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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 10, 2020

Guest: Timothy Snyder

Summary

Reeling from another crisis of his own making, President Donald Trump tried to refocus attention on his Democratic rival at a rally in battleground Michigan Thursday as he pushed to move past revelations that he purposefully played down the danger of the coronavirus last winter. Microsoft warns of "unsuccessful attacks" on campaigns from Russian, China, Iran. Whistleblower says top DHS officials distorted intel to match Trump statements, lied to Congress.

Transcript

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,330 of the Trump administration 54 days remaining until our Presidential Election.

One day after we learned that the President knew the full extent and the danger from the coronavirus and yet chose to tell the public something else.

Tonight, without irony he quoted FDR on the only thing we have to fear. He cast himself in Churchillian terms while explaining the reason he told Bob Woodward one thing and told the public another was in the spirit of that British World War II poster, keep calm and carry on. More on that later.

Tonight, Trump held his 22nd rally of the year so far, a packed crowd at an airport hangar in Michigan. As has become the norm for this president during a pandemic few mask. People crammed together free-pandemic style. Of course, here's the problem. The case trend in Michigan where they are reporting about 750 new cases a day, the loudest crowd response came when the President called upon the Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Tell you governor to open up your state. You know, it's all Democrat governors, and I think they do it for political reasons, you know, because there'll be less activity, you'd be doing even better if you had a governor that knew what the hell she was doing. You got to open up your state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin of the Associated Press reporting tonight, there is growing concern over the President's large rallies. We quote here, Trump faced renewed push back from officials worried that his rallies are growing in size and flouting public health guidelines intended to halt the COVID-19 spread. This week, the state of Nevada became the first to scuttle his plans for rallies initially set for Las Vegas and Reno.

Trump in the White House continue to be on damage control after the release of those damaging tapes, some of his conversations with Bob Woodward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: America will prevail over the China virus. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself that's it. We're doing very well. As the British government advise the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on. That's what I did. This whack job that wrote the book, he said, well, do a little bit. They want me to come out and scream people are dying with that. No, no, we did it just the right way. We have to be calm. We don't want to be praised lunatic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: This morning, the President said this, "Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought, they were so bad or dangerous why didn't he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn't he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers, calm, no panic."

Earlier today, the President held a press conference where he defended his virus response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now?

TRUMP: That's a terrible question and the phraseology, I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked. The fact is, there has to be a calmness. You don't want me jumping up and down screaming, there's going to be great death, there's going to -- and really causing some very, very serious problems for the country. If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately went after I said it gone out to the authorities so they can prepare and let him know. But he didn't think it was bad.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": But Bob Woodward is not -

TRUMP: And he said he didn't think it was bad. He actually said he didn't think it was bad.

RUCKER: Bob Woodward is not the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That would only put Bob Woodward in the role of public health in this country. Back to the President's new assertion that his goal was to create calm and avoid panic among the people over this virus, his defense went like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now he wants to surrender our country to the violent left-wing mob, rioters, anarchists, arsonists, and flag burners to flood your state with refugees, from terrorist hotspots around the world. The left wants to get rid of me. So they can come after you. Confiscate your gun, shut down auto production, delay the vaccine. They want to destroy your suburbs and indoctrinate your children. The murder rate in Democrat-run cities is higher than in Afghanistan. You will have crime like you've never seen before. No city, town or suburb will be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It went on kind of like that. Philip Rucker, The Washington Post points out Trump has governed on scare tactics. "Throughout his five years on the national political stage, Trump has used fear to acquire and keep power. Scare tactics are the hammer and screwdriver of his toolkit."

Today, over 35,000 new cases of coronavirus were reported in our country. Over 6.4 million infections have been confirmed. And the death toll has now passed 192,000 Americans.

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign trying to keep the pressure on the president. Here's what we heard from Kamala Harris in Miami today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He knew it was airborne, that people would breathe it. You know, Joe Biden said it well. He said, well, I guess we now know he knows how to read. He knew the facts of it. We continue to have examples of the fact that this is an individual who is not concerned about the health, safety and well-being of the American people. And is frankly, engaged in a reckless disregard of the lives and the health and well-being of the people of our country. I find it so outrageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It's a lot to talk about on a Thursday night. Here with us to do just that, Jonathan Lemire , White House Reporter with The Associated Press, Kimberly Atkins, a veteran of WBUR in the Boston Herald, these days, a member of the Boston Globe Editorial Board, and Tim O'Brien, Executive Editor over at Bloomberg Opinion also happens to be the author of Trump Nation: The Art of being the Donald.

Kimberly, I'd like to begin with you. If the President is going to throw down on FDR and Churchill, I've decided this is a teaching opportunity. People can start by picking up a copy of the splendid and the vile written by the splendid Erik Larson though it occurs to me, Kim, the comparison to Churchill falls apart In a couple of ways. Number one, Churchill was honest and forthright with the people of his island nation about the dire consequences on the threat they faced, one. Number two, I don't think he ever said it is what it is when referring to the death toll following the blitz.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": You're absolutely right, Brian and FDR certainly was honest with the American people when he led the country through one of the most difficult times in our nation's history. There is a big difference there.

I would love to also see the President cite other accomplishments of both of those men without the help of a teleprompter, because it seems when he goes off script, he goes right back to attacking Joe Biden and others and refusing to acknowledge the fact that he indeed lied to the American people. He lied to his own supporters. I mean, it's really difficult to watch these rallies where so many people who believe in this man, who support this man, had he told them in February, even if he didn't do anything different in terms of policy, had he said, this is really deadly. It's more deadly than the flu. This is very serious exactly what he said to Bob Woodward, perhaps you would have people wearing masks protecting themselves in their families, even if there wasn't a mandate.

I have family in Michigan. And back early in the spring, one of my family members had a closing on their homes which they conducted outside. And the person who the notary, who came, wasn't wearing a mask. And when they asked why she said because the virus is a hoax. This is putting people, my family, other people's family, all of those supporters out there, putting their lives in dangers, putting their livelihoods in danger, people are losing their jobs. This is very serious. And as we said as a board in today's editorial, it's evidence of incompetence in the U.S. president.

WILLIAMS: I want to talk about that editorial in just a bit. Jonathan Lemire, I guess we now learn that according to the President, matters of public health and warning the public --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Hey, where was I? We're back again. Let me explain. We took a hit to our signal on account of us working from remote locations on account of us all living through a pandemic but all of our guests and most of the folks have home already know that.

Jonathan Lemire, here's the question. We now know the President spoke to Bob Woodward 18 times. We learned today, it was over 10 hours, in-person, on the phone. Phone calls often at night. Often when the President was alone air go, the West Wing staff doesn't know what they're preparing for when the full book comes out, correct?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Brian, welcome back. I'm actually reading the splendid and the vile right now. But I haven't gotten to the part of the book where Churchill calls Ed Ramiro (ph) 18 times late at night, from the Prime Minister's residence or checkers.

You're right, the White House staff doesn't know what's coming. And this is something that they didn't even realize much the senior staff, didn't even realize the President had spoken to Woodward at this length until the last week or so. When the press release for the book came out, about three weeks back announcing that it was coming in the middle of September, there was panic in the West Wing.

You might recall that when Woodward's first book in 2018 came out it was published without interview with the President. In fact, he off -- he asked for interviews and senior staff blocked them. Kellyanne Conway, in fact, on the record saying that she recommended against the President talking to Woodward because the West Wing has been battered by a number of unflattering books.

Well, the President was very unhappy about this, because Woodward's first book certainly was not very positive towards him. And he said at the time that if Woodward were to ever write again, he wanted to be involved. He would insist on being interviewed believing through sheer force of personality that he could shape the narrative, he could shape the story, and indeed get a flattering portrayal.

Well, certainly, what we've read so far would indicate that's not the case. And obviously the coronavirus pandemic and the President's response to it back in January, February March going to be the headlines. There'll be other stories that come out too. But at the end of the day, Brian, as a final point on this, so much of this President, he's shown his uncanny ability to shake off scandal, to move past controversy, to dodge headlines. Few things seem to stick. There's even the sort of the meme, the LOL, nothing matters. Well, this one seems like it might that the President, what did he know? And when did he know it? Well, he knew well before he told the American public how deadly this virus was. And if he misled the public, did he cost lives?

WILLIAMS: And Tim O'Brien living breathing Trump trigger that you are as you watch and listen to all this play out, knowing as you do the President's personality. What do you see here that has the markers of a guy who went into 18 conversations with Bob Woodward thinking he would be the guy to get a positive spin out of it?

TIM O'BRIEN, OPINION EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "BLOOMBERG": Well, Brian Trump's been doing this for 50 of his 74 years. He has cultivated the media constantly, although he revels in denigrating the press and attacking individual reporters.

He is an addict for the spotlight and the media is his roadway to staying in the spotlight and staying on the stage. So he's never been able to resist quoting the media. He also has this magical sensibility about his own powers to steer the narrative, and to control reporters and get the story he wants out of that.

He's had a very mixed track record around that. He's had disastrous coverage over the years. He's had fawning coverage over the years. He ultimately doesn't care as much as long as there is coverage. He certainly knew when he engaged with me in my book, I had been sharply critical of him long before I got involved with him on the book. And at one point during the book, he said, if you write a negative book about me, I'm going to smear you in the media. And I said to him, well, then why did you engage with me to begin with?

And he essentially said, because I considered it a challenge. I wanted you to really understand who I think I am. And I think that's what drew him to Bob Woodward. You know, one point in the book, you know, he brags to Melania that he's talking to the famous Bob Woodward. He Basques in the in the spotlight, even if the spotlight is Bob Woodward's torch that is like lagging a bonfire beneath his feet. He doesn't really care if he's self-emulating as long as people are paying attention.

WILLIAMS: And, Tim, while I have you take on the point Jonathan just made that, you know, it was just days ago, his comments about the military came out in Atlantic and elsewhere. It was just yesterday, we learned that, in fact, the president knew the truth but told the public something else. You hear in the media, you hear, especially on the left, oh, this will be the thing. This will be the one that gets him. Is that a possibility to you? What would you counsel the people saying that?

O'Brien: Well, you know, I think the pandemic as a whole has caught Donald Trump. I think the actual economic downturn as a whole is caught Donald Trump. He can't spin that he was trying to calm the American public down when was actually -- what he was actually it was a state of denial about what the pandemic would do to markets and the economy and the average working Americans.

He's been in denial about the plight of people of color. And all of this has come to roost in a way that he can't spin his way out of. And I think he's spent a lot of time lately, particularly during the RNC trying to focus Americans broadly beyond just his base on law and order. What this event -- what the Woodward book has done is it has swung the crosshairs back on to the pandemic and Trump's mismanagement of an epic public health crisis. And while he's going out and comparing himself to Winston Churchill, or FDR, or Abraham Lincoln, the fact remains that Donald Trump is irretrievably and forever Baby Huey. And these events expose him as such.

WILLIAMS: Not even Huey Long. Hey Kim, here's the quote you alluded to. This is your own Boston Globe Editorial Board, "After Trump leaves office, the nation needs a true inquiry into his handling of the virus and how to be sure that no future president has the ability to make so many Americans suffer for their incompetence and callousness." That is tough stuff, respectfully, it's in the Boston Globe. Equally, respectfully, Kim, our minds being changed by that kind of writing editorial viewpoint, people can hear it, they know it, it's in the breeze. It's in the ether.

ATKINS: Yeah, you know, obviously, that's our job to try to inform people and to have an impact on that public dialogue. But I think that minds are being changed by a host of things. In Michigan again, when I was there a few weeks ago, the empty storefronts, that line, the neighborhoods where I grew up in, Main Street has been decimated in many of these communities.

One of the reasons Donald Trump didn't want to speak to the truth is that he wanted to protect the stock market. He sees that as the measure of economic strength, when at the same time, you can pass idle factories and empty storefronts. And so knowing that so many people are out of work, they're suffering, they can't send their kids to school. So I think it's a collective action. I think what we were saying as a board is that this is one of many ways that not only Donald Trump will have to answer to voters in November, but that beyond that, we have to ensure that no American president is this deficient, is this derelict in his or her duty again, and put the mechanisms in place so that we never have to live through something like this again.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, I'll play this for you and our audience. Here is the present tonight in Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We brought you a lot of car plants, Michigan, we brought you a lot of car plants you know that, right? On November 3, Michigan you better vote for me I got you so many damn car plants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So remember this isn't Michigan where the only thing more cruel than the economy has been the march of the coronavirus. The reason people were perhaps looking at each other in the crowd, The Detroit Free Press instantly pointed out that only one new major Assembly Facility at GE plant on the east side has been announced during Trump's term.

Jonathan, the auto bailout was under Obama, Veterans Choice was under Obama, for that matter didn't stop him from going there on both of these fronts tonight.

LEMIRE: No and most certainly did not and terrific work by the Detroit Free Press. So instantly fact checking that and again, can't overstate the value of the local media coverage during a campaign like this when stories are so vital. The President has, as we know, has a pretty shaky relationship with the truth and likes to take credit for things he does not -- did not do. You just highlighted a few of them here. And certainly, in Michigan, a pitch to the auto industry is vital and trying to win a battleground state. But of course, it was the Obama-Biden administration that saved the auto industry in 2009 after the Great Recession.

Michigan is an interesting case for the President who is now under two months away from Election Day. And let you often Brian, post a question on the show I paraphrase the idea of, what did the Trump administration do today to help the American people? Well, I could argue, what did the President do today to help his campaign? He spent most of it fighting with -- even including on the rally, fighting about Bob Woodward, fighting about the media and not really doing much in the way of advocating a way to get the 270 electoral votes, which is becoming a challenge here as the clock is ticking in his path seems to be narrowing, which is why we're seeing him back to Michigan State. His advisors had all the written off in the summer. They now think they've got a shot, but also need to expand the math, places like Minnesota, New Hampshire, and this weekend, Nevada.

I'll be traveling with the president there Saturday and Sunday. Those rallies, as you say have been scuttled, at least in their current form. But the campaign says they'll have some sort of events to be announced. We'll see.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our big three for rolling with us and starting off our evening, Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, Kimberly Atkins, Boston Globe, Tim O'Brien, who works at Bloomberg but lives at Architectural Digest, thank you all three of you.

Coming up for us, the President says we're rounding the corner on the coronavirus. So we'll ask a doctor on the front lines if he can see that corner from his hospital war.

And later if the Russians are interfering in our elections, and there's a report that proves it. Is it really happening? It's not a trick question. It just depends on who you ask. We'll ask someone who knows, a veteran of the national security business as the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this consequential Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the vaccines going to come very soon. And within or without it we're rounding the turn. You see what's happening, you see the numbers of plunging, you see how good we're doing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: President giving hope to the crowd as he continues to downplay the coronavirus. The U.S. still leads the world in coronavirus cases. Washington Post reporting on the death of at least six teachers now from COVID-19, renewing pandemic fears. On college campuses, cases continue to surge for only the second time in history, a black border outlines Time magazine's cover this week to mark nearly 200,000 deaths in the U.S. from the virus. The only other time they employed a black border around the cover was after 9/11. An anniversary by the way, we mark here in the New York area starting in less than an hour.

Here with us tonight Dr. Vin Gupta. He's an E.R. doc specializing in these types of illnesses, also an affiliate Assistant Professor with the University of Washington, Department of Health, Metric Sciences.

Dr. Gupta, I made notes today, the President said the U.S. has done very well. And he said, "We're rounding corner, we're rounding the final turn. Then he changed the past tense, we have rounded the final turn. How's that corner looking from where you work?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I can't see that corner, Brian. It's just in the last 24 hours, 1300 deaths reported, 36,000 cases, Brian, reported that's more than all of Western or continental Europe that matter. So we're very much in the thick of this pandemic, Brian. And I think it's important for all of your viewers, for the American people to remember that, that we're entering a very dangerous phase here and regardless of any premature celebrations, or declarations of victory, we all have to continue to do the right thing, mask, distance, and hopefully just only travel only so -- only go out when do you need to.

WILLIAMS: So, judging by the crowd, the lack of distancing, the lack of masks, a lot of folks and I'm not being cute here at that event in Michigan tonight have to pin their hopes on a vaccine coming because that state, as you know, has been in an upswing. The President, as you heard, kind of lifting up hopes that we're going to get this shortly.

We have a report later in the broadcast about public attitudes, people not trusting a vaccine that they view as rushed to market between now and Election Day. And yet there was a newsletter we quoted last night from Goldman Sachs telling their investors first vaccine approval may come at the end of October. How do you view all of this kind of optimistic talk about a vaccine?

GUPTA: I think the deep concern here and this is something that I'm really glad you brought this up. What we don't want to do is lower the threshold for what we consider to be safe and effective. Safety is pretty clear cut was there for sort of event or not, we can define that pretty clearly. What about effectiveness, Brian? What does that mean?

That means something different in normal times, that means hopefully 70 to 80 percent of individuals who receive a vaccine or protected, for example, by the flu vaccine. That's always the goal. We come short of that goal. Sometimes it's of course.

But in this case, the FDA is basically saying, we hope that a vaccine is effective. That reduces disease severity by potentially as little as 50 percent. What does that mean for trust? If we're saying that success is lowering disease severity by 50%? That is not going to help trust. What we want is we want an effective vaccine defined by traditional metrics, not by rush metric. So that's the concern here Brian is lowering our standards for success.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Gupta, that is exactly what we wanted to ask you about tonight. Thank you for always being so generous with your time after coming off your shift at your day job. We want to pivot now to the national security arena, specifically, this newest from Microsoft, they issued a stark warning that Russia, China and Iran are actively trying to hack the US election.

In a statement the company said, quote, the activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election, as had been anticipated and political rights further, the report is the most expansive public warning to date about the rapid spread of foreign government's efforts to wield hackers to undermine U.S. democracy.

That on the heels of that DHS whistleblower complaint that just came to light, alleging he was directed to hold back intel on Russian election interference to better align with the President's public comments.

Here with us for more tonight is a frequent guest of ours Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and Pentagon and former chief counsel to House Intel. Jeremy, what is your level of fear and trepidation that we are the target of active measures right now, as we have this conversation designed to interfere in our election matched with your fear that at some level of government folks have been told, stand down, look the other way.

JEREMY BASH, FMR PENTAGON CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Brian, it's clear that the Trump administration is trying to downplay this threat, just as we were talking about in the context of the Woodward book, the president downplaying the coronavirus threat. So to it's clear that the Trump White House is trying to downplay the threat of Russian interference.

And now along comes Microsoft, a public company, which obviously has an enormous footprint in both the commercial and personal sectors because of its office 365 deployments. And it says very clearly that Russia and other countries are trying to engage again in hacking operations to try to obtain information that would be that would benefit a candidate in the 2020 election.

In the matter of Russia, Russia got a very high return on its investment in 2016, for helping Donald Trump. And I think they're back at it because they want to help Trump again, and get the same reward after 2020.

WILLIAMS: I also want to get you on the record on this whistleblower complaint and what happens next how to bear out the veracity of the claim. And who pays for this if it's proven right.

BASH: Well, this is a case where congressional oversight is absolutely critical and the relevant congressional committees have to call witnesses, have to call the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security and have to call this whistleblower forward to provide testimony. If in fact, this whistleblowers testimony is validated. It's a specific example of the Trump White House, downplaying the threat of Russia interference to benefit Donald Trump. He does not want the American people to know about this threat coming aimed directly at our democracy.

He did doesn't want to have anyone questioned whether or not the election in 2020 is legitimate in the same way that people had to question the 2016 results after Russia interfered.

WILLIAMS: You mentioned the Woodward book. We're going to be hearing about it for the next week until Tuesday when it's actually out. People are going to be reading it and finding their own nuggets inside a couple mind blowers in the area of foreign policy.

Dan Coats, former DNI, speculating that indeed it's possible Trump is compromised by Russia. They may have something on our president theory many people have given voice to over the past three and a half years.

Then there's Trump's ardor for Kim Jong-un of North Korea, the text of the letters back and forth, saying at one point to the leader of North Korea, in effect, why can't we just go to a movie? What has the President's relationship with Kim Jong-Un, been good for except perhaps buying the North Korean dictator three and a half years in the clear to fortify his arsenal.

BASH Not much in 2017, Brian, as you and I talked about the North Koreans were actually test flying an ICBM that could range the United States. So think about how much progress they've made while playing footsie with President Trump. And the Trump administration and the United States has gone precisely nothing for that time that we've given the North Koreans.

But the thread that ties both of those elements together is of course the President's bromance with dictators. He loves the autocrat. He loves the dictator, he loves cozying up to them. He thinks that guests are strong are tough, but of course, he's emulating it here at home.

And specifically with respect to Dan Coats, he was a Republican senator. He's no Democrat. He's no deep stater. He's no career intelligence professional. And for him to say that Putin has something on Trump is exceedingly alarming, Brian.

WILLIAMS: It is indeed. Jeremy Bash, the one man we wanted to talk to tonight on this front. Thank you very much for making time for us on this Thursday night. And coming up after our next break. Our next guest says the revelations in the new Woodward book support his theory that Donald Trump welcomes pain, hoping to profit from the motions. The man who wrote the book on tyranny is back with us tonight when The 11th Hour continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What I went out and said is very simple. Listen. But I went out and said is very simple. I want to show a level of confidence and I want to show strength as a leader and I want to show that our country is going to be fine one way or the other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On the President's relationship with truth and this coronavirus, this pandemic, this rising death toll. Our next guest writes in his new book and we quote, since the truth sets you free, the people who oppress you resist the truth. In any catastrophe, especially one of their own making, tyrants will find a mixture of blaming others and ex cursing themselves that includes an enticing element of what we want to hear.

With that, we welcome back to the broadcast Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University. Professor was a Marshall scholar, educated in the Ivy League and an Oxford, specialized in Europe and the Holocaust. He's the author of two books that we've discussed here "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century," and "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe and America." His latest book, just released becomes our third to talk with him about "Our Malady: Lessons and Liberty from a Hospital Diary."

Professor, first of all, we are very happy that after a -- he did battle with sepsis and a long hospitalization. You are among the living and back with us. We get once more the benefit of your words and thoughts in this book.

In the book, you talk about the danger of not being truthful with the public on the virus on the pandemic. And I want to ask you how it's changed your thinking or solidified your thinking, if at all, that in only the last 24 hours we've learned, that was in fact the case, the president knew the truth, told us something else.

TIMOTHY SNYDER, YALE UNIVERSITY HISTORIAN PROFESSOR: It solidified the case. It hasn't changed my mind. I mean, I think what we found out in the last 24 hours, confirms what in our heart of hearts we must have known all along, namely that of course, the President of United States was well informed.

Of course, he made active choices, not to take the actions that would save American lives. Of course, instead, he told us what we wanted to hear. Everybody wants to hear, there's going to be a miracle. Everyone wants to hear that the plague will go by way itself. And in telling us what we wanted to hear and doing nothing, he created the situation where a couple of hundred thousand Americans who should be with us are sadly not

WILLIAMS: Talk about the dynamic that you've talked about, to great extent, what's in it for an authoritarian to have trouble and chaos and strife and God forbid a loss of life like this?

SNYDER Well, it's -- the problem that Trump faces now is that he has a crisis, which is not of his own making. He's governed with some success for more than three years by inventing crises and then blaming his opponents.

Now he's in a situation where a crisis arrived, and he had to decide am I going to put my own political stature on the line become a real leader and solve this real crisis? Or am I going to try to use it to divide the country?

What Mr. Trump did was he allowed the virus to spread in the beginning, when it seemed to be affecting black people, brown people, the blue states, and then it backfired because of course, it's a virus, you can't direct it.

Now he's in a situation where in order to stay in power in a desperate economic and epidemiological situation, he has no choice but to choose the worst, he has no choice but to allow things in the next seven or eight weeks to continue to get worse. He has no choice but to encourage chaos and violence, because he thinks I am more ruthless than the Democrats. I am more ruthless than Biden.

If there's a situation of emergency, I as the president, I'm going to be the one who's able to take advantage of it. This is the way that a politician can make the worse, the better. And this is what Americans have to be prepared for.

WILLIAMS: And yet it's fair to point out the near religious order he brings about I've been around and covered politics for a long time. I've been to a lot of rallies and I saw some interviews with folks waiting for the President to arrive in Michigan tonight. I have never heard people speak the way they do at Trump rallies.

One gentleman looked right at Jim Acosta from CNN and said, if I die, I die. He was there at the rally. No mask. This was to him a cause greater than that, as he put it, we've got to set the country right. That's a part of this is the follower dynamic.

SNYDER: Oh, absolutely. And this is why buying your first question about truth is so important. Do we think that truth is a matter of facts, which we are mature enough and tough enough to handle and on the basis of which we can build policies that would be good for all of us. Or do we think that truth is belief, belief in a single man, belief that no matter what he says or does, he's on the right side? Those are two very different ideas of truth.

And in this phenomenon that you're talking about, where one chooses to believe the man over everyone else, there is an ancient and historical political danger. A democracy cannot function like that. A democracy can only work when the people rule, and the people can only rule when they're given the facts. And when an idea of factual truth is what prevails.

Mr. Trump understands everything that I've just said. He's trying to stay in power, not by getting a majority on the basis of facts, but by getting the minority that he has as excited and as angry as he can between now and November in the hopes that somehow everything will then break his way.

WILLIAMS: Let's show the nice people watching the cover of Professor Snyder's latest work. It is called "Our Melody: Lessons and Liberty from a Hospital Diary" referencing a long strange trip, a through the looking glass, hospitalization and illness that we're all so happy to report is over and we can see and hear the professor as a well man once again.

Professor, thank you as always for spending time with us and welcome back. Coming up for us some disturbing new evidence on public confidence in this vaccine, especially if people think it's been rushed to market before a certain date in November.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn says he has no intention of overruling career scientists on the approval of a coronavirus vaccine. Take from that whatever you wish. In the USA Today op-ed. senior members of the agency made a pledge not to compromise safety and the race for a vaccine, amid political pressure. Private companies have made the same pledge.

But there are now signs the American public is worried about a vaccine that is rushed to market for political reasons. Before assurances that it's safe. We get that story tonight from NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With America's COVID death toll now standing at 193,000, the country's top infectious disease expert today with a stark warning to doctors at Harvard Medical School about what's to come.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it's not going to be easy.

COSTELLO: For months the President has downplayed the risk even challenging the advice from Fauci and the nation's health agencies. Now new evidence that the public's trust has been shaken.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds 62 percent of Americans are worried the President's political pressure will lead the FDA to rush a vaccine before it's proven safe and effective. Public confidence in the CDC has dropped 16 percent just since April. And more than half say they would not get vaccinated if it were approved before election day, public opinion divided from Atlanta --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it's available and I think it's safe, and I think we should all get vaccinated.

UNIDENTIIFIED MALE: Maybe after a few more. People do it. I would just jump out there and be one of the first ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE Yes.

COSTELLO: To Saginaw, Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I'd really like to see more research done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't trust it. How can they come up with a vaccine so quick?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH DIRECTOR: I understand why people may be a little reluctant to say, well, I'm ready today for this vaccine. They want to see the data so do I.

COSTELLO: NIH director, Dr. Francis Collins insists science, not politics will lead the way.

COLLINS: A lot of it is this concern about maybe they're going too fast. This term Operation Warp Speed may have kind of put people off. It's gotten a little political. The coalescence of all these things with the national election probably hasn't helped.

COSTELLO (on camera): Meanwhile, one of the most important messages about wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID is being undermined on social media with a call to burn face masks on September 15.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: On that note, our thanks to NBC News correspondent Tom Costello for that report and coming up when the president says he won't have time to read the Bob Woodward book. He's not kidding. Wait till you hear him run through his schedule over just portions of the last 24 hours. You'll want to hear this when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't know if the book is good or bad. I have no idea. Probably, almost definitely well read it because I don't have time to read it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WILIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight that was the president on Sean Hannity last night and we're guessing modesty prevented him from saying just how busy he really is. It turns out when he gave that interview and then 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time hour, he was in the middle of a grueling marathon of television viewing.

After checking with historians, we can confidently report no president has devoted as much time and effort as Donald Trump has to watching cable news. No wonder he doesn't have time to read the Woodward book. Listen to his viewing schedule from last night into this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I watched some of the shows. I watched Liz McDonald. She's fantastic. I watched Fox Business. I watched Lou Dobbs last night. Sean Hannity last night, Tucker last night, Laura. I watched Fox and Friends in the morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILIAMS: That's eight hours of TV viewing. That's a major commitment by our president. FDR never watched the radio for that long. Obama was never able to watch TV for that many hours on end. Or did he even try?

An eight-hour TV watching marathon is even more notable when you consider we're losing roughly 50 Americans per hour to the coronavirus.

Tonight a whole lot of viewers were watching sports. The NFL season started tonight with the smallest crowd in the history of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Limited by law to about 20,000 though they got to see the talented Mr. Mahomes lead their Chiefs to victory.

And in the middle of a pandemic, this was a first in sports history. First time all the major sports league saw action on the very same day NFL, NBA MLB, WNBA MLS, NHL, and where there are fans present at NFL home openers this season, they will notice something new, in addition to our national anthem, as the Washington Post reported today, lift every voice and sing as sung by Alicia Keys will be played in the stadium and in fact, it will play us off the air tonight right after we say this.

That is our Thursday night broadcast. Thank you for spending time here with us. On behalf of all the men and women of the networks of NBC News, good night.

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

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