IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 16, 2020

Guests: Carl Day, Stuart Gerson, Christina Greer


The CDC says masks are good protection against COVID, while Donald Trump calls his own CDC administrator confused. New documents reveal efforts to smear a man who died in police custody. Attorney General Bill Barr says that he considers violent protesters able to be charged with sedition. A pastor discusses asking President Trump directly about his MAGA slogan.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT" with my friend and colleague, Ari Melber starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

And welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber. Thank you for joining us, as we track these stories now.

The CDC saying masks are good protection against COVID, while Donald Trump calls his own CDC administration confused. New documents reveal efforts to smear a man who died in police custody. We have that story later. And Bill Barr says that he considers violent protesters able to be charged with sedition.

We begin with Joe Biden firing back as Donald Trump faces a confrontation with voters. And this is a different challenge than Trump's preferred setting of clashing with reporters that he wants to make into opponents or cozying up in those friendly partisan interviews, often over at FOX News.

What happened here was an actual town hall with a large televised audience, as ABC's George Stephanopoulos and some informed voters pressed Trump on so many facts that he prefers to avoid in this campaign season, the cratering economy, this administration's failed approach to the coronavirus, health care writ large and race relations.

Trump's responses already getting panned with headlines like this, "A Fire Hose of Lying," as Trump walked away from the notion of the buck stops here and acted like at times Biden had already become president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't downplay it. I actually -- in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.

My action was very strong.


TRUMP: No, I think we did a great job.

When Churchill was on the top of a building, and he said, everything's going to be good, everything's going to be -- be calm.

Like Joe Biden, they said, We're going to do a national mandate on masks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's called on all governors to have them. It is a state responsibility.

TRUMP: No, but he didn't do it. I mean, he never did it.


MELBER: Biden today hitting back.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All president had to offer last night, President Trump, was the same week and feckless inaction, the same lies and empty promises that we have seen from the very beginning.

He still won't accept any responsibility. He still won't offer a plan. And, last night, he repeated what he said so many times before, that, even if he continues to offer only failing indifference, someday, the virus is going to go away by a miracle.


MELBER: Let's get right to it.

I'm joined by Michael Steele, former RNC chair, and Christina Greer, from Fordham University. And we have more guests and more on the clash between these two.

But, Michael, what does it mean to have the president under fire and pressed factually by real people, as this general election kicks into high gear?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it's a heck of a lot different than what he's able to get away with in his press conferences with the media, for sure.

You can't throw around fake news. You can't berate them. You can't ignore their question. You have to stand there and take every living inch of what they deliver.

And they did last night. And he was clearly not comfortable at times with it. He feigned some emotions and some level of empathy with some of the questioners. But that's a very tough space to be in.

And the fact that FOX News afterwards would come out and said that he was set up, I was like, dude, you're -- the White House put this together. So, this was not a setup. The press didn't set you up. George Stephanopoulos didn't lure you in.

The reality of it is, they thought they could have a real moment with real people and connect. And they got -- they got what they got. And it shows just how difficult it is in this political environment to get away with much of anything with the American people.

MELBER: I mean, Michael, if that was a setup, then this is a setup, in the sense that we invited you to president your ideas on live TV, and you're doing so.


STEELE: Right, exactly.

So, if I say something stupid -- and I have been known to do that from time to time -- I can't look back at Ari and go, he set me up.

MELBER: Well...

STEELE: You didn't put the words in my mouth. You didn't require my presence on your show. You extended the invitation.

And if ABC and George Stephanopoulos extended the invitation, and the White House accepted it, then you accept what comes with that. And that means you got to prepare your candidate to go and stand in front of live people, real people, who are going to ask you real questions.

Look, the American people have pay attention to what's happened under COVID-19. They have paid attention to the flattening of the economy, and they certainly paid attention to the social upheaval around Black Lives Matter and brown and black people's encounters with the police.

So those are real questions real people. You got to deal with it.

MELBER: Professor?


I mean, keep in mind, and, as Michael stated, these are also American citizens who are looking at California burning. And the president has said nothing. They're looking at five storms/possible hurricanes coming down to the Southern region, and the Southeast regions and what will happen to their homes and communities.

And these are also people who are trying to homeschool their children, whilst also, as was alluded to, keep their own financial stability going. And so when the president cuts people off, when he shows gross incompetence about basic facts, and he's trying to push the buck onto Joe Biden, who is not the president yet, by the way, and when he just -- he has a tell.

He starts repeating his words .He starts using body language. I mean, a lot of people are now accustomed to that. But there are a lot of Americans who are really concerned. We're looking at 200,000-plus American lives that have been lost that we know of, right?

We know that the CDC is, sadly, not been able to do their jobs in a nonpartisan way. So these are just the numbers that we know of. We're not even talking about the Americans who've died of loneliness or alcoholism or other COVID-related costs.

And so this president has an overall lack of compassion. He has said on several occasions, one, he doesn't read, and, two, it is not his fault, right? Nothing is his fault.

And I think a lot of Americans are looking for leadership and saying, well, if it's not your fault, then whose is it? Because it's not my fault that this virus wasn't contained. It's not my fault that our business has gone under, because you didn't take the steps and you didn't have the qualified and quality people in your administration to think these things through.

That's what a representative government is all about.

MELBER: I want you both to stay with me. This is the big news here on that COVID clash.

But, both of you, stay with me. I'm going to add a special guest. But I want to give viewers a little bit of a window beyond Trump into what Joe Biden's doing.

He's been out campaigning on his own vaccine plan, which he says will require equitable distribution, also launching new ads hitting Donald Trump on economics, which has drawn a million views online in a single day.

This is part of a series of ads, messages and online videos that target Trump on a whole range of vulnerabilities and kitchen table priorities.

You're looking at some of the new videos that are out today. They feature stories of real Americans and children who face life-and-death choices over health care and have a lot to lose under Trump's policies. And that's not all.

In a sign how we are here in the heart of the general election, Biden campaigning in-person, including a stop in the key state of Florida, when he faced down jitters about his campaigns outreach to Latino voters. And I should tell you, he did some traditional retail campaigning.

This is the kind of stuff that's hard to stimulate -- simulate, I should say, hard to simulate on Zoom, Biden shouting out the super popular song "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.


BIDEN: I just have one thing to say. Hang on here.


LUIS FONSI, MUSICIAN: There you go. Dance a little bit, Joe. Come on.


MELBER: That moment has gone viral already online.

Biden is introduced by Luis Fonsi, the voice you hear telling Biden enough offstage to go ahead and dance.

Now, that was a big hit. A song famously says (SPEAKING SPANISH) meaning, we're going to do it on a beach in Puerto Rico.

Now, you may ask, do what? Well, Biden has an answer of sorts. He's speaking in terms of policy, pushing a new plan to finally grant statehood to Puerto Rico, plus some economic recovery measures.

Our panel says.

And I want to bring an MSNBC contributor Cornell Belcher, a polling guru who worked on both Obama campaigns.

Thanks for joining.

Your thought on that moment and what Biden is up to with his outreach down there.

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I love that moment. I think it is a viral moment, and Biden needs some of those.

Look, the Latino vote is critical there in Florida. And sort of the outreach that they're doing there -- and they do need to do a lot of outreach and a lot of work there in that community, because, look, Florida was a state that we barely won in 2012.

And it was a state that Trump narrowly won. How the Latino vote goes there in Florida is going to largely determine how Florida goes. And that the vice president is now underperforming significantly where Hillary did in 2016 should raise some flags.

And I suspect they're going to spend a lot of time in Florida, the vice president himself, Senator Harris, as well as many Latina surrogates as they possibly can, because they have to show up that vote if they want to put Florida in the win column.


And looking at that, and, Michael Steele, this isn't just a moment that interests us, even though we are perhaps known music lovers here on the program.


MELBER: But the president then went up with a huge lie about this, posting a doctored video of the moment you just saw.

This is how fast things are moving. So if you're at home and you got Trump voter friends or folks on Facebook, may have already heard about this. And they spliced in a very different song, N.W.A.'s famous anti-police brutality anthem "F the Police."

But people are already right now, before we even get to air on the evening news, people online are seeing millions of people, seeing that doctored moment, thinking that the vice president, the former vice president was dancing to that song.

I'm just curious what you think of just the speed of this misinformation and how important it is going into November for folks to be careful even about what they think they're seeing with their own eyes.

STEELE: Yes, Ari, you can't stress it enough.

It is amazing to me on a number of fronts. And I really want to be measured in what I'm about to say here, because what I'm thinking would probably get me suspended for a few days.


STEELE: Because it is so amazingly crazy right now that you could -- that the Trump campaign, in its desperation to do anything, any level of poop they can put on Biden, they are reaching to do, that they would take an N.W.A. sound bite from a very notorious song, and act as if -- and put out in the public as if that's what Joe Biden was dancing to, that that was the song, that moment was what Donald Trump -- was what Joe Biden was playing.

But what is even scarier is the number of people who listened and saw that and went, damn, I can't believe that, he actually did that, without processing and thinking to themselves, wait a minute, Joe Biden, N.W.A., F the police, I don't think those three things go together.

So, yes, you're absolutely right. It's going to require a higher level of responsibility by the media to track and call out these types of episodes. But voters are going to also have to be a lot sharper and just recognize when they're getting played in this process.

And we know where that's going to come from in large measure, unfortunately, because desperation requires desperate acts like that.

MELBER: A fine line between desperation and "Despacito," obviously.

They share some letters.

STEELE: I knew you were going to do that. I thought it. And I said, no, that's too easy.


MELBER: Yes, well, dad jokes, they are the easy kind, the less funny kind from me.

But, Professor, Michael walks us through this. And this is important. I think -- I just want to underscore for voters or viewers who say, OK, what are we even talking about?

So Joe Biden had this moment. And then now there's this dubbed video, what are we talking about. But we are actually talking about the way this campaign will be waged right now. And TV matters and newsprint matters. But the Internet matters a lot as well.

And when people see this, and they think, oh, OK, someone shared it with me, I didn't believe it until I saw, but there he was, this terrible message, this vulgarity, F the police. And part of the way we're covering it now, and our banner on the screen says what it is, liar, because the president was lying.

And people need to know that even before this next lying video goes viral, Professor.

GREER: Right, and we saw some of this in 2016.

But, I mean, Ari, you have had Rashad Robinson, who's the head of Color of Change, on quite a bit. This is part of what Color of Change is trying to work against, these Facebook lies that spread so quickly. And then you have thought leaders in people's communities, barbers, technicians, pastors, even, who then replicate these lies.

And then we also have the media, who consistently says false truths, or he misspoke. And we have to be a lot more succinct, clear, direct and swift in saying that the president has lied. This is what he has done.


GREER: And so it's not just about the ads. It's when the president is lying to the American public.

George Stephanopoulos tried to do his level best, but it's so -- the lies come so quickly and so easily with this president, it's really difficult to fact-check him consistently, because, oftentimes, you will be cutting him off every 30 seconds, as though -- he tries to do with other people.

MELBER: Right.

GREER: But we have to sort of make sure that, in these last few weeks leading up to the election, we cannot sort of play this both sides-ism, as we see constantly on the front pages of newspapers, where Trump has lied about, say, 25 things and Biden slightly misspeaks about one small issue, and it's like, well, they're both misspeaking.

MELBER: Right.

GREER: It's not the same, and we need to do a better job at being clear about what facts are and what opinions are as well.

MELBER: Yes. I appreciate your clarity on that.

Cornell, I want to turn to the undecided voters that we do hear about, these polls that suggest there's still something up for grabs, some fluidity in some of these states, because I'm sure you get this question. You were Obama's pollster. You know what you're doing.

But people are really wondering, how many undecideds can there really be at this point here, seven weeks out? And there's a lot of political commentary and a lot of different sources. We try to bring people some of the most striking, even in new mediums.

I want to show you something that's going around on TikTok. This is the perspective of a Biden supporter about the choice and why it shouldn't be that hard.

Cornell, take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, welcome to the restaurant. We only have two items on the menu, sadly, but so it goes.

We have rat poison and a tuna melt. So, which one is it?

Hmm, that's a tough one. Huh.

Gosh, I just -- I don't love tuna, you know?



MELBER: And not everybody does love tuna melts or Joe Biden.

You're not going to say it, but I will. There's evidence that there was more enthusiasm in the grassroots for, say, Barack Obama at times than there has been initially for Joe Biden. And yet the view of this comedic, satirical take that I want your view on, your response is, how can you be undecided if those are the choices?

BELCHER: Well...


BELCHER: Well, one, if you look at -- I was part of the historic Obama team.

But if you look at it, we actually have a narrow group of voters undecided now than I think we have had previously. And, look, it is -- and Joe Biden is running up a larger score with different segments of demographics than even Barack Obama did.

Like, Barack Obama didn't run these sort of margins with college-educated women. And now, in the polling, if you look at the ABC polling that was alpha from Wisconsin and Minnesota today, Trump is even losing some grounds with non-college women.

So the women are turning against him. And God bless the women, because we need more women voting and in an office.

But, look, Trump does serve a purpose. And I think we have talked about this before. No matter what the scandal is, he's always going to stay at 44, 45 percent. Those voters are locked in for him, because he serves a purpose.

And, unfortunately, Ari, he serves a purpose as their tribal strongman. And so the voters who are still hanging out there right now, there are a lot of them. But the voters who are still hanging out there right now, particularly the white voters that -- and it's going to be uncomfortable saying this -- but it is, do you give into tribal politics?

And what Trump is offering up is base tribal politics. Do you give into base tribal politics? Or do you turn and turn for a new way and different and a new kind of politics that's better for the country and puts country over your tribalism?

That to me is really the question for those few white undecided voters who are still hanging out there.

MELBER: Right.

And that part of the Biden campaign's challenges is dealing with, even if they are perceived as the tuna melt, how do you distinguish and say, OK, I get it. There's some things here on this side that you don't like. They showed that in the convention with bringing the Republicans on stage and saying, maybe there's some things that are tuna to you, but there's something really important at stake, and also rat poison is bad, to paraphrase the satire.

But we wanted to get your response to that.

Cornell Belcher, Michael Steele, and, Professor Greer, good to see all of you.

We have just a 30-second break, but a lot of news.

Developing now, the CDC has a timeline on the coronavirus vaccine. We will bring you that.

Also, the very pastor who confronted Trump one on one last night, all about what does that MAGA slogan really mean, joins me live.

And Bill Barr under fire for some very controversial, partisan comments.

We're back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Attorney General Bill Barr now under fire for breaching his nonpartisan obligations in that job.

It's a standard he himself has publicly acknowledged, before then going on to break it anyway, warning that, in his view, if his boss, Donald Trump loses, America will be stuck with socialism, and then falsely alleging Democrats are invoking the threat of force or mobs to somehow force people to vote for Joe Biden.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: As an attorney general, I'm not supposed to get into politics.

I think we are getting into position where we were going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to the socialist path. And I think, if Trump loses this election, that that will be the case.

I think that, increasingly, the message of the Democrats appears to be, with Biden or no peace. The only way this is going to stop is if you Biden.

That becomes mob -- that is rule by the mob. And we're approaching that.


MELBER: "That is rule by the mob."

What is he talking about? Let's be clear. As a fact-check, that is simply a false claim. There's no evidence showing the Biden campaign is threatening mob rule. And just to state the obvious, Joe Biden, like many public officials, has publicly denounced any of the violence or looting in those recent national protests.

Now, beyond the partisan campaigning here, Barr has also faced calls to resign by outraged DOJ veterans and some Republicans for alleged meddling in criminal cases to help Trump advisers like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn -- we all remember that -- to now fanning these voting conspiracies and distributing false information, some of which the DOJ itself recently had to correct.

And Barr's partisanship also puts him on defense over this news that one of the top handpicked prosecutors in his controversial probe of the Russia probe just bailed on that investigation.

Barr also broke protocol by recently pledging that there would be more information in public on that very probe before Election Day.

We have a very special guest to get into this. I'm joined by Stuart Gerson. He was the acting attorney general under President Clinton and former assistant attorney general under George H.W. Bush, and is one of the respected and talented attorneys who knows a lot about how the DOJ is supposed to work, perfect guest for this issue.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: When you take it all together laid out there, do you have a concern about Bill Barr's independence and propriety running an office that's supposed to be nonpartisan?

GERSON: Well, there is no independence. I think the evidence is pretty clear about that.

You have cited several cases where he says, in the first place, he shouldn't be political, and within the next sentence makes a purely political statement. It's affecting a lot of things, the rule of law, the national security with respect to the Durham investigation. I can go into that.

But it's very clear that you only make misrepresentations for political reasons, and that goes back to misrepresentations about the contents of the Mueller report, arguments about the percentage of blacks who are being murdered by police vastly understated by Barr, statements about the reliability of voting by mail, even though experience suggests completely otherwise, and his running -- more than anything else, his running commentary on the Durham investigation, which is clearly prejudged, where he's announced that there's a travesty to the Trump administration that's never been equalled in the history of America.

And, in fact, there's -- the Durham investigation only exists for political reasons.


MELBER: Let's get into that.


MELBER: You're mentioning John Durham, who is a federal prosecutor tasked with this redo, this review of the Mueller probe itself.

As mentioned, a top prosecutor there just left. And this actually, weirdly, overlaps with something we were discussing with our experts earlier in the hour, that, in this era, with this president, you do need an antidote to information coming at you.

So, learning that there's a doctored video going around on Twitter and Facebook from Donald Trump may help people spot it before they get it.

I wonder if we could use your expertise to walk us through what may be a political set of information that comes out before the election from the so-called Durham probe, if, as Bill Barr has promised, it's going to go at certain opponents of the president on a political calendar.

GERSON: Let's just start at the beginning.

You say that the Durham report is a redo of the Mueller investigation. Well, to some degree, it is. It's a redo of two other major things also, the investigation of the inspector general of the Department of Justice into Operation Crossfire and the basis for that, and the investigation of the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, now published -- the results of which now are published in five volumes.

The net of all of those predicates is that, while there might have been some misconduct on the part of the FBI, it didn't affect any case at all.

And with regard to Operation Crossfire Hurricane, that which was probing contacts with Russia, the predicate for that investigation was a leak that came from Mr. Papadopoulos that long preceded any of the events that are the subject of Barr's criticism.


MELBER: So, let me push you along, sir.

Let me push you along, because that's a perfect exposition. For the non-lawyer watching who says, wow, this guy in the bow tie is a way better lawyer than Ari, because he's got every fact, five volumes. You have all the details.

What do you say to the regular voter person who says, OK, what are they supposed to do and think when they hear, pre-Election Day, some announcement from this much-vaunted Barr-Russia probe?

GERSON: Well, remember back to 1992, when, on the Thursday before the election, the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, released an amended indictment naming Caspar Weinberger, an indictment that ultimately was dismissed, that had a notation about George H.W. Bush in the document, not charging him with anything.

An eight-point swing resulted in the polls. And the difference in the election was less than that.

Think about that. Think about looking through those statements. Think about the big lie, if you're old enough. We're memorializing the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Think back to the big lie of Goebbels and that operation in World War II.

Think about what our enemies are doing to us now, verified by Republicans and Democrats alike, with respect to try to influence American opinion both ways, appealing to confirmation bias on the far right and on the far left.

You just have to look through it. You have got to be an intelligent consumer of information today.

Walt Kelly, the great writer, a cartoonist of "Pogo," famously opined in the mouth of Albert the alligator, we has met the enemy, and he is us.

Well, in this case, it's down to us. And we have got to -- we can't accept things at face value. We're living in an information society where information too easily is shaded. It's tough to know the truth, but you have to work at it. And you have to use your brain.

As I say, why would you be making statements of the kind that we're talking about today if they weren't political in nature? They don't have anything to do with substance.

You know, if you do a little research, that the Justice Department has a rule that prohibits commentary on pending cases. Why?

MELBER: Right.

GERSON: Because (AUDIO GAP) pending cases may never be subject to process.

MELBER: Right.


MELBER: And Barr has almost -- I should say Barr has almost publicly pledged to break that rule by promising some -- teasing some update here before the election.

I have to fit in some breaks for other guests.

But former acting Attorney General Gerson, you're such an expert on these issues, such fluency with so many details. And I do think it helps us be ready for whatever may come.

Thank you, sir.

GERSON: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We do fit in a break, but straight ahead: the CDC breaking with Trump on the virus vaccine timeline, and a preview of when we might return to regular life. I'm going to give you the update and the timeline later in the news program.

Also, we're going to speak live with the pastor who was pressing Donald Trump in person about that make America great slogan and what does it mean?


CARL DAY, PASTOR: You have coined the phrase make America great again.

When has America been great for African-Americans in the ghetto of America? Are you aware of how tone-deaf that comes off to African-American community?



MELBER: President Trump still on defense and trying to spin away from what he'd called a setup in just having to speak with, you know, real voters at a town hall.

In a moment, we are joined by Philadelphia Pastor Carl Day, who pressed Trump last night -- let's take a look -- on just what the MAGA slogan means to different people.


DAY: You've coined the phrase, make America great again. When has America been great for African-Americans in the ghetto of America? Are you aware of how tone-deaf that comes off to the African-American community?

TRUMP: Well, I can say this.

We have tremendous African-American support.

DAY: Well, I mean, your statement is, though, make it great again.

So, historically, the African-American experience, especially in these ghettos that have been redlined historically, these ghettos that have systemically been -- you have yet to address and acknowledge that there's been a race problem in America.

TRUMP: So, if you go -- well, I hope there's not a race problem. I can tell you, there's none with me, because I have great respect for all races, for everybody.


MELBER: We turn now to Pastor Carl Day from Philadelphia.

I should mention, he serves on that city's Racial Reconciliation Committee, which the mayor formed after a police shooting -- the police death, I should say, of George Floyd -- the killing of George Floyd.

You posed that important question. Many people saw it. Now please let us know, what did you think of the president's answer?

DAY: Well, I think the president failed to answer the question, because the true answer is that he can't point to an actual time in history that America has been great for African-Americans, especially those that have been living in these underserved, intentionally set-up redlined ghettos of America in which we see today.

MELBER: This speaks to something really fundamental, which is the type of history and nostalgia that Donald Trump has invoked sounds different to different people.

I'm curious, in your work, which we mentioned, and in the way you want to educate people, what do you say to Americans, and specifically white Americans, who say, well, they don't see it as a problem, because there were plenty of things they think used to be better?

What do you say?

DAY: Well, I would tell them the same thing that I push in any political room that I sit in.

Journey with the people that you try to have an opinion on. We heard the president various times allude to it being a Democratic issue, and just blaming it on the Democrat politicians.

But the truth of the matter is, you have to start to, A, search the root cause of the problem. What caused the symptoms? At what point that these communities had so much access to guns and drugs, in which they quite frankly weren't growing themselves, they quite frankly didn't have the financial or economical structure to just go ahead and bring an army full of guns into cities, how did this stuff get here?

At some point, we need white Americans, all kinds of people to actually enter and engage these communities. Talk to the people who've actually lived there, instead of just leaning on media narratives, leaning on the president giving you shock value stats about unemployment going down.

Find out, how much does it actually cost for these residents to live in these major cities in America?


DAY: Find out what kind of jobs they actually have access to.

Those are the things in which -- so it's all about loving your neighbor and getting to know the people that are around you. Or, if you're really concerned as much as you say you are, go to where they live, build meaningful relationships, and at least hear their perspective, rather than debate your political party.

MELBER: You said love thy neighbor. We finish that bar, it's because your neighbor was once a stranger in the land of Egypt.

God had a lot of original bars, Pastor.

DAY: Mm-hmm, for sure.

MELBER: Before I let you go, what's the background? What's the Hulk?

DAY: Oh, man, it's "Hulk" 181, first appearance of Wolverine. That's my guy, man.

So, I'm always teaching my kids, man, it's important to be superheroes out here, man. We got to be out here trying to think about others and trying to save the world around us.

MELBER: I like that.

Pastor Day, you're very -- clearly a very interesting person, very involved. And I think we're the better for the fact that you were able to put that question to the president. People can judge his answer as they see fit.

I want to thank you.

When we come back, I have a major update on when Americans can actually expect a widespread COVID vaccine.

Also, new police documents emerge in the killing of a black man in Rochester, New York, a cover-up allegedly on the table. Reverend Sharpton is here.

Stay with us.


MELBER: We turn now to a special report on an important and open case, how Rochester police killed Daniel Prude after his brother called 911 seeking help.

New tonight, city records show how police and city officials were stage-managing this case, even playing up the potential danger that might have been posed by Prude, who would be the potential victim in a criminal case regarding the killing.

Now, newly released e-mails show a scramble after he was killed by police, a first approach that looks clearly like deny and delay, keep the public in the dark, and keep the key body camera footage secret.

These documents show that access was prevented by Prude's family, and a top police official told his boss the rationale was to basically defend the police, separate this incident from the wider concerns about such protests around the country, and prevent people who might -- quote -- "misinterpret the officers' actions" or conflate the incident with the recent killings of other unarmed black men.

Instead of an open-minded investigation, what these documents suggest is an officer writing that any such link was a -- quote -- "false narrative" and risked creating animosity.

Then, the boss inside the police unit responds: "I totally agree."

Now, many of these controversies, whether you know about this individual case or policing writ large, it turns on what people think police do. Do they investigate and independently find facts, or are they sometimes biased when facts involve what police did and how they investigate themselves?

I want to tell you, that issue is on display in this police report, because, initially, in writing, they describe Prude, this gentleman who was killed, in a fairly neutral way, as -- quote -- "an individual."

Now, Prude's own brother called for mental distress help. There was no known alleged crime at the time, but then look. From these new documents, we learn another officers circled that word -- you see that individual on the left there -- and then pushed for something that might be more sinister, writing in red: "Make him a suspect."

Now, the context for this is, when police arrived on that scene in March, Prude was not known to be a suspect of any previous crime. Instead, he was in great distress. Officers restrained him, placed a hood over his head and pinned him.

When the video was finally released, it shows officers forcefully pressing Prude's face to the ground and contradicts other claims in that initial police report.


DANIEL PRUDE, DIED IN POLITICS CUSTODY: No. (INAUDIBLE) I mean it. God bless you all. Give me that gun. I mean it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're going to stay down. You're going to stay down.

PRUDE: All right, all right. Take it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I got it. I got him. I'm already in there.

PRUDE: They're trying to kill me.


MELBER: Now, the arresting officer had said he simply tried to restrain Prude.

But the video shows him leaning heavily on Prude's head for at least 68 seconds, only stopping when Prude passed out, as a "New York Times" account shows.

Prude's death was ruled a death by suffocation or asphyxia. There was also PCP found in his system.

Now, the elements here, the evidence of a potential cover-up is a reminder of how these cases can be so systemic, which means larger than any single person, be that a police officer or a police chief or a politician.

I say that because the Democratic mayor of Rochester has asserted that she's against police brutality, and then had said, once this started to come out, that she was out of the loop.


LOVELY WARREN (D), MAYOR OF ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: I also want to be very clear today about what I knew about Mr. Prude's death and when I knew it.

Chief Singletary never informed me of the actions of his officers to forcibly restrain Mr. Prude.


MELBER: Now, informed or not, the mayor has civilian authority over police. She could have reviewed that video any time.

But here's what is worse tonight. Newly released e-mails from those first weeks of the process show the police chief at least stating in writing -- quote -- "The mayor has been in the loop since March 23."

And critics say it all shows a systemic instinct to cover up and hide alleged police brutality, rather than fairly investigate it.

We turn now to someone who has worked on these issues for decades. The Reverend Al Sharpton is, of course, president of the National Action Network and a colleague here as host of "POLITICS NATION" on MSNBC.

Good evening, sir.


MELBER: We look at the evidence that's now emerged, and you believe it shows what?

SHARPTON: I think that it has gone beyond a cover-up to a crime.

When you have a police officer saying, "Make him a suspect," now you have a proactive move to not only prejudge the investigation, but to actually come to a conclusion by making the victim the suspect.

This office ought to be charged, because you have engaged now in trying to not only tamper and tarnish with an investigation, but to try and criminalize a victim even before you have come to an objective conclusion with an alleged objective investigation.

MELBER: Let's dig in on that, what you're walking us through.

We will put it back up on the screen here, the police report. A lot of Americans would like to believe that a police report is just the facts, ma'am, like "Dragnet."

Walk us through what we see here, Rev, because you're saying these red circles on the left show they were going to call him an individual, and then moved him to suspect, you call it tampering. Why?

SHARPTON: Because there's no evidence at all that this Mr. Prude was a suspect of any crime.

So, to deem him a suspect is to knowingly tamper with the evidence, knowingly tamper with what you're filing as an officer of the law. And you have decided that, in some crazy kind of rationale, that we want to not hook this up to what's going on around the country, justifiably, around George Floyd and others, that you're going to therefore criminalize a victim who died in your custody.

And that, in itself, is a crime. Not only do we find out later that the cause of death was different than what they said. We now find out that they, in a very clear and proactive way, tried to criminalize a man who had died, whose brother only asked that he be helped because he was facing issues.

Now you're going to criminalize him in the name of, you want to maintain some peace by disrupting and by demeaning and distorting and defaming a man that can't defend himself.


SHARPTON: That is a criminal act, and this officer ought to be under criminal investigation.

MELBER: Understood.

And that's why I think these documents, this new evidence is so important.

The other thing I want to ask is about policy. Longtime MSNBC viewers do know that, in some ways -- and I can say this since we're friends -- there's old Rev and new Rev. New Rev has leaner suits. And you have adjusted your vibes in some ways.

But one thing that's always been consistent, old, red and new, is you have always said -- you said this years ago, when it wasn't necessarily on the front burner -- that the policy solution has to be independent probes, because police can't investigate themselves.

You have gone down and done trips with families that weren't on the national headlines, and said that's what they needed for justice.

I'm just curious what this kind of case shows. And how much closer do you think we are to that being a kind of a national solution, if we want to get to the facts?

SHARPTON: Well, this gives you a case in point as to why we're saying police cannot investigate themselves or police themselves, because, had it been left there, we probably would never know exactly what is happening, the fact that, in New York now, when you have police killing, it is given to the state attorney general's office outside.

You cannot have police investigate police matters, because they tend to do what this officer has so blatantly done. They try and docker up things. And that is not an investigation. That is a setup. And, usually, the victims are the ones that get set up here. And this is a case in point why we ask for independent investigations and independent prosecutors.

And an independent prosecutor ought to bring this police in front of a grand jury, because that paper that you have, that document you have should go in front of a grand jury, because it is a criminal act to tamper with evidence.

MELBER: All makes sense, and, again, something you have been on for a long time.

We should mention, for viewers, there has only since the public disclosures now been a new little arranged investigation, and the state attorney general's office says they're looking at it.

We will keep everyone apprised of the case.

Reverend Sharpton, thank you, sir.

And, as folks know, you can always go catch "POLITICS NATION" weekends, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right here, of course, on MSNBC.

And when we come back, this is a story that really touched me, blew me away, and I want to share it with you. The WNBA star who helped free a man from a wrongful conviction, well, now there's wedding bells. We will get into all that later in the broadcast.

But also major news that affects you and your life. When will there be a widely available coronavirus vaccine? New CDC announcement.

We will bring that to you next.


MELBER: When will there be a vaccine? Everybody wants to know that.

Well, we have actual news today. The head of the CDC says most Americans won't really have it readily available until at least the middle of next year.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.


MELBER: Third quarter 2021. You can let that sink in.

Meanwhile, the president went out to the lectern and tried to rebut what his own CDC director said. You can decide who to believe. The timeline from the CDC is sobering.

We have one more great piece of news when we return.


MELBER: Finally tonight, we take a quick look at the emotional story of a man who actually spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Jonathan Irons released in March with the help of WNBA star and activist Maya Moore.


MAYA MOORE, WNBA PLAYER: How's it feel? How's it feel?

JONATHAN IRONS, WRONGFULLY CONVICTED: I feel like I can live now, man. I'm free. I'm blessed. I just want to live my life worthy, live my life worthy of God's help and influence.


MELBER: Moore skipped the WNBA season, focusing on his case, and they have spent time together pushing for justice reform.

It's already quite a story, but then, today, this big announcement.


MOORE: We have wanted to announce today that we are super excited to continue the work that we have been doing together, but doing it as a married couple.

So, we got married a couple months ago. And we're excited to just continue this new chapter of life together.


MELBER: Amazing set of developments.

And they say they will continue their advocacy efforts with the Win With Justice campaign.

We wanted to give you that uplift at the end of the hour.



Content and programming copyright 2020 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.