IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, November 17, 2020

Guests: Celine Gounder, Clint Watts, Nate Marshall


President Donald Trump fired Chris Krebs, a Department of Homeland Security official who had rejected Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud. Trump orders troop reductions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mitch McConnell breaks ranks with Trump to warn a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. President-elect Joe Biden received a briefing on national security and diplomacy from a dozen experts outside of government, highlighting the fact that President Donald Trump is still barring Biden from receiving the classified intelligence and threat briefings that are typically given to presidents-elect. White House Task force warms of impact of COVID-19 surge. Lindsey Graham denies pressuring GA official to toss ballots. Trump is sowing chaos in final days of administration.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Well, we will have a President Biden, a White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, and a Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Coronavirus Task Force in complete agreement on January 21. How we get from here to there could involve a great deal of unnecessary tragedy.

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, thank you very much for joining us once again tonight.

BHADELIA: Thank you, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: That is tonight's LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,398 of the Trump administration, 64 days until Inauguration Day. It's been 14 days since the presidential election, 10 days since Joe Biden was declared the winner. And one year to today since the first report out of China that a new and virulent respiratory virus had been discovered.

Tonight, Donald Trump who still refuses to publicly concede his loss has fired Chris Krebs. He is the homeland security official, who vouched for the reliability of our 2020 election and who repeatedly knocked down allegations that the count was tainted by fraud.

Krebs is a veteran of the Bush '43 White House. He worked for Microsoft in the private sector in the interim until being named as a Trump appointee who then ran the Cyber Security Division of Homeland Security and lead successful efforts to help state and local governments protect their election systems. That was his job, by all accounts. He did it well until being fired on Twitter tonight.

Late last week, Homeland Security issued that statement calling our 2020 election, "The most secure in American history." Well, perhaps that's what set Trump off because the idea of an historically secure election goes against his current storyline.

Trump indeed took to Twitter tonight with more baseless claims writing in part, "The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud. Therefore effective immediately Chris Krebs has been terminated as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency."

It was just eight days ago that Trump fired his Defense Secretary Mark Esper, today came the move that Esper repeatedly and reportedly had counseled against. Trump is ordering American forces and Afghanistan cut by roughly half from 4500 to 2500 by January 15. That would be five days before the inauguration. Same troop reduction will also take place in Iraq. The decision was announced by the new acting defense secretary.


CHRISTOPHER MILLER, ACTING SECRETARY OFF DEFENSE: This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives supported by the American people and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives. Moreover, this decision by the President is based on continuous engagement with this national security cabinet.


WILLIAMS: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has shown his willingness to say and do anything for Donald Trump spoke out against this decision.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: It is extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes in regard to defense or foreign policy.


WILLIAMS: The troop reduction sets a kind of foreign policy and military booby trap for Joe Biden already forced to come up with workarounds because Trump isn't allowing a transition to take place. Biden's still not getting the classified intelligence briefings that he's now entitled to as president-elect. So today, his team put together his own briefing with experts of his choosing.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I am not being critical, just stating the obvious. You know that I've been unable to get the briefings that ordinarily would have come by now. There's no presidential responsibility more important than protecting the American people.


WILLIAMS: Though we should continue to point out this is not Joe Biden's first rodeo and he knows his way around the world. Meanwhile, there are still efforts underway in key swing states to somehow invalidate Biden's victory in Michigan Republican members of the Wayne County Board of canvassers initially refused to certify the result hours later though, the foreperson board voted unanimously to certify the results of the election.

But the uncertainty did give the Trump campaign some to talk about. And in Pennsylvania, Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani was arguing in Federal Court to try to prevent Pennsylvania from certifying Biden's when there. By all accounts it did not go well in court.

Today the New York Times reported Rudy wants the President's campaign to pony up $20,000 a day to him for his efforts. Keep in mind this is all taking place in the nation now engulfed in coronavirus. All 50 of our states are now feeling the impact of the pandemic as we move even nearer to a quarter million American lives lost. The virus in our country has never been stronger than it is right now.

NBC News has obtained a report from the nominal White House coronavirus task force to the states dated November 15. It warns of "aggressive, unrelenting expanding broad community spread without evidence of improvement but rather further deterioration. Mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies. The upcoming holidays can amplify transmission considerably.

Tonight Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is in isolation after testing positive. He's 87 years old as senior member of the Senate. He's third in line to the presidency.

And Pfizer is moving forward with a pilot delivery program for its experimental vaccine in four states initially, Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico and Tennessee. But Dr. Anthony Fauci is among those worried about how ongoing delays in this transition will further hamper efforts to contain this pandemic.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would like to see the interaction with people who might be coming in and be doing the things that are being done now by the task force, and by the people in the health system. Obviously, there's no doubt that it is better to have a smooth transition.


WILLIAMS: With that, let's bring in our leadoff guests on this Tuesday night, all three returning veterans, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Clint Watts, a former FBI Special Agent, distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and our National Security Analyst. He's also the author of the recent book, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News. And we are happy to welcome back Dr. Celine Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease at the NYU School of Medicine in Bellevue Hospital in New York. She was recently named to President-elect Biden's Coronavirus Advisory Board.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Peter Baker, let's look at the president note concession. But actions that are consistent, perhaps with a guy on his way out the partial decapitation of the intelligence community, troop movements overseas further firings threatened attack on Iran. Now he's canceled plans to go to Florida for Thanksgiving, perhaps fearful they're going to take his stuff. What's your reporting from inside the West Wing on the current mindset?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is a White House that knows that the end is in sight, even if it doesn't want to admit it. And I think that you they are taking this next 60 days to do what they can do to satisfy the President's whims, whether it be, as you point out, decapitating certain agencies with leadership that in his view has not been sufficiently loyal. Most recently, of course, Chris Krebs who dared to say that the election was actually secure and waged in a fair and free way.

And he's trying to achieve a few last policy, you know, accomplishments that drawing data troops in Iraq, and Afghanistan is something he has talked about from the beginning, and he would like to get done before he leaves office. This has been the subject of great tension between his White House and the Pentagon over these last few months. You've seen it even erupt, kind of in person out loud and public between Robert O'Brien, the National Security Advisor, and General Milley, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Military Corps, very concerned about these plans to sort of pull down troops in a place in places where they feel like they still are needed, where they can still do some good. And they're not in fact, taking a lot of casualties right now, they're not exactly an active warfare, but they are stability agents, they feel like they give America the ability to keep on top of what's happening in places that have been problem spots for national security for many years.

So there's a lot of tension right now. And we know and especially about a president whose actions are unpredictable and who isn't really listening to a lot of his key advisors at the moment.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, to your bailiwick, just in terms of the pandemic, what does the delay in this transition do to endanger our public health?

Doctor, I'm afraid you're on mute. Is that on your end or our end?


WILLIAMS: There we go. Let's try from the top.

GOUNDER: So imagine you were on a train that's going 100 miles an hour in one direction, and you're trying to jump from that train to another train that is going 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction. That is a very difficult maneuver to make. And that's what essentially the Biden team is being asked to do with transition right at the time of inauguration, that's simply impossible. There needs to be a period of handoff of communication, of understanding, just as with any other national security threat, what are the detailed granular information on things like supply chains on vaccine distribution plans.

We can't be picking up those plans on day one, and really be truly prepared to execute on them. We need time to make those plans. So this is really going to cost American lives if this -- if the current administration continues to drag its feet.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Clint, how do you wrap your head around the following, a guy like Krebs puts out a statement like the one he put out, trying to assure the American people that the election we just witnessed all the hammering to the contrary, was the most secure in our history. The President of the United States comes out and says, oh, no, that's terribly inaccurate, because again, that doesn't match his plotline. Krebs is fired for it.

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It just is a steady trickle, Brian, of the death of the administrative state. If we rewound this four years ago, you would hear Steve Bannon, a presidential advisor talking alongside the President about how we need to roll back essentially, any sort of administrative state. And here what you see is that rollback occurring all the way in to the inauguration here in January.

And when we think about this, the thing we've been worried about for four years is we did not want to replay of 2016, where people were uncertain whether their vote counted, people were uncertain about the integrity of the vote, or were they changed possibly by the Russians, which influenced the outcome of the election. That's why we have this position. That's why we built this position. And now we're seeing it removed, and we're getting a replay but this time, it's coming from within, within the White House, not from overseas.

WILLIAMS: Peter, I have a tweet, I want to read you. And it is -- it's from our mutual friend, Natasha Bertrand, she writes, one way this could backfire for Trump, as a government official, Krebs had been forbidden from speaking to the Biden transition team. Nothing stopping him from doing so now, and he has a lot of institutional knowledge that isn't necessarily classified."

This is a tough one for Democrats, Peter, as you know. Trump gets more intransigent when he's told that he has something of value, and that when he thinks the keeping of said thing is getting him attention. On the other hand, Joe Biden could go all the way to January 20 without an actual sit down briefing. This is a guy who, if you hand him a blank map of the world, I'm guessing can fill in more than half the nation's on it.

BAKER: Yeah, look, the Biden administration has an advantage that other new presidencies coming in wouldn't have, which is that they were only gone for four years, almost everybody in his inner circle has been there before. They know where the bathrooms are, they know where the -- they know how the lines of authority work. They know where to go to get information once they are in there. But you know, that doesn't mean that there aren't important issues, as we were just saying about COVID, where, you know, coming on January 20 without understanding the distribution plan is obviously a hindrance. And it is obviously a hindrance for president not to have the kind of national security briefings that a president-elect would be having at this time without the kind of detailed knowledge of the threats and the risks and the operations that are going on around the world, particularly if the President is, you know, rattling sabers with regard to Iran. The same time you're talking about pulling back troops from Iraq and Afghanistan has a very volatile mix of possible actions just in the last 60 days of this presidency that have the next president come in, without being ready for it has obvious consequences.

So I think that you're right. I mean, like, he could always talk to Chris Krebs. I don't know how much useful that'll do for him on a lot of the important topics. There are other people who have left government probably not that long ago, including Mark Esper, for instance, who might be more helpful to the new president coming in.

And I think that, you know, one thing that President Trump keeps doing is validating people on the way out the door by firing all these people. He is helping restore their reputations among people who otherwise might have, you know, been blacklisted by a new administration. Instead, they're going to have some credibility going ahead, as people who were, you know, punished by the president for telling the truth as they saw it.

WILLIAMS: Clint, I asked you this knowing you're a West Point educated, U.S. Army veteran. We're conditioned as a society appropriately so to cheer the phrase, bring the troops home anytime we hear it. However, so many questions have been raised about the President's Pentagon policy, is there in your view, as a veteran of this area, the possibility that this President, even the new acting sec. def. doesn't understand the strategic value of even 4500 or 5000 U.S. men and women in uniform in either of these areas of operation?

WATTS: Brian, I think he saw Senator McConnell, the alarm in his face, and he's rightfully so because we've been here before. If you rewound this calendar 10 years, we were talking about how do we get out of Iraq, and we did a fairly rapid drawdown from a sizable number. And here's what the folks in the military know, is just a few years later, they were back in Mozal, trying to liberate it under awful conditions with an Iraqi army that was taking massive casualties, whether it's Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Somalia, the other thing they're talking about, these have been hard, hard won battles. This is a place where everyone wants to draw down. But to do that responsibility, you don't want to be the last 2500 people in Afghanistan right now, trying to negotiate with the Taliban that knows that you're going to leave and knows that there is a vacuum and leadership that there will be a gap between these two presidents.

There's no way, there's no way that, you know, incoming President Biden can now redeploy troops very quickly and establish a plan to negotiate this hands all the cards really, to the Taliban.

WILLIAMS: And Dr. Gounder, along the same lines, I'd like to give you the last word, maybe not on Inauguration Day, January 20th, but in your view, knowing what you know, and knowing the president-elect as you've come to, what changes will Americans feel on mitigation efforts, on this pandemic, maybe January 21, 22, 23 and down the road?

GOUNDER: I think the first couple things you're going to see, you'll see the president-elect invoke the Defense Production Act, one of the measures that many of us on the frontlines, including myself, who have been seeing patients during this entire pandemic. We've been pleading with the current administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to scale up production of the personal protective equipment we need on the front lines, the masks, the gloves, and so on

And unfortunately, we've been living in rationing mode for months now. And it's only getting worse with this newest surge of cases. So that's going to be one of the very first things you'll see.

The other thing that you're going to see is a very different tone on testing. The current administration has been actively discouraging testing saying we're doing too much testing. The challenge with coronavirus is many infections are asymptomatic. So that's the big part of the iceberg that's underwater that's invisible to us. The small part is the part that's hitting the hospital all the people dying. But there are many more people infected and testing is the only way to find all of those people and control transmission.

WILLIAMS: So nice to have these three starting guests tonight, Peter Baker, Clint Watts, Dr. Celine Gounder, we're in your debt. Thank you, all three of you very much for starting us off.

Coming up, that sound you hear, the last gasp of an outgoing president, our next two guests will walk us through and in some cases around the roadblocks that are popping up on that road to January 20 when he loses power at 12 noon. And later, a history making presidency, but how's the book, a surprising take on the latest automatic bestseller from one, Barack Obama, all of it and more as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on a Tuesday night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you clarify just conversation you had with the Secretary of State in Georgia? Did you or did you not ask him to throw out votes?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No, that's ridiculous. I talked to him about how you verify signatures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is the Senator from South Carolina calling the Secretary of State in Georgia anyway?

GRAHAM: Because the future of the country hangs in the ballots.


WILLIAMS: Tonight the Secretary of State in Georgia says the official audit of voting machines found no evidence of fraud. He stood by his allegations that that man, Lindsey Graham, who happens to represent the State of South Carolina has suggested over the phone, excluding some ballots. Graham says that's not true. But there's a problem with Graham's account. There were staff members on the call including a top deputy the secretary of state who confirms his boss' account of the conversation.

Two more returning veterans with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for The Washington Post and John Heilemann, Author and Journalist, our National Affairs Analyst, co-host of the Circus on Showtime, which is currently in an unwarranted and inexcusable hiatus, in his spare time, John remains Executive Editor of the Recount.

Gentlemen, it's great to have you both. Eugene, same question, my friend Garrett Haake, asked Lindsey Graham, what do you think a senator from your home State of South Carolina is doing, nosing around in an election recount in Georgia?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: He's up to no good. I mean, look, he has no reason to meddle in the election returned counting affairs of the State of Georgia. Yeah, it's a neighboring state. And yes, he is head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But that's not relevant. In this case, he has no business calling around, you know, calling like this. And apparently, you know, implying, at least the Secretary of State of Georgia drew the inference. They was trying to get him to throw out legitimate votes for Joe Biden, so that Donald Trump potentially could win the state. I mean, that's what he seems to have been trying to do. And it's absolutely outrageous. I hope there is a thorough investigation of Senator Graham and what he's trying to do, as someone's always already a discrepancy.

Graham said he also called the Secretary of State, a couple other states, one of them the official, he said he called in Arizona, apparently, immediately denied having spoken with him at all. So we need to get to the bottom of this. But this is this is wrong. This is one of many, many things that are going on now with Republicans that are deeply wrong.

WILLIAMS: And John Heilemann, where does this fit in the known book of Lindsey Graham, there was nothing too severe that he could say about Trump back in 2016. Now, there's nothing he won't do or say for Donald Trump in 2020. We saw him fist bump the incoming vice president today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, while he again is sticking his nose in a recount in Georgia. Where do you place this on the timeline of Lindsey Graham?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Brian, I think, I place it exactly where I place everything on the timeline of Lindsey Graham, which is that true north for Lindsey Graham is whatever is in Lindsey Graham's interest at that moment. There is no true north Lindsey Graham, other than self interest. So you know, if you think about the career, I think it's really helpful to think about his behavior throughout his career. Whoever has been in power at the moment they've been in power. Lindsey Graham has tried to cozy up to cuddle up, to and get seek favor from.

There is -- it's hard to believe there is a time and you can talk to Obama administration officials who remember the period after Barack Obama beat Lindsey Graham's great friend, John McCain in 2008. When Lindsey Graham hung around the Obama White House and tried to curry favor with Barack Obama. He, you know, Donald Trump was his enemy in 2015 until he got shellacked in the Republican nomination fight and then all of a sudden Donald Trump became the path to power for him, the proximity to power he became slavishly devoted to Donald Trump and he is going to stay slavishly devoted to Donald Trump until the day Donald Trump leaves office. He will do whatever Donald Trump asks, whatever Donald Trump wants, in some respects Trump remaining loyal to Graham, was his path, part of the explanation for why Lindsey Graham got reelected, if Donald Trump had turned on Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, he almost certainly would have lost the race, whether in a primary or potentially in the general.

So Lindsey Graham owes Donald Trump. But I'll tell you, Brian, the moment that would that Donald Trump is out the door, we're going to see the Lindsey Graham who has been captured on video crying over what a great guy Joe Biden is. I promise you will see that guy in a few months time, and it will be as if Joe Biden was always the best guy in the world. I always said nice things about him. And could you please invite me to movie night at the White House? It's coming.

WILLIAMS: The Washington Post has tweeted out just the most unfortunate photograph of Lindsey Graham, I don't know much about masks, but I'm pretty sure he's doing it wrong here. Last night for all the wrong reasons, he was trending on Twitter. He remains cemented to the news through this news cycle.

And, John, I want to play for you some of the words from the other man in the news. And that is this, Georgia Secretary of State. We'll play what he said. This has to do as much with Donald Trump as anything else.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: 24,000 people did not vote in the fall, either. They did not vote absentee because they were told by the president, don't vote absentee it's not secure. But then they did not vote in-person. He would have won by 10,000 votes. He actually depressed, suppressed his own voting base.


WILLIAMS: So John, do you find that plausible that the president asked. He was warned in contemporaneously by Republicans on the ballot. Hey, look, be careful what you wish for here. This could hurt the home team?

HEILEMANN: Yeah, I mean, we have not done the proper analysis of this yet, Brian. But it's always been my view, that as we got closer and closer to election day that that Donald Trump would in the end, have committed one of the great political own goals against himself by telling his voters in the middle of a pandemic, that there was that voting by mail or voting early, voting absentee, any of the above were all going to be considered illegitimate in his eyes.

And there's no doubt that historically speaking, there is no serious Republican you were I know, who wouldn't tell you that early vote historically has benefited Republicans or Democrats. It was probably going to benefit democrats in this pandemic because Democrats were taking the pandemic more seriously because of other things Donald Trump had done in the course of the last seven months in down -- in downplaying the importance of the pandemic. But there's no doubt, there's no doubt that in every battleground state Donald Trump cost himself votes by telling Republicans to -- if they were going to vote, they had to vote on Election Day. And as the virus surged in the final two weeks of the campaign, there's no doubt some Republicans decided I'm just staying home.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen are under orders not to move a muscle. We're going to fit in a break. When we come back, and unchecked public health crisis, sudden U.S. movements, a lame duck president who has stopped taking questions. It's a lot. We'll tackle some of it when we come back.



MCCONNELL: I think it's extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes with regard to defense and foreign policy. I think a precipitous drop down in either Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake.


WILLIAMS: It was straight up revolutionary that Mitch McConnell went that far today bipartisan outcry over the President's decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is growing louder today. Democratic senator and Army veteran Tammy Duckworth who nearly lost her life when her chopper was shot down in Iraq summed up the President's lame duck military actions this way.


SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I've been talking about this and the threat to our national security posed by President Trump actually firing Secretary Esper and hollowing out the top levels of the Pentagon.

And now we know why he did it. He did it so that he can make this really rush decision. We will put our troops in harm's way. You know, President Trump is literally once to blow everything up as he goes out the door.


WILLIAMS: We are back John Heilemann is with us. To be completely honest, we're having some signal difficulty with Eugene Robinson. We're working on that. Hey, John, this of all the issues appears to have spread out some seedlings of intestinal fortitude among Republicans, when you think of the last four years of all the things Republicans could have grown a pair and reacted to why this why now?

HEILEMANN: Well, Brian, you know, I think we roll a call maybe in the course of the four years, there was the one time when Republicans overrode the White House on the question of sanctions against Russia, I think that's maybe the only example that I can think of this in the same bucket, a similar bucket, which is to say national security.

And I do think that, you know, I don't want to give them too much credit intestinal fortitude. Probably overstates the case. But I do think, you know, what it really speaks to is that Mitch McConnell and some of these other Republicans are seeing the writing on the wall, and trying to summon some, some modicum amid a miniscule dollop of their old selves and trying to think about something other than purely their partisan power.

I think it's also a place where they feel like they might be able to get away with pushing Trump with crossing Trump without sending him into because it's a matter of policy, and not a matter that goes to his ego and not a matter that goes to the question, the fantasy that he actually won this election. They think that maybe they can get away with crossing him without paying the kind of electoral or political penalty that they fear if they went up against him in other areas.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, you're back in time to hear me quote one of my favorite writers by the name of Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post, who writes in his most recent column, this is becoming like Greek tragedy. The nation is on fire with COVID-19, cases and hospitalizations are soaring to unthinkable new highs. And our leader does nothing but rage and moan about his own punishment at the hands of cruel fate. If it is true that those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, then President Trump is finishing his shambolic term in office as Mad King Donald.

A phrase well turned my friend, as you look at the next 64 days, is there to two year fear and unlimited panoply of things the President could yet to do.

ROBINSON: Yes, I mean, I'm very worried, Brian. I'm very worried about these next 60 days. Because it this is already totally unhinged. He's determined to take revenge against officials who were not sufficiently loyal. He just fired Chris Krebs the elections official security official who had the temerity to do his job, and to report that this was a very safe and secure election. That was not affected by under undue influence that was very clean.

And so for his trouble, he gets fired. He fired the Secretary of Defense who didn't want to move who objected to what he was doing wanted to do in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also was seen as insufficiently loyal in general in the last few days.

I wonder what will happen to the chiefs of other agencies, Gina Haspel at CIA, Chris Wray at FBI, it is it not clear to me that Donald Trump won't continue with what can only be called a purge. And it's and it's a purge, simply being carried out for revenge, revenge against perceived enemies.

I think we're going to see a lot of this. I think we're going to see a lot of erratic and perhaps dangerous behavior. And, and frankly, January 20th can't come fast enough, because I think this is a very precarious, dangerous period. We're going to have to go through between here and there.

WILLIAMS: A purge of those with expertise doing their jobs to our guests, Eugene Robinson and John Heilemann, our thanks for coming on tonight, gentlemen.

Coming up for us. Up next, our next guest calls presidential memoirs, a fool's errand. That's important because we heard something about a new presidential memoir, just out today.



OPFRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: You called the book The Promised Land. I'm sure there were multiple titles that you went through. But you landed on Promised Land because -

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Because it captures that sense that I believe there is a promised land out there. And this goes back to this American idea. The stakes in making America work are not just important for Americans, but for the world.


WILLIAMS: The President's highly anticipated new book a Promised Land was released just today. A review by Nate Marshall in Obama's hometown paper the Chicago Tribune says this quote, The Obama that shines through the text is certainly brilliant and analytical but with little philosophical, or ideological heft. He goes on to write this. One moment of genuine insight is when Obama remarks upon his own deification. He reacts with a sort of bemused confusion at the news. He was -- he had been awarded the oh nine Nobel Peace Prize. His response is, "For what?"

With us for more tonight, we are happy to have the aforementioned Nate Marshall, a native of Chicago Southside, a writer, educator, playwright, and more. He's also the author of the multi award winning book of poetry, Wild Hundreds.

Nate, it's great to have you. I concur with you on presidential memoirs. I think the last good one may have been Ulysses S. Grant only because he had Mark Twain as ghost writer. So here you are as a fellow Chicagoan. You have written very praiseworthy things about this president before. How's the book?

NATE MARSHALL, AUTHOR: It's fine. You know, I think you can skip it. It's also $45. It's more money than most books out there. I think you're fine if you don't read it.

WILLIAMS: Oh, come on. You can't leave it at that. Can you?

MARSHALL: You know, so this is the thing right? I'm actually --

WILLIAMS: Hey, Nate, we've lost your audio. And I don't think you could be on mute because your hands have been free and in the frame the entire time we've been on with you. Let's keep trying and see if our control room can bring Nate Marshall back up. How about now? We don't. We don't have Nate Marshall's audio.

Oh, there was so much to discuss, Nate. I'm crestfallen over this development. We'll take a break, we will endeavor to get it back knowing we are wasting valuable time. We'll come back hopefully, with Nate Marshall, who we can see and hear.


WILLIAMS: We are back I'm told we can hear Nate now and we left the conversation with me somewhat incredulously asking him how someone could just skip this book, even given its cost of $45. Nate, it's all yours.

MARSHALL: Yes, you know, there's a lot of books out there. I think there are better ones. I think there are better ones that are probably been written by this president and that will be written about this presidency. I just don't think that this book adds a whole lot. Right. The presidential memoir has always been a sort of fraught form when a president is writing about their legacy in the White House.

But in particular, when we're talking about someone who has been in this moment of social media, this moment of the 24-hour news cycle, we were there. We know what happened. Right? And in many ways, I think President Obama is not writing to us, but he's writing to a kind of posterity, right which is interesting, but I would have been fine if he wrote it and stuck in As library for, you know, students and scholars to pick up 20 or 40 years down the line.

WILLIAMS: Is there anything structurally that rubbed you the wrong way? Is it too tangential? Is it too pedantic? Is it too slow? I know it's a doorstop of a book physically.

MARSHALL: Yes, you know, I think the physical dimensions of the book, if you will, right, having a 700 plus page book that is only Volume One of a two volume set is a lot. And I think for me, that sort of points to a president that needs a bit more of an editorial eye, right. And he says it about himself when he talks about his sort of early failures on the stump and in debates, that he has this tendency to overthink and sort of over articulate. And I think you see that tendency on display here.

WILLIAMS: He himself writes, quote, his supporters turned his likeness into a vessel for a million different dreams. I think that's a good line. I think it has the added advantage of being true, but something else has happened. He has the legacy of a smart, as I say, often pedantic, often very cautious, always proper, scandal free, two-term presidency, that has only been burnished every day he's been out of office by comparison to our current president. You'll concede that that has happened without his doing to his legacy and our memory of him.

MARSHALL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, when we talk about this moment in history, if there is a history that talks about this moment, we're going to talk about the Obama-Trump legacy. I think that that is the era that we have been living through and that we've been living under. And, you know, he's always for better and for worse, it's going to be tied to the presidency of Donald Trump as well. Right? If only as a kind of counterpoint like you said, right.

WILLIAMS: Would you have had it another way, if you'd been in charge, would you have wanted him being more vocal? Violating that kind of they've all been gentlemen but the gentleman's agreement about former presidents not criticizing those in office? And do you think the freedom of a book tour, the pressure of a book tour, and being more of a public figure will free up Barack Obama to say more about what he has really made of these past four years?

MARSHALL: Yes, that's a good question. I think that it won't. I think it'll be fine. Right? Particularly because this is going to be a book tour on Zoom, much like, you know, the book tour that I've been on for the last couple of months. But and so that is a different kind of beast to then, you know, doing the sort of, you know, stadium tour that Michelle did with becoming, right, so that's a bit of a different kind of piece.

But I you know, I don't know, I think that President Obama is a really thoughtful person, right. But I also question in some ways, like what has been the kind of moral center of his presidency and of his sort of leadership style, even in the post presidency moment, right? I don't begrudge him for talking trash about Donald Trump. I think there's plenty of trash to be talked and, frankly, more than him or me, or you could say in all the time that we have a lot of on the rest of, you know, on the planet, so, you know, talk on.

But yes, I just think I kind of wish -- I wish he had done more, and I wish he would continue to do more. Right.

WILLIAMS: I get it. And you hear that from a lot of folks. Nate Marshall, thank you for your forbearance, your patience with us. Thank you for coming on. It's great to have the viewpoint of a fellow Chicagoan and a longtime Obama watcher. And as your backdrop makes clear, this time of year, the mountains of Chicago look beautiful. Nate Marshall has been our guest tonight. Thank you so much.

Coming up, Trump tells the bad guys what he's planning to do. And the bad guys celebrate when we come back


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: This is exactly what President Trump said he would never do. They would never telegraph to the enemy us troop movements.


WILLIAMS: Which brings us to the last thing before we go tonight. Not for nothing, he's our chief foreign correspondent in part because Richard Engel pays attention. He was reporting tonight on overseas reaction to the news that Trump has now told the world how many troops we're taking out of Afghanistan and Iraq, when we're taking them out, and how many Americans in uniform that will leave behind.

He has not only telegraphed the plan, he has meticulously laid it out in public for the world to hear, as if to spike the ball in advance. Terrorists rocketed the green zone today and killed a child in downtown Baghdad.

This is what happens when you tell the enemy your plans. And Trump repeatedly warned us about exactly what he did today.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We need unpredictability was so predictable. We're like bad checker players. Why don't you tell us exactly what you're going to do in Syria? What you're going to do in Iraq? What I said I don't want to tell you.

I hate those questions. You know why? Because I want to be unpredictable. I don't want to tell ISIS what I'm going to do to not what hell of out of it. We're not going to tell the enemy that we're leaving Iraq on such and such a day/

Obama gets up, we will leave Iraq and he gives a date.

I would never have given a date. I might have said we're going to stay there for 20 years. We're going to stay there for eternity.

We have to be unpredictable a little bit. We have to be. We can't keep talking. We're going to do this. We're going to do that.

Whatever happened. Remember the great generals who was called the element of surprise.

They would say well what are you going to do? I don't want to tell you. I'm saying I don't want to tell you. They said oh you don't know the answer. You know these wise guys. I don't want the enemy to know all this stuff, right?


WILLIAMS: Trump administration today said the troops will be out of there by January 15. That was Donald Trump on how to do foreign policy. Sure enough, he did it today leaving an enormous challenge for the next president who assumes office at 12 noon on the 20th of January.

With that, that's our broadcast on this Tuesday night. Thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


Content and programming copyright 2020 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.