Day two of the murder trial for the officer accused of killing George Floyd wraps up. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries discusses Republican voter suppression efforts. Republican Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is under investigation by the Justice Department over claims of a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. Dr. Larry Brilliant discusses how to beat COVID.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much.
Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.
We begin as well with breaking news.
This is day two in the murder trial for the officer who killed George Floyd. And it just wrapped up. If you have been watching MSNBC, you saw it. They just finished a lengthy day.
The story was witness after witness today taking the stand and at times delivering emotional testimony under oath, including the person who shot the now infamous video capturing that killing on tape for the world to see.
Some of the witnesses, we should note, were minors. Those witnesses do not appear on camera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD WILLIAMS, WITNESS: I believed I witnessed a murder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sad and kind of mad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looked like he was shoving his knee in his neck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like there wasn`t really anything I could do as a bystander. The highest power was there. And I felt like I was failing him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It was emotional. This is what happens in trials. The people who were witnesses or otherwise involved, in a sense, relive things for the jury.
What makes testimony probative and often powerful is that it be, of course, true or as close to the truth as possible, and often that it be human, that the jury can relate to it.
Now, this jury will decide Officer Chauvin`s fate, heard all of that and more. We just showed you, of course, just some brief points. And they were, according to reports, listening quite attentively. Some described them as seeming sympathetic to these witnesses. Of course, it`s a trial. Day after day, they will hear from more than one perspective.
The defense attorney even declined the question two of the younger witnesses, what appeared to be a strategic choice. Chauvin appeared at times relatively unfazed. He took notes and sat through these proceedings.
Now, the teenager who took that now infamous video, Darnella, testifying today, describing what she saw while she filmed.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard George Floyd saying: "I can`t breathe. Please. Get off of me. I can`t breathe."
He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew. It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: "He seemed like he knew it was over for him."
Unlike most trials, unlike most issues of justice in America, there is some common evidence here, because so many people watched that video. As I mentioned, the fact that this is being relived is how it is supposed to work in our justice system, because people are very literally bearing witness for this jury to ultimately decide an individual`s fate.
And that same testimony became quite emotional as she recounted -- again, this is her bearing witness. This is her testimony. In other words, this is what she experienced that she`s telling the jurors. They will decide what to make of it.
But she recounted something very personal, how she says, under oath, all of this had her thinking and feeling that Mr. Floyd, as he lay there being killed, as he lay there dying, could have been her father.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I look at George Floyd, I look at -- I look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all black.
I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them. It`s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: A witness recounting their experience and, as she put it, her own subjective personal feeling of responsibility or guilt.
We begin with our experts tonight, NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray and civil rights attorney David Henderson.
Good evening to both of you.
Much has already occurred in these first two days of the trial, David.
We begin with that human note for you. I`m curious what you thought of both the substance, the moral substance of what she said, as well as how that might affect a jury that ultimately will be looking at the humanity of Mr. Floyd, the decedent, as well as weighing that against whatever judgments they make about Mr. Chauvin.
DAVID HENDERSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Absolutely, Ari.
And I think you captured it well with the clip that you played where Darnella was talking about how, when she saw George Floyd, that made her think of her own family. That`s precisely why diversity is important on the jury.
Jurors tend to make decisions that are most effective when they identify with what`s at issue in the trial. I think that need for their personal safety is something that at least some of the jurors will identify with George Floyd.
The testimony was effective. Also, having young witnesses, children put things so well. I thought that the 9-year-old who said that the EMTs asked Derek Chauvin to get up nicely, and he wouldn`t. I would be making PowerPoints with that on my slide right now if I was preparing for this closing argument.
It will be effective. The only thing you have to think about is, there is so much of the trial left to go. You just hope the jury keeps it front and foremost in their minds.
MELBER: Professor Murray?
MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, yesterday, we saw the prosecution essentially lay out the skeleton for their case. And all of that seemed to turn on the video.
Today, they began to add flesh to that skeleton, showing how all of these individuals observe this, they found it unorthodox, they found it to be unreasonable, in their view. Many of them reached out to call the police. We heard from Genevieve Hansen, that off-duty firefighter, who believed that there are more things that the police officers could have done to assist Mr. Floyd during this period.
All of all of these testimonies were basically aimed at showing that Mr. Chauvin`s actions were contributing to Mr. Floyd`s death, a substantial cause of his death, and, more importantly, that they were not reasonable in the scope of the exercise of his duties.
And those are critical things to make clear. And all of the witnesses were really, I think, profoundly strong witnesses today. And I think you have to -- you have to think about the defense at this point really wondering if it`s necessary to put Mr. Chauvin on the stand to humanize the defense a little bit.
MELBER: Well, you just put your finger on it, Professor. This is a tragedy, but many tragedies are not illegal. The prosecution`s been quite effective in these first two days at moving it past a tragedy and really meticulously showing through, as you say, multitude of evidence and multitude of witnesses, this was unreasonable force, it was not a close call, in their argument.
This was what people who are involved in law enforcement who are -- quote, unquote -- "allies of police," or work hand in glove with them thought, what is going on? Something`s wrong here.
As an observer as well, I will share with viewers I found the first two days to be quite effective for the prosecution. We always caution you got to see the whole trial to know where it`s going to land, but so far.
And in that vein, I want to also play here the witness who is a first responder also joining in what was this, again, sad chorus of people looking at police armed with guns killing someone and grappling in that moment with what they could and couldn`t do. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENEVIEVE CLARA HANSEN, MINNEAPOLIS FIREFIGHTER: I offered to walk -- kind of walk them through it or told them, if he doesn`t have a pulse, you need to start compressions. And that wasn`t done either.
MATTHEW FRANK, MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR: How did that make you feel?
HANSEN: Totally distressed.
FRANK: Were you frustrated?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: David, I have been careful to emphasize that this is the process of bearing witness. It`s not content. It`s certainly not entertainment.
But in the justice system, it is a reckoning, because the jury is going to look at that uniformed individual, at her response, even if she`s perhaps reliving the trauma, and they can draw factual deductions from that.
I wonder what you thought of that moment of testimony.
HENDERSON: One hundred percent, Ari.
The way that we talk about court cases in an environment like this, where we`re discussing the law critically, it`s very different than the way a jury deliberates.
I thought the most impactful testimony today was simply the reaction of the witnesses who were asked to revisit these events. So, 100 percent, that will stick first and foremost in their mind. And if you want my opinion on whether or not Derek Chauvin has to take the stand, it`s because of moments like that, because of moments when the witnesses break down and are clearly upset.
I think he has to get on the stand and explain why there`s different way to view these events. I`m not saying I agree with that. I just think that gives him his best shot.
MELBER: Yes, interesting that you both raise that point. And that`s something we`re going to be tracking.
Professor, I want to play more from this. Again, it`s broadcast, so a lot of Americans have been seeing it in real time. But, for context, we want to dig into this. This is a part where that witness who took the video talks about Chauvin -- quote -- "shoving in the knee into the neck."
Take a look.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you feel threatened by the police officers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you feel threatened by Mr. Chauvin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, was there any point in your video, whether it was nine or 10 minutes, that Mr. Chauvin ever let up or got up off of the neck of Mr. Floyd that you saw?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. If anything, he actually was kneeling harder. It looked like he was shoving his knee in his neck.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: Professor, walk us through how this testimony relates to one of the defense arguments which was previewed yesterday, that somehow this crowd was a threat or a potential threat to the officers.
This testimony seems to, at least according to one witness, cut the other way.
MURRAY: Well, the argument on the defense side is that the crowd was berating them and making it distracting, difficult for them to focus, maybe even to the point where they feared the crowd itself.
But this really turned that on its head, and I think really showed that, for George Floyd, this was certainly a traumatic moment, but it was also a traumatic moment for every single person who had to witness it. And that goes to the whole idea that this was not just a crime against George Floyd. It was a crime against the people of Minneapolis and for that whole community.
And they were thinking about sort of the larger impacts. I think we saw that today with those witnesses, many of whom were minors, who will never forget what they saw on that day.
MELBER: And, David, I want to play as well from the teenage witness again this discussion of helplessness. Take a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could see in his face that he was slowly not being able to breathe. His eyes were rolling back.
And, at one point, he just kind of sat there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is this difficult for you to talk about?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was difficult, because I felt like there wasn`t really anything I could do as a bystander. The highest power was there. And I felt like I was failing him.
I couldn`t really do anything physically what I wanted to do, because the highest power was there at the time.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HENDERSON: So we went through a process...
MELBER: David, I mean...
HENDERSON: I`m sorry.
MELBER: Go ahead.
HENDERSON: No, we went through a process where we saw the lawyers picking a jury.
And one of the things that`s easy to forget is the jury also has to pick a lawyer. It`s easy to forget a lot of these jurors said they hadn`t seen this video before. So, they certainly have no idea what to expect from these witnesses who are going to testify.
You`re still in the phase where each side is trying to build credibility. The worst thing you can do during that part of the trial is overstate something or misrepresent what to expect. The fact that all of these witnesses were so polite, so respectful, so easy to believe strongly cuts against the way the defense has played their cards so far.
MELBER: Yes, a fair point.
And what I was just going to get at was, although there`s more than one way to interpret things -- I will say that in all fairness -- the fact that the defense didn`t even try to do anything with some of these witnesses who were minors, I think, speaks to the fact that they knew it was a -- they knew it was a bad day for them.
But they also were strategic enough to know that trying to fact-check or rebut what appeared to be quite credible, honest, testimony, so heartfelt from these, I will say, brave young people would have made their day worse for their defendant, and they just sort of took that in.
It was a striking day.
We will be covering this as thoroughly and fairly as we can. We will be coming back to many of our experts. So, we will be seeing you again, Professor Murray, counselor David Henderson. Thanks to both of you.
We have our shortest break on THE BEAT tonight. It`s just 30 seconds.
I want to tell you what`s coming up, though. We have an expert scientist who`s advised everyone from world leaders to President Obama on exactly how you end pandemics.
But coming up, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on voting rights -- when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: Tonight, there are new details on the story we brought you about that controversial arrest of a Georgia state lawmaker after the dispute over the crackdown on voting rights in the state.
This is all about representative Park Cannon, who was protesting both the substance of the law and the secret way it was being signed. Now, she`s a lawmaker, so she has every right to be there on those grounds that you see. But she was handcuffed and arrested and pulled out of there because she knocked on the governor`s door, again, about protesting the secretive manner of signing the bill.
Now the state trooper who arrested her is invoking the January 6 insurrection, saying those events at the Capitol were in the back of his mind. Whatever the state trooper may have been thinking, these two incidents are starkly different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did she do? What did she do?
STATE REP. PARK CANNON (D-GA): Stop. Where are you taking me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you all cite the code? What did she do?
CANNON: Where are you taking me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did she do? What did she do?
CANNON: Stop. Where are you taking me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let her go! Let her go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Meanwhile, the legal crackdown on voting in Georgia has sparked a new push for federal legislation to fortify voting rights. There are several different proposals in Congress that are at the top of the Democrats` agenda. And Republicans have been pushing back.
"The New Yorker" now obtaining audio from a call that involved McConnell`s office and powerful billionaire Koch brothers consultants and pollsters, as well as other Republicans, discussing the Democratic bill to protect voting rights.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KYLE MCKENZIE, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, KOCH BROTHERS: When presented with a very neutral description of H.R.1, people were generally supportive.
The most worrisome part is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description. There`s a large, very large chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: How about that? Grassroots conservatives might be OK with voting rights, but not those billionaires and political consultants doing this push.
We are joined now by a familiar face. New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is, of course, a member of the speaker`s leadership team. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee, and you may know him as an impeachment manager.
In other words, Congressman, you`re busy. Good to have you here, sir.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Great to be with you, Ari.
MELBER: Great to have you back. Much to get to.
Let`s begin not so much with the facile comparison that one trooper offered, but rather the more deep structural issue, that, again, I mention the lawmaker`s race because it is relevant to potential differential treatment and the racial crackdown in Georgia, that an elected official who has every right to be there, a black lawmaker, is summarily and quickly arrested amidst all of this.
Your response to that part and what`s happening in Georgia in general?
JEFFRIES: Well, this is a great country. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go.
But the reality is, systemic racism has been in the soil of this country for 401 years. And it manifests itself in different ways. In terms of differential law enforcement treatment, we see how an African-American lawmaker is treated on the capitol grounds of Georgia.
And then you actually have an angry mob of whites show up uninvited to the capital of Michigan several months ago, armed to the teeth, acting in a hostile fashion, and they were given the red carpet treatment.
I don`t believe a single one of them was actually handcuffed and escorted off the Michigan state capitol grounds, let alone getting into what took place on January 6, which says that this type of differential behavior is embedded in our culture.
And that`s why we need to act decisively to crush it.
Because there`s a lot going on, I did want to get you, particularly not only as a national leader, but a New York congressperson, on record about this anti-Asian attack. This is in New York, which people think of as hopefully a place that welcomes diversity, and yet caught on video, surveillance video, shows this 65-year-old Asian woman.
She`s kicked to the ground. Police say a man continued to beat her and made explicitly anti-Asian statements. There were staff members in the building who on video appeared to do nothing. One closed the door, you will see, instead of appearing to try to offer any assistance. Those staffers have been suspended.
Police are searching for the suspect. As we have reported, hate crimes against Asian Americans have been rising in the past year, 3,800 since the beginning of the pandemic, the previous president often falsely trying to link China and basically the putative heritage or race of where the -- COVID began to have its first discovery as, if it was some sort of thing to attack an entire group of people.
Your response to that? And what does it say to you, as a New Yorker?
JEFFRIES: Well, that particular attack was disgusting.
And the entire rise in anti-Asian -- or violence directed at the Asian American community, I should say, is unacceptable, it`s unconscionable, and it`s un-American. And we all have to speak up and act up to prevent it from happening.
And so we stand in solidarity with our Asian American brothers and sisters. There`s legislation that is being led by Congresswoman Grace Meng that I believe we will move through the House and Leader Schumer has indicated is going to be moved to the Senate to help push back against this rise in hate crimes, enable reporting to take place, make sure that resources are directed to the appropriate authorities, so we can end this scourge once and for all.
Certainly, I`m disturbed at the fact that there were individuals who saw this unfold and didn`t do anything.
JEFFRIES: We just have to be better, as New Yorkers and as Americans.
MELBER: Yes. Yes. That part is that straightforward.
We have been covering the Chauvin trial earlier in the program. Your thoughts on it here on day two?
JEFFRIES: Well, what happened to George Floyd was a high-tech lynching. It was a cold-blooded murder. It unfolded in front of the American people.
It led to a necessary awakening of the fact that we have got to deal with the scourge of police violence, police brutality and excessive use of police force. That`s not to say that -- the majority of officers certainly who I interact with our hardworking individuals who are in the community to protect and serve.
But we have a problem. The video illustrates that. We need accountability in this trial, but we also need to move the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through the Senate, get it to the president`s desk. Congresswoman Karen Bass is doing a great job in making sure that we address the overall issue, while we demand justice in this particular case for George Floyd.
MELBER: Yes. Yes.
I hear you on all of that. So many serious things, sir, and yet we try to juggle more than one at a time.
Can I ask you one music question before I let you go?
MELBER: You have been publicly associated, and proudly so, with Bed-Stuy`s native son Biggie Smalls.
Have you seen the new Netflix documentary yet?
JEFFRIES: I have seen it. It is amazing.
I think that it provided a level of insight into his growth and development into the artist that he became than I was even familiar with. And I grew up in the neighborhood and came of age at that same period of time.
But the information about the jazz influence on Christopher Wallace, and certainly the reggae influence in terms of the trips that he took back to Jamaica, that was all incredible information and explained a lot in terms of the brilliant artist that Christopher Wallace became.
MELBER: Yes, I was curious what you thought, because it goes deeper into that young part of his life, one of the many stories where people know the end of his life, but, as a new doc, they really got into the youth.
They worked with, as well, his mom, who I know you have a relationship with in the community. And so it was an uplifting part and interesting. If it was new to Congressman Jeffries, as a Biggie buff, then it will be new to a lot of people.
So, good to get your perspective on that and a lot more, Congressman. We will hope to see you back on THE BEAT soon.
JEFFRIES: You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.
MELBER: Hey. Now I`m in the limelight.
MELBER: See you soon, Congressman. Appreciate it.
Up ahead, we have a lot more in the program. President Obama`s own pandemic expert who actually helped end smallpox in India makes his BEAT debut. We`re excited for that. I`m going to explain why.
But, before we get there, there`s breaking news. We just got this into the newsroom. It`s a "New York Times" report, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz under DOJ investigation.
The reporter who broke the story will tell you why, new -- next.
MELBER: We just got some breaking news here in our MSNBC Newsroom. "
"The New York Times" with the report that Republican Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is under investigation by the Justice Department over claims of a -- quote -- "sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, paying for her to travel with him" -- end quote.
Gaetz, a controversial and somewhat prominent Republican who is a big ally of Donald Trump, goes directly on the record in this report.
Let me read you what he tells "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I only know that the investigation has to do with women." He says he suspects that someone`s trying to -- quote -- "recategorize my generosity to ex- girlfriends as something more untoward."
His lawyers say they were told that he was the subject, not a target, of any such investigation. "The Times" notes this was initiated during the previous administration and appears to be ongoing. NBC, we should note, has also reached out to Gaetz`s office. We have not gotten an additional comment from them yet.
And we turn now to the journalist who broke the story.
"New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt has been working on this. The story across the wire. And he`s been kind enough to jump on the phone at a busy time.
Michael, thanks for joining.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
What does your reporting show here, Michael?
SCHMIDT: So, basically, federal authorities in Florida have been investigating a local politician, a local tax collector in Seminole County. That`s just north of Orlando.
In the course of that investigation, they found a range of things about this tax collector. But in their -- the execution of their search warrants, they have also found stuff related to Gaetz and related to Gaetz`s relationship with a -- I don`t know if you call it a relationship, but dealings with a 17-year-old girl who they`re investigating whether he had a sexual relationship with and whether he paid for her to travel, interstate travel.
Now, that being that the girl was under 18, and that Gaetz was -- they`re investigating whether Gaetz was sleeping with -- had a relationship with her, that raises a host of legal questions about whether Gaetz broke the law.
And reading from your report, again, which just came out, breaking news from "The New York Times" on Republican Congressman Gaetz, you say investigators examining whether he -- quote -- "violated federal sex trafficking laws."
When he then says in the response that you report -- so we`re indebted to your reporting here, Michael, when I mention it -- when his side says they are only a subject, not a target, that`s them trying to suggest they don`t see any indication that the probe has found that he did break the law.
What is your response or context for that defense?
SCHMIDT: So, the Justice Department -- I mean, so, if Gaetz is being accurate that they said he was just subject and not a target, that`s largely a distinction that I don`t think makes much of a difference.
Hillary Clinton was never the target of the Justice Department`s investigation into her. They never made her a target. They spent the entire time investigating whether she broke the law, and they did it so extensively that they then held a press conference to lay out what they found about her. She was never a target in the investigation.
So, when he says that, when he says that the Justice Department told his lawyers that he`s a subject, not a target, that is largely a meaningless distinction.
MELBER: Understood, based on your reporting.
"The Times" mentioned that Axios had reported again just today that Gaetz was eying -- quote -- "early retirement," exploring potentially a media job, for example, at Newsmax. You include some of that discussion in the article.
Are these two stories linked in any way, when you say that he`s mulling retirement and he`s also under DOJ investigation?
SCHMIDT: Well, I think Gaetz has known about this investigation for some time.
Now, how that has impacted how he views his political future, I`m not sure. We had heard that he was very obviously concerned about this. That would -- if you were a congressman in that situation, you would try and either get out in front of the story, or try and find a better landing path.
It`s unclear what he will do. And it`s unclear what the Garland Justice Department will do. Gaetz is very closely assigned -- linked to Trump. If he were charged, that would obviously create a fair amount of political blowback.
I`m not saying they wouldn`t do it because of that. But it would just -- it would really be entering into more a contentious phase, where they`re making cases that are going to be politically difficult, which I assume will start happening as things move forward and as more Justice Department officials are confirmed.
And, as you report, going on for some time, the congressman aware of it for some time, and for those eying the potential political oversight of it, initiated under the previous Trump Justice Department.
"New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt had the big story tonight and made some time for us.
Thank you, sir.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Appreciate it, Michael.
We have a lot more in tonight`s program. We just changed the rundown for that, obviously, a big story. But we still have planned for you an update on a rioter who literally threatened to assassinate a member of Congress, AOC, now wants to be out on bail.
But, first, what do we really know as a society but how to beat COVID? We have one of the most special guests you could call upon in the world, the aptly named Dr. Larry Brilliant, when we return.
MELBER: How do you end a pandemic? This isn`t the first time people have grappled with the question.
Before modern scientific breakthroughs, many pandemics only ended after ravaging huge portions of the population. The U.S., though, is now making major vaccine progress. But half of U.S. states offer vaccine to all adults now, and President Biden announcing that will be true nationwide by the end of April.
So, depending on participation, vaccination can make a major dent in the COVID risk facing the U.S., plus other rich nations. While medical experts experience in fighting pandemic stress that the picture shifts when you start to broaden out and look at the whole world, because, in many countries, the enduring problem is the lack of access to vaccines, with global poverty ensuring that billions of people will remain unvaccinated.
That`s the warning from the man President Obama and Ebola czar Ron Klain called on for advice during the last pandemic scare, epidemiologist Larry Brilliant.
In a field full of dueling experts in projections, Dr. Brilliant`s expertise draws on work in the field. After smallpox was considered under control in many rich nations in the `70s, he helped lead the fight to eradicate it in India, where one of the WHO`s own leaders had claimed it would be impossible to end.
Brilliant first went there on a self-described hippie trip to meet the Hindu guru, who then told him his destiny was to help cure the disease. In his memoir about those countercultural times ,Brilliant writes -- quote -- "The first time I met Wavy Gravy was while he waited his turn for vaccination."
Now, Brilliant became close friends with the beloved clown, who you may recall had a hosting role at Woodstock. And, soon, Brilliant was working with the WHO in India to reform its approach from within. He was part of the team that brought smallpox down to eradication, winning him acclaim and a TED award, where he discussed that work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CEO, PANDEFENSE ADVISORY: I got to see the last case of killer smallpox in the world. There`s nothing that makes you feel more the blessing and the honor of working in a program like that than to know that something that horrible no longer exists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Dr. Brilliant went on to become something like the Forrest Gump of the humanitarian left, mixing an expertise that put him in demand with a radical activist schedule that seemed to put him everywhere, which is part of why he was actually cast his own movie, "Medicine Ball Caravan," that tracked hippies following Joni Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane -- shout-out to anyone who remembers that one.
While in his real Forrest Gump-style adventures, he went from meeting future Apple founder Steve Jobs in India to getting tapped by Google as the first leader of their nonprofit, Google.org, to linking with the Grateful Dead and co-founding a charitable precursor to today`s social networks called The WELL, to his activism on civil rights and against the Vietnam War, to delivering a baby on Alcatraz Island in a government standoff that involved a clash over the rights of prisoners and Native Americans.
To starting another organization to restore sight to the blind to over three million indigent people around the world, to working with four different presidents like Obama, whom I mentioned.
Kind of seems like Larry knows just about everyone.
And, full disclosure, that list happens to include my mom, who knew him when they were teenagers.
Now, I haven`t gotten to spend all that much time with Dr. Brilliant in my own life. But we do get to hear from him right now, as his expertise on pandemics has been so in demand.
We are joined by Larry Brilliant, M.D., MPH, epidemiologist, professor, WHO veteran, and author of the aptly titled "Sometimes Brilliant."
First time on THE BEAT. Thank you for doing this.
BRILLIANT: And that`s the first time anywhere from me.
Thank you, Ari. It`s really nice to see you.
MELBER: It`s nice to see you too, Larry.
What a life. We will get to some of that. We will start with how to best end the pandemics and why, just this week, you`re calling attention to the wealth gap, which affects how it will play out for potentially, you said -- quote -- "billions" who may not get the vaccine soon.
BRILLIANT: Well, that`s right.
I mean, we won`t get to herd immunity. We won`t ever get to it worldwide. We won`t get to it in the United States, if at all, faster than the variants will come back at us. And we need to have another set of tools in outbreak containment, the way we did in smallpox, where we did surveillance and containment.
We eradicated smallpox in places that only had 20, 25 percent, 15 percent of people immunized. And we need to add that, along with the wonderful vaccines, the miracle vaccines, the mRNA vaccines, the terrific rollout that Andy Slavitt and others are doing, almost three million vaccinations a day. It`s really phenomenal.
But on top of that, we really need to add better outbreak control, the way we did in smallpox, and, I would add, in Ebola a couple of years ago in the Congo.
MELBER: When you look at the WHO, an organization you have really been on the inside of, and you write about how you had to grapple with what you looked at as their sort of shortsighted or elitist thinking, they have been in the news a lot.
They have been hit on all sides. They do have this new leaked report. Just reading from that, they say the virus probably emerged initially from bats. Unlikely, they say, to be the result of a lab leak, something that`s been rumored about a lot. The research team detailing the most likely scenarios that caused the virus to spill over into humans. Many questions remain unanswered.
Your view of the bat theory, as well as how we should understand criticism of the WHO. Many of the people who have come to you for expertise, including President Obama, would differentiate your medically-based criticism of them with, say, Donald Trump, who was trying to just outright defund them.
BRILLIANT: I think about the Olympics and the diving competition, where every prospective Olympic winner is assigned a difficulty score, also in gymnastics.
And then you evaluate how they do compared to the difficulty of what they set out to do. WHO is shackled with the worst governing structure in the U.N. system. It`s almost like you were starting a new -- I lost you, I think.
MELBER: I can hear you fine.
BRILLIANT: It`s almost as if they`re starting. OK.
Almost as if you were starting a new company, and you put on your board of directors your customers, your clients, your employees, and your enemies, because that`s how WHO is structured. They almost have to get agreement from nearly 200 countries before they do anything.
I actually think Tedros is a really great leader. And compared to other leaders of WHO, he`s excellent. There`s an organization inside of WHO called GOARN, the Global Outbreak Response Network, not exactly a household name.
We wouldn`t have made this much progress in the pandemic without them. Yes, WHO was late naming it a pandemic. They were late, as they have always been for the past 30 or 40 years, in calling something as dangerous as it was. They`re very cautious.
But they are actually the science level-setters for all the countries in the world. And that`s their primary job. Of course, we need to reform WHO. We need to find more, not less. I`m glad the United States is back in WHO with our leadership and our strong moral voice.
MELBER: What did you learn in India that applies to how we get out of this pandemic?
BRILLIANT: You are talking about the epidemiology, not the time in the monastery?
MELBER: No, we will take both.
I mean, reading your book, some parts of your book are a little bit like "Batman Begins," where we see you just meditating. The guru tells you that LSD is fine, but it`s only a temporary connection to higher things. Why not meditate your way to that permanently, naturally?
You can give me anything you want from India, Larry.
BRILLIANT: Well, I will tell you about Bill Foege, who was the head of CDC and ran the Carter Center for Jimmy Carter, President Carter, and help Bill Gates to start the Gates Foundation.
He was my mentor, still is my mentor. And he created the strategy to eradicate smallpox. And that strategy is based on, what is -- who`s the most moral person to vaccinate next if you have got one dose of vaccine or a limited supply? The most moral person to vaccinate is the one who is about to get the disease, who`s just been exposed to someone.
And he created a way, with not enough vaccine, to eradicate smallpox by drawing a circle around those who were infected. It became later known as ring vaccination. It`s really important right now. It`s a different disease, a different time, different virus, different vaccine.
We have to make changes in that strategy. But we don`t have and won`t have enough vaccine to vaccinate seven billion people maybe with two doses in the next couple or several years. During that time, more variants will be created. And they will come back.
And even though we`re vaccinated, we run the risk of those variants. Ari, 12 animal species, including cats, dogs, apes, monkeys, mink, have COVID right now. We need to be extraordinarily careful that we do surveillance and rapid detection in the animal-human interface, just as you were talking earlier about the likely source of COVID being a bat.
MELBER: Right. Yes.
All right, and now my last question, sir, for folks who watched any bit of the introduction or looked at your book, you have had a wild, wacky life, as we said, the Forrest Gump of pandemics.
What do you attribute it to for those who look up and say, wow, I`d love to do work that has meaning and find a spiritual center, and, sure, party with Wavy Gravy and the Dead along the way? Why not? What`s your life advice to the next generation?
BRILLIANT: Well, I have been crazy enough in my life and lucky enough to do so many weird things. I have been very traditional in one thing. I have been married for 52 years to another person who went to high school with your mother and me, and very happily married.
BRILLIANT: So, if you can find a good one, keep them.
MELBER: All right, that`s a foundation, a building block.
We`re almost out of time. You said you wanted to say something about the tie, the tie you have?
What tie am I wearing?
MELBER: All right, I`m look -- I haven`t seen it in person. I`m looking at the screen here. I`m going to guess it`s a Jerry Garcia tie, where they adapted some of his late-in-life paintings into ties. That`d be my guess.
BRILLIANT: Can you see it?
MELBER: Hey, hey, J. Garcia. We see it.
BRILLIANT: Right again, Ari Melber.
Thank you for having me.
MELBER: Favorite Jerry quote?
BRILLIANT: Sometimes -- sometimes -- let`s see -- sometimes, the light is all shining on me. Other times, I can barely see.
MELBER: Lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it`s been.
MELBER: Dr. Brilliant, thank you. I hope you will come back. This was your debut.
And I will tell my mom you said hi.
All right, we have got to fit in a break. We have a lot more in the program, including this new evidence I`m going to tell you about and why bail is back in the news.
Stay with us.
MELBER: We`re tracking new evidence that continues to emerge in cases regarding that MAGA insurrection.
Take indicted rioter Garret Miller, who literally threatened to assassinate a congresswoman, but is now asking to be out on bail and out of jail before trial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I had a very close encounter, where I thought I was going to die. I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive.
Wednesday was an extremely traumatizing event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: When this defendant was arrested, he was wearing a Trump T-shirt that said "I was there" with the date January 6. This is from new court documents. He also confessed to bringing a gun to the Capitol.
It could have been so much worse. Now, prosecutors are arguing that he should be stuck in jail before trial. They also note that he threatened to hang a Capitol Police officer after all of this, the one who allegedly shot a riot, posting: "He will swing. I had a rope in my bag on that day."
Now this defendant wants to be out walking the streets before trial.
or take the infamous zip tie guy, Eric Munchel, holding plastic restraints, armed with a stun gun. Prosecutors say he was ready to do real kidnapping as part of a conspiracy. And he`s out. He`s not incarcerated right now. He`s just on home confinement before trial.
These are specific examples that show there is not equal justice here, dangerous rioters proven to break laws, proven to have intent to harm released on bail, while there`s a persistent racial bias in the system.
And the data shows that black and brown defendants accused of far less or no violence are still more likely to be jailed before trial than white defendants.
This is a story we have covered in many different ways, and we will continue to measure and track it.
When you hear about systemic racism, when you keep an eye on police brutality cases, which, of course, the nation`s been watching this week, or other less visible, but still insidious mechanisms, you see the facts, white indicted terrorists -- that`s the government`s words -- walking the streets, while black and brown people who aren`t even accused of violence sit in jail before trial.
We will stay on these stories. And we will be right back.