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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 22, 2020

Guests: Neal Katyal, Mercedes Carnethon, James Carville, H.R. McMaster


Senate Republicans have enough votes to consider and likely confirm President Trump's Supreme Court nominee after Utah Senator Mitt Romney said the President has the right to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even as the presidential election is underway in some states. Trump's top picks appear to be down to two federal judges, Barrett and Lagoa. With over 200,000 dead, Trump gives himself an A+. CIA assessed Putin likely directing Russian effort to discredit Biden. Rising coronavirus case numbers in many states spur warning of autumn surge.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Malcolm Nance gets tonight's LAST WORD. Thank you, Malcolm. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,342 of the Trump administration. There are 42 days remaining until the Presidential Election. The first presidential debate is one week from tonight.

Trump's push to fill the Supreme Court's seat once held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, before Election Day, now has the backing of the majority of his party in the Senate. Tonight at his latest battleground state rally in Pennsylvania, Trump continued to try to build the suspense.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We're going to pick an incredible, brilliant woman. And watch the abuse that she will take, whoever it's going to -- the decision is going to be announced on Saturday, five o'clock on Saturday at the White House.

And you see we have tremendous Republican support, tremendous support. It's never been this unified before ever. Thank you, Mitt. Thank you. Now was very good, very positive statement.


WILLIAMS: That reference there, Mitt Romney, who today signaled he's on board with holding a vote on a Trump nominee during the campaign.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: Where a nominee of a president is from a different party than the Senate, then more often than not, the Senate does not confirm. On the other hand, when there's a nominee of a party that is in the same, in the same party as a Senate then typically they do confirm. If a nominee actually reaches the floor that I will vote based upon the qualifications of that nominee.


WILLIAMS: We're going to ask an expert about that reason. And coming up, two federal judges, Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa appear to be at the top of Trump's list.

Robert Costa of The Washington Post who's standing by to join us in a moment as new reporting out on what the thinking is inside the White House. He and his colleagues reported this way, "momentum appeared to grow behind judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Other advisors say Lagoa who enjoys significant support among Miami legal circles could be the political boon in the presidential race as Trump and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden are in a tight contest for Florida."

A Saturday announcement would leave less than 40 days before the election for Senate confirmation. Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee will lay out the plan for handling the nomination before the committee. He's already said he has the votes even though we don't have a nominee.

In political news tonight, the wife of the senator who was once one of Lindsey Graham's closest friends, is now backing Joe Biden tonight Cindy McCain, widow of Senator John McCain posted her endorsement writing, "My husband John live by a code: country first. We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost. There's only one candidate in this race who stands up for our values as a nation, and that is Joe Biden.

There is alarming new reporting coming first from the Washington Post since confirmed by NBC News that Vladimir Putin is likely directing Russian efforts to discredit Joe Biden.

Just ahead we'll talk with former Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster about Russian meddling in our elections.

Meanwhile, there are new warning signs about this pandemic. CNBC reporting new cases growing in 29 states and Washington D.C. now, raising concerns about what's ahead as we hit fall and winter. The nation is nearing 7 million cases with well north of 201,000 Americans lost.

Today the President was asked about the lives taken by this pandemic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why haven't you said anything about the U.S. hitting 200,000 deaths?

TRUMP: Go ahead, anybody else?


WILLIAMS: He then insisted his administration had beaten expectations.


TRUMP: I think it's a shame. I think if we didn't do it properly and do it right you'd have two and a half million deaths. If you take a look at alternatives, you could have two and a half million deaths or something they're about. You could have a number that would be substantially more. I think it's a horrible thing. But if we'd not -- if we had not done it right, you could have 2 million -- 2 and half million or 3 million but it's a horrible thing, should never ever happen. China let this happen. And just remember that.


WILLIAMS: We lead the world in death toll, by the way. The President continued along those same lines during tonight's rally in Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: We did an incredibly -- we did an a plus job, except we did a D job in terms of public relations explaining it because we were too busy doing it. Early and aggressive action saved millions of lives through Operation Warp Speed, what we've done in a record period of time with the ventilators and, you know, create -- now we're building ventilators, for the world, very hard to do. We'll develop and distribute a vaccine very, very shortly in record time.


WILLIAMS: It was just yesterday, Trump also gave his administration an A plus grade on the handling of the virus. Today, we got something of a harsh reality check from a member of his own Task Force.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering and in some respects, stunning. We're looking straight at the fall coming upon us. We're looking at the winter coming on us. If we don't get that baseline down sharply to a very low level, you start to get the blips, as I call them, you don't want them to turn into surges or rebounds.


WILLIAMS: We are also learning from the Washington Post tonight that the FDA is about to roll out tougher new standards for what they call an emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine that's coming as soon as this week that could make it a lot harder for a vaccine to come to market to be cleared before Election Day. And given that the CDC has shown its willingness to be used as a political tool for this president, it will be interesting to see if this ruling stands.

Last night we also heard the President offer this clearly false assertion about the impact of the virus on younger people.


TRUMP: We now know the disease, we didn't know it. Now we know it. It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems, if they have other problems. That's what it really affects, that's it. You know, in some states, thousands of people, nobody young, below the age of 18 like nobody. They have a strong immune system who knows, you look at you take your head off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It's an amazing thing.


WILLIAMS: We know now, that's not the truth. And we know the President knows better because we can hear him say so to Bob Woodward.


TRUMP: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob. Today and yesterday some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older people it's plenty of young people.


WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, also Moderator of Washington Week on PBS. Neal Katyal, a veteran of the Department of Justice as Acting Solicitor General. He was the Obama administration's chief lawyer before the Supreme Court where he has argued dozens of cases, and Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, Vice Chair of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. We welcome all three back to our broadcast.

Robert Costa, I begin with you, the story being what it is at the top of this and other broadcasts, where does the search for a new Justice of the Supreme Court stand tonight?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Two top line facts. One, inside of the Senate GOP tonight, they're already making plans not entirely nailed down. But they're making plans tonight as they talk amongst each other to have hearings in mid October, likely beginning the week of October the 12th. The Washington Post just reported that. That means, Brian, in short, you can have a vote on the floor of the Senate before Halloween on President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court and aggressive timeline, to say the least from Senate Republicans and inside the White House. Amy Coney Barrett, the federal judge from Indiana at the top of the shortlist, encouraged by Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, President Trump himself and very pleased with the interviews with her over the past two days. She's seen as someone who has the full endorsement of many people on the right. And it looks like at this moment, the President is very much leaning in her direction.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, the Republicans keep putting this out as justification to do this, 42 days out from an election, as if written by Madison somewhere that the White House and the Senate are of the same party. Is that a thing?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: It's not a thing. And you know, we've had some -- we've had unfortunately deaths in the past most famously Chief Justice Tani died when Abraham Lincoln was President 27 days before the election and Lincoln didn't try and rush a nominee through because he was worried about losing in 1864 the way President Trump and his Senate have. Instead President Lincoln said the right thing to do even when the country was so divided was to wait, and, you know, if he won the election, then he'd make a nomination. And of course he did.

I think here, the President is so worried about losing. He's trying to fill that seat first. And that is really monkeying with the Supreme Court. And, you know, is said no best by the Republicans in 2016 when there was a vacancy 10 months before the presidential election. They said, oh, no need to fill this whatsoever.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, Dr. Fauci says, we are not where we should be on the pandemic as we head into the fall. A lot of people fear they may know what that means, and that's back inside/more of the same, where do you come out?

DR. MERCEDES CARNETHON, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I think his assessment is absolutely accurate. Where we hope to be at this time was that we would have relatively low rates below 5% in most areas, where we would have universal adoption of policies and behaviors that would slow the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, what we're seeing is resistance to taking personal responsibility to stop the spread.

And part of the spread and the growing and the little pockets that we're seeing popping up do have to do with aspects of reopening our economy and reintroducing education. The pockets that we see on college campuses, certainly threatened to spill over into the communities. And as college students have to leave campus, they also threatened to take those disease rates back to the communities from which they came.

And so we're not in a solid position when we're going into winter, when we're going to have other respiratory illnesses and influenza facing us. It's going to be very hard to discern the types of illnesses individuals are getting. And all of this may make us more susceptible to continuing to spread the virus.

WILLIAMS: To our viewers, apologies for teetering back and forth between the dual crises we are covering but such as the nature of our business during this week in 2020 which brings us back to Robert Costa. A dual question for you, Bob. Number one, remind the people watching this is being kind of set out there by the Lindsey Graham's of the world. As a slam dunk, a fait accompli says he has the votes. We just don't have a nominee. Number one, remind people what could go wrong. And number two, talk about the calculus that Mitch McConnell is engaging in by calling this vote. If there's a vote before an election with so many Republican seats up, with the majority on the line, what's the chance of a backfire?

COSTA: They -- I'll take the second question first. They had a Senate Republican lunch today, Brian. And the senators to be sure were talking about this exact issue. And they know whether it's Cory Gardner in Colorado or Martha McSalley in Arizona. If Republican senators lose in November, it's going to be a very difficult vote for them to come in a lame duck session and vote for a Supreme Court nominee. That's a vote many of them do not want to take, so that's why Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader is trying to rush this through.

And it's been -- it's been told to me by some of my top Republican sources that McConnell and his orbit have made it pretty clear to the White House, they'll support whomever the President chooses but Amy Coney Barrett, likely as the support to move quickly in October. Chairman Graham knows that.

To your point, though, about the implications here, this is so highly unusual to move at this rapid pace. And if you think back to Robert Bork in the late 1980s, or Clarence Thomas, or Justice Kavanaugh, all these justices are nominees in the past that people thought when the nomination happens, it would move in a certain direction, the hearings happen, everything changes, curveball after curveball. And so this is a tight window. And it's hard to say when the Republicans say they have the votes before the hearings, you should be dubious about that as a reporter and it's just as anyone watching all of this.

WILLIAMS: Councilor, back on over to you with a matter of the law if a new justice is indeed confirmed, sworn in and seated, tell the good folks watching exactly how conservative this court will now be. Is there any comparison in even recent American history starting with the fact that if the Chief Justice John Roberts wants to cross over and vote with the liberals, they would still get swamped by a five for court?

KATYAL: So very conservative. So I think, you know, the unifying theme between both of your dual crises today, Brian, coronavirus and the Supreme Court and he is kind of, you know, if they -- I really wish they'd rushed the coronavirus response medically or, you know, unemployment insurance and all of those things, but instead they're rushing the Supreme Court nominee through to try and make the Supreme Court far more conservative. If this nominee is confirmed, it would mean 15 of the 19 last justices had been appointed by Republican presidents.

And, you know, this is not as if, it's a conservative jurist who passed away being replaced by another conservative. This is the liberal lion, Justice Ginsburg. She was a tiny woman, but she had an enormously strong, very influential voice. So switching that seat means a change in the jurisprudence on things like the Affordable Care Act, which is going to be heard that case the week after the presidential election. It's going to mean reproductive justice is deeply, deeply under threat and Roe vs. Wade and its progeny. And it means things like campaign finance restrictions, like just simple transparency laws that just say, you know, tell people did you donate to a particular party, those may now be unconstitutional. So this is a big, big deal. It's nuclear.

WILLIAMS: And Doctor back to medicine, back to medicine and our institutions with the CDC tightening these vaccine standards and we've witnessed the CDC both under attack and willing to be a bit pliable under this President, something we're not used to in our institutions. If this holds, if they make their standards tougher for bringing a vaccine to market, isn't that good when people hear that, the potential customers for this vaccine for public confidence?

CARNETHON: I think absolutely. This is a case where slowing down the president, by the organizations that are designed to protect us is exactly what we need. I think both the FDA as well as the pharmaceutical manufacturers know that a vaccine is only going to be effective if people are willing to take it and if the vaccine proves itself to be safe and effective.

There are many cases in our history where when we've gotten to the stage past a phase three trial, we often think about that as the end stage. But there's the post market surveillance stage, when a vaccine is approved, and is rolled out to the public, we get even more information back through our surveillance programs about what happens. And what these vaccine makers don't want to have happen are wide scale serious adverse events.

And so the FDA is stating quite clearly that they're going to implement tougher standards that have typically been required prior to approving the rollout of this vaccine. And one of those is that the trial continue for two months after the second dose. And that means that there's no way this will be ready in time for October. But it reassures the scientists, it should reassure the public that the best possible vaccine is going to be put out there so that people will feel comfortable taking it.

WILLIAMS: And we're tempted to keep reminding our viewers this is why we have an FDA for health and public safety to clear things exactly like this, no matter how great the health exigency. To our big three, our thanks, Robert Costa, Neal Katyal, Dr. Mercedes Carnethon for starting us off tonight.

Coming up after our first break, Veteran Strategist James Carville on what impact this court fight may have on the presidential race.

And later, he had another book from one of Trump's former national security advisors, except this one begins. This is not the book most people wanted me to write. Those are the author's words. We'll ask the author why when HR McMaster joins us, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on a Tuesday night.



SEN. CHUCH SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: If Leader McConnell presses forward, the Republican majority will have stolen two Supreme Court seats, four years apart using completely contradictory rationales. And McConnell has basically decided the rules don't apply to Republicans, even their own rules. It's just brute political force.


WILLIAMS: Reaction to Senator Mitt Romney's decision to support a vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick all but guaranteeing an election year confirmation. Democrats had held out hope that enough Republicans might come over and block the nomination until after the November 3 election. But the President is now arguing a full bench is needed to combat the unsubstantiated claims he has made a voter fraud.


TRUMP: We did nine justices. You did that with the unsolicited millions of ballots at this ending. It's a scam. It's a hoax. Everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else. So you're going to need nine justices up there.


WILLIAMS: Back with us tonight, James Carville, Veteran Democratic Strategist who rose to national fame with the Clinton presidential campaign currently co-host of the 2020 politics War Room podcast.

James, that's a pretty neat trick. The President is gaslighting out in advance voter fraud that he is promoting ergo the need for nine justices on the court which doesn't exist in law. The court has function just fine with a, during times of a death or recusal. B, that as it may, if Trump fills this seat before the election, in your view, how does that change the dynamic of the election?

JAMES CARVILLE, VETERAN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: This election is remotely close, they will steal it and a Supreme Court will welcome (ph). But let's not forget just century started with Jim Steele and Rice in part. They stopped an ongoing vote count and getting the election to Bush. Since then they've gotten away with everything they wanted. The only protection the Democrats have is they have to win by such a margin that makes it impossible for him to overturn the election. But believe me they have every intention if this race is anywhere remotely close of overturning result. I don't have any doubt about that. I don't have to -- he understands that because if he loses this election, he knows what's going to happen to him. He's gone to penitentiary. And he's put loyalists on the courts. And they will -- they will do what they did in 2000. And they'll get away with just like he got away with in 2000. They don't need six votes, they can do it but five, and they'll do it in New York second. I don't have any doubt about him. People tend to forget history. You know, the old 20 years ago wasn't long ago.

WILLIAMS: James, will change a single vote?

CARVILLE: I don't know because you can only get -- you can only get 12 ounces of water, a 12 ounce glass, I can't match the Democrats can be any more stoked than they are. I think if they stay at these levels of engagement, and see what I'm saying, I think is a significant chance that we could have an election that is unscalable. And that's got to be our goal here. Because if we weren't in this thing by three points, or 3.2 points, don't take it away from me. And they'll do it without a doubt, without a heartbeat device call about this.

I mean, if you look at the way that they exercise power (inaudible), I mean, they're serving their corporate interests. And they'll continue to do that. And they'll do it as long as they have power in any place in the government. If it's in the courts, they'll exercise that in the Senate. They'll exercise it that until the Democrats and people United States understand that this will continue. I hope that it ends on November the third but we'll wait and see.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, join you in that hope. Time for borderline cruelty/tough love, as somebody said on social media today, to the Democrats, you all got to do better than this. Today's event on the Capitol grounds when Schumer spoke Dick Durbin held the little placard. And when Durbin spoke, Schumer held the little placard, a quote from Mitch McConnell, using a lectern that looks borrowed from a church basement. They're playing double a baseball here, James, and a good many Democrats have the right to say, is that the best you've got? Because this is a crisis, in your view, is there anything beyond the design of events that the Democrats need to be doing that they're not?

CARVILLE: First of all, they need to point out that this case can be heard on November 10, will likely take away preexisting conditions that exist for hundreds of thousands of Americans. That's the big thing they have to -- they have to do. They also have to point out that as a result of this, you can forget about worker safety and forget about labor unions, you can forget about any protection that workers have or people have, because this is really what's at the heart of this.

And you know, I don't like to criticize Democrats now like shouldn't (inaudible). Mitch Connell doesn't care if he said something one day and said something next day, it doesn't bother him in the less not as it bother the federal society and not as it bother people in corporate boardrooms. I mean, that's not that Mitch McConnell is a liar. That's hardly news to anybody. They have Dr. Ram (ph) this thing home about how it's going to adversely influence the lives of people around the United States.

And, you know, that holding up placards, you know, fall of Senator Durbin, but that's not going to get you anywhere, and they got to drive this home. This is going to be the end of preexisting condition. This is going to be end of workers having any ability to bargain or negotiate, any kind of safety, OSHA, anything like that. It's all going to be gone. This is a blatant power grab. And it has to be called out as such. And even if they do it, if we get enough votes and get the Senate back, we can undo a lot of damage. And that's got to be job number one right now.

WILLIAMS: All right, James is going to stay with us. I got to fit a break in here. Coming up when we continue our conversation, let's not forget, it's probably all we're going to be talking about a week from tonight. James is going to help us look forward to the first presidential debate set the stakes when we come back.



STEVE SCHMIDT, THE LINCOLN PROJECT FOUNDER: Joe Biden has to walk out on that stage and confront Donald Trump and hold them to account. It's got to confront Trumpism. Vice President has to take the presidency from Donald Trump.


WILLIAMS: It's a week from tonight, Biden and Trump face off in Cleveland, Ohio for the first presidential debate socially distance. They will discuss six topics that were selected by the moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News in no particular order they include Trump and Biden's records the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in American cities, the integrity of the election. 90 minutes, no commercial breaks. That should be interesting.

James Carville remains with us. James, I'm still laughing at Mitch McConnell, spending a sleepless night quaking in his bed that Schumer in Durban quoted him on a placard today. So this will be open warfare. I'm going to show you part of an interview Trump gave to WGN in Chicago, because there's a reason to discuss the following answer.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nearly nobody thought we had a problem. If you look at early, people weren't thinking we had a problem. Dr. Fauci a month and a half later thought there was no problem.

The CDC is people that have been there for a long time, long before me and I also don't like the fact that they send out mixed messages.

I'll give you an example. Wear a mask, don't wear a mask. You know, one point they were saying don't wear a mess, Dr. Fauci said, don't worry. Everybody was talking about like, masks were bad thing. Then they come like masks are the greatest thing you can do. You know, you get all these different messages.


WILLIAMS: So James, how is he going to run against elements of his own government? And how is an answer like that, and remember for like 90 minute time -- 90 seconds time limits at a debate. How is that going to fly during a debate?

CARVILLE: Well, first thing is don't take them. Bob Woodward on February 7 and this is really bad. I mean, kook, he's going to lie as much as he's been a breeze. I take. I love Sarjan he came to my class in two, after the 2008 election, but I take a little bit issue, what he said.

I think that Biden needs to not make this debate about him, that me and Donald Trump and make it about them. And I mean, American people, and people already know what they think of Trump. And if you still have a Trump after 22,812 lives, there's probably not much that Joe Biden can say he's going to change your mind.

But if he turns around and says, look, this is what the problem is. This is why did I want to deal with it? I think we could do better, I think we can change. But I think that vice president Biden's got to take every opportunity he can to communicate with the American public, because the audience for this day is going to be astronomical.

And there's -- so you call Trump a social liar. We just saw him saying something that completely contradicts what he said on tape. He doesn't care. Mitch McConnell doesn't care if he lies, that they do it every day, Lindsey Graham does.

And we just keep calling it home. And we just got to tell people this is what your -- how your life is relevant to my presidency, and how we want to change things to make your life better. And the more he can do that, the more you can make it about them and not him being Trump, I think the better we're going to do.

WILLIAMS: Are you have the camp that debates change any minds.

CARVILLE: I don't, you know, any anybody's might. But what it can do is people are have questions about by frame, but they don't have any questions about Donald Trump, that people are completely pitching. And I think what Vice President Biden to do demonstrate his deep reservoir of knowledge he has about the American political system, and he got his commitment to really change things.

And I think he can do that. And I don't think there's anything he can say about Trump, that is going to change any minds, but I think he can solidify support for himself. I think he can excite people, I think he made people feel better. And I think he can go can do a really good job. And I kind of expected he will, you know, Trump is set himself up, but like he's going to the greatest debater that ever live that he's not -- he's no such thing.

So I just hope that, you know, Vice President Biden focuses on people and doesn't pay attention to all of his foolishness in life. Because once you do that, you know, you're in the mud and you can never get out of it. And, you know, I don't want just a sense of shame. I don't just like to grab it so much.

But I think we got to really -- we got to have real laser like focus on people and their lives and their hopes and their fears, and the things that are experiencing right now. It is tough out there for a lot of people. And, you know, it's about time, I think it would respect someone that that got up and acknowledged how tough like is the United States today and their ideas to make their lives better. Do it on a very granular personal level. And that's what I'm looking for. And that's what I'm hoping for.

WILLIAMS: James Carville will be talking. Thanks for coming on with us and staying up with us tonight. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the CIA says Putin is pulling the strings when it comes to election interference. We'll ask the President's former national security adviser, retired General H.R. McMaster about that and more when we come back.



TRUMP: Let me tell you. We have been very rough, but at the same time we get along I like Putin, he likes me. We have a lot. It's better -- is it would you say it's smart to get along? OK, smart.


WILLIAMS: Current and former intelligence officials tell NBC News The CIA has assessed in late August that Vladimir Putin personally and top Russian officials more generally, are probably directing a Russian operation to discredit Joe Biden.

The assessment was first reported by the Washington Post this news comes as the President's former National Security Adviser HR McMaster writes about Russian disinformation and meddling in his new book called Battlegrounds. And we quote, because the Kremlin's objective is to divide and weaken the United States and Europe from within, defeating Putin's sophisticated strategy will require strategic competence and a concerted effort to restore confidence in democratic principles, institutions and processes.

Sadly, we're duty bound to add all of those have been under attack by the president he served.

Tonight we are pleased to welcome to the broadcast the former Trump National Security Adviser retired three star general H.R. McMaster 34 year veteran of the US Army, West Point class of '84, served in both Gulf wars. His decorations include the Combat Action Badge, Silver and Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, he holds a PhD and has used those smarts to join the board of Zoom, one of the few companies thriving during this pandemic.

His first book, "Dereliction of Duty" is a seminal work on the Vietnam War. His latest book is this "Battlegrounds, The Fight to Defend the Free World," which was released just today.

General, thank you very much for joining us. And my first question has to do with the thesis of your book, which you really do address in the first sentence and say, this is not the book people wanted me to write. Are you content when we learn the full story of Donald Trump and this administration? And we will, with the questions that will come, why didn't McMaster say more about what he saw? Are you content with that?

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Hey, Brian, I am, first of all, thanks. Thanks a lot for having me. Really, what I wanted to do is I wanted to contribute to a better understanding of these crucial challenges to our security and to our future.

One of those challenges, as you already mentioned, is Russia's sophisticated campaign and strategy to bring us down and you just thought, you know, there's a lot of books out there on Palace Intrigue and Tell All and I want it to contribute to our future and to help bring Americans together around these crucial challenges.

WILLIAMS: Because it speaks to the thesis you chose and our national security and you just mentioned Russia, having been on the inside now, when you're sitting around talking and people ask you what is it, what do you think it is?

Here we are talking about Russia doing it again. They were allowed to engineer one election on what, a $7 investment without consequences. We're watching it happen in real time again. We got a president who goes out of his way, bends over backwards to complement accommodate the Russian leader. What is it do you think?

MCMASTER: Well, it's a sustained campaign of political subversion. It's an attack on our confidence in who we are as Americans. And as you mentioned already from the book, on our democratic principles and institutions and processes. And I tell the history of this Battlegrounds, right, this goes back to the 1920s, Brian, but now the Russians have new tools available to them. And especially this cyber enabled information warfare, that they're waging against us.

And really what they what they want to do is they want to divide us. They don't create the divisions, but they try to widen those divisions, and what they mainly focus on. And it's not just on during election period, it's in a sustained effort is on issues of race. And then it really a very distant second to that are issues of immigration and gun control. So wherever there are maybe extreme positions on either side of the political spectrum, they tried to magnify the voices on those extremes, and pit us against each other.

WILLIAMS: You mentioned the old days, and that this has been going on a long time. It is true, they have a security state with the GNP less than that of the state of Texas. But the difference is they haven't been welcomed before, at least tacitly. They haven't been able to operate here without consequence before. That's the difference.

MCMASTER: Well, there had been very severe consequences on Putin. And I think, what is odd is this disconnect, really, between what the president says oftentimes, and what the administration has done. I mean, I was really proud of the fact that the Trump administration imposed very high costs on Putin and those around him, the oligarchs around him, consistent with not only building on the sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea invaded Ukraine, but sanctioning Russians for enabling the murderous Assad regime in Syria, and under the global Magnitsky Act, as well in 2017.

We completed a range of sanctions, but it's more than just sanctions. I think it's working together with our allies. Remember, the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in England, in Salisbury, England, in the spring of 2018. What we've seen another incident very much like that, with the attempted murder of Putin's primary opponent Navalny.

And -- but after that, after that attempted poisoning in 2018, President Trump closed the consulate in San Francisco, which was a huge intelligence collection platform for them aimed mainly at Silicon Valley, and expelled 60 undeclared intelligence officers kind of hitting Putin where it hurts, you know, because he's a former KGB guy himself.

So we have imposed costs on Russia, with a broad range of measures. But I know it's hard for people to understand. I don't understand it. But what I write about in the book is, you know, hey, the relationship with Russia while Putin's in power, it's just not going to get better. Let's just get over it, and work with our allies and partners to impose costs on the Kremlin that exceed those that they factor into their decisions when they take these aggressive and disruptive actions.

You know, you had -- going back to George W. Bush, Brian, remember the, you know, looking into his soul, and you had Secretary Clinton with the reset button and President Obama leaning over to Medvedev and said, hey, we could have a better relationship. I think it's time for us to conclude.

Russia is driven. Putin is driven right now by this obsession with achieving national greatness again, but as you mentioned, he has a lot of problems, he has economy the size of Italy's. So what he's doing is trying to drag everybody else down. And then maybe he'll just be the last man standing.

WILLIAMS: I guess as we say goodbye and invite you on to continue this conversation on another night. The difference is we've done everything to weaken NATO, and we're drawing down U.S. troops in Germany, which has been on Putin's Christmas list every year for a decade, but another time, General. Thank you. The new book is "Battleground: The Fight to Defend the Free World". Retired US Army three star General H.R. McMaster has been our guest tonight. Thank you so much, again to be continued.

Coming up for us after our next break. The President likes to say we are rounding the corner on the coronavirus. But we are seeing a slow motion preview sadly, of what many fear for the fall season. We'll have that coming out.


WILLIAMS: We have lost over 200,000 souls and in that respect America leads the world. With autumn now here the fear is a surge may be here shortly as well. Our report tonight from NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On this first fall evening. 17 states plus Puerto Rico report a disturbing increase in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks 25 percent or more in Wyoming, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Jersey. Nationwide 421 deaths yesterday alone.

DR. JOHN TORRES, NBC NEWS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know if this is a bump because of Labor Day or this is a trend moving into the fall. And if it is a trend moving into the fall, then the concern there is that numbers could be even higher.

COSTELLO: COVID is also increasing overseas with new restrictions in Europe including Britain.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Tens of thousands of daily infections in October wood as night follows day lead to hundreds of daily deaths in November.

COSTELLO: New research indicates 80 percent of people who contract COVID do develop symptoms and most who don't still have as much virus in their noses and throats as someone who's visibly sick.

Meanwhile, with Halloween just over a month away, the CDC is recommending against traditional trick or treating that could spread COVID across neighborhoods, instead recommending pumpkin carving and socially distant costume contests. And perhaps leaving grab and go goodie bags for kids who insist on going out.

The nation's pediatricians report more than half a million kids under 18 have contracted COVID. While they do have a lower mortality rate, kids can induce spread the virus to their parents, grandparents and others who are at risk.

The CDC remains under fire for posting guidance that COVID spreads easily in the air, then taking that guidance down saying it was an error. But a former Trump FDA chief suspects more political interference at the CDC.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FMR. FDA COMMISSIONER: You ruin the credibility of the organization and you don't get the benefit of the doubt in moments like this if in fact this really was a mistake.

COSTELLO (on camera): Also tonight The Washington Post reports the FDA will announce tougher standards to approve a vaccine making it very unlikely one could be approved before Election Day. It's an effort to shore up public support, with many Americans saying they're suspicious of White House efforts to rush a vaccine before the election.


WILLIAMS: And our thanks to correspondent Tom Costello for that report. Coming up something we spotted today with our eye in the sky when we continue.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, our occasional attempt to change the subject after all the news we have to cover here every night. Well. Tonight we're going to talk about the calendar the new season and outerspace.

As you may know we love checking in on what the satellites can see going on above us. Here's an example. This was today. You look down toward Texas on the Gulf they're getting hammered by yet another tropical storm. And that's hurricane Teddy out in the Atlantic. A massive sprawling storm on its way to ruining this evening for those people living in the gorgeous Canadian maritimes.

It has kicked up the surf up and down the Atlantic seaboard enormous waves along the Jersey Shore, Long Island, even larger in New England. But look at something else. And that same satellite picture will highlight it for you here. That's smoke from the western fires, which kept today from being totally sunny here in the east. Having made the trip across the country that smoke is now getting sucked into a giant hurricane headed to Canada.

And then there is this seasonal note. While I happen to believe the arrival of fall, which was today, only serves to mark the end of the only season worth a damn, we recognize that there are a ton of fall fans out there. And so this is for you. Those very same satellites have just spotted something around Lake Superior up in the northern look great lake region, the rust color of the changing leaves, leaves visible from space about to spread south along with the shorter days and colder temperatures, all of which I might add helps to underscore my point about summer and it's in arguable greatness.

That is our broadcast on a Tuesday the first night of autumn the year of 2020. Thank you so much for spending time with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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