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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 28, 2020

Guests: Neal Katyal, Mercedes Carnethon


New York Times reveals massive President Donald Trump debts and struggling business. Trump blasts damning NYT story as "fake news." Trump reveals rapid test plan six months into pandemic. Trump demanded that his Democratic rival Joe Biden take a drug test for their first debate. Trump says U.S. is rounding the corner on COVID-19 despite cases spiking in 26 states. White House officials pressured the CDC over the summer to downplay the risk of sending kids back to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. China is injecting thousands of its people with COVID-19 vaccine shots, which are still under trial and hence their efficacy unproven.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Zerlina Maxwell gets Tonight's Last word. Thank you once again, Zerlina always appreciate having you on.


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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,348 of the Trump administration, 36 days remain until the Presidential Election, 22 hours remain until the start of the first presidential debates in Cleveland, Ohio tomorrow evening.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are facing off in the wake of stunning and exhaustive reporting from the New York Times. The paper has investigated 20 years of Donald Trump's tax return data, which the paper says was obtained through legal and confidential means.

Notably, NBC News has not independently reviewed the documents that form the backbone of the investigation. The reporting not only offers an in depth view of Trump's aggressive management of tax strategies to get his payment as low as possible. It also suggests Trump may be outright cheating. It details crippling levels of debt and a family business that is largely failing.

The Times notes the potential for bankruptcy as well as fraud charges, while also noting that the President could be at risk for blackmail. "As the President wages a reelection campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he is personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him as a decade long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed and received, after declaring huge losses and adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million."

The Times also revealed Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years, largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

The report points out Trump has paid other kinds of federal taxes like Medicare and Social Security. On the matter of Trump's debts, the Times reporters write this. "Mr. Trump has reported losses at many of his signature properties, including $55.5 million at his Washington hotel since it opened in 2016. And $315.6 million at his prized golf prized golf resorts, forgive me, since 2000. He appears to have sold off most of his stocks and has relied heavily on debt. More than $300 million in loans he personally guaranteed will soon come due."

It's worth pointing out that most security experts have pointed out Trump's staggering level of debt would make him unable to secure any kind of government security clearance where he not the president.

The Times highlights that, "with financial challenges mounting Mr. Trump depends on businesses that can pose a conflict of interest. His properties have become bazaars for collecting money from foreign officials, and he earned millions in licensing fees from international projects in his first two years in office including $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India, $1 million from Turkey."

The Time says that expects to have more revelation in coming days and indeed just tonight, a follow up story dropped on Donald Trump's money making efforts in reality television and putting his name on products from laundry detergent to mattresses, to Cologne.

The paper reports in part, "the new influx of cash helped finance a buying spree that saw him snap up golf resorts of business not known for easy profits. Indeed, the tax records show that his golf properties have been hemorrhaging millions of dollars for years."

Last night, Trump offered a familiar response when asked about the initial Time story, posted just moments before he entered the briefing room.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: It's fake news. It's totally fake news, made up fake. We went through the same stories. You could have asked me the same questions four years ago. I had to litigate this and talk about it, totally fake news. No, actually, I paid tax but -- and you'll see that as soon as my tax returns. It's under audit. They've been underwater for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well.


WILLIAMS: Today at two different White House events, Trump chose to take no questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say anything on your tax returns, Mr. President? When are you going to release them?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


WILLIAMS: In just the last hour on this network vice presidential candidate, California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris noted the national security implications of Trump's reported debts.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people deserve to have a full accounting of the financial interest, including the indebtedness of the President of the United States. And I do share in that concern. Who does he owe the money to? Do you owe debt to any foreign nation? Do you owe anybody money? Who is impacted by any decision you make as President of the United States, the American people have a right to know that when the President of the United States acts, he acts with their priorities in mind not with his priorities in mind.


WILLIAMS: One former senior counterintelligence official warns the nation could still be at risk even if Trump does not win reelection.


FRANK FIGLIUZZI, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The counter intelligence concern will not go away. If this president doesn't get reelected, imagine what a president who needs cash, imagine what he could do to us with a foreign intelligence service talking about how our nuclear system works, talking about what launch codes look like, talking about how -- where a president goes, where that bunker is, all of the various things that a president is privy to.


WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi with Nicolle Wallace from this afternoon's broadcast, as mentioned, we're now less than 24 hours away from the first presidential debate. As Trump makes his way to Cleveland, his Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be making the rounds in the U.S. Senate. More than that -- more on that later in the broadcast, the global pandemic will be a major topic no doubt at the debates tonight and another sad milestone, the number of COVID-19 deaths across the globe past the 1 million mark.

Here in the United States more than 206,000 souls have been lost. And in terms of the death toll we lead the world. This afternoon Trump announced the government will distribute 150 million rapid point of care coronavirus test kits to states over the next few weeks, including schools, vulnerable communities like nursing homes. It'll be up to governors to use them. Trump suggested those tests might convince some governors to loosen their restrictions.


TRUMP: And lockdowns can be very harmful. And we have too many states that are locked down right now, the governors are nobody knows what the governors are doing, actually.


WILLIAMS: And yet another blockbuster report tonight The New York Times reports the White House pressured the CDC this summer to downplay the risk of sending children back to school.

Today NBC News reported, the Director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield is talking out loud about how worried he is that the President's being influenced by Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist by trade who Redfield says he's sharing incorrect information about the pandemic with Trump, and by extension, the American people. That comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci is yet again, sounding the alarm about the continued threat from this virus.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, we're not in a good place, there are states that are starting to show uptick in cases and even some increase in hospitalizations in some states. You don't want to be in a position like that as the weather starts getting cold so we really need to intensify the public health measures that we talk about all the time.


WILLIAMS: With that we bring in our leadoff guests tonight, three award winning journalists and authors Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for The New York Times. His brand new book is Donald Trump versus the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President. Andrea Bernstein, Peabody Award winning co-host of the podcast Trump Incorporated, a joint production of ProPublica and New York's NPR Station, WNYC. Her book, American Oligarchs, the Kushners, the Trumps, the Marriage of Money and Power comes out in paperback next week with a new afterword by the author. And Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief at the Washington Post with his co-author Carol Leonnig, the authors of the longtime bestseller, A Very Stable Genius.

Good evening and welcome back to the broadcast to all of you. Mike Schmidt, we'll begin with you because it's your paper out front with this story and it's a blockbuster. It deals with turf. I think a lot of Americans assumed the most exhaustive investigation of modern times would cover and uncover. Why didn't we learn this from Muller?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Muller investigation was focused on whether crimes were committed during the 2016 election. And as I lay out, in my book, they were -- the Muller team was basically looking almost singularly at that. They were not looking at the broader issues of the President's finances, of his long standing ties to Russia, or, as we see in this story, his ties to other countries, the president taking more in income from these foreign countries from deals that his companies have abroad than from his own government.

The Times reporting, showing what we knew about the president that he was, you know, business wise, he was presenting a fraudulent picture of who he was, but a president who is also in a very risky situation, as you're pointing out, he owes an enormous amount of money. And it looks like he could owe up to $80 million to his own IRS. And remember, he's the president. He controls the executive branch. He controls who runs the IRS.

Now, do the taxes answer all the questions that we have about why the President behaves the way that he does? No. But these stories get us closer. And they've gotten us closer than certainly the Muller investigation did, or the Senate investigations did, or anyone else.

WILLIAMS: Andrea, as no one needs to remind you because we're living in an all new territory for us Americans, a president who goes out of his way to defend dictators, select murderers around the globe, the American people, as has been pointed out, have an urgent right to know who he owes this kind of money to, given all you've covered and written about, does this New York Times reporting have the ability to surprise even you in some of the details?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, WNYC & PROPUBLICA, "TRUMP, INC." PODCAST: Well, I think what is surprising is the extent of his debt. We knew he had debt. We didn't know exactly the dollar amount that he had, $400 million coming due, we don't understand exactly to who and that gives him a very direct financial incentive to try to be the president of the United States when he has to pay it back. Because we've seen he's willing to manipulate all kinds of levers of power. And as Mike suggests, I mean, we see the way he's controlled his justice department and the way he's meddled in those decisions. Why wouldn't he do that with the IRS? I mean, there's no logical reason why he wouldn't.

And then we've also seen all of this money coming in from foreign countries with an interest in Trump. He has a direct financial interest in keeping his presidency going, because the only way he's making money right now is from people who want something from him, and he's made it quite clear that he will favor those people.

I think it's also worth adding that the Trump family empire was based on taxpayer support. It never would have gotten where it was, had the taxpayers not helped guarantee Fred Trump's original loans and housing. That's what made the Trump family, a millionaire, you know, a multi million dollar business. And it is alarming to see the extent to which Trump has continued to pay almost nothing in taxes compared to average Americans, when his family owe so much to the American taxpayer.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, let's fast forward 21 hours and change. We're in the middle of a pandemic. We have a death toll north of 200,000 aiming for a quarter million souls in this country. And now this reporting, the president as huckster in deep, heavy amounts of debt, not an ideal time to take the stage in the first presidential debate. How much of an acknowledgment of that is there in the Trump West Wing and campaign effort?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brian, it's obvious inside the White House that this is a troubling news environment for the President to open this debate where he was hoping to put Biden on the defensive and talk about Hunter Biden and all of the conspiracies that the President has been floating for months now.

Now, he's going to be confronted, not only with this tax reporting, but with the reality documented in breathtaking detail by the New York Times that, you know, Donald Trump, the great successful businessman, it's all a myth. It's a hoax. It's a fraud. That's an embarrassment for the president and something that he's going to have to grapple with on that debate stage. And explain to the millions of people watching at home including many of his supporters who voted for him because they thought he was such a business genius. Why it is that he is so far in debt, why it is that his businesses are hemorrhaging money, why it is that his golf courses are not making profits? All the while he's going to have to answer for the coronavirus numbers, which continue to tick upward, just today over a new milestone globally and of course, over 200,000 deaths in the United States.

And Biden is trying to frame this whole election as a referendum on the President's handling of the pandemic. And we've not really heard the President take sustained direct questioning about the pandemic, in the kind of format that we might see tomorrow night in the debate. And so that's going to be a real challenge for the President. And something that I know his team I've been trying to prepare him on. But the President that's, you know, it's not when to do much preparation. And it's not when to focus very deeply on the details, so we'll see if he's able to wing it.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Mike, Frank Figliuzzi has been of counsel to our coverage for some time. And for good reason, as they say he knows a thing or two because he's seen a thing or two as former head of counterintelligence at the FBI. Here is what he said about Trump's staggering debt when appearing was Nicolle Wallace this afternoon.


FIGLIUZZI: From a counterintelligence operator standpoint, if we saw a target with this kind of debt, this kind of possible fraud and tax avoidance at his country, we would be on him like crazy to recruit him and offer him whatever he needed to get out of his troubles.


WILLIAMS: So Mike, as we like to say that gets your attention expand on this notion new to a lot of us Americans, even those of us of a certain age of a president of the United States as a potential national security liability.

SCHMIDT: Well, look counterintelligence is all about leverage. And what is leverage? One big part of it is owing other people money. And obviously, as Frank was laying out there, this leaves the President incredibly exposed.

Now, there's nothing you can do if you're the intelligence community, in terms of taking the President's security clearance away. You could have done a counterintelligence investigation into the President's ties to, you know, foreign countries to realize if he was a threat, the Justice Department in the Muller investigation did not do that. They did not look at those narrow, very important questions.

But the other thing that I couldn't help thinking about when I heard Frank talking, is that it's not just the president that has, you know, this exposure, or there are these concerns about. As I lay out in my book, the John Kelly, and Don McGann these two officials at the top of the White House didn't think that Jared Kushner should have a top secret security clearance because of some very damaging information and his background. And we know that there were questions about his finances as well.

So the problem that you're laying out with the President is something that extends to Kushner, who's essentially the President's right hand man. So you have two people that are at the top of the government that are exposed in ways that we probably have never seen before, as a country.

WILLIAMS: Andrea, you touched on this in your last answer, let's presume barons in the clear, but how much of the other kids name Trump, how much liability are they potentially looking at?

BERNSTEIN: Well, in the Times story, Ivanka Trump came up because she was paid a consulting fee for a project in Azerbaijan when she was an executive of the Trump Organization, which is something that may run afoul of tax laws. But in any case, it's part of a Trump family pattern, where Trump's father Fred passed ways, passed money to his children, including Donald Trump in ways the New York Times called outright fraud. And now we see that pattern repeating with Donald Trump's own children.

I mean, I think one of the things that's so important to think about when we look at the broad picture of the New York Times is painting of a man who sort of blustered his way through business success, even when he was failing, exactly parallels what Phil was talking about with the coronavirus where he thinks he can talk about unproven drugs and he can give people false hope and somehow that that's going to defeat the virus.

Well, you may be able to fool people about their perceptions of him, but it's much more difficult to subdue the virus. And I think that's why we are finding ourselves in the situation we are right now where we lead the world in coronavirus deaths.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, you get the last word while the GOP is kind of getting a contact tie off the fumes of the very notion of a third Supreme Court appointment. What about those down ballot who now have to follow this guy into the future? I have it on pretty good authority, especially in the Senate, they like being the majority better than the minority?

RUCKER: They sure do, Brian, and they also like to have a chance to install another Supreme Court justice. And that's what they prefer to be talking about at the moment. But look, they are all in with President Trump, the Senate Republicans made that decision long ago. It's too late to turn tail at this point. And so what we're seeing is a lot of these embattled Republican senators, Martha McSally in Arizona, Joni Ernst, she had a debate tonight, in Iowa, they're trying to make their best arguments without distancing themselves from the President, but they're trying to talk about the things that they've done for their constituents back home.

You've heard a lot from Joni Ernst tonight about being a farmer fighting for farmers, clearly trying to establish some sort of independence from the President. But it's going to be very difficult at this late stage in the political cycle, because so many voters so clearly associate these Republican senators with the president, because for three and a half years, they've been standing by this president, they've been supporting him. They of course voted to acquit him in the impeachment trial earlier this year. And so there are now political consequences they're having to grapple with as they struggle for reelection.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, let's not forget we just showed live pictures of Capitol Hill where the flags remain at half staff until Ruth Bader Ginsburg is laid to rest.

Michael Schmidt, Andrea Bernstein, Philip Rucker, I can't thank you enough for starting us off, greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us, more on the push to quickly confirm the President's nominee to the Supreme Court, our next guest has argued dozens of cases before that very bench. He warns that millions of Americans have a lot at stake right about now.

And later, the stage is set for the first presidential debate tomorrow night and Ohio. We'll preview what to watch for. And yes, the answer includes just about anything, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Monday night.


WILLIAMS: Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett will begin meeting senators on Capitol Hill tomorrow wasting no time, the judge is scheduled to start with the two republicans she needs most to be seated on that court and that's McConnell and Graham.

Meanwhile, the future of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act is receiving renewed attention after Judge Barrett's nomination. On November 10, one week after the election, the full court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case that seeks to overturn the law. The Washington Post has new reporting on an essay that Judge Barrett wrote back in 2017, criticizing the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act. "Barrett argues that judges should respect the text of laws and contends that Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion the first time the Supreme Court upheld the health care law, push the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.

Well, back with us tonight, Neal Katyal, a veteran of the Justice Department, former acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration, he has argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Counselor, a dual part question set the stakes on this November 10 argument and a backup question. It would to a lot of people seem unforgivably cruel if a court ruling and the middle of a pandemic took away health care to millions of Americans, would they ever set a remedy if that, indeed is their judgment?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: The Trump administration has gone into the U.S. Supreme Court, Brian, to say no remedy, take away the Affordable Care Act as a whole the entire thing. And in particular, its pre-existing condition conditions insurance coverage, that's a big deal. 82 million Americans are impacted by the Affordable Care Act. Because under that Act, an insurance company can't charge any of those 82 million Americans more for their insurance or refuse to cover them at all.

Also, under the Act, the insurance companies can't charge women more than men, the Trump administration is voluntarily going in and said, nope, you got to strike the whole thing down because of a perceived technical flaw that they claim is in the act. You know, the normal job of the Trump justice or the normal job of the Justice Department is to defend a federal law to go into the Supreme Court and say this is an act of Congress defend it, what they've done is actually betray that duty and gone in and say the reverse. And now the cherry on top, President Trump is trying to rush his new Supreme Court nominee through so that she can sit in here the case on November 10 and Republicans are signaling guests. She's written this essay that is incredibly hostile to the Affordable Care Act.

And so President Trump, I think, hoped by this nomination to try and direct derail attention to the kind of focus on his, you know, terrible COVID response and focus on the Supreme Court. But in so doing, he's actually just put it back there and the attentions all back on the Supreme Court in these crazy Trump positions to try and take insurance coverage away for millions of Americans.

While I know there is the distinct possibility that you will someday say, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court facing a bench that includes potentially Justice Barrett, I asked the following if we take out the politics of the present debate, is she legal? Is she qualified on paper academically, for starters, to be a Justice of the Supreme Court?

KATYAL: Well, the one thing I'll say that I agree with President Trump on as he said at her announcement that she deserves a respectful and dignified hearing. And I think that's absolutely right. I just think the hearing has to be in January. I think you'll hear many Democrats acknowledge she's a very brilliant person. She's a very lovely person. The issue isn't those things. The issue is this particular seat and the way in which they are rushing to fill it. This is a like the last Supreme Court opening so when Justice Scalia died, and President Trump replaced him with Neil Gorsuch. That wasn't really a change in the ideology of the Supreme Court at all. One strong conservative or another when Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, again, not a real change in ideology, maybe a bit of a change to the right, but not something.

Sure you've got one of the most, you know, celebrated liberal lions on the Supreme Court to have ever served Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It's not even been 10 days, it's been about 10 days since she's passed away. And there were -- Trump is trying to jam a nominee threw in, you know, the handful of days before the election, who is you know, by Trump's own account, and by the Republicans on account, fundamentally different than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I mean, you know, some of the Republican senators like Josh Holly have said, I will even entertain the possibility of confirming someone who's not strongly opposed to Roe versus Wade, he's absolutely fine with this nominee. And that's because, you know, substantively, there's a dramatic difference.

And look, maybe there's a case to be made if the President had an electoral mandate to try and change the composition of the court in such a fundamental way. But that's a case to be made in January, if he can really truly win the election and hold the Senate.

But I think even he acknowledges he's afraid he can't do any of that. And that's why he's taking this unprecedented, really risky step, which tarnishes the court immensely and tarnishes Judge Barrett.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, our returning guest tonight. Counselor, thank you for always taking our questions. We appreciate it.

Coming up after our next break today's unusual statement from the Biden campaign directed at Donald Trump invoking bodily fluids and while you don't see that kind of thing every day, it is 2020 after all, and it is the eve of the first presidential debate under that banner, a preview with our guests when we come back.



TRUMP: I'm willing to take a drug test, I think he should too. And I said how did he go from there? Those horrible performances to where he was OK. And I always joke but you know, it is true. He was no Winston Churchill in debating, but he was fine. And people say he was on performance enhancing drugs.


WILLIAMS: Let's call it the shiny object challenge to the Biden campaign which has responded to the president with this and we quote, Vice President Biden intends to deliver his debate answers in words, if the President thinks his best case is made in urine he can have at it, we'd expect nothing less from Donald Trump who pissed away the chance to protect the lives of 200,000 Americans when he didn't make a plan to stop COVID-19.

Back with us again tonight, two of our veteran contributors Jason Johnson, veteran journalist contributor over at the (INAUDIBLE) a professor at Morgan State University and A.B. Stoddard, a veteran of political journalism, currently associate editor and columnist over at Real Clear Politics. Welcome to you both.

Jason, I'd like to begin with you. On top of 200,000 plus souls dead in the 48 hours before this first debate, newspaper stories drop saying of the President, his image and wealth, all that glitters is not gold, far from it. It's closer to 70 grand in hair coloring. What does the Biden campaign need to do to best capitalize on what they've been handed?

JASON JOHNSON, PROFESSOR, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I mean, there are so many different ways they can they can use this first off, Brian. Joe Biden, I went back you look at how he debated Paul Ryan, he did an excellent job of saying, look at this guy. This is this is the rich kid who comes back to the neighborhood from State College and makes fun of you. I'm a real American, and he's your daughter's brother in law.

If Joe Biden can take that same attitude towards Donald Trump, I'm the guy from screen. This is the rich guy who paid less in taxes in 2016. And you spend on your kids, you know, laptop, because you're trapped at home during COVID. He's going to be very successful.

Donald Trump is going to shoot himself in the foot when it comes to answering questions about taxes. And Joe Biden just needs to make sure that he stays focused, pointing out the President's corruption, pointing out his unethical behavior. And I think that'll probably be successful enough, at least for the first 20 minutes of the debate.

WILIAMS: A.B., the Biden campaign turned a an ad around quickly to start airing it. We'll play it as we talk a duel question to you. How does this kneecap any argument on any topic the President may bring into this debate? And the question you knew was coming? Does this change so much as a single vote among the base?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: I don't know. If the tax story or the debate is going to change a single vote we do there's high interest in the debate. I don't know that the interest is going to match the impact because so many voters are decided, think that Jason is right that Joe Biden needs to talk about what the tax rate means to voters. And that's what the ad that they caught last night and released is all about.

This level of unfairness, this level of dishonesty and gaming the system is not serving the voters who are struggling through this unprecedented time with these dueling crises, the pandemic, our lives, locked indoors, our kids not in school and people who are really facing economic devastation.

And I think that in recent events, whether in prepared speeches or in the town halls that you've seen Biden do even though they haven't been many, he's been very articulate on this bringing it back to the voters that making sure that they know it's about them, and not about him.

In debates, he tends to go down rabbit holes with too many statistics and becomes unfocused. He's going to have to watch that and make sure that he stays on his message. But the interesting thing about Trump and tomorrow night is that it is really a mirror to 2016 when he came with all those Clinton accusers because he was in a corner having just gone through the release of the Access Hollywood tape, and so there is a potential that the Biden campaign should prepare for of the President coming with a really of noxious sort of offensive tactic to surprise and, you know, really sort of feed his lust for theatrical. And that kind of effort to throw Joe Biden off his message is what the Trump campaign hopes and succeed.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Jason, that's a fair warning. And Jason, also Chris Wallace, the moderator, what's going to be the burden on him? We know, we can mount along with some of the President's answers tomorrow night, I acted early, I closed the border to China, I closed Europe. None of that is true. It doesn't stop him from saying it several times a day, or talking about what the death toll could have been had he not acted because of his challenges expressing empathy. So what are you to do if you're moderating this tomorrow night?

JOHNSON: Well, I hope and reports are that he probably won't. And Joe Biden won't. I hope that Chris Wallace is a fact checker. I hope that he holds the president accountable like he did with that sort of IQ quiz the last time he interviewed him.

But if Chris Wallace does not fact check the president, that will more or less be the job of Joe Biden. But again, you don't want to go down the rabbit hole. Everybody knows that Donald Trump is a pathological liar. Everybody knows that Donald Trump is going to try and get under Joe Biden's skin.

But here's the difference. Not just because Donald Trump is the incumbent, but because it's a Joe Biden, in 2016. Hillary Clinton was hamstrung by the fact that certain people didn't like her and that she was also a woman and sexism and preconceived notions about how she was supposed to behave, really limited her response.

If Donald Trump goes after Hunter Biden, Joe Biden could go straight back at him, Joe Biden can look angry on television and no one's going to say, Oh, my gosh, he shrill. Joe Biden can shed a tear on stage talking about 200,000 people who have died of COVID. And no one's going to say he looks weak.

He actually has a lot more range of emotion that he'll be able to use in response. And I think if Chris Wallace doesn't want to be the fact checker, at least he should be a fair referee and let both of the candidates be as expressive as they want to be as the debate gets more intense.

WILIAMS: A.B. I need 30 seconds of brilliance. What about republicans running down ballot a challenge that gets steeper every day? This is the guy they've tied the party to?

STODDARD: Yes, I remember Trump is not going to think about those Republicans tomorrow night. And I want to talk quickly about 2016 and Hillary, Jason's right. Biden has the ability to be the nice guy in this debate.

Senator Joe Biden and I spoke in 2000 the morning after Al Gore was incredibly obnoxious in a debate with then Governor George W. Bush, who ended up winning the night not because his answers were facile and able and interesting and smart, because he was the nice guy and Al Gore was obnoxious.

And so it will be interesting to see if Trump unloads and he's not facing unlikable Hillary he's facing Joe Biden. There is potentially a benefit redounds to Biden, even if his answers aren't Chris.

WILLIAMS: To Jason and A.B. are thanks for your analysis and pregame thoughts tonight. Coming up for us, Tony Fauci says we're not in a good place as we head into the fall with a pandemic in our midst. Governor of Florida says this is the perfect time to lift restrictions on gatherings. We will talk to a physician about all of it next.



TRUMP: I'll say it all the time we're rounding the corner. And very importantly, vaccines are coming but we're rounding the corner regardless.


WILLIAMS: For more tonight on what the President just said that our country is rounding the corner, we welcome back to the broadcast. Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, Vice Chair of Preventative Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

And doctor, another one of these stories where we are appalled but not surprised to learn of political pressure on the CDC. I'm going to quote from the New York Times tonight. As part of their behind the scenes effort, White House officials tried to circumvent the CDC and a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and pose little danger to children in order to get them back to schools.

One member of Mr. Pence's staff said she was repeatedly asked by Mark Short, the VPS chief of staff to get the CDC to produce more reports and charts showing a decline in coronavirus cases among young people.

Doctor, I need your reaction either as a physician or a mother of two young children or ideally both.

DR. MERCEDES CARNETHON, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Certainly, and thank you again, Brian and I appreciate the promotion to being a physician. I'm actually an epidemiologist. And --

WILLIAMS: Minor point around here.

CARNETHON: Minor point, I followed this situation very closely. And when I saw this report tonight I was alarmed. But I was extremely heartened to hear to read about the pushback that the CDC gave about inappropriate and interpretations of data.

At each turn, it appears that the White House was trying to provide some guidance about what to highlight and which statistics to present upfront, when that is not the way that science is done.

And what we really need rather than what we, you know, reassurances that things are OK, we need the truth and we need more data. It's critically important for us to return to educating children, but we need to do so in a safe manner in communities that have controlled the spread of the coronavirus.

So it was extremely alarming to read at every turn, how many ways in which the White House tried to influence the CDC, but I was extremely pleased to hear that the excellent scientists they're pushed back.

WILLIAMS: What are your fears for fall and winter?

CARNETHON: My fears for fall and winter are those shared by Dr. Fauci and medical experts everywhere that as we march into the winter, and that when colds and flu season come about that it's going to -- it's going to muddy the waters and make it even more difficult to determine what's going on with the coronavirus.

And as we have seen more schools go back because in some areas it is safe for children to return to school. My children are in school two days a week because we have a well controlled community spread here in Chicago.

However, I'm concerned about them and worried especially since what I'm seeing is the COVID fatigue that we warned about earlier in the summer, where individuals are letting down their guards, governors, mayors are prioritizing the economy and not allowing us to continue with the essential business of educating children.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, epidemiologist, a friend of this broadcast, thank you so much for staying up with us. Thanks for coming on. Coming up for us, after our final break. China is injecting thousands of citizens with an unproven vaccine. It begs the question we asked here often what could go wrong?


WILLIAMS: We have news on this pandemic tonight out of China where as the president is fond of pointing out the virus originated. Thousands of people are being injected in China with an unproven vaccine with unknown risks. Our reports tonight from NBC News foreign correspondent Janis Mackey Frayer in Beijing.


JANIS MACKEY FRAYER, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, thousands of people given unproven COVID-19 vaccines like medical staff, government workers, the military, after China's government granted emergency use to three Chinese vaccines and development is rushed to inoculate before risks are fully known is troubling to experts in the US.

But Sinovec one of the companies supplying doses to the government sees it as part of their research.

DR. WEIDONG YING (translator): I have 80 percent confidence that the vaccine can provide protection for everyone says the company's CEO.

FRAYER: China is pouring billions into COVID-19 vaccine development and has an ownership stake in most of the potential vaccines in late stage trials. Sinovec says it's corona vac should be ready for distribution by early next year.

(on camera): Production is ramping up to 300 million doses per year and everybody who works here has already taken it.

(voice-over): Such wide scale use outside of traditional drug trials has left U.S. experts wary.

FAUCI: Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing I think is problematic at best.

FRAYER: The FDA says it will move more cautiously. Despite pressure from President Trump to fast track.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR: You want to see a large phase three trial only then will you know whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

FRAYER: Emergency use here is also a test of how willing people are to take a vaccine after a recent scandal with faulty booster shots for children. The offer of a COVID-19 vaccine is now being expanded to teachers, border officials, market workers and some travelers.

Have you received the vaccine? Of course he says.

Chinese health officials have said little about how they track and monitor vaccine recipients for possible side effects, but with another wave of infection looming here. An unproven vaccine is a shot in the dark that many seem willing to take. Janis Mackey Frayer for NBC News, Beijing.


WILLIAMS: OK, so we have one more break. And coming up what we were told four years and two days ago that have we paid attention would have made today's news less of a surprise.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is this we have something to show you from four years and two days ago the night when Hillary Clinton tried to warn the American people that Donald Trump wasn't paying his taxes the night when Donald Trump told us out loud that not paying his taxes was would mean he was smart.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.


WILLIAMS: That was from the campus of Hofstra University on Long Island, New York, September 26 of 2016. Trump went on in those debates to call Hillary Clinton a nasty woman said she should be in jail among other things. We can now safely say that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are very specific triggers for Trump. He mentions them both at his rallies to this day, as if he is somehow running against them.

Joe Biden offers Trump a different sort of challenge, especially during a pandemic, especially now that we know that the incumbent president believes evading federal income tax makes you smart. That is a topic that just might come up tomorrow evening.

Indeed tomorrow night we're on the air the moment the debate ends, we'll review the 90-minute debate with our reporter and analysts earlier in the evening, Hillary Clinton joins Rachel Nicolle and Joy in the 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time hour.

Then from Cleveland, Ohio, the 90-minute debate at nine live coverage and we'll see you at 1030. Eastern Time when it's all over but the shouting but per usual, no shouting here. That's our broadcast for this back to work Monday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. My thanks to Ali Velshi and Katy Tur for filling in and allowing me a few days away. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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