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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 9, 2020

Guests: Michael Osterholm, David Rohde, Berit Berger


The White House has denied that U.S. President Donald Trump intentionally misled Americans about the coronavirus after Trump was heard on recordings of interviews with journalist Bob Woodward for a new book acknowledging he downplayed the deadly COVID-19 threat to avoid creating panic. Trump talks of concealing threat of coronavirus. A.G. Bill Barr defends protecting Trump in civil case.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: I'm sorry we're having this discussion because your father died.


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 1,329 of the Trump administration, 55 days to go until the Presidential Election.

And this was the day we learned the President knew he knew how dangerous and how deadly the coronavirus was, and he told the public something else. While people died while our country forfeited the critical month of February, the President misled the American people. He cut the public out of the institution of public health. And we know this because we can hear him say it. It didn't stop his press secretary from denying it today, but we can hear the President on tape saying the words.

It's all from an explosive new book by Bob Woodward called Rage and the tape recordings are from 18 conversations Woodward had with Trump.

Phil Rucker and Robert Costa of The Washington Post, both standing by to join us in a moment have reviewed a copy of the book. It says that on January 28, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien issued a serious warning to the President about the virus, saying, "This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency. This is going to be the toughest thing you face." That was January 28. 10 days later after talking to Chinese President Xi Jinping Trump called Bob Woodward and said this about the virus.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air. That's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your, even your strenuous flus. You know, people don't realize we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?


TRUMP: Pretty amazing. And then I say, well, the same thing --

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for --

TRUMP: This is more deadly. This is five per, you know, this is 5% versus 1% and less than 1%, you know, so this is deadly stuff.


WILLIAMS: And then over a month later on March 19, remember this is after we lost the month of February to inaction and just as the coronavirus started spreading rapidly in our country, the President had another conversation with Bob Woodward.


TRUMP: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, but just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older --

WOODWARD: Yeah, exactly.

TRUMP: -- young people. It's plenty of young people. It's plenty of young people. We're looking at what's going on.

WOODWARD: So, give me a moment of talking to somebody, going through this with Fauci or somebody who kind of, it caused a pivot in your mind? Because it's clear just from what's in on the public record, that you went through a pivot on this to, "oh my God, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable."

TRUMP: Well, I think Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD: Sure, I want you to be.

TRUMP: I wanted to, I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down.


TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.


WILLIAMS: Even though he knows he is talking on the record to a celebrated reporter for a book, hearing the private Trump talk that way is all the more bracing when you remember the death toll of over 190,000 gone. And when you look back on how hard this president tried to publicly diminished the threat of this virus.


TRUMP: The virus. They're working hard. Looks like by April, you know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that's true. So we're very good shape.

We have it very much under control in this country. Very well under control in our country, the people are getting better. They're all getting better.

Because of all we've done the risk to the American people remains very low. When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero we're finding very little problem, very little problem. Now, you treat this like a flu. I mean, view this the same as the flu.

It's going to disappear, one day it's like a miracle it will disappear. A lot of people are getting better, very much better. We are working on cures and we're getting some very good results.

The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. This is that new hoax. If you're healthy, you will probably go through a process and you'll be fine.

Some of them go to work, but they get better and go away. We're doing very well and we've done a fantastic job. It will go away just stay calm.


WILLIAMS: So after we heard the President say it on tape during today's White House press briefing Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about the President downplaying the virus.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President ever downplayed the virus once again, the President expressed calm. The President was serious about this when Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment. He was expressing calm and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously he took COVID.


WILLIAMS: Not long after the briefing, the President himself was asked by a reporter if he initially downplayed the virus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you mislead the public by saying that you downplayed the coronavirus and that you repeatedly did that in order to reduce panic? Did you mislead the public?

TRUMP: Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that's so. In fact, is I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic, as you say.


WILLIAMS: The President went on to call Bob Woodward's book a political hit job. Today, over 32,000 new cases of the virus were reported in our country. Overall, there have been over 6.3 million infections that we're aware of. The death toll has now passed north of 191,000. We lost another 1100 souls just today.

During a campaign stop in Michigan today, Joe Biden attack Trump over the new revelations from the book.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He knew how deadly it was, it was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat posed to the country for months. He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.


WILLIAMS: This new book from Woodward covers a number of other topics from race relations in our country to the President's ardent and warm feelings about Kim Jong-un of North Korea, to the U.S. military. At one point, the President who would not share with us what he knew about the virus shares with Bob Woodward the word of a secret new weapon system.


TRUMP: But I have built a nuclear -- a weapon, I have built a weapon system, weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There's nobody -- what we have is incredible.


WILLIAMS: Washington Post puts it this way, "Woodward writes that anonymous people later confirmed that the U.S. military had a secret new weapon system, but they would not provide details and that the sources were surprised Trump had disclosed it."

This has Politico's reporting tonight the White House aides spent months fretting over the President opening up to Bob Woodward, Nancy Cook and Alex Thomson report together that the President's meetings and phone calls with Woodward, "Trump bulldozed through them all, believing he could charm the man who helped take down a president and chronicled half a dozen administrations over the past half century."

It's a lot, we're happy to have our leadoff guests here with us to discuss every bit of it. Two have the best from the Washington Post, Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for the Post, also co-author along with his stable colleague Carol Leonnig of the bestseller, A Very Stable Genius. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the Post. He's also moderator of Washington Week on PBS and out numbers but to keep it fair, Mara Gay is here representing the New York Times the paper up the road. She's a member of the Times Editorial Board, former New York City Hall Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, also happens to be a COVID-19 survivor.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Phil, I'm going to lead off with you by playing for you. And our audience what Trump said to Sean Hannity tonight about Bob Woodward, as you listen to this, please remember, they had 18 conversations during the reporting for this book.


TRUMP: And he does hit jobs on everybody. He even did it on Obama. But the constant hit jobs on Bush I guess they did three books. They were all terrible. So I figured, you know, let's just give it a little shot. I'll speak to him, wasn't a big deal. I speak to him. And let's see, I don't know if the book is good or bad. I have no idea probably almost definitely well read it because I don't have time to read it. But I gave it a little bit of a shot sounds like it's not going to be good.


WILLIAMS: So Phil, in normal times in a normal White House during press interviews, there's either an aide, present, taking notes, listening on a dead key or making a recording for the White House side. A lot of these phone calls with Bob were late at night from the residence. So now the White House staff and tell me if your reporting bears this out, has that strange feeling. This book is still a week away of not quite knowing the quotes that are coming.

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: That's exactly right, Brian, it's extraordinary. The process behind Woodward's interviews of the President, the first interview he had, was in the Oval Office in a more typical fashion with the press secretary in the room with other aides listening with the White House recording the conversation so that the administration would have a written record of what was discussed and what the President said that the relationship developed from there. And it led to a series of late night phone calls from the President to Woodward, where he would just call to rattle on and weigh in on the news of the day to answer Woodward's questions, oftentimes without anybody listening on the other end, and with the press aides, totally unaware.

And so what you have right now is the White House scrambling to come up with a way to respond to this, less than two months away from the presidential election, of course, and these are explosive allegation and revelations about the President's conduct, and commentary about the coronavirus that could impact this election in the White House does not have the information to respond quickly and to put together a response. And just to correct what the President said on Sean Hannity show there. He didn't just give this a shot. He did 18 interviews with Bob Woodward and reading the book as Bob Costa and I have time and again, the President is almost pleading with Woodward to write a positive book. It says if the President saw this as a bit of a game, can he spend enough time talking to Woodward that he can convince Woodward to write a flattering portrait of this presidency. He would bring up, you know, you did a bad book on George W. Bush, but I'm going to get a good book out of you.

And it was something that Trump came to time and again, so this was very much a concerted pursuit that Trump had over six or seven months to try to win Woodward over.

WILLIAMS: So Mr. Costa, another quote from the book, Trump went there again on the military sore subject in the past five to seven business days. Here's this quote, is just the President speaking, not to mention my fucking generals, who are a bunch of -- and he uses a word from the world of felines. They came more about their -- they care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals. Trump told White House trade advisor Peter Navarro at one point according to Woodward.

Robert, don't tell me let me guess a deafening silence among Republicans.

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: We've heard a deafening silence among Republicans today on Capitol Hill, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters that he has not yet read the book. But this book is not going away. First and foremost, because it includes audio tapes and you see the Biden campaign tonight is already cutting an ad, put in the audio tapes from the Woodward interviews into this political season. And so it's a book that has reporting at its core, but it also has political import, in the sense of the moment it arrives.

And just to build quickly on Phil's point, you really see throughout this book, President Trump tried to navigate his own public relations, much like he did in the 1970s and '80s and '90s from Trump Tower often going around his own aides in the Trump Organization, believing he can win over Bob Woodward.

And I was with him in 2016 when we sat down with Woodward for an extended interview, and you see in Woodward and Trump in the book, and in upclose, when you observe them together. Two men have about the same age in their 70s, the same generation, and he feels like Woodward can -- he can build a rapport with Woodward, on that level. But there's this disconnect in many of the Woodward interviews in the book, where the President just doesn't really want to engage on the questions. Woodward is asking on race in particular and other matters.

WILLIAMS: So Mara, these two guys have to work at the Post where Woodward still comes in presumably for as male, you are not so encumbered. So this question is going to go to you also as a COVID survivor. Woodward came under broad attack on social media today, for sitting on this information for 10 months? Do you agree with that line of attack? And would have been helpful to you to know contemporaneously the degree to which the President knew and yet diminished the dangers from coronavirus?

MARA GAY, THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yeah. I mean, I want to be clear that I think that the burden of responsibility and blame here falls largely with the Trump administration and talk from White House. He's the president United States, I think we need to ask ourselves as Americans who knew what and why, which administration officials knew, how soon did they know, surely the scale of betrayal is almost beyond political analysis.

And as I listened to the tapes and read the previews of the book, I couldn't help but remember Donald Trump's words himself when he said, what you have to lose. He said to black Americans before he was elected in 2016. And as we know, it's a whole lot, not just for black Americans, but for the family members of almost 200,000 people who've lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of more, including myself, who continue to fight to recover every day.

You know, I think, as a journalist, I try always and be collegial and I was not in Mr. Woodward's shoes. I would like to think that I would not fit on information like that, because I see my chief responsibility, pretty much above all, as being responsible to the public good. We always have competing interests, but that's where my heart is. I try and reserve judgment.

I just think there's going to be a lot of people out there who are going to say that Donald Trump has always lived it's doesn't matter. And I think we all really want to be very careful because we don't want to feed into that kind of nihilism. And this information would have mattered to me personally. It would have changed the way I behaved. And I was careful as is. If I had known it was airborne, I wouldn't have been traveling across the country on the campaign trail. And people I know would have potentially not been killed or still be suffering. And I just think this is no longer a story simply about a rogue president, or Donald Trump. And this is a story about those who enabled him. And this is a story about how Americans responded and every single American has responsibility to vote where their heart is. That's all I can say.

WILLIAMS: Understood and thank you for that answer. And how well thought out it was. Phil Rucker it is -- it's hard to refute when you can hear the President say things in a recording, in what is obviously his voice at today's Baghdad Bob briefing at the White House, Kayleigh McEnany took a swing at -- took an attempt at telling us we didn't hear what we hear him say but it doesn't work. And in fact, Carl Bernstein tonight on CNN, I'll paraphrase said, these are the most consequential presidential recordings ever, of course, due to the loss of life resulting from this virus. It does make Richard Nixon saying a million dollars we can get that seem almost quaint. And this, it seems, is going to hang around a good long while to Bob's point.

RUCKER: I think it will, Brian, and the key is that these are the President's own words. We are hearing them ourselves. We all can listen to those tapes. The American people know what this President sounds like. And they know exactly what he's saying because he doesn't mince words, in nose recordings with Woodward. He makes very clear that he intentionally sought to deceive and mislead the American people to lie, to the American people about the severity of the threat of the coronavirus.

And, you know, the Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany's denial at the podium today was simply not true. And she was confronted by Jeff Bennett at MSNBC about that. He said this is on tape. But she continued to deny that the President had ever tried to downplay the virus, which we know to be untrue.

WILLIAMS: Robert, indeed, the President who has shown no willingness to take on the stewardship portion of the job of President as you and I have discussed over these three and a half years now, today said as his defense and I guess he's going to go deep on this. He doesn't want to cause panic, we should add, unless you're living in the suburbs, and these marauding gangs are coming for you.

COSTA: Brian is not for a reporter to question someone's intent. He says that's his intent to not cause panic. But what we can coldly evaluate are the decisions and the choices he makes as President of the United States. And it is clear based on Bob Woodward's reporting, that in late January, he was told this is the greatest threat you have ever seen in your presidency by his top national security officials. He's continuing to be briefed by health advisors, confidentially privately behind the scenes, that this virus is deadly, and it is airborne and he decides, he decides on February 7, to confide to Bob Woodward about this as he continues to tell the American people a different version of events about how this pandemic could unfold and much of the country did not shut down until March.

So his intent may have been in his own eyes to not cause panic. I can't read his mind. But we do know what he did and what he said. And for voters, and for any American, that's just something to evaluate.

WILLIAMS: Having just marked the anniversary of Richard Nixon's departure from the White House of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, the first and earliest glory days of The Washington Post. I know Mara will forgive me for showing the audience the front page of tomorrow's Washington Post paper edition because it is a bracing headline because of what we've all been through what we continue to go through every day. I wanted to always play it down, he said to Bob Woodward.

Mara, I'm going to play another chunk of the Woodward Trump interview. This is on race and self awareness. We'll discuss on the other side.


WOODWARD: Do you have any sense that that privilege is isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent is it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain, particularly black people feel in this country. Do you --

TRUMP: No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don't feel that at all.


WILLIAMS: Mara, your reaction?

GAY: Oh, well, you know, it's a president without empathy, without shame. I you know, I think what feels so sleazy about these tapes to me is, of course, we know that Mr. Woodward does not share Mr. Trump's feeling, I think toward black Americans or lack thereof. But just the ease with which the President feels comfortable communicating his clear disdain or at least disregard for large numbers of Americans is in and of itself, extremely telling. I mean, listen to the President in his own words, I think it speaks for it, for himself and black Americans already knew who exactly who he was, so nothing new there.

WILLIAMS: With that our thanks to three long term friends of this broadcast, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Mara Gay, greatly appreciate you joining us on this newsy evening.

Coming up, chances are you don't need another explosive book to make up your mind about the man in the White House. When we come back, Tom Friedman tells us what he thinks will actually decide the race in November.

And later, do over for one of the President's pending legal cases why the Attorney General of the United States tells our own justice correspondent nothing to see here. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this busy Wednesday night.



SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA: These got your books don't really interest me that much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's on the record. He's on the record.

KENNEDY: These got you books don't really interest me that much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's recorded. You hear his voice. You're contrasting that with what he says to the public. Wouldn't that be something of interest to you as a United States senator?

KENNEDY: Well, let me let me answer you again. These got you books don't really interest me.


WILLIAMS: That was Republican Senator John, no relation, Kennedy of Louisiana, not surprisingly, saying he's not interested in Trump's taped comments. But what about those who've lost a loved one or their livelihood to the coronavirus?

In his latest column, Tom Friedman writes, "The media feed Trump's supporters a daily diet of how outrageous this or that Trump action is, but none of it diminishes their support because many Trump supporters are not attracted to his policies. They're attracted to his attitude, his willing and evident delight in skewering the people they hate and who they feel looked down on them."

Back with us tonight is Tom Friedman, three time Pulitzer Prize recipient, op-ed columnist at the New York Times. It's great to have you great to see you again. Tell our audience, tell all the good folks watching, why, in your view, humiliation is the most underestimated force in American politics today.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST: Well, Brian, it goes back to a broader, you know, thought I've had since I've been a journalist now since 1978 because I look back on the stories I've covered and the people I've covered. I really spend a lot of my career covering people acting out on their humiliation and questing for dignity, whether it was Vladimir Putin after the fall of the Soviet Union. China after a century of humiliation, Palestinians and Israeli checkpoints, and it's always, for me been pretty clear that since the beginning of the Trump administration, the whole Trump campaign his followers basically, really weren't caring that much about Trump

What they were focused on, they actually hate the people who hate Trump much more than they care about Trump. And these were people they identify as sort of the liberal elites, as it were. And it explains partly why the working class so many white working class voters who were Democratic voters, have found their way into his camp.

And I was really drawing on the work of my friend Michael Sandel, who teaches at Harvard. He's written a book just out now called The Tyranny of Merit. And Michael is basically argued that because we've created this meritocracy in this country around college diplomas, they are really the avenue and the imprimatur for social esteem and dignity. If you don't have a college diploma, you work with your hands. That somehow diminishes you in the eyes of the public.

And Michael's arguing that a lot of those people who feel diminish basically, have found their way into Trump's camp and see Trump as the stick. They poke in the eye of these elites who they perceive look down at them.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk about how awful it felt in real time. Just an example, Hillary Clinton goes to coal country points to the coal mine says we're going to shut this down. But we're going to give you all green jobs. A, no one in that crowd thought they would ever see a green job, B, that's a terrible way to talk to people about their livelihood and generations of family tradition.

What about the modern Democrats do you see? How are they making mistakes? Whether it's the vocabulary, bullying, whether it's defund the police, the relentless purity testing, what mistakes do you see them making in real time to your point?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think if you mean reform the police which is what I think most people mean, certainly what I mean believe is necessary. I'm using the phrase defend the police's is something that is really going to I think, blow up in your face and work against you. So I don't think that's been helpful.

At the same time, I think Joe Biden's done actually an excellent job of connecting with people and connecting with working class voters. And what Michael and I were arguing is that we were urging that he go actually maybe spend, you know, several days in the countryside, meeting with Trump voters, sitting, listening to them. I'm a big believer that listening is a sign of respect. It's amazing what you say when you listen. And it's amazing what people will actually allow you to say to them after they feel you've listened and respect to them.

I don't think this is going to eat deep into have no illusions into Trump's base. But you know what the margins, Brian, could really make a difference. Maybe some people will just stay home, maybe people will give Biden a second look or a better hearing.

So, what can it hurt, clearly, you have this massive block of white working class voters who have left the Democratic Party. Look for some I've no doubt it's about race. Others it could be about taxes. It could be religion and evangelicals. It could be all kinds of things.

But in this election, every vote is going to count. And I think addressing this issue of dignity of work, and people who work with their hands, and don't have college degrees, connecting with them, and people listen, you know, they listen to their stomachs, they don't listen to their ears, connecting with them at the gut level could be really helpful.

WILLIAMS: Well, from your humble host, who lacks a college degree, I can't thank you enough for that. Tom Friedman. It's always a great pleasure to have you on our broadcast come by anytime. Thank you very much for staying up with us tonight.

Coming up for us, the President insists he's a cheerleader for our country. But how many lives might have been saved if he hadn't lied to the American public about the severity of a deadly virus? That point that story when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 190,000 Americans are dead. Our economy crushed, our kids not safe in school. And Trump knew it all along.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.


WILLIAMS: That's the campaign spot that Bob Costa just mentioned minutes ago. The Biden campaign is already using the President's own recorded words against him. And, of course, despite the White House denials that the President said that the question remains, how many lives could have been saved had the president not deliberately misled the American people.

Back with us tonight, Michael Osterholm, Professor and the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy up at the University of Minnesota. He's also co author of the recent book, "Deadliest Enemy, our War Against Killer Germs."

Michael, given your life's work, your reaction to hearing the president admit that he played down the danger and lethality of this virus.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Obviously, it's very difficult to hear. And it's also reminder that we really haven't had a plan to respond to this pandemic in this country from the very beginning. And as much as we're concentrating tonight on those early days and suggesting that that was a time when we could have made a big difference.

In fact, if we recall, most countries around the world had a real challenge with this virus in late March and early April. Those other countries, however, did shut it down after that, and we never did. So I think that the challenge for us tonight is understanding why have we not yet had a plan, even not just the first days, but the middle days in the last days, why haven't we had a plan?

WILLIAMS: So these comments happened as I keep pointing out during the month of February, which we just lost to paralysis and inactivity. Countless number of lives could have been saved. Had it been different, but it wasn't. What do we learn from this people contemporaneously? We're guessing the president knew better than what he was saying in his comments. Who do we believe now however?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I think first of all, let's just go back to February. You know, as you know, from my comments on this show before we put a statement out on January 20, saying that this was going to be a worldwide pandemic, we need to get ready. A lot of people missed the early signals, including the administration.

But then what happened by early March the most of the people in the public health community, and many of the medical community in this country did understand and tried to get us prepared. That's where the challenge, I think, really set in is that I think, you know, when the borders got closed in the United States, in terms of incoming individuals from China, I was one of those who said, I'm not sure why you need to do that. And I said that not because I didn't think that it was important that people not be allowed in, but it was already too late. They were already here in close the borders and February 1, I'm not sure that this would have played out in a different any differently than it did.

But what I keep coming back to is we still don't have a plan. And we need to focus on that because tonight I care about what happens over the next six months. And you know, as much as I can go back and yell at the moon, about the fact that we didn't have a plan back then why do we not have a plan now? And I think that's the challenge.

Brian, I don't want to sit here six months from now and talk about why did we have six more months of this kind of transmission in this country? Because we didn't have a plan.

WILLIAMS: I think part of the answer to your questions sociality is that everyone's putting their hopes and dreams on a vaccine. Indeed, I saw a newsletter tonight. Here's the headline. Goldman Sachs says there could be a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the end of October. So that's what people are hanging their hats on to a large extent. This goes on to say, Goldman Sachs says Pfizer's candidate vaccine could be approved as early as October. This is a newsletter for Investors.

What's your reaction when you hear that kind of thing?

OSTERHOLM: You know, it's pixie dust, it's pixie dust. And what I mean by that is, is that Goldman Sachs reports like that are pretty meaningless because in fact even if we add a vaccine in November, there -- we have so few doses in this country, if we get 10 million doses a month, at first, that's all we're going to get. Remember, it's going to take two doses of vaccine per person. You can do the math on how many months we have to go before we actually even begin to vaccinate the majority of the United States. That's a year from now we're talking about.

And so yes, that's true. We may have a vaccine yet this fall or more than one vaccine, but it's going to take a substantial time to vaccinate the people. And so I care about what happens during those six months why we're trying to roll a vaccine out and still having people getting very sick. What's our plan for that?

So I think that that's the challenge that I raised with the media, I raised with my public health colleagues, what's our plan beyond just the vaccine. Right now, that's just an easy answer. And it's not going to be the answer that's going to save as many lives as I think as people believe it to do.

WILLIAMS: Well to our viewers, when you see this man on our show, it means we're going to talk about deadly serious business. Such has been the role of Michael Osterholm on this broadcast, and we greatly appreciate it every time you join us. Thank you so much.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Good to see you again.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you, Brian. Thanks.

WILLIAMS: And coming up, the legal questions. The legal questions raised when federal officials rework reality to fit the President's demands, when we continue.



WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is done frequently. It's been done for presidents. It's been done for congressman an elected official, who is questioned by the press in about his personal affairs and responds in a way that is art that he's done -- he's been sued for defamation, is treated as that having occurred in the course of his employment and that then becomes a sued not against the individual, but against the United States.


WILLIAMS: You heard the man nothing to see here. The Attorney General attempting to paint a DOJ decision to intervene in a civil case against the president, perfectly normal. And what the New York Times is calling a highly unusual legal move.

The DOJ is now representing Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit. The suit was filed by the New York author E. Jean Carroll who accused Trump of rape in the 90s. She says he defamed her in the course of his denial. This isn't the first time Barr has been accused of undermining the integrity of the Justice Department to benefit the president or acting as if he is the personal lawyer to the President.

For more we're delighted to welcome to the broadcast David Rohde. He's a Pulitzer Prize recipient who, importantly as a war reporter in '08, held captive by the Taliban for seven months prior to his escape. He's currently among the editors at the New Yorker and the author of, "In Deep: The FBI, The CIA, And The Truth About America's Deep State."

Also back with us again tonight, Berit Berger, former assistant US attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. Great to see you both.

David by way of welcoming on the you on the broadcast. A question I asked of a lot of guests around here. Barr may call this legitimate, but how far from normal are we now?

DAVID ROHDE, THE NEW YORKER EXECUTIVE EDITOR: With all due respect to the attorney general, this is just unprecedented. This is about Donald Trump's conduct 25 years before he became the president of the United States. It's about his conduct in a Bergdorf Goodman department store where E. Jean Carroll says he sexually assaulted her.

This has nothing to do with his presidency. This is yet again are using the Justice Department to protect the president and strengthen the presidency. This is Barr sort of obsession and I it's just unprecedented in my view,

WILLIAMS: Berit, what what's the legal benefit to the sitting President of the United States?

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, I think there's a few benefits to the president by having the US government substituted as the defendant in this case. First is a delay by making this move to federal court whether or not he ultimately prevails on the merits of this move. He certainly slowed down the process, possibly even until after the election.

This keeps him out of the realm of discovery, which could include depositions giving DNA samples, things that the sitting president probably is not keen to do. The other obvious benefit to the president is financial. If the president is having government lawyers represent him, he's not the one putting the defense bill. That's the taxpayers. So there's a few very concrete benefits to the president by making a move like this.

WILLIAMS: David question to you as a guy who's written thousands of words about hundreds have people, do you think Barr is seemingly OK with his legacy being formed now for his family members and for all of history as being so highly obedient as Attorney General to the sitting President of the United States?

ROHDE: I think he is. And you see this throughout his career. He believes the presidency should be stronger than the other two branches of government. This is a frightening and extreme legal theory, it throws out three co-equal branches that I think are a foundation of our democracy. But he thinks a strong president is needed to hold the country together, and to effectively government. He's created that with Donald Trump.

If Donald Trump gets a second term, you'll have a president with powers that, you know, legal scholars have told me rivals the power of a king. And again, this is just extraordinary, you know, moments and unprecedented actions by an American attorney general.

WILLIAMS: I also want to raise this with the two of you. This whistleblower complaint came out late today it was made public today. It accuses Trump administration officials of trying to manipulate our U.S. intelligence to better fit with the President's version of the truth.

According to this report, this is the acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf is said to have instructed a top DHS analyst to quote cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.

According to the report, the employee was also asked to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by the President on the subject of ANTIFA and anarchist groups.

Berit, let's start on the law, if a whistleblower in a case like this with all else we are covering, with all else we are distracted by if a whistleblower proves to be right, who pays? And who do we see about that?

BERGER: I mean, the allegations raised in this complaint are just shocking. I mean, we thought we had seen, you know, the most egregious allegations we could see in a whistleblower complaint. And now we have this one.

I mean, what's so damning about these allegations, is it really threatens our fundamental security. We have to have accurate threat assessments so that the government can know how to allocate resources so that we can know the areas where we have particular vulnerabilities.

When if you think about it, if you had somebody come to do an assessment of your home to see where you needed an alarm system, if that person didn't give you an honest assessment of the weaknesses in your home and only told you what you wanted to hear, you'd be compromising your own personal safety. The American people are compromised if these allegations are in fact, true.

WILLIAMS: David, I'm reminded of the book 1984 begins with the clock striking 13:00. There's a through line here and that is ignoring reality for a subset of reality. A lot of people say they may think we're stupid, they may think will believe what we know to be false.

But a question to you when is something like the pandemic the President's words versus actions? When is that going to be seen as a national security matter given that that's so much of your life's work?

ROHDE: It might be now with this new recordings but it's this is a pattern we've seen before in American history. It's intelligence officials, telling the president what the President wants to hear. And if you look back our biggest intelligence debacle that cost American lives, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, that 2003 invasion of Iraq, all involved, you know, intelligence assessments that told the president what they wanted to hear. I completely agree this is dangerous for the American public. But this is just can't get more serious it can cost lives. And this pattern is very, very dangerous for the country.

WILLIAMS: Berit Berger, it's great to see you again after so many hours of legal coverage. You and I engaged in. David Rohde, it is great to have you on our broadcast. Thank you both for staying up with us on this news late in Wednesday night.

Another break for us. And coming up, another of our periodic reminders that elections have consequences.



TRUMP: By the end of my first term, we will have confirmed a record number of federal judges over 300.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, being that we are weeks away from the presidential election. And in light of all the news we have covered and discussed here, just tonight. We bring on another installment in our occasional series of reminders that elections have consequences.

There's a reason the president appeared on this very damaging day to read aloud a list of potential Supreme Court nominees. That was to remind the Republican base that elections have consequences and what they really want conservative judges can only happen as he tells it under Donald Trump.

And while the Republican Senate has been all but a rubber stamp for the President's federal judicial nominees, starting with Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, the President may have outdone even himself with a controversial recent nomination, and that would be Kathryn Mizelle, who is all of 33 years of age.

She's been nominated for an appointment as a United States District Court federal judge. That's an appointment to the federal bench for life. Kat as she is known to her friends just graduated from law school in 2012.

Two of her biggest resume entries in terms of GOP street cred are these. She was a clerk for Clarence Thomas, and she works at Jones Day that would be Done McGahn's DC law firm. She also worked in the Department of Justice.

It's not great for Ms. Mizelle that the ABA, the American Bar Association, rates her as not qualified for federal trial court because she's only eight years out of law school. They've only rated 10 of Trumps nominees as not qualified. Though the last nominee they said that about was gaveled through by McConnell. He's already on the federal bench, all of it because elections have consequences.

That is our broadcast on this Wednesday night. And as always, thank you for spending some of your time with us. On behalf of all of my colleagues up the network's up NBC News, good night.



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