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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, November 9, 2020

Guests: Laurie Garrett, Neal Katyal, James Stavridis


Donald Trump refuses to accept Joe Biden's projected victory, and has made unsubstantiated fraud claims. The U.S. attorney general has allowed prosecutors to investigate alleged irregularities in the presidential election, prompting a senior justice department official to quit. Trump has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Christopher Miller will serve as acting secretary of the Defense Department. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Pfizer's findings of a coronavirus vaccine candidate that is more than 90 percent effective were "extraordinary," per a report. The U.S. began another dark chapter in its COVID-19 epidemic, topping 10 million cases today and approaching nearly a quarter of a million deaths from the virus. DOJ official steps down over Barr's voter fraud investigation memo. Trump campaign files lawsuit to challenge vote counts.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 1,390 of the Trump administration, 72 days until Inauguration Day. Tonight the President still refusing to concede the election as president-elect Joe Biden moves ahead with his transition and a plan to fight the pandemic. He just can't do so officially yet.

Today, the incumbent president, his campaign and his cadre of loyal Republicans continued their campaign of baseless claims of voter fraud going on all over the country.

Late today, Attorney General Bill Barr did them all one better. He wrote a letter to all U.S. attorneys on letterhead telling federal prosecutors, they are allowed to investigate allegations of voter fraud. Katie Benner and Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, friends of this broadcast both reported this way, "Mr. Barr's authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours. The move came on the same day Trump's campaign launched a lawsuit to stop the certification of the election results in Pennsylvania.

NBC News, among those reporting tonight that those around the President are concerned his current rage will hurt his party and his legacy. Though in fairness, a big part of that legacy, of course, is his takeover of the Republican Party. The incredible obedience, his acolytes show him like Mitch McConnell, who in refusing to acknowledge the Biden victory today, said everything the President wanted him to say right there on the Senate floor.


SEN. MITCH MACCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: Our institutions are actually built for this. We have the system in place to consider concerns, and President Trump is 100% within his rights, to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.


WILLIAMS: Jonathan Swan over at Axios reports. The President has already told those around him. He's thinking about running for president again in 2024, adding, "This is the clearest indication yet that Trump understands he has lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden."

Meanwhile, the President fired his Defense Secretary Mark Esper. On Twitter today, writing, "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."

President named Chris Miller, who served as Director of the National counterintelligence -- Counterterrorism Center as acting defense secretary. Video today showed Miller tripping while arriving at the Pentagon. He is then seen taking off his mask before going into the building.

The York Times reports, "Two White House officials said Mr. Trump was not finished on that Christopher Wray, the FBI director and Gina Haspel, the CIA director could be next in line to be fired. Removing these senior officials in effect decapitating the nation's national security bureaucracy would be without parallel by an outgoing president who just lost reelection."

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the United States passed a grim milestone over 10 million total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic virus now reaches a new peak every day. It's surging in 43 of our 50 states. There have been over 240,000 deaths, and over 131,000 new COVID-19 cases reported just today 131,000.

Over the past week, the country has been averaging about 110,000 per day. And the irony of ironies the president is surrounded by coronavirus. Once again, his chief of staff Mark Meadows has it then today. We learned Housing Secretary Dr. Ben Carson has it. So does David Bossy he's the guy heading up the legal challenges to the Biden victory. Then there was today's good news on the vaccine front it came from Pfizer, which notably did not take part in the administration's Operation Warp Speed. Pfizer for its part says its vaccine is 90% effective that if it holds would be historic. But a lot needs to happen before we can say we have any kind of cure on our hands. Dr. Fauci had this to say about the vaccine earlier today.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's extraordinary, Wolf, it is really a big deal. Now obviously, we need to go over the details of the data. But this is a highly reputable company that has extensive experience in the development of countermeasures, including vaccines. The news is really good all the way around. This is something that we should really feel good about. But I want to make sure that people understand is that it's good because we know there's light at the end of the tunnel. But that doesn't mean that we're going to give up the important public health measures that we continually still have to do every single day.


WILLIAMS: Today, President-elect Biden to that end named 13 public health experts to his coronavirus advisory board. They include former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Infectious Disease Expert, Michael Osterholm, who as you may know, is a frequent guest on this broadcast.

Today after meeting with his new COVID advisory board, the President-elect delivered remarks on the pandemic and made an urgent plea for all Americans to wear a mask.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT: This is a crisis affects everyone. I've said throughout this campaign, I will be a president for every American. This election is over. It's time to put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric that designed to demonize one another. It's time to end the politicization of basic, responsible public health steps, like mask wearing is social distancing, we can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives.


WILLIAMS: So that's what a bit of today look like. And before we bring in our big three guests for the top of tonight's broadcast, and we hope this won't be triggering to anyone at all. But back at the big board tonight is Steve Kornacki to update us on the states we haven't yet called and the race that won't end. Hey, Steve, nice to see you back.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You too, Brian. Yeah, well, we do still have some vote counting going on, Biden right now sitting at 279 electoral votes. The question is, will that go higher? How high? Could it go? Let's start in Arizona, where we got a few more updates tonight. Joe Biden's lead over Donald Trump sitting now at just under 15,000 votes. The story here in Arizona the last couple days has been as this last sort of bucket this last batch of votes throughout the state is tabulated kind of one day at a time that Biden lead has continued to shrink. The question has been, what is the pace that Donald Trump is shrinking that lead at? It continues to look like Trump could cut further into that. But whether he could actually catch Biden go over the top and Arizona, he still doesn't seem to be on pace for that. But it certainly looks like it'll be closed, could get inside 10,000 there.

And by the way, if the margin gets within 1/10 of 1%, it's at 4/10 of 1% right now, you could be in recount territory in Arizona, that could take a little longer. But if Biden does hang on in Arizona, that would be 11 more electoral votes for him.

Alaska, by the way, you might -- has remained uncalled for a long time. Trump continues to lead. Why, they just have a lot of votes that just haven't been counted. Georgia, though, this is the other Biggie that's outstanding. Here's Joe Biden now sitting on the lead of 12,000 votes in change. Again, most of the vote counting right now at least initially is done. They are in this recount zone. So you can anticipate that will happen here and take a little bit of time. But the bottom line for Joe Biden is, if you're a candidate going into a recount with a pad of over 10,000 votes, that's usually a pretty good place to be. So if Biden were to get Arizona, were to get Georgia, that'd be another 27 electoral votes. The final upstanding piece of business is North Carolina that Trump lead again sits at 75,000 not called yet though. It is tough to see where Biden would get the numbers there. So I think realistically, Brian, it's a question of, can Biden hang on in Arizona. Can he hang on in Georgia? If he does that, then 279 would become 306, no, yes, by the way, 306 was Trump's number four years ago.


It all works out including the math sometimes. Steve Kornacki at the big board, greatly appreciate it. It's great to see you again tonight at here we are past 11 o'clock Eastern Time.

Here for our leadoff discussion on a Monday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for The Washington Post, Shannon Pettypiece, Senior White House Reporter for us at NBC News Digital, and John Heilemann, author and journalist, our National Affairs Analyst, co-host of the Circus on Showtime, The season of which I was sad to say, end last night, and Executive Editor of the Recount.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. And Ashley, I'd like to begin with you. Think of this White House, think of this President floating out stories that he may run again in 2024. Think of how that fill in the blank blocks all other 2024 candidates in a party that's already scared to death of this guy. But think of it in the other way, a gradual, begrudging acceptance that he might have lost. Any concrete signs that he may have -- may know that he lost this?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's exactly right. We can talk about how it freezes the Republican Party and just what it must be like to be Mike Pence right now. But him talking about running again in 2024 was one of two signs that his advisors valid pointed to me today to say his headspace is in a place where he is coming to terms with having lost, you don't think you're going to run in 2024 if you think you're going to serve between 2020 and 2024, because you can't run for a third term then.

So that's the first indication. The second indication was that he fired Esper by tweet. We know he likes to fire people by tweet. But if someone pointed out to me, they said, it shows he understands there's a time urgency that he has, you know, two and a half months left. And if he wants to do whatever it is left that he wants to do Esper, this firing very well may be the opening salvo where you see as you read in your interest, sort of the decapitation of the national security team, Haspel, Wray could be next. And this is a president who understands that come January 20, Biden will go from being president-elect, the president and whatever it is Trump wants to stand up or set up or punish enemies or do whatever he has a limited time. And so he is taking action with an urgency we don't typically see from him.

WILLIAMS: Shannon, same question, but keyed off your reporting. This is a bad look around the world. There's one guy responsible for it. Richard Angle will be doing that story for us later in this broadcast. In fact, according to your reporting, Shannon, where is the President on this personal journey?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: You know, I think we've been hearing a lot of things from different aides, different advisors, people in the campaign in the White House, you know, I really get the sense that no one really knows what's going to happen over these next two months, not even the President. I don't get the sense that he has even decided what is going to happen because there has been so much gyrating back and forth between, let's fight it, with feeling like there's resignations, that excellent point Ashley made about feeling like he has to take moves now because he could be running out of time.

You know, I think we're still, I mean, we're about five -- it's been about five days since we've seen or heard from the public, the president publicly, it will be five days as of yesterday. And there is definitely a sense not only among the President, but among his aides, among his allies, that we do not know where things are going. There is certainly a sense among people around the president that, you know, this fight is over. And that now it is about trying to convince him to preserve his legacy, whether that be for 2024 run, or just his legacy for the history books, sense that people around him want to urge him to go out and gracefully.

The President though, indicating, as he often does, that he's going to go out his way. You know, firing Esper, potentially firing Wray, firing Gina Haspel, at the CIA, as a number of people have reported, essentially shooting people on the Titanic as they are going down, does not fit with that preserve your legacy and in the history books, or position yourself for 2024 run. So the President is going to act on his instincts. And despite everything that everyone around him might be telling him and telling us I think, you know, we still have a lot in store the next 70 days. And it's so hard to pin down what direction that's going to go and even though I know that's the question everybody wants answered.

WILLIAMS: No, I understand it. And John, to Shannon's point, it looks like this is someone who with his minions wants to settle all family business. I'm not sure you want to be Cuneo or stretchy right about now. I want you to finish your ears on a mutual friend, Steve Schmidt was Nicolle Wallace earlier this evening on something very central, Steve Schmidt wants to see happen.


STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is unacceptable for the senior leaders of the Republican Party to be doing what they are doing. Joe Biden has won. Pick up the phone and congratulate the President-elect of the United States. And do better in four years. Maybe if there's a nominee with a modicum of competence, and isn't crazy, they won't have such a decisive defeat next time.


WILLIAMS: So John, part of the problem in the President's journey to from where he is tonight to that place is the continuing warm bath of loyalty he is enjoying with big names on the Republican Party.

Let's just decide that Mitch McConnell is all about January 5, two Georgia senate elections, he will do virtually anything to keep his title majority leader and not minority leader and switch with Schumer. But these others in the party, John, is this loyalty born of fear of being tweeted about a forever thing?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hi, Brian. Yes, I will focus on two words. There's one Shannon used, she said something about Donald Trump's people around Donald Trump wanting him to exit gracefully. Since the president like that -- has never done anything graceful, in the whole period of time he's been in office, I think the notion that he's going to leave office in a graceful way, is sort of beyond anyone's wildest dreams. And then I'll focus on the word you just put in front put in front of me, which is loyalty. And I do think loyalty is the wrong word. In this sense, it maybe it's the right word in the sense that it means that they stick with him, but it's really all driven by fear. Donald Trump is ruled by fear and come to a position of extraordinary dominance and dominion over the Republican Party.

And I hear my friend Steve Schmidt, calling out, crying out demanding what he's demanding. And I want to call him and say, Steve, I know you're doing this. I know, you know better, you are not going to get what you want. Because it is the case that Donald Trump, Brian just got elected, got failed to get reelected, lost this election, but got 8 million more votes than he got in 2016 and got 70 million votes, the second most votes that any presidential candidates ever got in the history of the country.

If you are a Republican right now, and you're looking at what it is that has made you loyal and supplicant to Donald Trump for the last four years, it's been his grip over a large swathe of the Republican Party. That grip is not loosened. In some sense, Trump can claim that he has a stronger grip over the Republican Party. They witnessed four years of his incompetence and corruption and perfectly and malice and meanness and yet still 70 million of them voted for him in the face of a pandemic, that's cost 250 American lives, 250,000 American lives.

If the Republican Party has not abandoned Donald Trump at this point, they will not abandon him. And if they do not abandon him, the senior ranks of Republican leadership will not abandon him because they know that there are only two places to be in the world going forward between now and 2024, or 2022, or the Georgia run or the Georgia Senate run offs, and that is you are either with Donald Trump or you are against Donald Trump, and they are afraid of being against Donald Trump, even after he lost a decisive election, presidential election to Joe Biden, they're still afraid of being on the wrong side of him in the Republican Party that has not changed.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, that's a lot to take in. I guess if you're the CIA Director or the FBI Director tonight, you are changing the combination on that lockable desk they both have in their offices. I guess tonight, you're making sure your affairs are in order. Tell us what we know about Chris Miller name unknown to most here to four before the day suddenly poof, he's running the Pentagon and 3 million employees around the world?

PARKER: Yeah, there's a lot of concern, Brian, not about him specifically, we're sort of just learning about him. And it's not that people again, have anything bad to say about him specifically, it's more that -- his resume is fairly thin for this sort of sudden elevation. He hasn't served in the senior ranks of the Pentagon before, I don't believe. And also, the uncertainty in the way in which the President is doing this that has worried people very much it feels like score settling.

The Esper firing really comes back to a disagreement between President Trump and now former Defense Secretary Esper in the handling of Lafayette Square, when you remember the president staged that photo-op that involved ultimately, the gassing and shooting of rubber bullets at largely peaceful protesters, and Esper was one of the few people who pushed back against the president, not only privately when the President floated using the insurrection act, but also publicly he said he disagreed. He didn't think, you know, federal authorities should have been brought in, that wasn't their role, and Trump never forgave him for that.

So what people are really worried about is not so much specifically Chris Miller. But this idea that in these 72 days, the President has left, he's getting ready to settle scores to decimate his national security apparatus. And for what end people aren't quite sure yet, but they're worried.

WILLIAMS: And Shannon, indeed, Ashley just used the phrase that pays score settling. Late today, the White House fired the scientist who does, the climate assessment, and that's obviously Petty, you don't you don't need a degree in psychology to figure it out. But it's another thing the President-elect and a transition staff if it's ever fully funded, will have to go to work on. But isn't score settling to your first point, Shannon, going to be what we see for 72 days?

But isn't score settling to your first point, Shannon going to be what we see for 72 days?

PETTYPIECE: Right. And there's only going to be so many things the President has control over in these last few days, you know, a policy, foreign policy affairs, any of that the one thing he has control over is firing people. And so if he wants to exercise power and authority, it appears that that is where he's going to do it. And that is one of the few places left that he can still show he is the president, and he has some authority over this country in this government.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, final question, dirty little secret from election night, is that aside from the top of the ticket, the Democrats had a bad outing. What's the early talk about who's going to run the party? What's the early talk about finding Democrats who know how to speak to Latino voters, finding Democrats who know how to speak to folks who don't shop at Whole Foods, folks who don't plug their car into the wall, the end of the day?

HEILEMANN: Brian, I think, the party has a lot of competing challenges. And I think the Democratic Party, if you think about what got them the success that they got at the top of the ticket, there is I think, going to be a loud call for someone who is a non white chair for the party, chairman or chairwoman of the party. That's number one, but someone who also speaks the language of x-urban and rural America.

And so I heard James Carville on our air earlier today suggesting Jaime Harrison, someone who tried to be Democratic National Committee Chair, you know, in a previous incarnation before his Senate run, his noble but failed Senate run against Lindsey Graham, I can't imagine but the Jaime Harrison's name is not going to be on the top of a lot of people's minds and the tip of a lot of times as we head towards the selection of a new DNC chair.

WILLIAMS: Wow, you three have given us a lot to think about tonight, much obliged to Ashley Parker, Shannon Pettypiece, and John Heilemann, our big three on this back to work Monday evening with our thanks.

Coming up, the news on the vaccine front today was great and potentially life changing. Make no mistake, but the virus is growing to a new record height every day in our country. So we'll talk about the challenge with an expert here tonight. And the President, as we mentioned, has fired the Defense Secretary, a former Supreme Allied Commander, which makes for a nice business card is saying tonight the President is playing with fire. He'll explain that comment when we speak with him live shortly. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this post election back to work Monday night.



BIDEN: There's a need for bold acts to fight this pandemic. We're still facing a very dark winter. Governors, mayors, they're stepping up. The advisory board will listen and learn lessons from your experience. The bottom line, I will spare no effort to turn this pandemic around once we're sworn into January 20.


WILLIAMS: Across our country hospitalizations are skyrocketing. North Dakota's hospitals are now officially at 100% capacity. In Utah, an alarming surge of new infections has led the governor to declare a state of emergency imposing a statewide mask mandate. In New Jersey, the governor has been forced to roll out new restrictions all over again, including a new curfew on indoor dining. Imagine how that's going over.

Amid all of this all eyes are on the Pfizer vaccine and its promising results. New York Times notes this piece of caution though, "Independent scientists have cautioned against hyping early results before long term safety and efficacy data has been collected, and no one knows how long the vaccines protection might last."

Well, we know who to ask. With us for more tonight, Laurie Garrett, as a science writer, she is the recipient of the Pulitzer, the Polk and Peabody Award. She's the author of, The Coming Plague and Ebola: Story of an Outbreak. Laurie, knowing we were going to have you on tonight, I've been thinking about these questions all day. How optimistic are you? And in turn, how optimistic should we all be?

LAURIE GARRETT, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING SCIENCE WRITER: Well, Brian, if it's a question about optimism about the vaccine, or is it a question of optimism about where we stand right now, with the epidemic on the ladder, it's as grim as it could possibly be. We're seeing exponential growth. We are on the edge of a precipice so deep that I fear greatly for our nation. On the vaccine side, the Pfizer vaccine is indeed very promising. It's exciting news but a couple of precautions, things to think about. First of all, we're all working off a press release. There's no scientific paper, nobody's peer reviewed anything. We just know what the attorneys at Pfizer, massaged carefully in a crafted press release. That press release, however, does look promising about 47,000 people that have received either a placebo or the vaccine in two doses.

They have data now on about 34,000 of them. And of those 34,000 94 have developed a COVID, tested positive, the remainder have been protected. Now, this is protected over what amount of time. This is the kicker, seven days. So we don't know if we have a vaccine that can protect you for life, or a week for four years. We don't know. We have no idea what the durability of this response might be. And we do know that eight people who had been fully vaccinated with two doses after seven days did get infected, versus the remainder being in the placebo group.

So it looks 90% effective, but it's a very short term study, a huge number of caveats to consider. And of course, actually distributing it will be a major task because it must be stored at minus 101 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way below what anybody's freezers can handle.

WILLIAMS: Wow, that's a lot Laurie, to your devastating first point. Are you concerned as I am that December could be the new February, meaning we lost the month of February because of inaction and mismanagement? We just lost it. It ended up being a human tragedy. There are 72 days before an actual Coronavirus Task Force can come into being It was almost cute today that Mike Pence held the first meeting in months because there have been so much talk about it.

So are you worried about ground being lost? As we say here every night, each day the virus sets a new peak in our country.

GARRETT: Well, Brian, I think the last month was October. I mean, we're in you know, we just finished the last month our opportunity to turn it some direction other than this relentless, soaring climb, was last month. Now we're in a catastrophic situation.

And by Christmas time, we could be very well in territory that makes it feel like 1918 flu. In other words, we could be at 400,000 deceased Americans, cumulatively, we could be looking at well over 2,000 deaths a day, and a truly out of control epidemic in every single state in the nation.

We're seeing upturns that I'm nervous about even in states that did all the right things after this terrible spring, and have kept their epidemics below 1 percent new cases, testing positive a day of all tests executed.

And now they're all beginning to see up turns. And that includes where I am in New York, that includes New Jersey, that includes Massachusetts, these are all states that paid the price did all the right things, but everybody around them was not doing what they should have been doing was not locked down when they should have been locked down.

And we're not living in walled cities anymore. If our neighboring states are not taking the right steps, eventually, people are going to introduce more cases. Even in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and boy the Dakotas look like they are paying a big price for that notorious Sturgis motorcycle rally where more than 400,000 bikers showed up in Sturgis in the Dakotas at the end of August in the beginning of September, not a mask to be seen among them.

And then they went back to their home states all over the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, that entire region. And that was a major super spreader event. We and then of course, Lord knows how much we've seen spread from the Trump rallies.

WILLIAMS: I think back on that Sturgis event, at least once a week when I see the numbers if we'd been able to trace every returning motorcycle to every home and community. We'd know a lot more about this illness.

Laurie Garrett, I know that what you have to say to our audience is often tough stuff, but it's what we need to hear. Thank you very much for coming on and taking our questions.

Coming up for us tonight, more on Trump's baseless attempts to question the results of this election. He's got a lot of help from big name Republicans who live in fear of him, led by that guy right there.


WILLIAMS: Republicans and the Trump campaign have filed over a dozen lawsuits now in battleground states. One of them just tonight in Pennsylvania aims to stop the Commonwealth from certifying the election results.

NBC News now confirming the top DOJ official overseeing voter fraud is resigning from his job rather than carry out his boss's orders. As we reported, Attorney General Barr has written to all the U.S. Attorney's in the land. He says he's authorizing federal prosecutors to quote, pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections if there are clear and apparently credible allegations of irregularities.

Well with us again tonight is Neal Katyal veteran of the DOJ, former acting Solicitor General during the Obama years. He has argued 42 cases himself before the U.S. Supreme Court. Counselor, what do you make of this metal from the Attorney General and the resignation it triggered?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, I know there's a lot of people tonight who are worried about that, who are worried about Mitch McConnell statement, who are worried about the fact that Trump has filed 10 different lawsuits since election day. I don't think there's any reason to worry.

I mean, it's an attempt to try and do something here, no doubt and we should be vigilant. But none of this is going to be successful, Brian, because we live in a world of facts, not alternative facts. And the claim fact here is that Trump can't win through any of these machinations. He's just lost too much, too many votes in too many states. So this is not like Bush versus Gore in 2000. I was a junior lawyer in that case, and that was one in which was one state Florida. And just a few hundred votes separating the two candidates and Bush was always in the lead.

Here you've got at least four different states as Steve Kornacki was just going through before that Trump. Trump's got overturned three looks like in order to have any chance and the gap is not at the narrow 500 vote gap the way it was before and the facts here are so bad that when Kayleigh McEnany the White House press expose person went on Fox News today and tried to tell this story about voter fraud and like, Fox cut her off. There's no facts here. They got nothing. They got squat.

WILLIAMS: If we judge on a supplicant scale that starts with Mike Pence, Barr has to be close to the top supplicant. What is the danger in your view of a supplicant attorney general who just happens to have in his day job per view the rule of law in the United States?

KATYAL: It is so ominous and so destructive because the rule of law is what makes this country great. It's why my parents came here the idea that we apply things even handedly and what Barr did today's and so many things but just take what he did today. He overturns a 40-year memo saying Justice Department don't interfere in elections.

And the top election fraud guy at the Justice Department, a career official resigns in disgust. And it is so tragic both as a matter of policy, but also as a matter of personnel. I remember when I walked into the Justice Department in 2009. And I thought, you know, pretty good lawyer, teach at Georgetown Law School, clerked on Supreme Court and stuff. I tell you, Brian, every lawyer at the Justice Department was better than I was. That's how it was, and they were impartial. And they were just outstanding, like, to the point I'll bring me to tears.

And now all those lawyers have either left or hanging on by their fingernails, just trying to make it through the next 70 days. So what Barr has done is destroy the Justice Department. He has hollowed it out to the point where it's a shell of its former self.

And now when Biden comes in on January 20th, he's going to face a monumental task of how do you rebuild this glorious institutions, institution that stood up and help desegregate the schools and stood up for marriage equality and so many other things?

WILLIAMS: Modest lawyer friend of ours named Neal Katyal. Thank you very much, counselor for having us in and taking our questions tonight. Coming up, more on the President's firing of the boss at the Pentagon over Twitter. Why the former supreme allied commander is so concerned tonight he's standing by to talk with us.



LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER OBAMA: Well, it's just confirmation that I that the President's going to continue to keep the country in turmoil. He said he's not going to leave office gracefully. He's going to leave the office of the presidency and ugly fashion.


WILLIAMS: A warning tonight for the nation from former defense secretary, former CIA director Leon Panetta after today's firing via Twitter have Mark Esper back with us tonight to talk about it, Admiral James Stavridis. He's a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy retired with four stars on his shoulders. He is the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Admiral, it's great to have you back. Tell us why you said today our president is playing with fire.

GEN. JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Well, let's just start with that tactical here is an office Secretary of Defense that's in charge of hundreds of thousands of troops all around the globe, many of whom Brian, as you well know, are involved in combat operations day to day. So a gap there sends a terrible signal to our tactical force.

And secondly, our strategic forces are on watch at all times. And if you really go to the dark end of the spectrum, cycling in yet another Secretary of Defense and the new individual or retired Army Colonel named Chris Miller, it will be brand new to that job, talk about doesn't know that nuclear codes, doesn't know what's happening, got to be briefed up, got to find his way like anybody else taking over a huge organization. This isn't playing with fire. It's juggling chainsaws, and it's going to cut us before it's over.

WILLIAMS: Well, I wanted to ask you about something Michael Beschloss put out today in his role as the nation's historian on social media. He wrote this, Nixon's last Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was troubled that Nixon might exploit the military to remain in office despite Watergate. Schlesinger quietly issued a requirement that any major presidential order involving troops or weapons be endorsed by himself or Kissinger. Admiral, are we there yet?

STAVRIDIS: I think we are very close to being there. And by taking out Secretary Esper, you take out someone who was a West Point graduate, who was an individual who understood the mechanisms of the department quite well. He'd served as Secretary of the Army for two years before becoming the Secretary of Defense.

Pulling him out takes out yet another firebreak such as remain in the chain of command. We had to be very concerned about that the whole situation has a burn it down kind of feeling to it. And as you well know, Brian, there are rumors flying around Washington. That next up in getting fired is the FBI director Chris Wray and the CIA director, Gina Haspel, both of whom are real patriots who have done the best they can in a tough situation.

They're, you know, as you are in a period of transition between two executive branch's the last thing in the world you want to do is start throwing overboard career individuals who have the capability to guide the nation in a period of transition. It's a risky time and believe me, our opponents are watching.

WILLIAMS: Well, also watching our viewers and I'll say this for folks who can go back to reading books someday, "Sailing True North," is the admiral's terrific book. You'll see it just over his right shoulder screen left, I neglected to mention it at the start of our segment, but I have now. Admiral James Stavridis, thank you as always, for coming on and taking our questions. We greatly appreciate it.

Coming up, we'll go overseas where what Donald Trump is doing right now or failing to do is being seen for the most part as exactly what it is.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. While President Trump refuses to concede the election around the world, foreign leaders have moved on in large part and are preparing for President Elect Joe Biden. As promised we get our report tonight from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in London.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden has won --

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Much of the world is reacting to President Trump's defeat. As if Americans toppled a dictator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: the world had to get rid of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He degraded America.

ENGEL: Congratulations have poured in for President Elect Biden. That's normal. What's not is the sense of relief that America first isolationism is over.

The mayor of Paris tweeted, welcome back America. When President Trump was elected a German magazine showed him decapitating the Statue of Liberty. In the new edition, President Elect Biden is restoring it.

So what will actually change? Engagement is back. Biden says he'll refund the WHO, rejoin the Paris Climate accord, recommit to NATO and then revive the Iran deal. Who potentially loses Israel is nervous. President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Palestinians felt ignored and refuse to deal with Washington. Now they hope Biden will reengage.

Also nervous, the U.K.'s Boris Johnson, a champion of leaving the European Union who Biden has called a Trump clone.

(on camera): Russia has yet to congratulate President Elect Biden saying it's waiting for more official results. China is silent too does not expect it's cold war with the U.S. to thaw under Biden. Richard Engel, NBC News, London.


WILLIAMS: And coming up with all this talk about what Trump needs to do next. We'll look at those who've done it before.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, this next segment needs no further introduction from me other than to say this is how it's done.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The People of United States have made a choice. And of course accept that decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is one. We are all Americans. He is our president. And we honor him tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be our president. And we'll work with him. This nation faces major challenges ahead. And we must work together.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There is important work to be done. And America must always come first. So we will get behind this new president wishes. Wish him well.

BOB DOLE, AMERICAN POLITICIAN: I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the President is my opponent, not my enemy. And I wish him well. And I pledge my support.

AL GORE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done.

JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: But in an American election, there are no losers. Because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning, we all wake up as Americans.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction. But the nation chose another leader. And so and I joined with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We must accept this result and then look to the future. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. And we don't just respect that. We cherish it.


WILLIAMS: Again, that is how it's done in our country. We'll leave it at that to take us off the air for this first post election Monday night as we start a new week. With our thanks to you for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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