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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 14, 2020

Guests: Mercedes Carnethon, Russel Honore, David Plouffe


President Donald Trump visited California for a briefing on the wildfires. He has blamed the fires on poor forest management, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden has focused on climate change. New Bob Woodward tapes prove Trump knew about severity of COVID-19 threat. Trump holds indoor rallies despite rise in COVID-19. Sally strengthens into category 2 hurricane. Trump courting Latino vote in key swing states. Michael Bloomberg pledges $100 million to help Biden in Florida.


NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: But that's, you know, I think that's a big piece of this as well.

And then lastly, that Trump is siding with our enemies at the expense of the American citizens. That's the commonality between Nora Dannehy and all the Roger stone prosecutors, the DHS whistleblower, everything.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Neal Katyal gets tonight's LAST WORD. Thanks for joining us tonight, Neal, we really appreciate it.

"THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian William starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening, once again. Day 1,334 of the Trump administration and importantly there are now exactly 50 days to go until the Presidential Election.

Tonight as the candidates intensify their battle for votes, millions of Americans are facing multiple existential threats. The coronavirus has now infected over 6.5 million Americans and now over 195,000 of our fellow citizens have died.

People along the Gulf Coast tonight are bracing for Hurricane Sally. A rapidly strengthening category two storm. It was a tropical storm just last night.

And authorities in California, Oregon, Washington State fighting to contain mega wildfires in their size and scope, they're unlike any other fire season in modern history.

Trump's three day visit to the west included a stop near Sacramento today. He met with California's governor and first responders battling the fires, which most scientists by the way are convinced, are result of climate change. Here is Trump's advice to them.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: There has to be good, strong forest management. When trees fall down after a short period of time about 18 months it become very dry they become really like a matchstick. And they get up, you know, there's no more water pouring through. And they become very, very -- they just explode. They could explode. Also leaves, when you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It's really a fuel for a fire. I was talking to a head of a major country. And he said, we're a forest nation. We consider our self a forest nation. This was in Europe. I said, that's a beautiful term. He said, we have trees that are far more explosive. He meant explosive in terms of fire. But we have trees that are far more explosive than they have in California.


WILLIAMS: At a roundtable discussion, not long after that, in a moment, instantly reminiscent of one the President predicted COVID-19 would disappear. Trump added this.


TRUMP: OK, it'll start getting cooler.


TRUMP: You just watch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish science agree with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows actually.

WILLIAMS: The New York Times notes this, "Mr. Trump and his senior environmental officials have regularly mocked, denied or minimized human caused climate change. And the Trump has sought to zealously rollback environmental regulations."

This afternoon former Vice President Biden blasted Trump's attitude toward climate change.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bound Trump climate denial may not have caused these fires, and record floods, and record hurricanes. But if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly. If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised we have more America blaze?


WILLIAMS: As we mentioned, our nation is inching toward 200,000 souls lost to the coronavirus. We've been averaging about 5000 deaths a week of late. On Sunday the Who reported the highest one day increase in infections since the pandemic started. Over 308,000 new confirmed cases. Agency also warned Europe will see a surge in coronavirus deaths in the fall. That concern is shared by a lot of American health experts worried about a surge during flu season here. Yet this President is back to hosting indoor mass gatherings.

Trump held a rally like roundtable with a Latino group in Phoenix a few hours ago, with no masks no social distancing, and interview this weekend with the Las Vegas Review Journal reporter. Trump defended the events.


TRUMP: We had many sites at this governor outside site. And this governor what he did is a disgrace. He made it impossible for these people to give us the site.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't you concern about getting COVID though in a close round?

TRUMP: No, I'm not concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about people here?

TRUMP: I'm concern about how close you are, to be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry about that.

TRUMP: Because you know why, I'm on a stage that's very far away. And so I'm not at all concern.


WILLIAMS: Earlier on this network, the Democratic governor of Nevada criticized Trump for flouting state rules.


GOV. STEVE SISLAK, (D) NEVADA: There is absolute absolutely no doubt in my mind and our professionals mind that there are a number of folks that were there at the gathering last night and the one that he had in middle of the night before, number of asymptomatic people, they're going to end up in the emergency rooms and in the hospitals and on ventilators and intensive care units and the President just doesn't care. It's just a total reckless, selfish, irresponsible, arrogant thing to do, just absolutely disgusting.


WILLIAMS: On this same topic, we're also learning more about what Donald Trump told Bob Woodward during their 18 conversations over 10 hours in all, as Woodward was coming piling his new book. A clip released last week revealed Trump understood how deadly the coronavirus was back in February that he deliberately and knowingly downplayed the risk to the public.

Tonight another excerpt obtained by CNN, its audio it underscores in this conversation from April 13, the same thing.


TRUMP: This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person, you don't have a chance.


TRUMP: So this rips you apart.

WOODWARD: This is a scourge. And --

TRUMP: It is the plague.


WILLIAMS: And here's what Trump told Woodward exactly one month ago on a day when COVID-19 took over 1,300 American lives.


TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. I acted early. I acted early. So we'll see.

WOODWARD: This will be the history that we start the first draft of. And it will continue and --

TRUMP: So you think the virus totally supersedes the economy?

WOODWARD: Oh, sure. But the related, as you know.

TRUMP: A little bit, yeah.

WOODWARD: Oh, little bit? I mean --

TRUMP: I mean more than a little bit, but the economy is doing -- look, we're close to a new stock market record.


WILLIAMS: There are more revelations tonight about the administration's handling of this public health crisis specifically about Michael Caputo, the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The New York Times says Caputo, who's a Roger Stone acolyte and a former regular on CNN, who was hired to promote the Trump agenda at the cabinet level federal health agency told a Facebook audience that the CDC was harboring a resistance unit determined to undermine the President.

Paper also says Caputo accused the agency scientists of sedition and "ran through a series of conspiracy theories culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election but his Democratic opponent Joe Biden will refuse to concede. 'And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin.' He said, 'The drills that you've seen our nothing.' He added, 'If you carry guns by ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to be hard to get."

Politico as reported, Caputo and other officials pressured CDC scientists to change key COVID reporting, so they more closely align with Trump's rosy portrayal of efforts to contain the virus.

Today House Democrats said they're opening an investigation into that alleged interference.

We're also now hearing more from Alexander Vindman, he was the key witness in the impeachment trial who -- the one who overheard that so called perfect phone call between Trump and the President of Ukraine. The decorated Iraq war veteran told the Atlantic that Trump is Putin's "useful idiot" and an unwitting agent of the Kremlin. Vindman also spoke with NBC News about Trump's relationship with Putin.


ALEXANDER VINDMAN, DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS FOR THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: He's infatuated with Putin's power. Putin has a unique spell on him as to whether he has dirt on him. If that's unclear, I know that other government senior government officials suspect that that might have dirt on him.


WILLIAMS: Tonight the White House is calling Vindman's allegations, "without merit."

It's a lot on a Monday night and here with us for our leadoff discussion, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, also happens to be moderator of Washington Week on PBS. And Dr. Mercedes Carnethon is back with us, Vice Chair of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Robert, I'd like to begin with you. And I want to begin by playing for you on our audience another snippet of the conversations 10 hours in all between Mr. Woodward and the President.


TRUMP: And Bob it's so easily transmissible. You wouldn't believe it --

WOODWARD: I know, it's --

TRUMP: I mean you can be in the room. I was in the White House a couple of days ago, a meeting of 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneeze innocently -- not a horrible --


TRUMP: You know, just a sneeze, the entire room bailed out, OK, including me, by the way.


WILLIAMS: Bob, what's notable there is that is the life most of us have been living for six months. That sounds very familiar. And I guess is it -- is the surprising thing, how normal he sounds when he thinks he's in private on the phone with another person. Is that truths surprise, what he has tried to do what he has maintained throughout to the public instead?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Brian, the tapes are revealing about who President Trump really is. And as a reporter who's covered him for nearly a decade, I've seen him behind the scenes at different times at his golf clubs, in his office, on his plane. And while it is true that the portrait of him is someone who's constantly watching television is accurate, that is who he is.

He's also someone who's always reading newspapers. I've seen him with piles of newspapers for hours on end, scanning them sometimes with a sharpie, taking notes. This is someone who understands the reality of what's happening in terms of the virus and many other issues while publicly he likes to have a certain persona, a certain bravado.

Let me be clear, based on my reporting, this is someone as Bob Woodward's tapes reveal knows what's going on. And Woodward sketches out in his book how serious the virus was to President Trump in January, in February, in March, in April, and the book brings to light that private President Trump. And it offers us more evidence that this was someone not just saying certain things at the lectern. And this was someone who knew the depth of what this virus meant.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, the American west is tonight yet again lit up in orange of wildfires yet, it seems the President looks to the west and sees only blue, states from Washington to Oregon to California under democratic control. So what was today's California visit really about?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, today's visit was a bit -- was a not a perfunctory visit to California, as you say a blue state he's not going to weigh. He's not competing in. You know, he'd been criticized for not making much attention to these wildfires for weeks on end. And so he interrupted briefly his campaign swing out west to make a one hour 15 minute stop in Sacramento to be briefed on it.

And even then, of course, you know, to disagree with the California officials over what was really at stake. His point about the forest management isn't wrong in the sense that forest management is an issue. Even Governor Newsom, the Democratic governor of California agree with him on that. But where they disagree was the role of climate change on that. And you saw Governor Newsom very politely today, very differentially, but firmly make the point that climate change in his view was a substantial factor in what his state and what the other states out west are seeing. His secretary of natural resources was even blunter and then you played the part where the President responded basically brushing it off saying, no climate changes, you know, it'll be cooler soon and the sciences know what it's talking about. He couldn't have had a starker contrast, of course, with Vice President, former Vice President Biden who used today to give a speech we call the President of climate arsonists.

I think you -- the country is presented here with a pretty strong contrast between a president who says, this is all a hoax. This is all, you know, nonsense by scientists, you don't really know what they're talking about and cripple the economy with economic regulations that he has begun rolling back and challenger and Mr. Biden is saying, no climate change is real. And it's one of the existential crises of our time and just like the coronavirus, you've got president he is telling us that doesn't believe the science.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, I think it's fair to say as a lay person that reports out of the CDC on topics like national mortality have in normal times during normal administrations, been taken as something approaching gospel. How does it strike you to hear the chief spokesperson at the Department of Health say that there are doctors and scientists playing politics inside the CDC?

DR. MERCEDES CARNETHON, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: That's such disappointing news to come out of the CDC and disappointing news that we're so suspicious about what we're hearing and I think rightly so. We've seen so many different turns and twists that the advice that the CDC is giving out. And especially when those recommendations change right after the President makes a recommendation, for example, if the school openings and then the push for less testing instead of more testing. So goes without saying that, you know, the suspicions about whether or not what we're hearing about mortality rates, whether what we're hearing about cases and even how the disease is transmitted, is being questioned by everybody.

And I would say this also aligns with the skepticism about climate change. There seems to be a very strong distrust of science at a time when what we really need is to listen to the experts and trust in science so that we can protect our health, protect our country.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Peter, on the doctor's last point there can -- and I'm sorry if this calls for a political judgment or something approaching it, can the President run against science in an election where the math would tell us, he has got to pull voters from the other side and from the center?

BAKER: Well, he's not trying to pull voters from the other side from the center. He's speaking to his own base. He's speaking to people who agree with him. He's speaking to people that brought him there in 2016. And his goal seems to be to basically maximize the turnout of the people who already like him or at least inclined or like him, like the things he does or says even if they don't say like everything about him, and to depress the possible vote for his challenger Biden by making Biden seem unacceptable on a number of different issues like law and order and so forth.

So it's not an effort in his part to reach out to a broad majority of Americans. It's a really -- it's a very targeted approach here. And so you're right, he's not, you know, he's willing to play to the part of America that doesn't believe in climate change skeptical of the doctors and thinks that scientists at the CDC are out to get him. Rather than trying to convince, you know, the people in the middle who might be open to persuasion, how he took a different point of view.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, dual question. Number one, are elected Republicans just hoping to stay in some sort of hardened bunker for the next 50 days? And secondly, give us a preview of how noting we are recording this conversation a lot like Woodward and Trump, how you see our country this political season playing out the known unknowns for the next 50 days?

COSTA: I'll take the second part first, because it plays into the first part of your question. The known unknowns are really out there already and how they play out with the electorate is the TVD. Number one, John Durham's investigation of the Russia probe itself. Are there further indictments? Does the Attorney General come out just weeks before the election and makes some kind of announcement that potentially could change the way the election is perceived. But a lot of voters are on edge after what happened in 2016. And to have the Attorney General do something right before the election, we'll give it a political charge.

Two, vaccines, President Trump keeps saying he wants to have some kind of announcement before the election. Where is the pharmaceutical industry going to be? Where are doctors who are involved in this process going to come out and compliment the President and offer their own integrity to stand alongside the president should he make a claim? Those are two of the biggest issues. And Republicans themselves, Brian, we sometimes talk about Republicans as somehow on the edge of their seat. They're in the seat on the roller coaster with President Trump three and a half years in 50 days to go. They're all in. There's no other ride here. This is the ride there on it.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, how does it strike you to see pictures of an indoor rally for the President of the United States who vocally complained about the restrictions and the state of Nevada against indoor events that they had to somehow bend or go around?

CARNETHON: Well, as you recall, I was rather surprised the first time I saw an indoor rally in a city that had surge in cases of coronavirus. It's still concerns me a great deal that so many individuals are putting their political position ahead of listening to the science of seeing what we're observing about how this disease is transmitted.

You know, I don't begrudge anybody their own politics. However, protect yourself. We know the one thing that we can do right now to protect ourselves and slowly transmission is to socially distance and to wear masks. And none of those things are happening in the name of politics. And this is where politics is interfered with science and the scientific process.

I hear Trump really advocating for this vaccine and pushing for it to show up by October. But, you know, what we observed this week with the AstraZeneca trial in England is part of the scientific process. There is not going to be a quick fix vaccine that's going to save us. They are going to be these fits and starts. It's all part of the process. However, as we await a vaccine, and even once we have a vaccine, we have to take the politics out of the behaviors that will prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

WILLIAMS: And of course, who knows what this week itself will hold. Big thanks to our big three on a Monday night for starting us off, Peter Baker, Robert Costa, Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, thank you all.

Coming up, an update on the folks who are hours in some cases days away from getting more hurricane than they can possibly handle. The storm name Sally has exploded in size and intensity. The worst news is, it's slowing down. We'll get an update on preparations with one of the heroes of Hurricane Katrina.

And later, more on the goals of Trump's West Coast weekend where campaigning seems outweigh the dual crises millions are facing. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Monday night.


WILLIAMS: We're also going to update you at the end of the broadcast tonight but we are tracking Hurricane Sally as it closes in on Louisiana and Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center says this category two storm packing maximum sustained winds of about 100 miles an hour as of tonight.

And here's the problem, forecasters are warning of life threatening storm surge, high winds, flash flooding starting tonight along portions of the northern Gulf Coast. Landfall is expected anytime between tomorrow night and Thursday. This is a very slow moving storm that could dump up to two feet of rain in some areas. Forward speed is about three miles an hour.

Sally is one of four named storms now being tracked over the Atlantic basin. This National Weather Service satellite image includes Hurricanes Sally and Paulette, tropical storms Teddy and Vicky for good measure.

Back with us again tonight retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who led the relief effort on the ground in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina. He's a 37 year veteran of the armed forces. He has written a book called Leadership and the New Normal.

General, I know where you live. You will likely miss the worst of this. Thank God but how much is one region supposed to take?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA COMMANDER: Yeah, you know, we have a significant recovery operation happening in the western part of the state that goes from Cameron all the way to Shreveport, Bossier that Parish, and Caddo added to the disaster declaration today by the FEMA and the White House. So that entire he has to go through recovery with thousands and thousands of people without electricity and 300 water systems at risk.

We're recovering there. And now Sally come to town. The predictions for New Orleans appears right now, if landfall happens the way it's going to happen, it may not have as bigger impact as the predictions were this morning on New Orleans as far as when and water coming from rain. It still could have an impact on those Eastern Paris, (inaudible) Paris, St. Bernard, who already taken on water in Shell Beach and places like that. Then that surge water from Sally could have an impact on the north shore and parts of New Orleans.

That being said, Mississippi, Biloxi to Mobile Bay look like there right now by prediction are going to take the hardest hit with a three mile an hour storm. That could be reminiscent of the rainfall we saw coming Harm. And not matter where the person I'm repeating what I'm here, but the worst case scenario --

WILLIAMS: Yeah, exactly.

HONORE: -- this rainmaker and put the power out through most of Mississippi and Alabama.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I'm worried about Gulf Shores myself. To the point you just made our Meteorologist Bill Karins put this out tonight on social media. We all deserve so much better than the latest euro model run that stalls Hurricane Sally, just south of the Mississippi, Alabama border until Thursday morning. I can't even begin to think of the consequences, please be wrong. Well, we all agree with Bill Karins in that, General. And let's not forget what has you at home and that is we're in the middle of a pandemic. You're among those trying to be careful. The minute you take someone out of a flooded home, put them in a crowded vehicle to take them to a crowded shelter. That's when we have problems.

HONORE: And Brian as we saw at the large choices, a few the hotels in New Orleans are just about full right about 12,000 there. The people on the Gulf Coast, I heard both Alabama and Mississippi officials tell them to go live with relatives, that few places to go and live with the COVID social distances, as opposed to going in crowded gyms or shelters. So we had a dilemma here. This is going to be a real test.

The biggest thing is that people live in areas that have flooded before from storm surge, they still have time they need to leave. And I hope they take that attitude of leaving, and don't question science. Listen to the weather people and get away from that coastline. Even if you have to go live with somebody with a mask on, get away from that surge water. Because the predictions now and the rainfall, the rain will not be able to get out to the ocean. So there's going to be backwater. Those by use all in South Alabama and Mississippi are going to be full, and this is going to have a significant -- could have a significant impact if it stalls, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it's really going to test the Corps of Engineers work in and around Pontchartrain as well all over again. General, we always appreciate having you on. Stay safe. Stay hunkered, hope the mail comes on time, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, US Army retired. Thank you, sir.

Coming up. President Trump's fifth visit to the battleground state of Arizona aimed at building support among those he affectionately calls my Latinos, the growing importance of that particular voting bloc among our topics when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The polls came out and we're leading Sleepy Joe by a lot. I didn't have to be told about the Hispanic community. I dealt with him. Natural business people, great business people, great, great business people. You have to be very sharp when you deal with Hispanic Americans. My Latinos, I love the Latinos.


WILLIAMS: President Trump was in Arizona tonight courting Hispanic voters. His Latinos, as you heard him say it's his second visit to the battleground state in just the last two months. And despite his claims that he's beating Joe Biden, the new CBS News poll Put spikes in the head by three points and that reliably red state. The gap is even bigger among Hispanic voters, with Biden polling at 62 to Trump's 27.

Well, let's talk about it tonight and with us to do that Victoria Defrancesco Soto, professor and assistant dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin hook em horns. And David Plouffe, former Obama, campaign manager and senior advisor to President Obama. He's also on the board of directors for the Obama Foundation. His latest work is called "A Citizens Guide to Beating Donald Trump." Welcome to both of you.

And Professor, I'd like to begin with you though. Why you went into academia with the natural business ability the president tells us you have is your own choice. I guess I'm kidding. Anyway, talk about the Latinx voter dynamic in Arizona compared to that say of Texas, of California regionalisms. And things any campaign running up at the presidential level in a state like Arizona should know.

Victoria Defrancesco Soto, LBJ SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Right. Well, right. I'd rather hear President Trump calling us natural entrepreneurs and what he usually calls Latinos rapists, thugs, bad hombres, but that aside, Arizona, actually my home state of Texas, my marriage, but it's very interesting in that you're going to see probably 25 to 30 percent of the Latino vote going for Donald Trump. It's a tad bit more conservative. The Latino vote is a bit more conservative in Arizona than it is in California where it's a lot more progressive.

But on the flip side of that, it's like a Goldilocks. Arizonans are not as conservative as Latinos and Texas. So that's why I don't think we're going to see much more movement to that 25, 27 percent number for Donald Trump.

The real question for me, Brian, is turnout. This is what is going to change the game for Biden in Arizona. Historically, Latinos have had the lowest voter turnout of any group. But in 2018, we saw something very different. We saw record turnout in the midterm that almost rivaled presidential turnout.

So if you look at this 2018 bump, and you forecast that it continues on, you add on the ground game mobilization on Arizona, and this is the main piece, SB 1070 anger, show me your papers. People in Arizona have not forgotten that. And then the Joe Arpaio figure who just doesn't go away. He's been in Arizona forever, and then he kind of went away, and he came back through the pardon of Donald Trump.

So I think all of these factors together are pushing Arizonans to really pump up their voter turnout and potentially be a key factor for president or sorry, Joe Biden, Vice President Biden in the November election.

WILLIAMS: Now, David Plouffe, we go east to Florida. There is a huge disinformation campaign aimed at Latino voters in Florida. You never get to find out who's behind it. Except it's misinformation about Joe Biden, enter Mike Bloomberg, making a $100 million gift to the Biden campaign. What can that buy you in Florida when you're the target of a misinformation campaign?

DAVID PLOUFFE, FMR. SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Brian, even in a state as expensive as Florida, $100 million can go a long way. And that's critically important because in the Electoral College chess match, Florida is close to a checkmate if Trump were to lose that.

Back to Arizona for a minute, if the election returns more models for Joe Biden and polls suggest today. Let's say he doesn't win. Florida, doesn't win North Carolina, wins Michigan, wins Pennsylvania, but doesn't win Wisconsin. He wins Arizona, he's the president elect. And so that's why Trump's down there today.

But Florida is critical. And it unlike Arizona, you know, the Latino population, you know, obviously, the Cuban vote is the largest vote down there. But you've got the Colombian community, Puerto Rican community, Venezuelan community. So it's a really complicated state. It's a huge state. It's like six states in one.

So Joe Biden, I'm sure he's going to spend all the money he can and be down there as much as he can and Kamala Harris as she was last week, but this Bloomberg money is critically important to fight back against disinformation, sure.

But there's a lot of these voters down there that haven't gotten positive information about Joe Biden and what he wants to do. And just like everybody else, they're concerned about the pandemic, about health care, about education.

So Florida to me and Arizona, there's a chance to both of them end up being the tipping point state thing for a long time and the cycle we thought it was definitely going to be in northern state. That could still be the case. But Florida and Arizona could not be more important.

WILLIAMS: All right, great points all let me squeeze in a break. Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. Coming up the post-election war room that the Biden campaign is busy staffing up when we come back.


WILLIAMS: New York Times reports Joe Biden's campaign has set up a special litigation unit comprised of two former solicitors general and hundreds of lawyers in preparation for a prolonged legal battle over November's election results. Still with us Victoria Defrancesco Soto and David Plouffe. David, what does this tell you as opposed to simply members of the non-pal public?

PLOUFFE: Well, it's a really all star group of legal talent. Now listen, any presidential campaigns ready for things like recounts, legal challenges, keeping polls open when there's problems. But obviously we're facing a challenge of an order of magnitude greater than we've ever seen.

So this group, by the way, Bob Bauer has helped leading this. I've been political words with him over the decades. Nobody better to lead this. He's going to bring great intensity to this. So option one is, if you're the Biden campaign when the vote by enough margin, that no matter what Donald Trump is howling into the wind afterwards, it doesn't matter. But you need to be prepared for every scenario, this race could tighten. Certainly in the battleground states, it could get very close.

So unfortunately, you're focused on right now, early voting, monitoring what's happening with the Postal Service, Election Day, shenanigans lines, but they're also clearly having to focus on the post election period, which is we've never had that in American history. To have a presidential campaign worried that if they win the election, the opponent that they defeated one except the results.

So their mandate is one that stretches I think for past the election. Again, I think the remedy to that is when enough on election night, in the days afterwards, when the votes counted to make clear that Joe Biden's won the presidency, no matter what Donald Trump how's about, but I do think I was glad to see the level of the talent, because just as the Biden campaign has to focus on geo TV and persuasion, really making sure they maximize turnout in the Latino communities we just talked about. They need to focus with the same kind of intensity on these threats to not just their campaign, but to our democracy.

WILLIAMS: And Professor, let's talk about this guy Caputo. He's one of Roger Stones boys. He was a former frequent guest on CNN. He is now the chief spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services in normal times, and we should stress this in a normal White House.

The White House Chief of Staff would have fired this guy before sunup instead these quotes stand was no action against him, quote, and when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin. He said, the drills that you've seen are nothing he added if you carry guns by ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to be hard to get.

Professor, I guess I'm thinking about all the good students at the LBJ School at the University of Texas and wondering if the lesson plan for this coming fall virtual person is going to be teaching about the contested election of 2020, which will remain in the lesson plan for decades to come in all the worst ways.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: I mean, you should mention that Brian, actually, I was just putting together a proposal for a signature course entitled, The Politics of Fake News. But, you know, with the egg of Caputo, I mean, and let's also have that he has no health background, right? So he's in Health and Human Services, but really no expertise whatsoever.

And you know, when I see this, I keep thinking about the deflection, the disco ball that is Donald Trump in trying to deflect away from the reality of the seriousness of the pandemic. And after Bob Woodward's interview, where we -- we had a sense that Trump knew, but it wasn't until last night that we really saw how engaged how much Trump really knew. And that the fact is that he has done nothing.

So in order to compensate for that, you see this full fledged campaign by the President and his allies. What I read into that is a circling of the wagons, because they know that the American public is concerned this is one of the top issues for the election. So they have to keep deflecting, they have to keep creating an alternative narrative, hoping that it's -- hoping that they can fake it till they make it.

But Brian my hope is in the American people, my faith is and the American people and that they're going to read beyond the tinfoil hat you know mentality of, you know, get ready because there's going to be shooting from the left and scientists in sweatpants, by the way is how he described them.

WILLIAMS: Yes, yes, I read that too. Our thanks to our guests Professor Victoria Defrancesco Soto and David Plouffe, greatly appreciate you hanging out with us on a Monday night to start our week.

Coming up, as the smoke clears, our neighbors out west survey the damage. There are also some of them searching for loved ones after the catastrophic wildfires. Report on how these communities are just starting to figure out how to recover when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Remember the fires out west are burning from Washington State through Oregon clear down to California and firefighters in Oregon say they're slowly making progress, battling the worst of them, but they say they're still very worried about what they may find in the destruction that's been left behind. NBC News national correspondent Miguel Almaguer has the story for us tonight.



MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took minutes for wildfires in Oregon to incinerate six towns. Today in this hellscape the grim search for bodies is underway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels like Armageddon.

ALMAGUER: With the death toll rising and dozens unaccounted for state officials call the smoldering apocalyptic scenes a mass fatality incident.

Officials here see parallels to the 2018 fire in paradise California.

LINK SMITH, OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: To hear about what happened in Paradise is what was on everybody's minds

ALMAGUER: During that Inferno that destroyed the town 85 were kill.

SMITH: The biggest casualty we've had here again is the loss of life. We never would have predicted that.

ALMAGUER: As the wildfires explode out of control in Oregon. A record 1 million acres torched in just one week, double the state's average loss for an entire year.

Across the west in a season where firefighters have been overrun by flames, at least 35 are dead. Thousands of homes are gone, and 10s of thousands remain evacuated. Today the president briefed on the fear red flag warnings could fuel another overnight disaster, including this fire outside Los Angeles.

Meantime, hundreds of miles away from the burn zone. No escape from nature's fury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't breathe. I like -- kind of makes my brain a little foggy.

ALMAGUER: The largest cities in the West, choking on the world's most polluted air. Doctors warn the toxic smoke can trigger respiratory problems, strokes, even heart attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We started to wear the N95 rather than just cloth masks because of the ash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Skin allergies, flaring.

ALMAGUER: And environmental catastrophe compounded by a natural disaster.

(on camera): As officials investigate possible acts of arson, despite the terrible air quality, the search for the missing will continue. But in these conditions that could take months.


WILLIAMS: How about that vision of America right about now in 2020. Our thanks to Miguel Almaguer for that report from Oregon tonight, another break for us and coming up and update on one of the other big stories we are covering this evening. It's a lot. We'll get to it when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, this hurricane we are covering is unusual. And while it's true, no two of them are alike. This one is slow. It's last recorded forward speed, three miles an hour. So it has the capacity to dump massive amounts of water on land. The polite term for it is a progressive hurricane, that just means its slow getting to shore and then slow to be on its way.

It's looking likely by the way, tomorrow night at this time, we still won't have landfall to show you. One European model, as you heard us say has this lingering off shore until Thursday. And as one meteorologist put it tonight this one is not going to be forgotten for a long time.

Last night this was a tropical storm. Think about that. Tonight, it's a growing category two hurricane. There are places to worry about specifically in addition to New Orleans and the danger of Lake Pontchartrain filling up way beyond capacity. Biloxi could see big trouble, Bay, St. Louis and Mississippi, Pascagoula beautiful gulf shores, Alabama, along with Pensacola, Florida all the way to the east.

This is probably a good time to point out the National Weather Service is tracking eight separate systems. Four of them have names after all this being the peak of hurricane season, while also tracking the effect of this smoke from the catastrophic Western fires, which today managed to cast a haze over this part of the country, and that will only continue for the foreseeable future, smoke in the skies above the New York area. It's a lot.

And thank you for being here with us for just an hour of it tonight. That's our broadcast for this Monday as we begin a new week together. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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