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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, December 23, 2020

Guests: Neal Katyal, Bill Kristol, Irwin Redlener


President Donald Trump pardoned more than two dozen people, including longtime confidant Roger Stone, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law. Trump vetoed the annual military spending bill because it did not modify a law that provides liability protections to tech companies and would have authorized the renaming of military bases named for Confederate generals. COVID relief bill includes vaccine funding. President-elect Joe Biden praised Congress for bipartisan relief bill. Attorney General Bill Barr officially leaves DOJ. Trump's last-minute outburst throws pandemic relief effort into chaos. U.S. is short on goal of 20 million vaccination for December. U.K. coronavirus mutation prompts more travel bans and major disruptions at ports.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 1,434 of the Trump administration, 28 days to go until the inauguration of Joe Biden as our 46th President.

Meanwhile, the outgoing president is issuing another slew of pardons, granting clemency for a total of 29 people. And let's be clear, some of these pardons tonight are going to straight up criminals. Some of these pardons reward corruption and reward cooperation with Russian intelligence.

We heard the news just after Trump landed in Florida tonight, this was another stunning rebuke of the Mueller investigation, while also doling out rewards for allies, especially those who kept quiet.

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort convicted for financial fraud and a case brought by Mueller's prosecutors. Longtime Trump advisor and friend Roger Stone convicted of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering in the Russia investigation.

Charles Kushner, father of Jared Kushner, father-in-law of Ivanka Trump, Charlie Kushner, by the way, was put away by Chris Christie back when he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey for tax evasion and witness retaliation.

Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years for his crimes. He's been under home confinement due to the pandemic. Tonight he promptly thank Trump by saying, "Mr. President, my family and I humbly thank you for the presidential pardon you bestowed upon me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are. History will record that your presidency accomplished more in four years than any of your modern day predecessors. You truly did make America great again."

As for Roger Stone, his 40 month prison sentence had previously been commuted by Trump who had publicly signaled that clemency was in the cards for both guys.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I think Paul Manafort trial is very sad.

One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that, you know, they make up stories, people make up stories.

I believe that he will tell the truth, and if he tells the truth, no problem. The question was asked yesterday about pardons with respect to Paul Manafort, who it's very sad, what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated.

Roger Stone, somebody I've always liked. I mean, Roger is a character. I think it's very tough what they did to Roger Stone. Roger stone for doing nobody even knows what he did. They put him in for nine years. It's a disgrace. Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion.

Roger Stone was treated very unfairly. Paul Manafort, the black book turned out to be a fraud.

I think it was a disgrace that they didn't give him a retrial, Roger Stone -- Paul Manafort, what they did to that man is a disgrace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you thought about pardons and commutations at all?

TRUMP: I am always thinking, I am always thinking, so you'll be watching like everybody else in this case. You'll be watching.


WILLIAMS: That's how that went with Wednesday's pardon of Manafort. Trump has now intervened to help five people charged in the Mueller investigation for crimes against their country and he's rewarded the guys who didn't rat him out.

In addition to all this, Trump in true reality show fashion has left the nation in the midst of a cliffhanger. He departed from Washington leaving two major pieces of legislation up in the air with the fate of millions of his fellow citizens in the balance. Late this afternoon he vetoed the defense spending act which passed with bipartisan support. His refusal to sign the annual Pentagon spending bill, denies pay raises for troops and new benefits for Vietnam era veterans, while teeing up what could be the first veto of Trump's presidency. Both the House and Senate are preparing to consider override votes, a uniquely painful prospect for the Republicans who are scared to death of what this President might say about them.

Then there is Trump's threat to blow up the COVID relief bill as millions of Americans are nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. Trump's demands for changes to the bill could not only delay any assistance, Merry Christmas, but shut down the federal government. This could also impact the effort to reverse the current COVID surge and to the effort to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, MEMBER OF BIDEN CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: The money that we needed state and local health department's right out of fund giving the vaccine is tied up there. We don't have the resources out here to deliver this vaccine without that support. Our lifeline with this vaccine is actually being compromised substantially if we don't have the resources to get the vaccines into people's arms.


WILLIAMS: The bipartisan again, bipartisan relief bill has won praise from President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris today had this reaction to the President's decision to hold it up.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: You know, people are hurting right now, they are hurting, and we need to get the relief to them immediately and the one thing you should not be doing is after the work went into the pill holding up, when by the end of the month people are -- their benefits are going to end.


WILLIAMS: With that, let's bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night the eve of Christmas Eve, Errin Haines, a veteran of the Associated Press, who is now Editor at Large for the 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom focused on gender, politics and policy, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Stephanie Ruhle, Senior Business Correspondent for NBC News, veteran of the business and banking worlds who of course, is the anchor of the 9 a.m. hour on this network, and Neal Katyal, Veteran of the Justice Department, former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration, who has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

And counselor because it is the law that gives us the lead story tonight, I'm going to begin with you. And I'm going to read you the accompanying statement regarding the President's pardons tonight, "As a result of blatant prosecutorial overreach, Mr. Manafort has endured years of unfair treatment and is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history. Due to prosecutorial misconduct by special counsel Mueller's team, Mr. Stone was treated very unfairly. He was subjected to a pre-dawn raid of his home which the media conveniently captured on camera. Mr. Stone also face potential political bias that is jury trial, pardoning him will help to write the injustices he faced at the hands of the Mueller investigation."

So Neal, breathtaking statements of side, can pardons equal real time obstruction of justice, and if so, who do we see about that?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, I think they can. And boy, that sounded like being written by a bad defense lawyer. And the idea that this President is a law and order president, I mean, with that language, my foot, I mean, Trump is going basically full banana republic in his last 28 days.

And, you know, I think at this point, like if you want Donald Trump to give you a pardon, you've got to be a Republican, you've got to be a war criminal, someone who didn't rat on Trump or a turkey. That's about it. And you know, these people like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were convicted by juries. So this isn't a circumstance in which, you know, like, they were like, you know, poor indigent folks who pled guilty because they didn't have counsel or things like that. These were the most extensive process imaginable. And so yes, I think that the -- you know, to answer your question, Brian, these pardons being doled out to people and Trump floating the pardons while the investigation is happening of stone. And Manafort is, you know, as the Mueller report said, very, very problematic.

Now, the President's pardon power under our founding documents is virtually unlimited. But if there's any sort of corruption or something like that, it can be the basis for reopening things when a new investigation and a new set of charges, I suspect Trump will try and preemptively pardon all of that to in the next 28 days, just blanket pardons for anything that I have done will do and so on. But, you know, at some point, there is a limit to the pardon power, and Donald Trump is surely testing it.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, some wording in a routine document tonight, the President's vacation schedule for tomorrow and the press pool that covers him, got our attention. It's at the bottom and it says, as the holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American people. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.

Peter, that's a first in my ears. And in my knowledge, that is the definition of the job he was elected to do. A couple of the issues he could tackle is an uncontrolled electronic hack into the computers at the top of our government and an uncontrolled pandemic, could this have anything to do with your newspaper reporting today that he is now spending most of his time watching television?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, look, you know, his schedule from the election until today about seven weeks, as almost every single day said no public meetings, no public events scheduled. He has obviously had some meetings behind closed doors that were not put on the public schedule in particular with people like Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn, Rudy Giuliani and others who are, you know, feeding his conspiracy theories about the election.

But you're right. We've seen very little the president when it comes to some of these really, really big issues that are, you know, confronting our country right now. You name two of them, the Russian cyberattack has been probably unprecedented in what -- in hitting our government agencies as well as some private sector, computer servers and this COVID, you know, crisis is not just not going away, as he told us before the election it was, it's worse than ever. We had more than 3000 people die again today. That's a whole another 9/11 in the last 24 hours, president has said nothing about it.

Even to the point of talking about something he has good to talk about the vaccine which he can claim credit for helping to, you know, prod along. He's not even doing that. So you see that line on his schedule is sort of a very defensive way of the White House saying yes, yes, he's working, even though he's going to be down at Mar-a-Lago. They set the time for the pool to show up at 7:30 a.m. typically at Mar-a-Lago at 7:30 a.m. pool time is not because the pool is going to be there to cover phone calls and meetings, but because they're probably going to go with him to his golf club.

WILLIAMS: Errin, that brings us to the incoming administration, other than not expecting a shred of decency, what does any of this mean, for the President-elect soon to be President and his team?

ERRIN HAINES, THE 19TH EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, listen, Brian, I think that what you're seeing here in these final 28 days, is President Donald Trump picking and choosing how and where he wants to be presidential. But make no mistake, this is all absolutely presidential, for this president, what we saw whether it is kind of absence on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, from both a public health and an economic perspective, or whether it is, you know, these pardons. Yes, there were some kind of earlier in his tenure, like Susan B. Anthony, or Jack Johnson, or even Alice Johnson that, you know, we're kind of more in line with what we traditionally think of as presidential pardons.

But the pardons that we're seeing now absolutely rewards for loyalty and retribution for those that he deemed to be disloyal, and really just doing things that underscore, you know, his feeling that that he is right, continuing to focus on the idea that this election is rigged. You know, I think that he's what we're seeing now is him writing the final chapter of his legacy. And we still do have a few more weeks to go. And if, in fact, the reality is setting in that he didn't win, I think that he is focusing more and more for himself and for his supporters on the idea that he is right.

WILLIAMS: Stephanie, I'm going to go ahead and guess you had the highest math SATs of the group, the president rolled a grenade into the COVID Relief Bill after conflating it with the larger general funding bill, he promptly left town. What is the state of play? And I asked on behalf of those Americans, who were told to expect $600 and now are left with the hint, the promise of maybe two grand?

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST, "MSNBC LIVE": Well, let's make something clear, they were told enthusiastically by the President's Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, two days ago, they'd be getting that $600 as early as next week. And for people who have been out of work for 10 months, who stopped getting expanded unemployment benefits in September, who are risks of losing their homes, and even the food banks they go to could lose their funding. They're counting every day, every hour and every minute. And we're they're certainly not going to be getting a check for anything next week, but this idea that the President wants to float out there and use in a rally style video saying I don't want 600, I want 2000.

Well, anyone who follows any of this knows, the President has had months and months to work with either Speaker Pelosi who he has not met with face to face for over a year, or he can call Mitch McConnell, who he certainly has on speed dial and he hasn't. So when after all these months Congress working together to come up with some stimulus package, which by the way, is not a complete rescue. It is a step in the right direction, to now beyond the no pun intended 11TH HOUR to say no, I want more money for the American people. People simply aren't going to believe it. What he's doing right now serves absolutely no one. It doesn't even serve him.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Stephanie, some of the reporting is that the President is so not wedded to any dollar figure. This was much more personal. This was about McConnell and Thune appearing and saying publicly that they had turned the corner and admitting we have a president-elect not named Donald Trump.

RUHLE: Then is what the President is. What he's trying to do say, if I can't live in the White House, then let's just burn it down. Because think about this, you got the Georgia Senate run off in less than two weeks. Do you think it's going to help republicans running there that the President is blocking the next stimulus package? If he really wanted the American people to get to grant checks, then he would have worked tirelessly in September and October to get that done. And those checks would have had his face on it. And those checks would have helped him win the election in November. But he didn't do it, because it's not a priority and it never was. Back then he was saying we're in a V-shape recovery, and everybody was rocking and rolling.

WILLIAMS: Everyone was looking up what that meant. Hey, Errin, Stephanie, nicely opened the door to the twin Senate races, the Georgia run off, no pressure, Georgia all it does is decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Do you have any read on where that is right about now?

HAINES: Well, Brian, I just -- I really want to just underscore the point that Stephanie is making, issues like pandemic relief hanging in the balance are really, you know, important for voters who right now are seeing the impact of who controls Congress in the final days of these campaigns. And it's really a open question of who that helps in terms of Republicans or Democrats, Mitch McConnell said that, you know, this, you know, the Senate response to pandemic relief was hurting, you know, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and that this was something that could be useful to them on the campaign trail, getting that relief, you know, approved and getting that out to Georgians who are very much hurting, again, from both a public health and economic perspective.

But look, what we know, is that the holidays and you know, the coronavirus are not deterring people from casting ballots both in-person and by mail in numbers, you know, exceeding or matching, where we saw the general election voter suppression in-person is also impacting Republicans as the President continues to kind of tap this message of a rigged election. And this is a message that can either have a galvanizing or deterrent effect. And the last thing that I would say about this is, what's very interesting is that you hear, especially from democratic surrogates, these high profile surrogates are continuing to go down to Georgia, the spirit of Congressman John Lewis, perhaps the, you know, highest profile champion of voting rights for so long, who we know we lost this year in the midst of this pandemic, invoking the spirit of John Lewis, having him really as somebody who's looming large over the senate run offs, is something that I think is also factoring into folks motivation to vote, even in the midst of a pandemic and even, you know, in the midst of this holiday season.

WILLIAMS: I'm glad you mentioned that --

RUHLE: Brian, one of the point about Georgia --

WILLIAMS: Go ahead Step, yes.

RUHLE: One other point about Georgia, Remember, Delta Airlines is based in Atlanta, Georgia, that's their hub. Right now, every single vote counts in that state. And remember, restaurants who desperately needed they didn't get a carve out in the stimulus package. Airlines got a huge carve out. It matters immensely to them. How do you think that company all of those employees all who vote are going to feel when they say yes, we're going to keep our jobs, we're going to bring our jobs back. Oh, no, we're not whose fault is that? President Trump. They live in Georgia.

WILLIAMS: With thanks to our friends Errin Haines and Stephanie Ruhle, thank you for tonight and always on Happy Holidays to you both. Peter and Neal are staying with us for one more segment, which after all lands at the intersection of Donald Trump and the law as we continue to discuss tonight's breaking news.

Also ahead, what Bill Barr was reportedly saying about the President on his way out the door? And later, for once a promising milestone in the fight against this virus over a million Americans have now received the first dose of a COVID vaccine. We'll ask a prominent physician about who should be in line for the next round, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this eve of Christmas Eve Wednesday night.



TRUMP: I want to wish our new Attorney General great luck and speed and enjoy your life, Bill, good luck, tremendous reputation. I know you'll do a great job.


WILLIAMS: Two years later today was Attorney General Bill Barr his last day on the job at the Justice Department. In a farewell note, Barr said it's been a great honor of course to serve again at the DOJ adding, "Over the past two years, the dedicated men and women of this department have risen to meet historic challenges and upheld our vital mission to enforce the rule of law. Please remember though one of those historic challenges was working for an attorney general who was willing to act as the President's lawyer and do his bidding."

It comes as the New York Times reports, "Barr has told associates he has been alarmed by Mr. Trump's behavior in recent weeks." Memorize that quote. We're going to see it from every person who departs this administration, still with us, our Peter Baker and Neal Katyal.

Peter, something of greater urgency as we send people off into the holiday break among the sentiment, adult staffers in the West Wing, the people and they're probably enough to count on the fingers of one hand who can fog up a mirror. Why have they traditionally been fearful about what happens when the President goes south to Mar-a-Lago?

BAKER: Well, because he has fewer guardrails down there than even has in the White House. And we've seen what's happened in the last seven weeks. There aren't that many guardrails left there either, you know, fewer staff around him fewer people that say, wait a second, let's think about this before we do something, here where people try to restrain his impulses. And we've seen these impulses have been in fact, quite extraordinary and in the time since the election. So I think you're right, that there is a concern about what he might or might not do down there.

Now, what's really interesting here, I think this is a moment, Brian, where these pardons represent a way for the President to exercise control when nothing else is working for him, right? Since the election, he has seen his power begin to ebb away. He keeps telling people that the election was stolen, and basically nobody in a position of authority has agreed with him. He keeps -- he told Congress not to pass this defense bill, and that Republicans in both the House and Senate ignored him and passed it with veto proof, majorities anyway, they pass our COVID Relief Bill without his participation whatsoever. And he's now sort of flailing around saying, I don't approve this, even though both houses have now sent it to him.

And so I think the pardons represent a way for him to do something that nobody basically can undo. He doesn't need anybody else's permission to do it. It's absolute power. One of the very few things that President has that is basically pretty close to unchallengeable, though Neal may tell us ways that novel is might not be true anymore.

And I think that's sort of the expression of what he's doing here. He's angry. And he's lashing out. And he's saying, you know, this is something I can still do. In these last 28 days, I have that.

WILLIAMS: Neal, your good friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda might be able to put it to music and a number called departure of the supplicants. But we're going to be, as I mentioned, we're going to be hearing a quote, this is going to become a journalists FA key on their keyboard, something to the effect of, boy, I had real concerns about this guy, right before I left, everyone on their way out, is going to say that because of, you know, the care and feeding of their reputation. Look back and give us the quick take on Bill Barr's legacy as attorney general?

KATYAL: Well, last week, Brian, on your show, I said there's only one word to describe Bill Barr, and that's disgrace. And that's really it. He's going to go down as the worst Attorney General, in our lifetimes, perhaps ever. The most sacred duty you have, as attorney general is even handed administration of the law. And Barr is going to go down as someone who weaponize the Justice Department to protect Trump's friends and to go after his enemies.

And it's ironic because at his confirmation hearing, Trump and Bill Barr said he would be independent. And I think people like me understood that to mean independent of Trump. But I think what he really meant was independent of principle, because that is what this Attorney General did. Whether it's leniency for Trump's convicted pals are record, we're engineering the tear gassing of Americans outside of the White House, or insulting the career women and men of the Justice Department. I mean, I get call after call celebrating today, the fact that Barr is gone, that from career folks at the Justice Department. And you know that criticism is coming from Republican and Democrats alike. You can look at Paul Rosenzweig, who was Ken Starr's deputy who said, you know, pretty much what I've just said to you, Oregon air who was president Bush's Deputy Attorney General, saying similar things and publishing similar things. This has been an abomination start to finish.

WILLIAMS: The folks I've talked to tonight, say two things. Number one, there will be more pardons many of them. Number two, this is proof that Donald Trump knows his presidency is over. These are the kinds you keep for the end of your presidency, not merely the end of your first term.

Indeed, our thanks tonight, as always, we'll have you back and events will force us into a similar conversation, our thanks to Peter Baker, and Neal Katyal for being with us on this Wednesday night.

Coming up for us as we continue with a president seemingly willing to burn the house down on his way out the door, what remains truly of the Republican Party, we will ask a former member in good standing when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Trump has thrown a grenade as we said into the COVID relief bill and promptly left town. Once again the men and women of his party who have signed their offices votes and reputations over to Donald Trump are now left in an excruciating position, though all of it would be easier in the presence of principles.

The New York Times sums that up this way, Republicans could be forced to choose between party leaders in Congress who helped to negotiate the deal and a president known to savage anyone he views as disloyal. And other words, look out. He might say nasty things about you on Twitter.

With us tonight again, for the final minutes of his birthday, I am told is one Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administration's and editor-at-large of the Bulwark. Bill, thank you for being with us. And indeed, happy birthday.

And we were cognizant of your thread on social media yesterday. We discussed it here last night, you pose the question. Perhaps, Bill Barr is leaving on the eve of Christmas Eve for a reason. Perhaps there are things coming that he didn't want to be a part of. Did you feel proved right and vindicated today?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: A little bit, but thanks for the birthday wishes First of all, Brian, and good to be with you. A little bit but I'm worried about what's still to come, you know. And so they'll catch y'all said that Bill Barr has been a disgrace. And he talked to people who were so relieved to have him go. But I've talked to people and I don't quarrel with those judgments at all.

But I think Barr did stop did not do a few things Trump wanted to do. They may have been pardons that were a bridge too far. Obviously Barr, the Attorney General doesn't have an official sign off on that. But he may not have wanted to be around for some of the parties that are still to come that we had no problem with Michael Flynn. So I'm not defending Barr.

But more importantly, perhaps there may be other things that Trump wants the Justice Department to do that Barr wouldn't do. And Barr mentioned a few in his press conference Monday, as you'll recall, and I talked to people who were in the Trump administration and I think mostly tried to do their best. And they are much less confident that the new acting Attorney General would stand up to Trump to the degree that Barr did even to the degree that Barr did. So I'm not -- I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet, obviously.

WILLIAMS: Is there a category of pardon that you find more galling than the rest perhaps the pardons that reward corruption, perhaps the pardons that reward collusion with Russian intelligence?

KRISTOL: Yes, it's a heck of a choice, right? War criminals. I mean, it's all terrible, obviously. And the signals it sends to us our own politics, our society, our reputation abroad. I mean, it's all very bad. But I would say the manner for pardon and those associated with people with who did conspire, probably with the president to get Russian help in the 2016 election and then covered it up and lied about it.

I think Manfred said to Rick Gates in 2018. Sit tight, we'll be taken care of. Rick Gates actually testified the only other person I think he testified fully probably was Michael Cohen or one of the few others about the Russia scandal. Neither of them has been pardoned everyone else involved in Russia is basically now off the hook.

So we can condemn, I certainly do the pardons and just find them terrible. But let's not get ourselves. I mean, that works. Trump got away with the Russia thing. He didn't quite get away with Ukraine, though even there. He got engaged. But of course, the Senate didn't vote too big. Now, Ben Sasse says, Oh, this is rotten to the core. But he didn't think Trump's behavior in Ukraine was rotten enough to the court thrown out of office. And indeed, he endorsed him for reelection.

So I'm very -- I'm perfectly happy not to forgive the Republican senators and other elected members of Congress who got along with us so far. As you said earlier, there'll be all these people in the White House and in the Republican Party, telling reporters now, oh, boy is very upsetting. Very alarming. I did a lot to stop him, but it's not clear how much they that even really did.

WILLIAMS: Finally, here's what I want to get your reaction to Tom Friedman, New York Times writes, here's what I predict. If Trump keeps delegitimizing Joe Biden's presidency and demanding loyalty for his extreme behavior, the GOP could fully fracture, splitting between principled Republicans and unprincipled Republicans. Trump then might have done America the greatest favor possible, stimulating the birth of a new principled Conservative Party, which if true, Bill Kristol would be music to your ears, presumably, what are the chances?

KRISTOL: I think short term unlikely, maybe down the road a little bit more likely. I do think what you were talking about earlier, though, the veto of the defense bill, the veto of the omnibus spending bill to which the COVID relief is attached. That is hurting Trump, among Republican senators, actually, and members of Congress in a way that the pardons Ukraine, Russia, all of that they were happy to excuse, though there's so many things right.

But that was something when they voted. They thought they were, you know, going to be supported by Trump. And now he's put them in a difficult position. I think they will override him on the defense bill. And they and their friends of the donor class, the people who are close to Mitch McConnell, I think it'll be a greater willingness now maybe to say a little bit over the next few weeks and months, especially once he's out of office.

You know, let's not listen to him now. How much that will really be a break, how much they're willing to take on Trump's electorate out there. I'm dubious about that. But I do think that's probably more significant. You know, from the point of view of his hold on the Republican Party, than the pardons are a lot of other things he's done.

WILLIAMS: 23 minutes I won't be your birthday anymore, but we really cherish the few moments you've spent with us, Bill Kristol, our thanks as always happy holiday season to you and yours. Coming up for us, as we prepare for a modified holiday season the light. There is some hopeful pandemic news. We'll talk about it when we come back.


WILLIAMS: There was a moment of good news today. The CDC announced over one million Americans, a million of our fellow citizens have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Now Pfizer agreed to supply an additional 100 million vaccine doses in our country by the end of July. Just a little reminder about how drawn out this is going to be by the end of July to help offset a looming shortage as vaccinations continue throughout our country.

More concerns tonight after two potentially more contagious coronavirus variants or strains linked to South Africa were found in the UK. Let's get right to that. And back with us again tonight. We're so happy to have Dr. Irwin Redlener, the Founding Director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, his expertise is in these matters.

Doctor, I so badly wanted to take a victory lap and take a breath and celebrate a million shots and a million American arms. But these two strains do commend our attention. Talk to a friend in London tonight who says everyone there is very worried about the South African strain.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Right, Brian and there's reasons to be worried. Of course, first of all the strains, whether the same or they're slightly different, in U.K. and in South Africa are both much more virulent than the strains that we've been used to.

But there's been about a dozen or so mutations since this whole thing began at least that many. And these particular variants have a very significantly higher rate of infectiousness than the original ones. And the second thing to worry about, the hate to be the courier of difficult news is that one of those strains actually might be more dangerous for children, in fact, Brian because it can cause more infections in children and more serious illness.

So we're keeping our eyes very closely focused on these developments. And listen, hopefully, none of these variants will affect the ability of the vaccines to prevent the infection. We don't know that for sure yet, but fingers crossed. We're hoping that in fact, the vaccines will still be effective against these new strains. And I think there's every reason to believe they probably will be Brian.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, who that we haven't thought of who the we haven't named should be next in line for this. I asked because Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida who has been wrong about so much of this at every stage of this pandemic, in of all the states to be wrong, the state of Florida, he's saying that seniors there should be able to take precedence over frontline medical workers if those frontline medical workers are young and in good health. Where do you come down on a question like that?

REDLENER: You know, this has been a really vaccine problem because there's different opinions about who should be first there's a lot of people need being protected, including some of the people that we haven't even talked about, for example, the people whose stores are going to be open if we have another shutdown, grocery store clerks, pharmacy, clerks, and so on. We need those people to be safe and healthy. They come often from lower middle class environments. This is also the case with people who drive the buses and run this up by cars.

All these people have a lot of contact with the general public. And people have made the case that those folks ought to be first in line not to mention the very hard hit black and Hispanic community members who have taken the brunt of much of the fatalities that we've seen. So there's a lot on the table.

Ron DeSantis, though does not really present himself with a lot of credentials of either good judgment or intelligence about any of this. He's got an opinion, he's a governor, he's entitled to but so does the CDC, so to the doctors and nurses who work on the front lines and so on. So there's a lot to be discussed.

WILLIAMS: And one word for the sticking up for the home team tonight I just learned that the FDNY this was day one of getting the vaccine for the world's largest and greatest Fire Department. They have been completely stressed during this pandemic. They are the front lines in the city of New York along with New York's finest so that is good news indeed. Dr. Redlener along with our wishes for you and yours to have a happy and safe holiday season and certainly a better year ahead. Thank you as always for coming on the broadcast tonight.

Coming up for us with a new strain of this virus on the loose, again in the UK and beyond, a look at the extraordinary measures being taken to stop the spread. Some of them reluctantly coming from inside that building.


WILLIAMS: As the U.K. battles these new strains of the virus we've been talking about some there say the restrictions and lockdowns now, and the food shortages. They are starting to see our reminding them of another era in that country. Our report tonight from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in London.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): London is on war footing again. The city is the epicenter of a viral mutation that's made the coronavirus 40 to 50% more contagious, people are hiding. Most everything is shut. Official say they may have to tighten restrictions even further after Christmas.

SIR JEREMY FARRAR, DIRECTOR, WELLCOME TRUST: I hope it doesn't last I hope we get on top of this variant. We reduce transmission. We don't export it to the rest of the world and ultimately the vaccines will come through.

ENGEL: Sir Jeremy Farrar is one of the British government's top medical advisors.

(on camera): How does it feel right now for you watching the U.K. be so cut off?

FARRAR: Yes, it feels very strange. We physically cut off at the moment that feels like something from my parents generation going through 70 years ago, being cut off in 1914.

ENGEL (voice-over): Back then, the U.K. faced the Nazi Blitz and the threat of occupation. Londoners took shelter and their subways their underground as they call it.

(on camera): These days, Londoners taking shelter from the underground, many here are avoiding public transport at all costs, feeling safer, up above, in the open air.

(voice-over): The U.K. is under siege again. France temporarily cut trade across the English Channel. Food industry leaders warn of shortages, especially a fruit and vegetables.

LT. MICHAEL TIBBS, PACIFIC CAMPAIGN: I was in the Navy for six years. Quite a time. But that was quite different these days because you don't know where the things is going to strike you.

Michael Tibbs is 99 years old. He was a lieutenant on a submarine in the Pacific campaign.

TIBBS: You do get these mad people who will go against regulations in one way or another. And if they get it themselves, it's what they deserve. And this is the main comparison between war and now, you just have to obey the regulations.

ENGEL (on camera): Did you think that this would happen again in your wildest imagination that you would be in a state where now there's government rules about how you can live.

TIBBS: How can you imagine anything like this would happen? You can't.

ENGEL (voice-over): Tibbs just got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which scientists are hopeful will also defeat this new viral strain. But until then, London remains under attack from another enemy in the air.

Richard Engel, NBC News, London.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Richard for that extraordinary report out of the U.K. tonight. Coming up for us, a moment from today that reminds us all what this season is about, especially this season, and especially this year.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is the juxtaposition we are all living between what this time of year should feel like what it should mean. And the reality of life in America in this long and dark winter as 2020 prepares to give way to 2021. The uncontrolled pandemic that we are living through has taken so much from us hundreds of thousands of lives and even more livelihoods.

During this season, please remember them all those who cannot provide for their families this year. People who have never needed help never dreamed of asking for help. And please pause along with us and take in this moment from today. When NBC News correspondent Gotti Schwartz was interviewing a woman in line at a food bank in Southern California.


GOTTI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This food that you guys are picking up today? He says that the food that they're picking up here is for their Christmas meal.

This is just one of the stories. I mean, you've got a parking lot filled with people they're going to be picking up their meals, picking up meals for Christmas, sorry.


WILLIAMS: A tough and gutting moment to watch together. Here we are minutes from the start of Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner for that family and millions of others will come from a box donated by good hearted and generous souls.

Now comes our chance to show you the good and generous souls that I get to work with. If you're a regular viewer, we thank you. If you've just now stopped by on your way, perhaps from Bravo over to HGTV, welcome.

To take us off the air tonight, counting down to the actual arrival of Christmas Eve here in the east is our greeting to you from the same men and women who have kept us sharp and kept us on the air really by remote control during an uncontrolled pandemic.

From us to you, thank you Merry Christmas, and we have it on really good authority that things will get better in 2021. So, good night for us and for now.


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