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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 16, 2020

Guests: Irwin Redlener, Michael Steele

Summary

President Donald Trump scorns CDC director's data on COVID-19 vaccines & efficacy of mask. He slams Redfield for saying masks may be more effective than a COVID-19 vaccine. Trump has promised a health care plan since 2016 campaign, but has never released it. Trump lauds his COVID-19 response as U.S. nears 200,000 dead. SC poll shows Senator Graham tied with Jaime Harrison. Biden ramps up attacks on COVID-19 response amid rise in cases nationwide. A.G. William Barr told federal prosecutors to consider sedition charges for protest violence.

Transcript

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Bob, we're going to have to leave it there. This is one of those nights when I wish I had two hours. But Brian Williams has shown up for work again tonight and he's going to want to get in on this.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "RAGE": OK.

O'DONNELL: Bob Woodward, the new book is Rage.

WOODWARD: I'm sorry to be so.

O'DONNELL: That's OK. Bob, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: That is tonight's LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,336 of the Trump administration, leaving 48 days now until the Presidential Election.

And the once simmering tension between Donald Trump and his own government side this over the management of this pandemic is out in the open again tonight. The first public signs of a rift surface this morning was sworn testimony from the CDC director. He was asked to give a Senate committee a timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION DIRECTOR: I think there will be a vaccine that initially be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply and we'll have to be prioritized. If you're asking me, when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to give back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So that's the head of the CDC and that didn't exactly match what the President has been predicting. So hours later, Trump was in the White House briefing room with his own update on the effort to contain the virus. He offered his own timeline on a vaccine. Shockingly, he's teasing out the possibility of a vaccine right around Election Day. And when questioned about the differences, he threw his own CDC director under the bus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today, my administration released our detailed National Vaccine Distribution Plan. We have our military lined up. We think we can start sometime in October. So as soon as it is announced, we'll be able to start that'll be from mid October on as soon as the FDA approves the vaccine. And as you know, we're very close to that. We'll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Redfield confirmed that it looked like November December, the first doses would be able to be distributed.

TRUMP: No, I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information. And I called him and he didn't tell me that and I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly. I called him, I said, what did you mean by that? And I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question probably. Under no circumstance, will it be as late as the doctor said?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: At this morning's hearing, Redfield was also asked about this comment this moment from his boss. This happened during last night's ABC News town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: A lot of people don't want to wear masks there. A lot of people think that masks are not good. And there are a lot of people that as an example, you have --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Who are those people?

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you who those people are -- waiters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And here's what the CDC director under oath told senators about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REDFIELD: I'm not going to comment directly about the President but I am going to comment as the CDC director that facemask these facemasks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country to embrace these face coverings. We have clear scientific evidence they work. And they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take the COVID vaccine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As you might imagine, that didn't go over too well with the President either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think there's a lot of problems with masks. No vaccine is much more effective than the mask. When I called up, Robert today, I said to them, what's with the mask? He said? I think I answered that question incorrectly. I think maybe he misunderstood it. As far as the mask is concerned. He made a mistake. The mask is a mixed bag. There are some people that don't like the mask because of the touchiness and the touching and then you're touching everything else. They have -- They've failed that masks problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So shortly after this evening's White House briefing, Redfield himself posted these messages writing, "I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines, and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine." And, "The best defense we currently have against this virus are wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and being careful about crowds."

Keep in mind, this President has held several recent events that didn't appear to follow any of those government guidelines. And you may have noticed the other prominent player at today's briefing. That would be Dr. Scott Atlas. He's a radiologist. He's a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He's now at the forefront of medical policy in our country as doctors Fauci, Birx and Redfield get sidelined and silenced. There were no other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force there.

Joe Biden rolled out his pandemic proposal a day and he criticized Trump for repeatedly suggesting a vaccine might be available before Election Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't allow politics to interfere with a vaccine in any way. Americans have had to endure President Trump's incompetence and dishonesty when it comes to testing and personal protective equipment. We can't afford to repeat those fiascos when it comes to a vaccine. Let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump. This moment the American people can't either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Donald Trump for his part later in the day tried to accuse Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris of essentially being anti vaxxers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm calling on Biden to stop promoting his anti vaccine theories because all they're doing is hurting the important of what we're doing. This is really a case that they're only talking, just started talking a little bit negatively and that's only because they know we have it or we will soon have it

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As this virus continues to spread across our country as the number of dead Americans moves ever closer to 200,000, with another thousand more souls lost just today. There are also questions about the administration's long promised health care plan.

President has repeatedly promised a comprehensive health care plan. He usually says it's just two weeks away and it never is. This morning, his chief of staff promised Trump's health care plan would be made public, wait for it before voters go to the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We will be rolling it out. I can tell you that health care --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the election?

MEADOWS: Before the election, sure, I can tell you that he's right that it is ready. We've been making a number of -- not only tweaks, but modifications to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And just a refresher here for your benefit that we have heard that promise before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to do something that's going to be great health care. We're signing a health care plan within two weeks. I'll be signing it some time very soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said two weeks when you spoke to Chris Wallace.

TRUMP: It might be it might be Sunday, but it's going to be very soon.

We're going to be introducing a tremendous health care plan sometime prior -- hopefully prior to the end of the month. It's just about completed now.

We're going to be doing a health care plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been promising a new health care plan.

TRUMP: I have it already and it's a much better plan for you, and it's a much better plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: One more item from the Trump White House tonight, top Health Department spokesman, the former Trump campaign staffer and Roger Stone acolyte Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence. He says to improve his health. The move comes days after Caputo promoted dangerous conspiracy theories during a Facebook Live appearance.

He said Democrats want to keep people sick until the election. He said they have helped from deep staters inside the CDC. He also urged Trump supporters to load up on ammunition in preparation for a violent left wing rebellion should the President win reelection.

It's a lot here for our leadoff discussion on a Wednesday night, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor at Politico. John Heilemann, Author Journalist, our National Affairs Analyst, co-host of the Circus on Showtime, Executive Editor over at the Recount. And Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrics physician, a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University's Earth Institute also happens to be Founding Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness with an expertise in pandemics.

Dr. I'm compelled by the news of the day to begin with you, your reaction to the President correcting the head of the CDC, who was attending to the public health during a pandemic?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Well, it was another jaw dropping day, Brian. And you know, it's like a national quiz. Who do we believe the head of the CDC and Tony Fauci and Debbie Birx or the president of the United States, a guy who's proven himself to be the most dishonest person occupying the White House in American history. And to have him debating the scientific and medical and public health issues about dealing with a pandemic, especially after what we've learned from the Bob Woodward interviews with him is it's basically delusional. It's really very worrisome. This is beyond I think, what most of us thought the disconnect between actual reality and President Trump's view of whatever he calls reality.

So I don't think we should put any stock whatsoever to the President's opinion, but anything to do with the pandemic or specifically the vaccines, of course, Brian.

WILLIAMS: John, I can hear you sighing. It is indeed exhausting. We have a president right now diminishing the wearing of masks during a pandemic for fear of angering his base. And here's the nakedly political question to you, John. And I'll mix my sports, every day this president hands the Democrats a lay-up shot and assist in front of an open net of fumble on the one yard line. Are they doing enough with what they're being served politically every day?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Brian, I'm sighing because, just to address that right at the top. I mean, this is sort of the nightmare right? I mean, like I'll do political analysis for you. I'm always happy to but the as Dr. Redlener was laying it out as I listened to you, sketch out where we are right now, you know, a president is still in the midst of a pandemic that's killing 1000 people a day, that's going to top 200,000, that most medical, public health professionals and experts have been telling us for months is going to come at us again, maybe in a more serious way, in the months ahead.

The President had made a lot of mistakes in the first six months of this pandemic. A lot of mistakes. A lot of them maybe, you know, that looked a lot like criminal negligence to a lot of people in the country. But it'd be one thing if all of that had happened, and there was some sign that he learned something in the process or that we were better prepared to meet whatever's coming next. And instead of being better prepared, we're just as badly prepared or worse prepared, in some ways, because of this thing we're seeing on display the notion of the president at war, not just a cold war, but a hot war now with his leading health officials on things as basic as mask wearing and discussion of the vaccine. He's feeding everyone suspicion about whether we should believe anything that he says about this going forward.

So to come back to the politics, I don't know that I think the Biden campaign has -- is doing, has been doing fine on this topic. And clearly, if the election is on this matter, if you look at all the available data, they're at a good place to win it. If it's on this topic there's so much more that's going to happen in this next six and a half weeks. But I don't think it's possible for them to do enough, really. And so I say, you know, the event they did today was fine. I do think that there needs to be, if they want to win, they will need to do everything they can to ensure that the election is on this question, the President's capacity to keep to deal with this pandemic as it continues going forward. And the manifest obviousness of the care of the fact that the answer to that question is no.

WILLIAMS: Anita, I've been saving something for you what many found to be the most egregious moment of today, the President discussing the compilation of the death toll regionally. We'll talk about this moment on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This was our prediction that if we do a really good job, we'll be at about 100 and -- 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. And we're below that substantially. That would be if we did the good job, if the not so good job was done would be between 1.5 million I remember these numbers so well and 2.2 million. That's quite a difference. So we're down in this territory. And that's despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states at we're at a level that, I don't think anybody in the world would be at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Anita, I'm tempted to say I think he meant American states. You know, remember, Barack Obama burst into the public consciousness with his famous Democratic Convention speech about one America. We have never heard nor could we have imagined a president talking about any of the states differently from any others. They're all full of American citizens who talks that way?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, as striking as that was today, it's what he started talking about six months ago. If you remember, right at the beginning of the pandemic, when it did actually start in blue states in the beginning, and we heard a lot from him about that, you know. And there was reporting at the time saying, well, they downplayed it, because it was only in those blue states and not those red states. And what would happen later when those went to sort of Trump country, you know, sort of the middle of the country.

So you know, what's really striking about this is he has said and his campaign has said, this isn't a political issue for him. But then over and over again, he actually puts the politics in, in those conversations when he's talking about the vaccine, you know, he's mentioning a very special day. We hope to have the vaccine by very special day, that very special day he was referring to his election day. So over and over again, he's putting the election and he's putting the politics into the coronavirus response and then criticizing people for saying that he's doing so. But he's kind of been really out front doing that.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, once again, this calls for you. How does it strike you when you hear a president promising a vaccine on or before Election Day? And is it any wonder that opinion polls show people skeptical of a vaccine they may view as rushed to market for political reasons?

REDLENER: Right. Brian, and we ought to differentiate between the fact that maybe a vaccine ready but ready for what? Ready for more testing, what's going to be ready for|? And that's going to take months and a lot more human observation. We may have a good vaccine, but we're not going to know that it's really good for a really long time, Brian and well into as Dr. Redfield was saying into 2021.

You know, the other thing so odd here is that it's not as if the President was taking a neutral stance on events and developments and protocols relative to the pandemic. He's actually taking on reckless, dangerous ideas that he's promoting like crazy at every event he does, and people are crowded together. They're not wearing masks. It's pretty amazing.

And the other thing I'd like to say he's, you know, there's clearly some delusion here and a lot of lying. But apparently what I'm afraid of is that his true supporters like those delusions. They're feeding on those lies, and they keep increasing their fervor and attachment to this to this president, which was, which is what makes me as a physician worried about the political outcome of all this. And are we really getting any place in trying to tell people the Trump way is really the wrong way and the dangerous way, Brian.

WILLIAMS: John, does his base find a way to feed on his comments to Woodward by telling themselves, see I told you he was looking out for us. He never wanted us to panic.

HEILEMANN: Oh, yeah, sure, Brian, there's no doubt that the Trump base -- they just -- there's no interpretation of reality that he offers them that they do not accept as gospel. And, you know, we marvel at that. We are dumbfounded by it. We're befuddled by it, but it's the one thing of the kind of North Stars of this Trump administration we know is true.

The President will -- something will happen, that will -- we will strike us as subjectively politically bad for the President. The President will put some gloss on it, some spin on, will lie about it, will reframe or recontextualize it. And that is base will accept it.

But here's the thing that I think is, and it kind of ties back to your previous question about whether the Biden team is doing enough? And again, I don't I don't mean that, I'm not like picking on them here or launching a broadside. But I'm in Florida right now, where we have a very close race. There's some polling that has Biden up by four or five points here on the ground. I don't know any Democrats or Republicans who think that that's right. Everyone expects the state is going to be as close as it always is.

And it just tells you something that right now, if you look at the six core battleground states, and Florida, as always, if of the six is probably the most important, it's got the most electoral votes, over 10% of the total, you need to win the presidency. All six of those states are states where Joe Biden is leading. And all six of them are states that are not safe. They're not states, the Joe Biden is put away yet despite his consistent lead over the course of the year. So it answers your question, given the abject failure on the central issue in American life, this pandemic, the economic consequences of it, everything that's coming out of it, after all this time and then in the face of this lunacy, this delusion and the mounting death toll, the fact that it is still a race that Donald Trump could win. If you spend any time on the ground here, and you listen to his supporters, the Biden supporters and all of those new people that didn't vote for Trump in 2016, but they are out identifying spending millions and millions of dollars to locate and bring out to the polls on Election Day, the fact that it's still a winnable race for Donald Trump tells you that they have not made the most of this argument. They've not like closed the deal, close the sale. And you would think given the external events and Trump's behavior that they would have at this point.

Again, I'm not really trying to say the Biden campaign is failing, but I am saying that more needs to be done if they want to win.

WILLIAMS: All right, noted. Anita, you get the last word and the question is take the other side, what are Trump allies worried about? And I'm tempted to put it this way, what could go wrong in the next 48 days for the president?

KUMAR: So many things, right? Well, we have the debates coming up. You know, obviously the coronavirus, depending on what happens, it could get worse. It's already bad. It could get worse. It depends on what that looks like. You know, also depends on some of these events that they're doing. You know, a lot of Democrats are saying that Biden needs to get out there more. The President is out there, but he's out there at these events where there is no social distancing. There aren't a lot of masks. He had a couple indoor events the other day. We'll see what happens with that if there are infections from that. There's so many things going on here. And, you know, we have to see how that comes out.

But, but, you know, we talked about these 47 days left. Ballots are already going out. They're going out in, you know, variety of states. They will be in the next couple of weeks. The President keeps talking about this mail-in voting situation. He hasn't really gotten that far on his lawsuits. So here we are, where people are starting to vote. And I don't think that there are 40 some days left of this race.

WILLIAMS: Three of our very finest raising interesting points on this Wednesday night. Our thanks to Anita Kumar, John Heilemann and Dr. Irwin Redlener for starting off our broadcast.

Coming up for us, the politics of downplaying a virus. That's what the President did and continues to do while telling us to believe something else. Imagine being a Republican running down ballot from him, as we approach a death toll of 200,000 in a crippled economy. Our next guests will weigh in on that.

And later, the hard line, according to the President and his attorney general, from protesters to questions at the ballot box and the mailbox. It's now getting serious as THE 11TH HOUR is getting underway on this Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here up on the podium today you're twice contradicting the director of your own CDC on the science who testified before Congress today.

TRUMP: No, he's contradicting himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should the American people .

TRUMP: I think he misunderstood the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he was testifying. And why should the America people .

TRUMP: You know what I think? I think he misunderstood. I told you, I don't have to go through this. I think he misunderstood the questions. But I'm telling you, here's the bottom line distribution is going to be very rapid. He may not know that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do the American people trust you on the pandemic when you're contradicting the head of the CDC. And you're .

TRUMP: Because of the great job we've done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President at the White House today as the death toll nears 200,000.

Back with us tonight to talk about all of it, two friends of this broadcast, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for The Washington Post and Michael Steele, former Chairman of the RNC, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. These days, the host of the Michael Steele podcast.

Gentlemen, welcome and good evening. So Eugene, President said last night if anything he played the virus we know that's a lie based on what he told your colleague at the post Bob Woodward. Today he corrected the head of the CDC. Today he talked about blue states in the United States of America as President of the United States. How much more of this before people start to notice? Or is there 40% that chooses not to?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, who knows, you know, the 40% will choose not to care about any of this until maybe they do. Who knows? The blizzard, this sort of flood of lies from the president over the last few days it's just been extraordinary even by Donald Trump standards, it really has been to actually try to maintain that the word down actually means up, but downplaying actually meant up playing. It's just extraordinary. You could not make this up. Well, I guess or will did make it up.

But beyond that, it's just incomprehensible. The damage that this does to the very idea of democracy to have a democratically elected president, who literally lies all the time, literally whose every word cannot be trusted is -- we've never seen anything like this in this country. And I've given up predicting, but I don't -- you know, I don't think it's necessarily the case that he can do this forever, with no impact on even his own base that this is just, it's getting worse. It's really getting worse.

WILLIAMS: Michael Steele the three of us have some years on the scoreboard and I'll put it this way, you could live your whole life and not hear a president without a sense of stewardship over the country instead itemize deaths in states run by Democrats. That was the extraordinary part about today. Our friend Susan Glasser quickly tweeted this out in response. Top 10 U.S. states for coronavirus deaths include the following won by Trump in 2016. Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia. Michael, a lot of his bass lives in that list.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: They do and they don't care. To Gene's point I've talked to enough of them over the last few days. I'm exhausted, I'm exasperated. You know at this point, it's like save who you can save. Because there's only so much you can do. There's only so much you can say. The fact that we have to -- we have to literally beg people to wear a mask to save their own dumb ass from getting sick. I'm sorry. I just to me it is beyond the imagination. I'm with John Heilemann. I'm just so exhausted with this president, at this point in the face of what we see happening on college campuses right now, as we turn into fall, we all knew this was coming and yet this administration has done jack about it.

This president stands at a podium today, and not only contradicts the CDC director, but basically says he perjured himself under oath before Congress. Because he is saying something different from Donald Trump. The CDC director is telling us the truth, and Donald Trump is literally lying to us and yet 40 percent of the country looks at it and goes, yes, I'm with stupid.

So look, America at this point, you have a stark choice in the face of everything that's going on. I don't know what more you can take. And before you say you've had enough, because my heavens, this is too much for a country to go through between trying to stop elections from taking place, 200,000 Americans dead with nothing more than just a count on a board for this president, to what we see happening now you have to make a star choice this fall.

And, you know, I don't know what else to say. I don't know how many more of these conversations we can have Brian? I just don't know because I'm a little bit tired of it. I'm just ready. Can we vote like right now? Can we just get this done? So we can heal the country and move on because this is just crazy.

ROBINSON: I'm ready.

WILLIAMS: Word to our audience. I've known both of these guys for a long time. And it is painful to see this level of defeatism. And there's no other word for it. I'm going to -- let me sneak in a break. We'll continue our conversation with both of our guests on the other side, including this

Trump and Biden are not the only two with a steak on the ballot in November. We'll show you the new polling that explains why Mitch McConnell, the old campaigner, he equates the race for control of the Senate to a knife fight in an alley guy has a way with words that and more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back a new Quinnipiac poll of key Senate races has Lindsey Graham tied in South Carolina with the Democratic candidate Jamie Harrison, in Maine, Susan Collins down 12 to Democrat Sarah Gideon, in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds a 12 point lead over Amy McGrath to win the Senate majority Democrats need to pick up four seats net according to the Cook Political Report. Six seats currently held by Republicans facing reelection this year, listed now as toss ups.

Back with us, Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele. Michael, here's a tough one for you if I appointed you, present day chairman of the RNC and I like you too much to possibly even think about that, but if it happened, and I asked you, how do they hold the Senate, what would your advice be?

STEELE: Well understand in to the races that you showed there. Certainly the majority leader and Lindsey Graham, the tie goes to like in baseball goes to the runner and the tie goes to the incumbent.

And so what I would take from that is while in a lot of ways there, there's some problems around the edges, you know, the states are going to be problematic, and Maine is one of one of those states. You know, Cory Gardner, maybe one out in Colorado and certainly even in North Carolina, Senator Tillis got some issues there.

There are some spots where you can try to hold that line. And so you kind of look to what is working in a state like South Carolina, that while difficult, is still working for you, because your candidate has made some strides in sort of holding that line. And that's what you got to do. You got to hold the line in four states out of those six, to try not to, you know, turn it over and but that's hard.

And the reason is hard is because the top of your ticket is the biggest drag you've got, you know, and for someone like Susan Collins, she's now accounting for the sins of, you know, affinity, you know, having covered in the view of a lot of her voters in Maine, covered for Trump, where as I was saying back at the time, be yourself.

You know, Maine loves you for being yourself, being the independent, don't worry about your primary, you're going to be okay. And yet now here you are 12 points down, you know, literally 50 days before general election. That's a big number to overcome. And it's going to be a problem if you if you see that sort of creep in some of those other races going forward.

WILLIAMS: Indeed. Maine has an actual independent senator who has had no problem --

STEELE: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- being himself and has been originally rewarded for it.

Hey, Eugene, a tough question for you. And I asked Heilmann this, but he doesn't have your Pulitzer. So have at it. Is the Biden campaign making the most of everything they are handed on a daily basis from this president?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, they can't do everything with that whole platter of issues and potential ways to attack. They can't do everything every single day. You know, I'm of the opinion that actually the Biden campaign is doing pretty well.

If you look at the polls, they're doing pretty well. I would like to see strides made in -- among Latino voters that would help them in a number of states, it would help the Senate candidates and a number of states to like Colorado, especially Florida could be, you know, it's Florida could be the decider, right? If Biden can win, Florida, it's very difficult to see how Trump wins reelection. Arizona, by the way, I would add Martha McSalley is one of the Republican senators is in serious trouble. Serious danger of losing.

So, you know, I think the Biden campaign has been getting out more, has been getting around more. And I think, you know, the things that have to do are pretty obviously have to pay attention to those Midwest states that have unexpectedly lost by the Democratic Party, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, they've got to win those battles. Like they especially have to pay attention to Pennsylvania.

And Joe Biden not to be able to do that. He was known as like the third senator from Pennsylvania when he was in office. He knows the state well. He's born in the state. I think you'll pay a lot of attention there.

Go after Florida. And get around the country be seen, make news. They started to do more of that. I think they -- I think you'll see him do more and then get ready for the debates. And now we have two weeks, the first debate. Two weeks from now, we'll be talking about the first debate and how it went. And as you know, debates can be the events that do change minds and they do move the needle.

STEELE: Hey Brian.

WILLIAMS: Indeed they can. Yes, Michael.

STEELE: Just real quick on I think Eugune said something very important and I don't want folks to miss it especially the Biden campaign, the idea of getting out is very important. Why? Because he can show the contrast about how he can engage his prep as a presidential candidate with the American people while maintaining safety, while maintaining operations in a way that protects the people that he's a with and around versus what you see going on with Donald Trump.

So there's a -- there is a positive political strategy to actually being out in public right now, particularly if you do it the way Biden has been doing it so far.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you both. We'll keep doing this. We'll do it regularly until we get it right. Eugene Robinson, Michael Steele, two longtime friends of this broadcast. Certainly appreciate him both hanging out with us tonight.

Coming up, easily the most obedient, supplicant, Attorney General in modern history, continues to do and say what he needs to do to please the president to help the people president's reelection chances. We'll look at the latest issue involving that man when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS: Tonight there are reports the attorney general has told federal prosecutors to consider charging violent protesters with conspiring to overthrow our government. Wall Street Journal was first to report that Bill Barr, quote, encouraged the prosecutors to seek a number of federal charges including under a rarely used sedition law, even when state charges could apply.

Back with us tonight, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence. He's the author of the upcoming book, "The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau's Code of Excellence."

Frank, thank you for this lightning round. Our last segment went long. We have two minutes. I have two questions. Number one, when does this kind of talk run up against the First Amendment?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Sedition is a very serious felony up to 20 years in prison for that federally. And so it's very difficult to execute a sedition prosecution because of that very reason. You can talk violence, you can talk about how you hate the government, how you'd like to do something about it. But you've got to demonstrate to prosecute, that these guys, two or more people decided that they wanted to execute violence that night in this way against this government or against this law, execution and action in a state or federal situation.

Very difficult to prove when it was most used most, most recently, in a case that I was involved in Ohio and Michigan. It failed in federal court, because it's difficult to prove. What this really tells us, Brian, is that this Attorney General and this president are looking to use the federal law enforcement authority as the primary authority on the ground in states and cities and people should be very, very concerned that the feds are want to be there. Go to law enforcement agency.

WILLIAMS: I want to hear what you think is up with Attorney General Barr because this is just breaking as you kind of came on. Barr gave a speech tonight, saying the Department of Justice recently acted more like a trade association for federal prosecutors. Too much deference is given to career prosecutors, he said, rather than two politically appointed leaders who can be held accountable at the ballot box.

He's -- the notion that line prosecutors should make the final decisions with the Department of Justice is completely wrong, he says, of course, he now returns to the Durham investigation. But this will send parts of DOJ on its ear Frank, what is going on?

FIGLIUZZI: This is the politicizing of justice, right? He what he's saying is I, the politician, the political appointee, I need to make all the prosecuted calls. This is dangerous stuff that happens in communist countries and third world countries.

What he's saying is those values that the career professionals swear an oath to uphold rule of law, the Constitution, that's out the window. It's about what a president wants at that given time. And that's, I'm the guy who makes those calls. He's telling us where this is going over the next couple of months, Brian. He's telling us he's all in for Trump and not in for the Constitution and the rule of law.

WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, always such a pleasure to have you. Thank you for the weight of your experience and for spending time with us tonight. Coming up, an update on the battle against dozens of destructive wildfires that have already destroyed millions of acres out west.

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WILLIAMS: The forecast actually said sunny today here on the East Coast but the sun was blotted out in the sky, reduced to a faint haze. Because of the smoke from the fires out west, it speaks to the scope of the disaster. It reminds us we all share the same country in the same planets.

Well tonight out where the smoke is thick and relentless. The people in Washington State and Oregon right on down south to California are praying for rain. Thousands of homes. Millions of acres are already gone. The firefight goes on. And search and rescue teams are still looking for the missing. NBC News correspondent Miguel Almaguer has our report from Oregon.

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MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even the pictures from above failed to capture the true scope of the devastation below. In one Oregon County, more than 2300 homes are obliterated the damage only accounting for some of the five fire storms that blew across this state. This is what Lexi Soulios has left.

LEXI SOULIOS, LSOT HOME ON FIRE It looks so small. We're just like how did our big life fit in this little area? It's just so surreal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love being here. I love this place so much.

ALMAGUER: As families pick up the pieces and dozens remain unaccounted for, tonight officials say downed power line sparked at least 13 fires.

In Washington State many vividly remember the firestorm that forced them from their home, then took everything they own.

TRIXIE JOHNSON, LOST HOME IN FIRE: She said I can't let you go. Because your house on fire and we lost it. There was nothing that we brought out of that house.

ALMAGUER: In California, nearly three and a half million acres are scorched. Dozens of wildfires continue to burn, including the state's largest now more than four times the size of New York City. Crew say this historic season continues to be fueled by record temperatures, drought conditions and too many homes too deep into forest land.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: We know that that lack of humidity is going to increase it already has because of changes in the climate.

ALMAGUER: Still bracing for the peak of fire season, this may be just a preview of what's to come as the most dangerous days lie ahead. But tonight amid all the destruction, this symbol of hope, when many needed most.

(on camera): With the smoke and haze still lingering across the region, it's unclear when it will finally lift. But scientists say what is certain it's impacting 10s of millions of people every day.

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WILLIAMS: Look at that sun behind him. Our thanks to Miguel Almaguer for that report tonight and coming up the other disaster we've been covering and the misery additional millions are dealing with during another long night.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is about the last thing we covered before we got off the air last night. And that's hurricane Sally. With all due respect to the terrific National Weather Service forecasters who are genuine public servants all.

This time the forecasting was bad largely because it turned into a very unpredictable storm. Remember was first forecast to impact New Orleans, then generally Louisiana and Mississippi. But with the light of day to day its impacts in Alabama and Florida were so severe that even some emergency managers expressed surprise and regret that they hadn't done more.

Last night after we signed off, it got bigger and stronger upgraded from a one to a two even as it was scraping the coastline. It made landfall before dawn, even though the winds were on the low side for a landfalling Gulf hurricane it still did it ton of damage.

This is drone video above the normally beautiful Gulf Shores Alabama. Orange Beach just down the road was also hard hit, places like Pensacola, Florida were simply inundated. Indeed as predicted. Two to three feet of water fell in some places.

The next concern is power with thousands spending tonight in the dark. And now river and street flooding as Sally heads to the north and east. Places like Montgomery, Atlanta are looking at three to five inches of rain. Same holds for Charlotte, Raleigh, Norfolk, Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina are about to get all the rain they can handle from this still formidable storm system. And we truly wish we had better news to pass along on a night like this.

That is nonetheless our broadcast for this Wednesday night. Thanks for spending time with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the network. 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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