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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 21, 2020

Guests: Renato Mariotti, Mara Gay, Carol Leonnig, Richard Haass, Kavita Patel, Peter Wehner, Karen Bass


Congresswoman Karen Bass speaks out. How chaotic and dangerous might President Trump's final month in office be? Congress debates a $900 billion COVID relief bill, as a second vaccine rolls out and Joe Biden gets vaccinated. Following the biggest hack on the United States government ever, President Trump refuses to blame Vladimir Putin.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT, with Ayman Mohyeldin, in for Ari, starts right now.

Hi Ayman.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Nicolle, thank you so much for that.

Hello there, everyone. Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ayman Mohyeldin, in for Ari Melber this evening,

We start with chaotic Oval Office meetings, an unhinged loser president obsessed with overturning the election, and anxious Trump staffers who worry that he is latching on to extreme ideas, as time on his presidency runs out.

A series of reports laying out what happened in an Oval Office meeting Friday night, Trump asking about imposing martial law, talking about seizing voting machines, and thinking of naming election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as special counsel investigating voter fraud, even though, even though, to be clear, there was no significant voter fraud in this country.

"The Times" reporting -- quote -- "Powell's ideas were shot down by every other Trump adviser present, all of whom repeatedly pointed out that she had yet to back up her claims with proof" and that the meeting -- quote -- "became raucous and involved people shouting at each other at times," but "The Times" reporting power was back at the White House on Sunday, although she didn't meet with Trump, and she was there again today, her third meeting in just four days.

Trump's former national security adviser, also in Friday's meeting, fleshing out his idea of imposing martial law to rerun the election. And then, of course, there's Rudy Giuliani. He is also in the mix, calling into Friday's meeting, filing another petition to overturn the Pennsylvania results, and going after the voting machine companies.



RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I can smell crooks, smell them. And these crooks smells so bad, you can smell them from a mile.

Now, prove me wrong. Prove me nuts.


MOHYELDIN: All right, there is one Trump administration finger that is publicly against all of these tactics.

Attorney General William Barr, whose last day on the job is this week, has been clear about the lack of evidence of voter fraud, saying today that there should be no special counsel or seizing of the voting machines.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If I sought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would do -- I would name one. But I haven't and I'm not going to.

I see no basis now for seizing machines by the federal government.


MOHYELDIN: All right, you heard it there clearly: There is no basis.

But Trump evidently does not care about facts, evidence or even reason. One unnamed senior administration official saying -- quote -- "It is impossible not to start getting anxious about how all of this ends."

Joining me now is Congresswoman Karen Bass, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, Mara Gay, "New York Times" editorial board member, and Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor.

Great to have all of you with us this evening.

Congresswoman, I'd like to begin with you.

Let me get your reaction to talk of martial law, seizing voting machines in this country, and creating a special counsel on voter fraud. What do you make about what we're hearing coming out of the White House?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, I think it's absolutely tragic.

I also serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and we see other countries doing this all the time to essentially invalidate an election. I think it just sends a terrible, terrible signal.

But then, also, what's the motive behind it? I mean, at the same time, he's raising money from his base, continuing to cheat these people, thinking that they are contributing money to a legal defense, fund and he's just paying himself.

I laughed when I heard Rudy Giuliani saying that he smells a crook. I guess he is smelling himself. But I think that Trump is preparing for his next career. And he's making sure that he's going to be able to continue to cheat and milk and manipulate his base.

It's a very, very sad moment in our history.

MOHYELDIN: There are two schools of thought. Congresswoman. I wanted to get your thoughts on this.

There's the school of thought that President Trump is doing this exactly to raise money from his base, to line his pockets, nobody should really be taking him seriously, our institutions are strong. And then there are others who are saying, we need to be very serious about this moment, we need to take what the president is trying to do and what he is considering very seriously.

Where do you think we are? Are we taking what is happening behind closed doors in this country in the White House seriously enough?

BASS: Oh, no, I absolutely we think we have to take him seriously, for sure.

And even if we don't take him seriously, the idea that he has all of those supporters out there, and that he's saying that he's going to call them together on January 6 to protest, I think that this is just very dangerous.

I think he's completely decompensating. And, frankly, I think many of us are afraid and just cannot wait to get to January 20.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, I think a lot of people are sharing that sentiment as well.

Renato, let me get your thoughts on this.

Does President Trump here have the authority to appoint Sidney Powell as a special counsel, even though we heard, as Attorney General Bill Barr said, he doesn't see the need for one right now?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, the special counsel regulations contemplate an appointment by the attorney general, not by the president.

And it would be done when there's a conflict of interest, other further circumstances, and there isn't one here. But I think the reason that Attorney General Barr made those comments is that even he admits there's no basis for a criminal investigation. There's no widespread voter fraud. She's put forward no evidence.

You just said a moment ago, Ayman, that the people in the room, that other Trump supporters, the other people in Trump's administration are saying that. So, really, this is essentially, potentially a pretext to create a question or an investigation where none should exist in order to cover for his imposition of martial law or whatever he's dreaming that he's going to do.

MOHYELDIN: So, to that point, Mara, which of Trump's wild ideas do you find the most potentially troublesome?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Oh, well, gee, that's -- that could take us longer than a few minutes to discuss here.

I think my main problem is just the kind of smearing of this election that the president has done in public. So, it's not one particular conspiracy theory that's concerning. It's his message to the supporters that this was an illegitimate election that is so dangerous.

And it's dangerous not just for the democracy and for the institutions of democracy. But it's also dangerous to just everyday Americans who, unfortunately, God forbid, may become the targets of a domestic terrorism attack.

That is also a concern here, because the message -- the message -- excuse me -- isn't just that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. The message is that people who voted for Joe Biden, which is to say, black, brown, indigenous, people who live in cities, Democrats, liberals, Jews, that those people don't belong in this country and they don't count as an American voter.

And that is an extraordinarily dangerous message. And I really think that, even though sometimes we make light of how ridiculous this is -- and it certainly is ridiculous, and we have to laugh once in a while -- I get it -- we should really be taking this deadly seriously.

America is a country that has an extraordinary history, but we have seen lots of other democracies, unfortunately, lose their very democracy and our system of government around the world. And we should be on high alert for those signs.

And, unfortunately, we're seeing a lot of them. When you talk to people who have lived through that, when you talk to academics, they will tell you this can happen here. And, in fact, we have only been a democracy in any sense really for several decades now.

So, if you talk to people like my father, who grew up in the South, OK, that was not a full democracy. So, we do have a history here that we should be extremely cognizant of. And we have been moving toward a more democratic America. But there are those in the White House right now who would stop it just for their own sheer power.

MOHYELDIN: Yes. And to your point, you had the White House adviser, Peter Navarro, already refer to a president like Joe Biden as illegitimate.

You had one of the electors in Michigan who had to wear a bulletproof vest when she was casting her vote. So, your points there, Mara, are already serious.

Congresswoman, senator-elect Tuberville of Alabama suggested that he supports challenging the presidential election results on January the 6th. Watch this.


TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: We're going to get that all corrected. And I'm going to tell you, don't give up on...

QUESTION: What can you all do January 6? Madison said you all had tricks up your sleeve.

TUBERVILLE: Just wait. Well, you see what's coming. You have been reading it in the House. We're going to have to do it in the Senate.


MOHYELDIN: Congresswoman, what is your response to that, in addition to the millions of protesters, as you mentioned, the president calling to come to D.C. and potentially disrupt that vote in the House of Representatives?

BASS: Well, I mean, I think, first of all, it's completely irresponsible. He hasn't even been sworn into the Senate yet and probably doesn't even understand how the process works.

However, you mislead all of these supporters. You know that there was just a protest here a couple of weeks ago. Several people were stabbed. And so I think that it could portend violence on January 6. That's why I just think it's so incredibly irresponsible and dangerous. And that's just D.C..

You could also have violence in many other places as well.

MOHYELDIN: Hey, Renato, are you at all worried about what the Department of Justice might do after Bill Barr leaves office on Wednesday? He seems to be holding the dam in these final days, but he's not going to be there until January 20.

MARIOTTI: I -- one of the only hopeful things is that, since Barr has made his wishes known on the way out, that his deputies, the people who are now in charge there, are hopefully going to hold the line as well.

But it is a very scary 30 days to come.

MOHYELDIN: Mara, Trump also filed another challenge to the Supreme Court today, again with no evidence of voter fraud.

Will this, in your opinion, legal challenge hold any water?

GAY: I don't believe it will.


GAY: Oh.

MOHYELDIN: Sorry. Go ahead. Mara, go ahead.

GAY: Yes, I don't believe it will.

The courts have been stalwart in standing up for democracy in this process. It's a point of great light and hope, I think, for this country that that institution has stood strongly.

I also think Donald Trump it's going to have a very hard time. When you talk about ideas like martial law, it really requires individual states to participate in something like that. And I really don't think we're going to see that across this country.

I think the president's out of options.


So, Renato, do you see this more of just a political effort in an attempt to kind of fire up MAGA world with false hope? Or is there any legal basis?

MARIOTTI: There's no legal basis whatsoever, but I think Trump, in his mind, believes there is. I think he is trying to figure out what his options are.

And thank goodness, as Mara said, there aren't options available to him. And, frankly, that's because the United States military has made clear that they're not going to play ball. Ken Cuccinelli and others at the department -- DHS are not going to play ball with this. And we have a court system that's functioning that would stop an attempt to seize voting machines that belong to states and municipalities.

That's what stopping him. I think, if Trump had his way, he would be seizing power, he would be undermining our institutions more than he has.

MOHYELDIN: Hey, Congresswoman, before I let you go, I just wanted to ask you about the coronavirus vaccine that you received on camera. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to do that publicly.

BASS: Yes, absolutely.

I also did a video talking about it, because I want to make sure that people in my community, especially African-Americans, who have a very bad history with the health community, the medical community, understand the significance of getting the vaccine, but also that it's safe.

So, a lot of people believe that this vaccine was just cooked up overnight, that Trump was the one behind it. And so, to me, it is my job, my responsibility to communicate, especially given the disproportionate death rate and infection rate in the African-American community, that the scientists were strong. They were not political.

And, in fact, research on coronaviruses have been going on for over 16 years.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Renato Mariotti, thank you both for starting us off.

Mara Gay, I'm going to ask you to stick around for us for a little bit longer.

An exciting programming note. Tonight, vice president-elect Kamala Harris will sit down with my colleague Joy Reid. That is next hour on "THE REIDOUT." You do not want to miss it.

And coming up in just 30 seconds from now: why President Trump is refusing to blame Russia for the worst cyberattack on the United States.

Plus: The president-elect gets his vaccine shot on camera, while new subpoenas are issued over how Trump officials allowed politics to disrupt the COVID response.

But first: why Trump aides are so scared about what he will try to do to overturn this election.

That's when we're back in just 30 seconds from now.


MOHYELDIN: Thirty days, 30 days, that is how long President Trump has in power. And his state of mind after losing has people close to him alarmed, even Rudy Giuliani opposing an idea to tap conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud.

Trump's new pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, he's encouraging Trump to invoke martial law to overturn the election, with sources telling NBC News the meeting was cut short by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows because it was heading in -- quote -- "an alarming direction."

Critics are slamming Trump amid these new revelations. Watch.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is appalling. There's no other way to describe it. It's unbelievable, almost certainly completely without precedent.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think it's nuts. The idea of sending the military in to rerun it would be a massive, massive red line. And I'm certain the president won't do it. But I think it's certainly worth talking about because people around him are advocating for it.


MOHYELDIN: All right, and Trump ally Chris Christie was blunt in his assessment.


FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Keep Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell out of the Oval Office, and then those really bad ideas will stay out of the Oval Office as well.

I still have not seen any evidence, nor has any court seen the evidence. In fact, every court that has looked at the evidence has not supported these cases. In fact, it's thrown them out.

Losing hurts. But, in the end, when you get in this game, you understand that that's a possibility. You have to live with it, and you have to move on.


MOHYELDIN: All right, joining me now is "The Washington Post"'s Carol Leonnig, co-author of the bestseller "A Very Stable Genius," and Peter Wehner, a contributing writer for "The Atlantic." He has worked in three Republican administrations, those of President Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43.

Peter, let me begin with you.

Your reaction to that Oval Office meeting on Friday night and all of the news lines that have come out of it?

PETER WEHNER, "THE ATLANTIC": Deeply disturbing, but not at all shocking.

Look, Donald Trump was an open book. This is a man whose sociopathic tendencies have been obvious, really, before his presidency, certainly manifest during his presidency.

And I think it was completely predictable that, once he got to the end, this denouement where he was a loser, which, in Trump world, is the worst appellation of all, that he would lose power and that he would lose adulation, this would catalyze a whole series of deeply reckless and irresponsible conduct.

The question was, what would be the particular manifestations? And we're seeing them play out right -- right now, they're so crazy that Rudy Giuliani doesn't want a part of them, which tells you just how far into the fever swamp that the president is wandering.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, I was going to say the alarm bells are going off for anyone who's actually watching this.

Carol, I'm curious to get your thoughts and what you're hearing from your sources specifically about Trump's state of mind. Where do you think he is these days?

CAROL LEONNIG, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, a lot of this entire year has kind of been a slow and bizarre slide for the president.

But these final days, according to people inside the White House, are among the most dramatic, because the president is now tilting literally at windmills to hear from people who are offering him things that are factually, obviously, demonstrably false, because those are the things he wants to hear, that it's possible to claim he won the election, people who are willing to tell him that it's possible to, as Michael Flynn said, rerun the election.

Some of this is really -- keep in mind, the president doesn't actually think he's going to be re-inaugurated on January 20. But some of it is just bragging rights, to say that the election was stolen from him, so he can continue to beat that drum when he leaves office and when he possibly, as been intimated, prepares for a run in 2024.

He hasn't made that official. There are some people that say he's not interested in that. But, clearly, he has an interest in being a political voice after January 20. And claiming that he's not a loser, as Peter points out, is probably paramount. That means he's listening to people that he rejected before and people who have pled guilty to crimes and people who have said that the ghost of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela influenced election machines in some way.

MOHYELDIN: So, who do you -- Carol, who do you think is -- is there somebody that is enabling the president?

As others have pointed out, these people can't just walk into the White House. They actually have to be cleared into the White House. So who, within the White House, when the president says, I want to speak to Sidney Powell, I want to speak to Rudy Giuliani, is, saying that's a good idea, sir, I will go ahead and clear them in, as opposed to, as we now kind of know, the Bill Barrs, they're kind of distancing themselves from some of the stuff the president is saying?

Mike Pompeo has contradicted him about Russia. Mark Meadows, apparently, as well at odds with some of these comments. So who is enabling the president?

LEONNIG: Well, there are some more junior, less experienced aides.

And I think what's interesting about, some of -- a person who used to be as body aide, for example -- body man, continues to be at the president's right hip helping counsel him.

But you're so right in your list of people who had been encouraging some of the more zany things the president wanted to say early on, for example, that his call with Ukraine was a perfect call, even though he was encouraging a foreign president to investigate an American citizen for the benefit of his own election.

There are people who were encouraging and helping the president in some of those steps who, even for them, this is a path too far. This is a road too nutty for them to travel with. And that number is swelling, while the other number is dwindling.

MOHYELDIN: Hey, Peter, let me play for you something my colleague Joe Scarborough said on "Morning Joe" today. Watch this.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": It is getting actually to the point where you just wonder if we shouldn't just get rid of the 25th Amendment, because, at any other time, any other sane time, it would be used to temporarily remove a president from office if he were talking about these sort of things.


MOHYELDIN: Given what we're hearing, Peter, is this something that could be considered?

WEHNER: Well, I think it's too late in the game. I meant, to get the 25th Amendment to lock -- kick in is not going to happen. We're just going to have to try and get through these next 29 days and learn from this.

This is what happens when you when you elect someone who was essentially sociopathic and a person who will cross any line, transgress any boundary.

And it's an interesting thing. I think people, on some abstract level, understood that that was what Trump was like. And yet when he keeps crossing these lines, I think they're surprised and they're shocked, and they shouldn't be.

And I want to say one other thing, which is, I'm glad Chris Christie is speaking out. I'm glad other Republicans are speaking out. They have some complicity in this.


WEHNER: Chris Christie knew who Donald Trump was. He helped prepare him for the debates. He was by his side.

And, look, late is better than never, but it is extremely late. This man is a malignant and malicious force in the American political scene in ways we have never seen in our history. They knew it. They were a part of it. And this country is paying a tremendous price, not just now, but in the aftermath.

The battering ram that this man has been against truth and reality and norms is almost impossible to comprehend at this point.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, I was going to say, the media has a responsibility as well not to rehabilitate a lot of these former Trump staffers who are now trying to reinvent themselves, and in a distant life from what they were responsible for with this Trump presidency.

Carol Leonnig, Peter Wehner, thank you so much for your time this evening.

And coming up: A four-star general joins us on Trump's meeting with Flynn discussing martial law in this country.

Also, right now, the House is debating a $900 billion COVID relief bill, as a second vaccine rolls out today.

But first, the biggest hack on the United States government ever, and Trump refuses to blame Putin -- next.



BARR: It certainly appears to be the Russians, but I'm not going to discuss it beyond that.


MOHYELDIN: All right, so Attorney General Bill Barr there breaking with President Trump on that massive Russian hack of the U.S. government.

This weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also blaming Russia for it.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This was a very significant effort. And I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.


MOHYELDIN: But Trump is publicly undercutting his own administration's official position the Russia hack, even suggesting that China could be to blame instead.

"The New York Times" reporting that, privately, the president has called the hack a hoax and pressured associates to downplay its significance and push alternate theories for those who -- for those for who -- excuse me -- for those who he thinks are responsible.

There appears to be no good explanation for why Trump is once again protecting Russia. But Joe Biden's incoming chief of staff, he made it clear, Biden will respond, even if Trump does not.


RON KLAIN, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Those who are responsible are going to face consequences for it. And he's going to take steps as president to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to launch these kinds of attacks on our country.

I want to be very clear. It's not just sanctions.


MOHYELDIN: All right, joining me now is Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a veteran diplomat who has served presidents of both parties. His latest book is "The World: A Brief Introduction." And back with us is Mara Gay from "The New York Times."

Richard, let's begin with you, if I can.

Give us a sense of why it's so dangerous for the president not to admit what other senior officials in his government are actually saying, that it is Russia that was behind the attack?


One is that, once again, it shows real confusion amongst our allies, particularly those in Europe, who have to face military threats from Russia, not just cyber-threats. It raises fundamental questions about whether we have their back.

And then also, if you're not willing to point a finger at Russia, even though all the evidence suggests you should, then we're obviously not going to take responses. We're not going to act, and we're not going to do things that will deter them or degrade their capability to do this again in the future.

MOHYELDIN: Sol, decipher this for us, Richard.

Ron Klain says that Biden will degrade Russia's hacking ability and it will be -- quote -- "more than sanctions."

From the tools that we have in our arsenal, what do you think that means?

HAASS: Well, what he's talking about is going after their ability to do -- to plant malware in our in our systems. And there are things we can do to weaken their systems.

There's things we can do. Potentially, if we see certain actors that we can associate with an attack like this, we can go after them to make it much more difficult for them to mount renewed attacks.

But I also think, Ayman, it's essential here we're clear as to what the Russians did. It's one thing, and it's bad, but it's one thing if it was espionage. It's something very different if it was actually something they did to disrupt the ability of their target departments in the U.S. government to act.

The former is something that we do. We read each other's e-mails, shall we say. We listen into wherever we can around the world. But if it is something that tries to disrupt our ability to act, that is way over the line. That's an act of aggression. And then we should think about a much wider range of responses.

MOHYELDIN: Mara, I want to play for you and our viewers what Rick -- what Mitt Romney had to say about Trump and Russia. Watch.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia. He doesn't want to recognize Russia as the problem they are and the extraordinarily bad actor they are on the world stage, because it reflects poorly on him, at least perhaps in his own mind.


MOHYELDIN: So, Mara, is Trump's Russia blind spot here one of the bigger mysteries of his presidency? And are you surprised that more Republicans are not as critical of the president's Russia's position?

GAY: Yes, I mean, I think that, as time goes on, we may learn more and more about just why it is that Donald Trump has this blind spot on Russia.

But what's obvious is that he sees the Russia investigations as delegitimizing his presidency. And so, for that reason, this has always been a sore spot for him.

He, in some ways, I believe, has other affinities with Vladimir Putin. Both of them have this kind of strongman-style leadership, to put it politely. And so that's something to look at. But -- and they're on the far right, right?

So there are some other commonalities. But I think, in terms of other Republicans trying to marginalize this odd pro-Russia stance, we haven't seen it. It's been one of the large -- one of the big disappointments. This should be a bipartisan issue. It really was until Donald Trump came into office.

Mitt Romney has held strong on this. Few have, other than, of course, the late John McCain. So, I'm hoping that we will see a return to normalcy on that front even sooner than we will on issues of domestic importance, which I think is -- it's even harder to find common ground between Democrats and Republicans on that front.

But I think, when Joe Biden steps into the office next month, this is going to be a radical shift. And I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I am a student of history and a journalist, obviously. And I have to say that I suspect that Russia may be nervous.

MOHYELDIN: So, Richard, luckily, we do have a foreign policy expert with us.

Richard, do you anticipate Russia changing its posture, changing its behavior, given that we are getting president-elect Joe Biden, who may be willing to stand up to Russia, be more confrontational on some of these acts of espionage or acts of aggression, depending on what they turn out to be?

HAASS: My guess is, Putin will continue to probe, certainly in the Middle East, certainly, obviously, in Eastern Ukraine and Georgia.

On issues like this, he may hold back a little bit. I think he has to expect that he is going to be on the receiving end of some American responses. And I actually do think here, picking up on what Mara was just saying, Ayman, I think there's a decent chance you will see significant bipartisanship on strengthening NATO, on human rights grounds, sanctioning Russia for trying to kill political opponents, I think, on responding to this kind of a cyber-effort on their part.

I think it's quite possible you will have greater bipartisanship, including also a greater proximity between the United States and its principal allies.

MOHYELDIN: Mara, final thought to you.

Do you think America is particularly vulnerable right now?

GAY: Oh, I think yes, because I don't think that the president of the United States is somebody who is putting America first, even though that was his campaign slogan.

But I do think that things will change quickly on that front as soon as Joe Biden takes office. And that's not because he's a Democrat. That's because he's an American before his party affiliation. And I think that's something to look forward to. So I'm quite confident that this is something that Mr. Biden, who, by the way, has decades of foreign policy experience, and in the White House, obviously, many years of experience, he's going to surround himself with sane, rational people who are putting the country first.

And so I'm quite confident that we're going to see a turnaround on this front very quickly.

MOHYELDIN: All right, we're 30 days away from that. We will see what happens.

Mara Gay, Richard Haass, thank you to both of you.

Ahead, a special guest on Trump's meeting with Michael Flynn talking about martial law. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey is here.

Plus: Joe Biden gets his vaccine shot on camera, as subpoenas hit the Trump administration over alleged political interference in the COVID response.


MOHYELDIN: A House panel just subpoena Trump's Health and Human Services and CDC chiefs for documents on alleged political interference in dealing with the COVID crisis, including an attempt to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to the virus, adding that CDC Director Redfield instructed employees to destroy a key document.

A former CDC chief of staff saying the White House demanded a larger say in COVID messaging.


KYLE MCGOWAN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: And as Amanda and I worked in the spring and summer, we saw more and more the administration wanting a larger say in the messaging that was coming out of the CDC.

And when that messaging clashed with the science, the messaging won. And it's our hope moving forward that the CDC will be able to again talk directly to the American people.


MOHYELDIN: This news comes as a $900 billion COVID relief deal will finally be voted on tonight, following months of tense negotiations. You can see lawmakers are now actually debating the bill. A vote is expected sometime later this evening.

Now, the package sends direct payments of $600 to those that qualify. It reopens that Paycheck Protection Program and includes enhanced unemployment benefits.

Democrats say it doesn't do -- or doesn't go far enough, rather.

But there is good news. Everyone can agree on this. The first Moderna vaccinations started today for front-line health care workers across the country. And president-elect Joe Biden got his vaccine today live as the cameras were rolling.

Joining me now is Dr. Kavita Patel, the former health policy director for the Obama White House.

Dr. Patel, great to have you with us again.

Let's talk about what we saw earlier today. And you probably heard me discuss it with Karen Bass, the importance of people like Joe Biden and other officials getting the vaccination on video. Talk to us about the importance of that.

DR. KAVITA PATEL, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Ayman, good to be with you.

It's incredibly important to have people feel comfortable about not feeling like they have to take the vaccine against any odds, but that they have figures that they respect, they trust, and that they open up a dialogue.

I hope that watching people like the president-elect -- honestly, I'm also looking forward to having community members who are stepping up and getting vaccinated and then telling their communities that they felt like it was safe and that they had questions and they asked their doctors.

So, I do think it's incredibly critical. We can't force people to take vaccines. That's not the answer. But we need to make it incredibly clear what the vaccine does in terms of benefits over risks.

MOHYELDIN: Yet. We should also note, Vice President Mike Pence also did his publicly as well.

We saw the Moderna vaccine shots start today. Is there -- from a medical point of view, is there a difference between Moderna and Pfizer's vaccines?

PATEL: No, Ayman, really not. There is a subtle kind of percentage of risk reduction here and there of certain populations, but, overall, no, these are incredibly, highly effective vaccines.

They have very similar profiles. They both use that same messenger RNA technology that does not interfere with human DNA. And the good news about Moderna, which I'm going to be in that hopeful lucky batch that gets vaccinated with Moderna, but the good news is that it can be taken out of the freezer and stored in regular refrigerator temperatures for up to 30 days, which makes it easier to distribute in clinics and pharmacies around the country.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, lucky you getting that vaccination.

New reporting from "The Washington Post" alleges that Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, tried to cover up the COVID outbreak in the White House. In fact, Meadows threatened to fire White House medical unit doctors if they helped release information about new infections, according to one official.

Of course, we have all seen publicly how many people, just a staggering number of people at the White House getting coronavirus. What is your reaction to that reporting?

PATEL: Well, sadly, Ayman, I'm not shocked.

In fact, many of us who have worked in the White House and still know people who work there knew that something was happening, a super-spreader event, or now we know several super-spreader events, Ayman, but we knew that messaging was being blunted.

We knew that there were smart people trying to brief the leadership, including the president, who were told that message is not convenient. And I think you have seen, from your reporting, as well as others, that we now have proof that there were memos that were stopped and people who were told not to report the scientific facts.

I think what's troubling, Ayman, is that, unfortunately, we have 300,000 Americans and counting who have died from this. We have needless millions of infections that could have been prevented.

And I can tell you one thing, as I have been practicing now for almost 20 years, that it is far better to be humble and to say, I don't know, we're trying to find the answers, we will stand here at this podium until we answer every single question you have.

And what we saw with this administration was the exact opposite.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, I was going to say, I can think off the top of my head just a handful of super-spreader events at the White House, including that with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the election night announcement from the president in the West Wing, a lot of events.

Let me ask you really quickly about this news coming out of Europe, because it has a lot of people worried, in particular what is coming out of England, these new reports about a new variant of COVID. Several experts urge caution, saying it would take years, not months, for the virus to evolve enough to render the current vaccines impotent.

How concerned are you about the news coming out of England and what it means for the fight -- for the fight against COVID-19?

PATEL: Yes, Ayman, I do think it's important to start with that comment up top that we feel like the current batch of vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, and some of the ones to follow still would be effective under this variant that's under investigation.

I think, to your point, though, I do worry about this virus, because it shows that it's highly transmissible. What does that mean? It means it's much stickier, much more -- it's much more likely to get and give an infection, not necessarily severe disease. It doesn't necessarily mean that people are getting sicker with more hospitalizations.

But it is easier to pass on. And, Ayman, we know that, in nursing homes, for example, that can be catastrophic. So, I do think that this travel ban and then also thinking carefully about how people in the U.K. are responding and what we're seeing in the pattern would be important.

But I'm actually trying to -- we shouldn't jump to conclusions. We should be cautious, but not let our guard down. We shouldn't do what we did in March, where we were kind of watching things unfold...


PATEL: ... and then had to kind of see it happen after the fact.

So, rest assured, Ayman, the world is paying attention to this. But, at this time, we haven't seen this spreading in the United States.

MOHYELDIN: So, just really quickly, a follow-up, and not to put you on the spot, but would it be wise to shut down travel from England to the U.S.?

PATEL: I think that travel restrictions, especially when we know that there's really one central source, can be an important policy injection.

I really do think that that's something we should consider. What I think is not working is what some of the airlines are doing, the carriers who are asking for people who are coming from the U.K. to get tested.

Ayman, I can tell you that one test in time does not take you out of risk. So, I think that if we're going to, we need to do an even kind of policy across the country. And we need to also establish up front what the parameters are to lift those restrictions. So, it shouldn't just be imposing the travel ban.


PATEL: But we need to think, as public health officials, what would we need to do, what metrics do we need to see coming out of the U.K. to feel better about lifting those travel bans? And only then do those policy interventions make sense.

MOHYELDIN: All very valid points.

Dr. Kavita Patel, as always, thank you so much for your time this evening.

PATEL: Thank you.

MOHYELDIN: All right, coming up: Trump asks Michael Flynn about using the military to overturn the elections in this country, believe it or not.

A decorated retired four-star general is here with his take next.


MOHYELDIN: All right, now to that extraordinary rebuke from top military leaders, pushing back against the talk of imposing martial law that's reportedly swirling inside the Trump White House.

The secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff having to release a joint statement, saying in part -- quote -- "There is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election."

It is remarkable that military officials are even having to say this. But that is the response after multiple reports Trump asked about the option Friday during an Oval Office meeting about overturning the election. Trump says the reporting is wrong.

One person attending Friday's meeting was Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now, the day before that meeting, this is what Flynn said. Watch.


LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He could immediately, on his order, seize every single one of these machines around the country, on his order, within the swing states.

If he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and basically rerun an election in each of those states. I mean, it's not unprecedented

I mean, these people out there talking about martial law like it's something that we have never done. We have done -- martial law has been instituted 64, 64 times.


MOHYELDIN: That is a former U.S. general calling for martial law to rerun an election in this country.

Joining me now is retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, a former National Security Council member.

Thank you so much, General McCaffrey for joining us.

I'm curious to get your thoughts, first of all. How alarming do you find this talk of martial law?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: We have never heard anything like it since 1860.

I was personally horrified watching Mike Flynn, who was a terrific intelligence officer during the war on terror, who -- now acting in a demented fashion, seizing ballot boxes, the armed forces in charge of unilaterally conducting elections in swing states.

This is thuggery. This is Third World behavior. By the way, the armed forces will never in any way take part.

But what we don't want to do is find out what happens when the commander in chief tells the acting secretary of defense to pull something like this off.

But I think what we get back to is, the responsibility of Republican senators, in particular, is going to be heavy in history, if they don't go to the president in public and back him down from this criminal conversation.

MOHYELDIN: General, what do you think is the thinking right now among top military officials?

I understand your point about, they will never do this. But, at the end of the day, what happens when given the order, as you mentioned? Because they will be given the order and they will be then tormented between following an order they may think is illegal and having to resign.

So, what do you think they're thinking?

MCCAFFREY: Well, there will be no torment whatsoever.

If they get an order that is clearly illegal, they have lawyers, both military and civilian, who will rule on it. This would be patently unconstitutional. They simply won't do it.

But then the question becomes, will the Congress get engaged? Will the Supreme Court get engaged? Will Trump start firing generals until he finds somebody that would move?


MCCAFFREY: By the way, I might add, that acting secretary of defense, a retired lieutenant colonel, will bear a heavy responsibility.

The chairman of the JCS has no command authority over the armed forces. Two civilians do, Trump and Chris Miller. So, we need the Senate, Republicans in particular, to step up, and not in private, but in public, and say, we're not going there with you.

We don't want an example in history of where the armed forces or the FBI or the federal Marshals Service had to tell a president of the United States, we're not doing it.

And they won't do it.

MOHYELDIN: It's incredible that we're even having this conversation here in the United States.

General Barry McCaffrey, sir, thank you so much for your time this evening. I appreciate it.


MOHYELDIN: We're going to be right back with one more thing.

Don't go anywhere.


MOHYELDIN: All right, that does it for me.

Here's a quick reminder for you. You can catch me right here on MSNBC weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be back here on THE BEAT tomorrow.

Up next, Joy Reid with a very special interview, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Don't go anywhere.


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