist, contributor to the Grio, professor of politics at Morgan State University and Tim Miller, Contributor to the Bulwark, former Communications Director to one Jeb Bush, among others.

Gentlemen good evening, and welcome. So Jason, in light of Mr. McConnell's remarks, is this a great day in the morning or just a Tuesday in December?

JASON JOHNSON, PROFESSOR MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: It's a Tuesday in December, maybe it's the light at the end of the tunnel if that light is an oncoming train. Look, the fact that Mitch McConnell is willing to accept the facts after six weeks, to me is just a reminder that he is perfectly comfortable engaging in and sort of mendacity and dishonesty and provoking fear and ignorance if it serves his political purposes.

If I thought for one second that Mitch McConnell actually believed that there was legitimate fraud, and that these investigations were real, I might give him some credit for coming to this conclusion today. But no, it was just another cynical move that he engages in.

My hope, Brian, is that him making this statement and these conversations that he supposedly has had with Joe Biden will lead to at least less acrimony, even if he continues to be an obstructionist, but I don't give him any credit for saying something that we knew was true that he knew all along was a lie.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Tim, someone, the three of us all, no made news on this very network. Earlier tonight, here is our friend, Steve Schmidt, discussing a change in his political affiliation.


STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The Republican Party, a majority of them voted for this autocratic moment, 90 of them that didn't, but you know what they're in a coalition of conservatives and autocrats and that's bad for America, the party that's going to defend American liberties the Democratic Party, and that's why I joined it on a single issue voter now. I believe in American democracy.


WILLIAMS: So Tim, this leaves the Republicans in an interesting spot. I was also mindful of the chance that started up at the MAGA rally this weekend in Washington, destroy the GOP. Could it be that all these elected Republicans who gave over their votes or even just tacit approval to the Trump administration, are going to turn around and find insurrection surrounding their party? What should happen to the GOP, is should this be an era of reconstruction? And you have a voice in this?

TIM MILLER, THE BULWARK CONTRIBUTOR: Brian, I think there's shoulds and there's wills here. You know, as far as the shoulds go, yeah, absolutely. I think it would be great if in this country, we had two parties that both equally cared about the fundamental principles of this country, democracy, pluralism, welcoming of immigrants. We don't have that. And I don't see the Republican Party changing at all. And I think that Steve is seeing clearly what a lot of people are not saying.

You know, I wrote an article for the Bulwark a couple weeks ago. Goodbye to all that about leaving the Republican Party. The reality is people like Steve, people like me, people, you know, that the never trumpers, if you will, all across the country. By the way, this was a determinative group in the election, which is why Donald Trump lost and Republicans won, you know, down ballot races.

They're basically the capitalist wing of the Democratic Party right now. You know, what -- there has been a shift in our politics, the blue dog Democrats are now largely culturally conservative Republicans. And I think this is a shift that everybody has to recognize as we look at politics going forward and the people that remain in the Republican Party, who are political operators like Mitch McConnell, they are going to pander to the anti democracy white grievance Donald Trump wing of the party as much as possible, because that is the majority of the Republican Party. There will be exceptions. They'll be people in blue states, like Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, our country is vast, our parties are vast, you know, they contain multitudes, but the animating part of the Republican Party right now is still Donald Trump's party. It's still anti-Democratic. I think Steve sees that clearly. And I think that Mitch McConnell sees it clearly, which is why it took him six weeks to go along with the pretend kit.

WILLIAMS: Great dear and back reference, also a great quote that it was determinative. And I think I agree with you on all the evidence backs you up. And Jason, the great thing about this election year is it keeps going into 2021. And this is the part of the interview where I asked you, what are the real chances that the Democratic Party flips the Senate by pulling off what was deemed impossible and winning to Georgia Senate seats?

JOHNSON: Brian, I pride myself on my political cynicism. But I have to admit, it's not just that there's been a 23% increase in same day, early voting in Georgia versus the election last year. That is amazing. But that's not necessarily determinative, because we saw in 2020 high turnout doesn't necessarily favor Democrats the way it used to maybe 10 or even 15 years ago.

But what I do see is this and this is every single time I talked to my contacts in the area, the Republican civil war is real in Georgia. It is a real conflict. The Georgia Republican voter is more interested in shots that that Purdue is taking a Kemp and Kemp is taking a Trump and Trump is taking it the Secretary of State that is what is really engaging Republican voters right now, whereas Democratic voters are actually engaged in paying attention to the election and trying to get Ossoff and Warnock elected.

I wouldn't make a prediction this far out. But I've said all along, I think it's a twofer, either Ossoff or Warnock win or Loeffler and Perdue win and right now Ossoff-Warnock had the better organization and the more consistent message because the Republicans too busy beating each other over the head.

WILLIAMS: Nobody moved both of these gentlemen are staying with us. Please you at home do so as well. Quick break, we'll continue our conversation, when we come back the Biden choices thus far.


WILLIAMS: We are back with our guest Jason Johnson and Tim Miller. Tim, I'd like to talk to you about the Biden choices thus far. We had the same conversation the last time you were on but the list of names has been added to we learned today Buttigieg, transportation, Jennifer Granholm, energy.

Tonight, Axios has a piece guessing that the Republican in the cabinet and it's in traditional presidencies. It is traditional to have someone or try to have someone from the opposite party, that Biden is looking at a Republican perhaps for commerce, they further speculate that it might be a Meg Whitman type.

What do you make of the slate you've seen thus far?

MILLER: I will do things, one, I think it's a Biden escalate, it's a crazy how much criticism I've seen from the left, really, the void is the left to eat their young. You know, you never saw this in Republican administrations where, you know, you don't have enough people from this interest group or from that interest group. And that seems to be all the coverage around Biden.

Biden's picked all the people I think you'd expect him to pick. He's picked the central left cabinet, a very common competent cabinet. And out of today's picks, I just want to call out Pete Buttigieg. Once again, Joe Biden is making a first. This is going to be the first gay cabinet official confirmed by the Senate.

And this is massive news. I know in a lot of pot and urban pockets on the coasts. You know, being gay is pretty common these days. And doesn't -- this doesn't seem like as big of a deal as it might have 10 years ago, but for a lot of kids and a lot of parts of this country, Pete was a huge role model and Pete is the maybe the only person that they could look to who modeled what it was like to have a gay family life and, and to be able to go out and leave a place like Indiana and succeed.

And so I think that it's great that he's doing. Obviously, Kamala Harris, as I mentioned last time, Mayorkas, it's a diverse cabinet. It's a center left cabinet. I don't know what else you think you'd get.

WILLIAMS: No, you're right. And these LGBT first should be correctly noted and celebrated every time the goalposts get moved in our society. So Jason, you heard what Tim just said about the infighting about Democrats eating very young, his words, not mine, I would never do anything like that.

We have this -- we have this from AOC today, quote, you have an individual appointment here, an individual appointment there. What is the overall message from the big picture and this entire cabinet put together? Friend of mine and elected Democrat, immediately branded this the start of purity testing 36 days before any hands are placed on Bibles and said to me in response, quote, would you perhaps prefer the Trump dear leader cabinet for four more years? Jason, your answer?

JOHNSON: You know, look, this is not going to be the red wedding, right? Where the Democrats show up and they all kill each other and they're fighting. I don't think that's what's going to happen. What you have is a lot of jockeying for influence.

Now, for example, AOC was on the Climate Committee for the Democratic sort of platform this year, Gina McCarthy is a climate czar, they've worked together, I'm pretty sure she's OK with that. I tend to think as much as it's an accomplishment for diversity.

You know, look, I've always thought that Mayor Pete sort of failed up to be perfectly honest, I think they're transportation secretaries that you could have gotten out of Michigan, Janette Sadik-Khan. Phillips Carver (ph) out of Cleveland, I think there's a lot more people that you could get at a local level, that know a lot more about transportation than Mayor Pete.

But I also think quite basically, that some of these selections are not just about Biden filling his cabinet, not just about giving favors to people who may have endorsed him during the primary, but also perhaps kneecapping, potential rivals for Senator Harris in 2024, 2028. So I think all of those things are being discussed right now.

But in the game, Brian, the positions that matters most to me, are Attorney General, and labor secretary, because those are the positions that are going to be the most important in deconstructing the autocracy that Donald Trump was attempting to build and setting together a fair and more equitable labor environment for people to survive in post COVID.

Those are the positions that I think are going to have the greatest influence. And those are the positions where Joe Biden has to pick people who are going to push for serious structural change, because we can't keep going the way we've been going. And most of these pigs, another par for the course.

MILLER: Man, Brian, I just have to say my mother wishes I failed up like Mayor Pete. I mean, that guy is -- he's failing. He's really failing quite well. When the Iowa caucus first came in run for president, a major party. He seems to be doing all right to me, I don't know.

WILLIAMS: You also get a decorated military veteran and a Rhodes Scholar in the equation. Two good things to have, I would think, in any cabinet any collection of adults these days. Guys, this has been a great and fascinating conversation. Let's do this exact same thing again, Jason Johnson, Tim Miller, two longtime friends of this broadcast. Thank you, gentlemen, both very much.

Another break for us coming up from Russia with love. The early morning telegram to Joe Biden, congrats from Donald's friend Vladimir on your awesome victory. We'll talk with our former ambassador to Russia about abandoning the effort by the outgoing president to be his best friend.


WILLIAMS: New details tonight coming out on the scope of this massive hack on U.S. federal agencies and companies. New York Times puts it this way quote about 18,000 private and government users downloaded a Russian tainted software update a Trojan horse of sorts, that gave its hackers a foothold into victim systems

One government official tells Politico quote, this is probably going to be one of the most consequential cyber attacks in US history. So we have that going for us. And here with more tonight. Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, his book is titled "From Cold War to Hot Peace, and American Ambassador in Putin's Russia."

Mr. Ambassador, it's great to see you again. Thank you very much for coming on. And let's begin here, what would and you'll excuse the wording but I must use it. What would a normal president do in response to an attack like this in normal times?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: He would respond, Brian, he would say something. I mean, it looks like this could be the biggest hack in American history from one of our principal adversaries in the world.

And the President of the United States is supposed to defend the people of the United States and the U.S. government of the United States. This is an attack on our government and attack on our private companies. And he needs at a minimum to stand up and criticize President Putin for doing this, this act against us.

WILLIAMS: You know, more than most civilians about the threats of hacks we've been worried about in the past, I know, generically, we've been worried that some overseas actor could reach into our power grid and dark in New England during the height of winter or something, as severe as that this hack is, seems to be more nuanced, targeted, more interesting to those in the business. What do you think the goal was here?

MCFAUL: Well, first, I want to be clear, Brian, I don't know. And you shouldn't trust anybody who tells you that they do dumb because this is classified. But what they've done, we don't know the full scope. We don't know if this is one incidence or that this has been going on for years and years and years. So always remember that there's so much more going on in this world that's classified that we don't know about. By the way, we are doing a lot of activity in this world as well.

Number two, this strikes me to what has been reported, it looks more like intelligence gathering, it looks more like spying and not trying to do damage along the lines that you just described. And so far, we have no evidence that they've done things like that, nor have they done doxxing, right, which is to steal information from the U.S. government or private entities and then publish it in ways that are damaging.

So far, this looks like intelligence, but it looks like a really, really big, successful intelligence operation by the Russians and a good reminder that Russia is a powerful actor in the world. It's one of the most powerful countries in the world when it comes to cyber top two or three in the world and we have not been treating them like the threat that they are.

This is just one instance. But for four years, we have not been treating them that way. And I hope when the Biden administration takes over, that will begin to treat them that way.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me back up and come around it from a different angle. We know that going back to the Soviet Union, that nation has devoted a staggering amount of its GDP, to all things, security, all things secrecy. We are fond of saying that modern day Russia has a smaller GDP than the state of Texas. Is it also true that the last four years have given Russia under Vladimir Putin a former professional spy, the ability, the opening to punch way above their weight in this area?

MCFAUL: Yes, but I want to be clear about something. We all love to talk about GDP of Russia, and say it's a declining power. I want people to get rid of that notion in their minds. I think that's the wrong analytic framework. That's what you think about after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people poverty, that Russia is gone.

Yes, Russia has a small, you know, GDP that you just described. But remember, Vladimir Putin controls most of that GDP. And he can allocate it the way he wants, so he can allocate it to create cyber capabilities, he can allocate it to create new nuclear weapons, military conventional capabilities, subsidizing and paying for RT, which is a multi billion dollar propaganda enterprise around the world.

That is what's been happening for many, many years under Vladimir Putin. And for four years, the President of the United States refuse to acknowledge it. His government did, by the way, I want to be clear about that, the Trump administration oftentimes did, but Trump never did. And so Putin always felt like he had free rein to do these kinds of things, knowing that there would be no response from the President of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for making that point, emphatically and forcefully. And for pointing all that out, it's helpful to our coverage. As you always our former ambassador, Michael McFaul with us tonight. Thank you very much. Great having you back on the broadcast.


WILLIAMS: Another break for us and coming up, making sure that certain Americans are guaranteed a fair shot, now that the shots are going into arms.


WILLIAMS: This was day two of health care workers across our country rolling up their sleeves to get the vaccine. They are the agreed upon first priority in this country who among us does not view them as true warriors. They've been in this fight for 10 long months, they've been caring for the rest of us and our loved ones.

Well, the debate now is over the next wave of vaccine recipients and making sure certain of our brothers and sisters aren't left behind in that. That story tonight from NBC News correspondent Gabe Gutierrez.


GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today the first vaccinations of healthcare workers and Loretto Hospital on Chicago's West Side, or black Americans make up 40 percent of COVID deaths.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: Equity isn't part of our COVID-19 strategy. It is our strategy.

GUTIERREZ: In Washington DC more vaccinations at Howard University Hospital as public health officials, including the Surgeon General are now highlighting the critical need to reach communities of color in the months ahead.

Just over half of states with publicly available plans for vaccine distribution have at least one mention of incorporating racial equity.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY GLOBAL HEALTH PROFESSOR: It's not just ethically permissible, but it's an ethical imperative. They've suffered historical and unconscionable deficits in health in every area you can imagine.

GUTIERREZ: Kenny Brown is a community organizer in Columbus, Ohio, who's fighting vaccine skepticism in minority neighborhoods.

KENNY BROWN, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: There's a distrust which is definitely valid because of some of the things that happen to our community in the past.

GUTIERREZ: In Newark, New Jersey's multi ethnic iron bound neighborhood where the COVID positivity rate tops a staggering 40 percent.

Flavio Perez told us she's scared of the vaccine even though her father has been hospitalized with COVID for more than a month.

VICKY HERNANDEZ, RUNS COMMUNITY CENTER: There's a great amount of mistrust.

GUTIERREZ: Vicky Hernandez runs a community center here.

HERNANDEZ: Black and Brown communities primarily make up essential workers and they have been disproportionately affected by COVID. And so for that reason they should be prioritized.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): She says a survey of her members shows that only one in three plans to get vaccinated right away.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Gabe Gutierrez for that report. Coming up for us, remembering a time perhaps returning to a time when the U.S. would respond after being attacked.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is in light of the news this week that Russia apparently hacked our government up one side and down the other, another way of saying Russia and Putin haven't changed a bit. Our last guest the former U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, Michael McFaul said this today quote, even after the latest news of Russian cyber attacks on us and the Navalny poisoning, which we covered here last night, it looks likely that Trump will complete his term without ever once criticizing Putin. Incredible.

Well, indeed it is, especially considering the outgoing president took the oath that Joe Biden will take on January 20th. That oath swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Instead, and from the very start, the intelligence analysts have theorized our president is at worst, somehow compromised, and at best is willing to ignore national security in exchange for a compliment. Something he has made no attempt to hide.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I get along very well with Putin. I got to know him very well, because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates. And we did very well that night.

Like for instance, Putin said Trump is brilliant.

Putin did call me a genius. And he said, I'm the future the Republican Party.

If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him.

HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: He'd rather have a puppet as president and today. It's pretty clear.

UNDENTIFIED MALE: Do you respect Putin?

TRUMP: I do respect him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you? Putin's a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. Why do you think are countries so innocent?

President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the winner of the election.

It's an honor to be with you. Thank you. Thank you.

I believe that he feels that he in Russia did not meddle in the election. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win?

UNDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): Yes I do because he talks about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reporting that you went to unusual lengths to keep your conversations with President Putin under wraps.

TRUMP: Me with Putin and then make a big deal. I -- Anybody could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia paid bounties or offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers.

TRUMP: Frankly, that's an issue that many people said was fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've never discussed it with him.

TRUMP: I have never discussed it with him.

But at the same time we get along. I like Putin, he likes me. You know, we had long --


WILLIAMS: The President on Putin and Russia. Americans, by the way can expect to change very shortly and how our president and our government talk about both.

That is our broadcast for this Tuesday night with our thanks for being here with us on behalf of the men and women at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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