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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 18, 2020

Guests: Daniella Gibbs Leger, Francis Ford Coppola


Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola speaks out. Jared Kushner is under pressure for some stunning alleged remarks on COVID-19. President Trump faces a historic rejection from his own former officials. Attorney General Bill Barr faces blowback on his attempts to potentially influence the election.



And this is a historic political night in the 2020 race. The presidential election has officially begun. This music you hear may spark memories of election nights, but this election voting this year actually does last months. And today is the official first day that people can vote in-person in America.

So this election starts now with real people in real voting lines casting their binding votes right now for their final choice in a race that everyone agrees is a huge deal for the future of America, the economy, the pandemic, civil rights, and so much more.

Pictures that you're seeing here, of course, new because this is the first day of this voting. Now, of course, the pandemic is both an issue in how people make up their minds and a real-world impact on voting itself. While people are now starting their early votes and casting ballots across four states today, some choosing to do so in-person, many others will vote by mail.

In fact, last cycle, over one out of every three votes were cast before Election Day, a whopping 57 million votes total. And the pandemic means that way more people may vote early, and by mail to avoid large crowds on November 3. And we're on pace to see tens of millions of people vote early.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my first time actually doing early voting. We decide to just come on out early and get it done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it feels good to just have it done and say that I have done it, start telling my friends and other people, reminding them, go vote, go vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to get my vote in and I wanted it to count.

Go vote! It's important this year.


MELBER: Our reporters found early turnout and people in long lines there in Virginia and Minnesota. That's what you see there.

Also, so far, everything I'm reporting to you right now about this is literally politically neutral, right? I mean, just to be real here, at a basic level, voting or voting early is just a thing that's happening under the rules. I'm giving you civic information.

And yet, what you see here, early turnout and a surge towards voting by mail, is being viewed as bad news for Donald Trump, even perhaps terrible, career-ending news, and not just by his critics, but by the president himself.

And you know why, because you watch the news, so you have probably followed it up until tonight's voting. Donald Trump has been lashing out at exactly this, early voting, voting by mail, anything like this. He's been pushing disinformation propaganda, openly saying he opposes your right to vote by mail in the states where he's currently behind.

So what begins today is the context for Donald Trump's recent meltdowns or tantrums, because a campaign that may be trailing now has more to lose in voting that's happening now. And as for trailing, the new polls show trouble for Trump as he faces this pandemic and recession, apparently trailing Biden in Arizona and Maine, close to tied in conservative North Carolina.

Biden's campaign leaning into its budget advantage, as Donald Trump is yanking TV ads in a cash crunch. The Bidens have a new ad that moves beyond some of the stories in the national press, which are important and have been widely discussed, like that COVID reporting in Bob Woodward's book or these DOJ controversies.

But, politically, the Biden campaign hitting Trump for a scandal that resonates specifically in some states with high veteran populations, reporting about Donald Trump trashing the military and veterans who died in service to the U.S.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These military families suffer, and those spouses are not suckers, and those children are not losers. It's obvious that this president has no real empathy. Just shows he doesn't get it.


MELBER: These attacks landing, as some Trump veterans of his administration jump ship, including a former Trump education official, former Pence aide. Historian Michael Beschloss joins us on those developments actually later this hour.

And while voters are adjusting when and how they cast their ballots during this pandemic, today, we're actually again seeing more in-person campaigning by both candidates, including Joe Biden out there in Minnesota, a reminder of how fluid even a pandemic race can be.

Remember, there was a lot of talk about virtual events at the convention a few weeks back. And all of that giving away to campaigning in-person.

Now, I want to say this before we bring in our experts tonight at the end of another long week.

I would understand it if you felt kind of so overwhelmed by the way this year has gone or so numb to how many times we have told you about inflection points that you might potentially miss out on what's really happening.

So let me underscore it today. Right now, the presidential race in America has begun. People are voting. The president is attacking their right to vote and admitting he wants to cheat and rig the results. And let me tell you something that you don't need to be an expert to know. The person attacking voting when the race has already begun ain't usually the person in the lead.

Now let's bring in our experts, as promised, "New York Times"' Michelle Goldberg, Daniella Gibbs Leger, former Obama administration official with the Center for American Progress, and my colleague Alicia Menendez, whose new MSNBC show, "AMERICAN VOICES," premieres Saturday 6:00 p.m. right here on MSNBC.

Congratulations on that. A lot of people excited about that.

Michelle, starting with this basic point, the election has begun. Donald Trump appears to believe he's behind and doesn't want people to be able to vote.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, and I honestly feel like I'm tearing up seeing those long lines, because there's so many people in this country who've been waiting for this moment since the day after the election in November 2016.

And I think, because of the pandemic -- and I have written about this recently -- the Biden campaign can be kind of invisible, right? People aren't knocking on doors. You're not seeing rallies.

Because Trump is so visible, I think that sometimes people forget or often people forget or at least they don't feel it that there is an anti-Trump majority in this country, right, that the majority of people in this country do not approve what's going on. Most of them, many of them, find it intolerable, and they're just not represented because Trump is such an overweening figure.

But you can see in these lines all of the people, kind of a real silent majority that hopefully will be able to make itself heard.

MELBER: Daniella?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes, I think that's 100 percent right.

And I have to say, when I heard the music and saw the people standing in line, I got like -- I got chills.


GIBBS LEGER: Because, finally, we're here. We are here.


GIBBS LEGER: People are starting to vote.

MELBER: And I will jump in just to say, Daniella, like, we feel that way, too, because there's the civic part, as citizens. There's the journalistic part, as we get ready for election coverage.

And, again, I will repeat myself because the truth bears repeating. We have the music and we're looking at those lines because the voting really starts now.


And I'm hearing from my friends who live in Virginia who are like, I'm voting and I'm getting it done early. And then I'm going to go out there and I'm going to volunteer for a campaign, because this election is so crucial.

And Michelle really right. People have been waiting for this moment literally since Donald Trump became president.

MELBER: Alicia?

ALICIA MENENDEZ, MSNBC HOST: Ari, I think you laid it out so well, all of the factors that are playing into this moment.

And so, inasmuch as Michelle may be right that there is a majority of Americans who don't want to see Donald Trump reelected, so much of this election is going to come down to the mechanics of voting, come down to whether or not people want to go and stand and wait in those lines.

They're going to come down to whether or not people are able to mail in their ballots, to whether or not those votes are then counted. I mean, you're seeing all across this country state by state a variety of challenges on the legal front to people being able to cast their ballots.

There's been some good news this week out of Pennsylvania, where there's been an extension in the deadline by which people can submit their ballot to vote, some good news out of Ohio.

But so much of this is going to come down last to the polling and public perception, and so much more to the actual infrastructure of how we vote.


And that is, of course, partly, as I mentioned, for what I might call neutral factors, a pandemic would affect this, no matter who was president and what you think about how they have handled the pandemic, and then the political factors that it sounds like criticism, but is actually just fact, Daniella, that this president is trying to thwart people from exercising their rights.

And that's wrong, period. And that would be wrong even if some people like other things about him. There are things about Donald Trump that you have a right to feel, because they're political debates. And then there are other things that are wrong in a democracy, which is why voter suppression is unconstitutional and illegal.

I know part of my job is just repeating real basic things that we ought to all know, and I wish we all were able to uphold civil rights law.

But, Daniella, I also want you to look at the contrast. We put together a little bit of the contrast with voting under way and the closing arguments, if you want to call it that, for people at least who do choose to vote early here.

Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Biden wants to surrender our country to the violent left-wing mob. If Biden wins, the mob wins. If Biden wins, the rioters, anarchists, arsonists, and flag-burners, they win.

We're for law and order.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue. The next president of the United States is going to inherit two things, a divided nation and a world in disarray.

I plan to unite the nation.

I'm going to be America's president, not a Democratic president. I'm going to be -- I'm a Democrat, proud of it, but America's president.


MELBER: Daniella?

GIBBS LEGER: What a difference in message and tone. President Trump is obviously going to rely on fear and scaremongering and trying to get his base out there to vote for him out of a sense that a Joe Biden presidency would somehow bring in chaos, when the chaos that's happening right now is happening under President Trump.

I think sometimes maybe he forgets that, whereas Joe Biden is talking about you today. And whether or not you believe that this country is capable of unity after the last four years, you need to hear that in your leaders.

Your leaders need to say that they are the president of the entire United States of America, not red America, not blue America, but all America.

And, like I said, really two stark contrasts between these closing arguments.

MELBER: Everyone stays. The panel stays.

Michelle, I wanted to get you first on the Senate races that also could be quite close. Democrats could net a gain of four or more seats in order to take control of the Senate.

We just want to flag this "New York Times"/Siena College poll, because it matters to what's going to happen. Republican incumbents in Arizona, North Carolina, Maine, you see them falling behind Democrats, eight points in AZ, five in Maine and N.C.


GOLDBERG: Well, look, I think that people aren't stupid, right? People understand that Donald Trump hasn't been able to corrupt this country, to the extent that he has, all on his own, right?

They understand complicity. They understand Susan Collins, who has a moderate reputation, but has enabled the most far-right governance in modern American history.

One of the reasons that I'm watching most closely is in South Carolina, where you have -- which still seems like a long shot, but you have a recent poll showing Jaime Harrison neck and neck with Trump's number one sycophant, Lindsey Graham.

And so I just think, look, obviously, this race is still close. I don't think Democrats can sit back and relax. I don't think they can feel smug about Biden's lead. I think that the odds of Trump winning are still higher than your odds of -- they're Russian roulette odds, basically, right?

So nobody should feel comfortable right now. But the only -- but they -- the only reason that Trump still has a chance is because he doesn't need a majority of the vote. The majority of the people in this country are furious, and are trying to show that everywhere that they can.

MELBER: Alicia, I also want to show the context on those state races, which don't always match what's going on nationally, with the overall opposition, which dovetails with what Michelle was reminding us earlier, that we have a system, and it's rule of law, if you win the Electoral College, but you're still not holding a mandate.

That's how Donald Trump began. He never had more votes. Then you look at these right track/wrong track numbers, obviously a recession in COVID, but it's incredible, Alicia, to see 72 percent of people, even in our polarized time, they do agree on one thing, which is America is on the wrong track right now?

MENENDEZ: Yes, absolutely.

I mean, you have an electorate that is deeply, deeply pessimistic about the current state of the United States and the future of the United States. So, so much of Donald Trump's pitch to the American people has to be around COVID, around his handling of this pandemic.

And part of what I find so interesting is that you don't really see him out there trying to espouse a vision for the future. He's not really selling voters on what the next four years of the Trump administration would bring.

I will remind you the RNC now feels like it was a million years ago. There was no policy platform. And so you have the president neither presenting a vision for the future that he is asking voters to bank on, nor does he have demonstrable results from the last four years.

MELBER: Right.

MENENDEZ: And that's why, when you go back to that footage that you showed of him at that town hall, there is this constant emphasis on fear, which I will remind everyone here -- and everyone here doesn't need the reminder -- that, just this week, you had the FBI director saying, no, these threats that the president is talking about -- I mean, he said this in a roundabout way -- are not the threats that we need to be focused on.

The greatest threats to American safety and security actually come from right-wing extremists.

MELBER: Yes, and all the mob talk, Daniella, is something we have put under scrutiny here on this program.

And it's very important, because there's a legal part, obviously, which is whether Bill Barr is literally breaking the law in being a political attorney general or abusing power going into the election. We have more on that, actually, later tonight.

Then there's also the rhetoric, which is, again, I stress what is illegal and what's allowed. It is allowed for candidates to lie and to appeal to the worst base instincts.

But there's a question of what Americans want to co-sign. And all this mob talk, which we showed from the president earlier. this is sort of -- I don't know, Daniella, if you were into "Scorpion," which was Drake's most recent full album. Do you remember that one?


MELBER: No. And it's not the most well-known Drake album, to be clear, but he has that song "Mob Ties."

And it's all about using the threat and the specter of the mob, notwithstanding whether you think he really has mob ties, but this idea that, basically, Donald Trump wants a beef with Joe Biden by casting this very establishment figure, who for many primary voters might not have been their most progressive choice, as not only a super radical, but literally the mob, it does seem like a stretch, no?

GIBBS LEGER: It's a huge stretch. And it's ridiculous on its face to try and paint Joe Biden as some left-wing radical, or that he is going to be -- his puppet strings are going to be pulled by the left-wing radicals.

Trump does have this obsession with the mob. Remember, he said, where's my Roy Cohn? I think it has something to do with his upbringing includes, I don't know, like, a lot of us who grew up in the tri-state area have like this weird thing with the mob.

But I'm also not the president. So it's OK for me to be that way. But serious -- on a serious note, what is happening at the Department of Justice -- I know you're going to talk about this later with experts -- it's chilling, and it should be another motivator for people who want to make a change.

MELBER: Yes, I think it's all fair points.

I want to thank Daniella Gibbs Leger, Michelle Goldberg, and, again, shout-out to our colleague Alicia Menendez.

I want to remind everyone, in addition to being here on THE BEAT, which we appreciate, you should check it out. We have some new MSNBC weekend shows launching here, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Alicia Menendez, "AMERICAN VOICES," and then Joshua Johnson with "THE WEEK." Check them both out. We recommend it.

Now, we're back in just 30 seconds. Tonight's show, we have some other topics.

Kushner under pressure for some stunning alleged remarks, also a historic rejection of Donald Trump from his own former officials.

And up next, as promised, Bill Barr's attempt to potentially influence the election, and news on the blowback.

We will talk to a former Mueller prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, when we're back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Turning to developing news on the other big story, congressional Democrats pushing an emergency investigation. This is into Attorney General Bill Barr.

And the charge is blatant political activity at the DOJ and potentially compromising this upcoming election. This is not a drill.

In a new letter to the one person at DOJ who actually audits the attorney general and the FBI director, the inspector general watchdog, Democrats demanding what they call a factual and necessary probe of whether Barr would now be improperly influencing the upcoming election.

Now, there's evidence to support that concern, from Barr's crackdowns on protests and public officials in the run-up to this voting we have been covering, to what is now raising other questions, the unusual departure of a top prosecutor on the Barr-ordered review of the Mueller probe, with reports that she opposed Barr's potentially improper timeline for getting out information before the election.

Now, Barr's publicly breached protocol by sounding more like a partisan Trump operative than an independent attorney general. There have been more calls for his resignation from DOJ veterans and even some Republicans than any other modern A.G.

But this has escalated far past words or rhetoric this very week. It's actually farther than anything that may have basically transpired under the Trump DOJ, because there are reports now that Barr is pressing prosecutors to literally try to lock up the Seattle mayor who allowed certain protests and also go after protesters for sedition.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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: More talk of mob ties.

We're joined by MSNBC legal analyst Andrew Weissmann, a veteran prosecutor, a former counsel to Mueller. He served, of course, we should note, in the Mueller Russia probe.

And, if I'm not mistaken, you have taken on the mob in your own prosecutions, so plenty to get into, sir.

But let's start with your assessment of what Attorney General Barr is doing. And is he, from the public evidence, over the line?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Direct answer to your question, yes, he's over the line.

And to answer your first part, what is he doing? I think this is about the Durham investigation. We don't yet know what rabbit the Attorney General Barr is trying to pull out in October, but I think this is about the Durham investigation.

And what he's been doing in the last couple days is trying to justify what he's about to do, which is I think he's, one, saying it's totally fine for him to act in a political fashion. He gave a speech where he said, that's totally fine for the attorney general to do that. He is only limited by not doing something based on race or religion, shocking, shocking speech to say that.

And the second part is to say, ignore Nora Dannehy, number two in the Durham investigation. Ignore the people and the career people who are resigning, because he said, hey, it's all about me. I have the power to do whatever I want. Ignore what career people do.

And that also is very dangerous.

MELBER: Yes. Let's get into that, because some of this becomes sort of D.C. jargony. No shade.

But when we say career people, right, this is like -- we're talking about the people who aren't Trump politicos, the people who do these jobs often without a lot of public reward or attention. They take public service salaries, and they try to call it like they see it. And you worked with these individuals.

And a lot of them are FBI agents. We don't know all their names, right? A lot of them are line prosecutors. And you're saying, even before a new big clash, people should be skeptical of what the attorney general is now doing, which is laying the groundwork to say, even if those people or a majority of them or ones who are also happen to be conservatives or Republicans, if they criticize what he might do in the coming weeks before the election, he's already impugning them.


This is -- as a trial lawyer, this is something called -- you pull the teeth on your adversaries' arguments, and so it has less bite and less force.

But here, to say ignore what career (AUDIO GAP) apolitical people doing their job really gets the issue wrong. No one's saying that Bill Barr doesn't have the power to make decisions and to overrule career people. It's not the power. It's his exercising of the power in a way that is political.

It's deciding that you are going to take favorable positions with respect to Roger Stone, favorable positions with respect to Michael Flynn. And if the reporting is correct, you're going to seek to have an investigation of a sitting mayor of a major city.


WEISSMANN: Those are -- when you say, is that over the line, way over the line.

MELBER: Well, let's get into it. I'm glad you put it like that, because you're talking about whether he is wrong in how he overrules.

And viewers of THE BEAT know we try to be as factual and fair as possible. That's why we have a lot of Trump officials on, so people can make sure to hear what they say. When you were a Mueller prosecutor, we had some of your witnesses on, from Michael...

WEISSMANN: I remember that.


MELBER: From Michael Caputo, who has been back in the news because of controversial statements inside the Trump administration, to Jerome Corsi.

We didn't have them on because we were saying everything they said was right or true, but we try to be fair.

As fair as I can try to be, what A.G. Barr has been doing this week is, A, complete load of crap, full of lies, and, B, really dangerous to the next six weeks as a country that we have to go through. And I say that as context for the response from the DOJ about whether or not he's trying to lock up Democratic mayors, which you just brought up.

Now, here's the pushback. This was so bad, they're denying it. "The New York Times" had multiple sources saying he was plotting about that.

Here's what the U.S. attorney in Seattle says -- quote -- "At no time has anyone at the department communicated to me that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is, was or should be the subject of a criminal investigation or be charged with any federal crime related to those Capitol Hill protests. As U.S. attorney, I would be aware of such an investigation."

And that comes from the current U.S. attorney in the Western District of Washington. We read the whole quote there for full context.

But I'm curious what you see as the significance of that, because that could both be true, and the Times" story that Bill Barr wants to lock up Democrats could also be true. You have been so close to these matters.

Your view.

WEISSMANN: So, I don't know the inside story there, but they easily could both be true.

I hope and pray that what you're hearing from the sitting U.S. attorney is true, because it is so beyond the pale to think that an attorney general of the United States would be -- based on this record, be suggesting a criminal investigation into an opponent.

But the reason it -- you could reconcile both "The New York Times"' reporting and what you just read is, as I understand "The New York Times"' reporting, it deals with conversations in Washington between the attorney general and his staff and the Civil Rights Division.

MELBER: Right.

WEISSMANN: And that is in Washington as well. So, I don't know that it's the case that the U.S. attorney would necessarily be a part of that. That can be a fairly insular conversation.

But, again, I hope it's not true that the attorney general has done this.

MELBER: Copy on that.

Right. I think you, being the lawyer you are, are speaking about the evidentiary path, that we have now got a denial from a certain part of the building.


MELBER: Attorney General Barr should speak on this. He, in a functioning democracy, should speak on it under oath.

The last thing I have to ask you is, of course, in a different angle. We have discussed the documented problems with this re-review of the Mueller probe. But, again, for viewers to understand, you're also one of the prosecutors in it.

And there were reports, public accounts about the handling of phones, including potentially yours. I want to give you a chance to respond to those who are saying that somehow there's issues or potential impropriety with that evidence.

WEISSMANN: So, I'm going to talk a little bit more next week about this.

As you know, I have a book coming out, and so I'm going to speak about this.

But I think one thing I would ask reporters like you to do is to ask the Department of Justice to speak about all of the processes that were in place in the Mueller investigation to lock down and back up all written and electronic records, because I'm quite suspect that the Department of Justice is actually sitting on that information, as opposed to coming out with it, which I think would go a long way to debunk these stories.

MELBER: I agree with that. And we will ask them that.

But me doing my job, when there are reports that somehow you or other prosecutors mishandled phone evidence, your response is?

WEISSMANN: Well, I know I didn't, and I'm confident my colleagues didn't either.

MELBER: OK, and interesting to note, because we're seeing a lot of that.

We will be coming back to you for your expertise.

Andrew Weissmann, a celebrated attorney, always good to have your views, sir.

WEISSMANN: Nice to be here.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up: these revelations on what Jared Kushner was allegedly saying and doing behind the scenes while people were dying of coronavirus.

But first: another Trump official coming out for Joe Biden. It's a growing list. It looks unprecedented. We have the historian Michael Beschloss on it when we come back.


MELBER: Welcome back.

Turning to new fallout over a Trump administration official and veteran of the Coronavirus Task Force speaking out against Trump and also going further and being very clear, endorsing Joe Biden's.

A top homeland security adviser to Mike Pence says she's choosing country over party because of Donald Trump's botched coronavirus response.


OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything's OK, when we know that it's not.

The truth is, he doesn't actually care about anyone else but himself. If the president had taken this virus seriously, or if he had actually made an effort to tell how serious it was, he would have slowed the virus spread, he would have saved lives.


MELBER: Now, Olivia Troye was obviously close to the action in the room with this firsthand primary source knowledge of how the Trump administration really handled the virus, echoing concerns that, of course, were also recently documented by Bob Woodward, adding to a growing list of defectors that we have probably never seen in modern history of any White House administration.

Think about this list of not just Republicans, but ex-Trump officials who publicly oppose Donald Trump getting another term, people like John Bolton, Jim Mattis, communications operatives and veterans of the DHS.

Joining me now is presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: I'm great.

After a long week, I don't know about you, I think feel like talking about any year other than the year 2020.



BESCHLOSS: It's my luck, I get to talk and read about dead presidents. So, welcome to my world.

MELBER: There you go.

"Dead Presidents" also a great song by Rick Ross, referring to the dead presidents on the bills.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. Of course.

MELBER: Now, when you think about dead presidents and past history, it's become common to think, gosh, we're living through this special time. It's different than others.

I'm curious, both in comparison and contrast, other times where we have seen administrations or top people say, you know what, yes, I was involved with that president, they shouldn't get another term, and the power of that. Compare and contrast. Take it away.

BESCHLOSS: Not in these kinds of numbers, Ari, and not with this kind of language.

You might have seen, for instance, 1996, someone might have resigned from Bill Clinton's administration, said, I think he's gone too conservative on welfare reform, or something like that.

But listen to what we're hearing about. This is, you elect Trump again, we may lose our democracy.


BESCHLOSS: You know, what we were just hearing a moment ago.

In private, Trump does not care about those who are suffering and dying from COVID. Can you imagine, if this were 1944, and someone from the Franklin Roosevelt administration, in the closing years of World War II, said, he really doesn't care about the troops behind the scenes, he doesn't have a plan to win the war?

That would have been draconian. This is something we really haven't seen before.


And so what does history show, I guess, in your view, about the power of that? Because there are some people in any era, right, who are going to be so in their tribe bubble loyal group that this doesn't affect them.

But, after a certain point, particularly, as you mentioned, if it's about real nonpartisan issues, national security, health security...

BESCHLOSS: Life and death.

MELBER: Life and death, yes.

Go ahead.

BESCHLOSS: Yes. No, absolutely right.

And what they're saying is not, I disagree with him on policy, or I don't think he's as good a president as he claims to be. What they're saying is, this guy is totally different on the inside from what he represents himself as on the outside, secretive, conspiratorial.

Have you ever seen a president asking for nondisclosure agreements from the people who work with him? Maybe John Kennedy did with his household staff, but you sure have not seen it with the people who've been working in the West Wing on policy.

So, when you are president who is this secretive, and who is this different on the inside from the way he is on the outside, he should be very vulnerable to people saying, I'm blowing the whistle, you folks better know what this is and you better know what you're in for if this guy is reelected.


And so when the president has his approach to obviously settling these feuds, impugning and demeaning anyone who turns on him, so to speak, how does that compare to the past? Because we have had very big brawls in American political life. We had a Civil War.

But, again, it's hard to think of in the modern era someone who's -- yes, you could have an issue with this or that person, but the number of people who were close to him, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, that he has turned on is quite striking.

BESCHLOSS: And look at the means he uses.

You and I, if we were talking about this 10 years ago, I think we would have said a big part of democracy is openness and criticism of a president. That's what the founders wanted. It makes the president perform better.


BESCHLOSS: This has to be done in public.

Instead, this is a guy who wants to be as secretive as possible, shut people up. Look what he did to John Bolton, who, at least while he worked for him, was very loyal. John Bolton is in danger of going to prison for the pleasure of having worked for Donald Trump and written a book that apparently was cleared by the government.

That's at stake now. And if you have Donald Trump reelected to a second term, what kind of vindictive moves might he take against people who have crossed him and said things to the public that he did not want them to say?

MELBER: Yes, and you bring up a very important point on Bolton, where, as we have reported, some of the underlying issues may be legitimate. There are classification reviews.


MELBER: And yet when you couple it with the controversy over the Seattle mayor, the public demands to indict Comey, Clapper, McCabe, all of this stuff that's really reminiscent of, as some have put it, a more authoritarian approach, something...

BESCHLOSS: This is what dictators do.

And you have got an attorney general who seems very willing to put people in prison if necessary to intimidate the political opposition.


BESCHLOSS: This is un-American. It's unlike anything we have seen in the presidency.

MELBER: Important words, and it means a lot coming from you, sir.

Michael Beschloss, always good to end the week with you.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Same here, Ari. Be well.

MELBER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

We have a lot more on the program tonight, including damning new details about Jared Kushner's early COVID response.

CDC scientists have new guidance -- why there's concern about politicization.

Donald Trump's top appointee at the agency overseeing the election as well with some shocking new comments.

My fact-check on that important story -- when we return.


MELBER: New revelations side about the White House's failed COVID response.

This is from "Vanity Fair." It reports, all the way back in March, when cases were first climbing in New York City, Jared Kushner had this response when there were pleas for help to save lives from state officials, doctors, et cetera, telling aides -- quote -- "Governor Cuomo didn't pound the phones hard enough to get PPE for his state. His people are going to suffer, and that's their problem" -- end quote -- according to "Vanity Fair."

We want you to know that a Trump official is disputing this and says it's -- quote -- "not rooted in reality."

Meanwhile, new documents revealing that, in April, the White House had a plan on the table to do something that might have helped curb the spread, but scrapped a written operation that would have distributed 650 million mass nationwide, basically five face coverings to every American household.

Experts tell us that the equipment at that time might have curbed the spread, thus lessen factions and potentially less death.

Finally, "The New York Times" revealing with the Trump administration officials have also politicized, sidelined and overruled the very scientists whose job it is and whose career is spent helping the CDC write guidelines.

Instead, they came in with their own ideas about how to do testing. The CDC now is still correcting those guidelines. There was an update today on that.

So, this is important background. We are going towards a new grim milestone, as we continue to track COVID in America. We're approaching 200,000 deaths, a different kind of milestone from what, yes, that same family member and official, Jared Kushner, discussed back in April.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think that we have had achieved all the different milestones that are needed.

So, the government, federal government, rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story. And I think that that's really what needs to be told.


MELBER: Didn't seem true then, and it's certainly false now. Not a great success story, and something we have to continue to track.

When we come back, absolutely bonkers reports about what the government election chief in the Trump administration wants and why he sees a spiritual war in 2020.

That's next.


MELBER: The government official who oversees federal elections, picked by Donald Trump, is now breaching his nonpartisan job duties.

You may not have heard about this story yet, but we think it's important. He's calling this 2020 vote a spiritual war between good and evil.


QUESTION: Do you think that President Trump sort of sees this election as not just an election, but also a big -- like a giant spiritual war, and there's a sort of a battle of good and evil going on, besides just red and blue?

JAMES TRAINOR, CHAIR, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: Well, I will tell you, I mean, I see it that way. It really is about a battle between good and evil.


MELBER: That is as partisan a political save as you can make.

James Trainor also asserting that the separation of church and state, he sees that as a -- quote -- "fallacy."

Now, everyone has the right to their opinion, but this is a government official. The election is just six weeks away. This is not acceptable.

It's drawing a sharp response from his own colleague on that same panel, Ellen Weintraub, who has been on THE BEAT, by the way. She's saying -- quote -- "Our elections are not spiritual wars. They're not wars at all. Wars have enemies. Elections have opponents. We're all Americans. We're all in this together" -- end quote.

Weintraub also rebutting Trainor's assertion about church and state, pointing to, among other things, the 1796 treaty signed by President Adams that says, "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion," to say nothing of the First Amendment and hundreds of years of Supreme Court precedent.

Those are, if you're interested, the receipts.

When we come back tonight, we have something very special to end the week, legendary director Francis Ford Coppola Coppola on THE BEAT.

That's next.



MELBER: Now for something special.

At a time when our politics is full of cultural tension and mafia references, we turn to Francis Ford Coppola, director of "The Godfather" trilogy, "Apocalypse Now," "Patton," "Peggy Sue Got Married," an Oscar winner six times over for directing, screenwriting and producing.

It's an honor to have you here.

Robert De Niro is someone that you helped create, the Robert De Niro we know.

I want to show you a little bit of Robert De Niro on the current president. Take a look.


ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: He's an embarrassment to this country. It makes me so happy angry that this country has gotten to this point that this fool, this bozo has wound up where he has.

He talks how he wants to punch people in the face. Well, I'd like to punch him in the face.


MELBER: What do you feel about De Niro advocacy now?

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, FILMMAKER: Those are very strong words.

I wouldn't use those kind of strong words. I actually went to high school with Donald Trump.

MELBER: I read that.

COPPOLA: I went to New York Military Academy. He was only a 13-year-old. I was a 17-year-old.

He is another one who felt "The Godfather" was -- he always would go to me, number one, number one. So, I had no anticipation of what he would really be like if he was put in a position of power.

Democracy is a more fragile institution. As we have seen in history that, it often turns into an empire or a dictatorship.

MELBER: Do you think it's more fragile right now than it's been in your life?

COPPOLA: It seems to be.

But if Donald Trump is going to truly take his position about the climate change, about our wonderful immigrants, the fact that people want to come to America and bring their talents, which we all know is why we are so great, because of the sum total of these various people. We can talk about the individuals. It's still going on.

They bring their gifts to America. So, immigrants are a plus of our country, not a negative.

The president should bring people together, make them feel proud that they're Americans, and that they're working with one another. So, he -- on the five big scores that I would give a president, he's failing all of them, it seems.

MELBER: Do you think people prize respect, which is a cousin of power, more than the other things that were taught to pursue?

COPPOLA: That's a big subject, and I wouldn't -- I could really do a five-hour show with you on that.

I believe that...

MELBER: Who will have final cut?

COPPOLA: We will share it.


COPPOLA: If you go back to Aristotle, he talks about the manipulation of wealth gathering and operating of a household.

And he said, in your early times of man, wealth gathering was something you did to fulfill a family need. But the concept of wealth and riches became, for the first time, an element.

And ever since that time, societies have operated on the basis that the gathering of great riches would give you advantages over your neighbors, would give you a certain kind of power. And that's the way it went.

My theory is that, if ever that changed, where production wasn't the most important thing, if that transition happens, and we move slightly away from production being the most important thing, and education and freedom and capability being the most important thing, then a lot of bad characteristics of human beings, selfishness, I have to be better than you, and blah, blah, I think it's going to fall away.

And we're going to -- the real future, I personally feel, is going to be very positive and...

MELBER: So, you're an optimist right now.

COPPOLA: I'm totally...

MELBER: I like that.

COPPOLA: It's going to be the Garden of Eden.


MELBER: I know your time is valuable, but I would be remiss, given that you're here.

We set a wine goblet for you here. These are our favorite BEAT wine glasses.

COPPOLA: But I have to finish while we drink our wine.

I think the most important thing I could say about our wine is that, if you drink it, you can trust that we drink it, our family drinks it.

MELBER: You drink it?

COPPOLA: We drink it.

When I was a kid, I worked for Fred Astaire. And Fred Astaire told me that the worst decision he ever made is when he gave his name to the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, because hated the kind of dance they taught.

And I never forgot that. And I thought, whatever I do, whether I make wine or I make films or I -- God knows what, I have a hotel, it's really going to be something that we do, our family does.

MELBER: Francis Ford Coppola, an optimist, schooling us a little bit about the illusions we need.

I really appreciate you coming on THE BEAT, sir.

COPPOLA: Thanks.


MELBER: And a little Friday night announcement: You can go to and get your own BEAT wine glass and try it with whatever wine you want, including the Coppola Wine.

I want to thank again the famous director Francis Ford Coppola for this interview, airing for the first time, which was previously recorded.

That does it for us.



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