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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 24, 2020

Guests: Tony Schwartz, Christina Greer, Christine Todd Whitman


President Trump refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. Demands continue to see grand jury evidence in that controversial Breonna Taylor case. Who has the edge in Nevada in the presidential election?



Hi, Ari.


So, how do you feel? Because I feel like this is that time of testing, where, all right, it's here now. We're 40 days out, but we're in the threat of whether this is really a functioning democracy.

WALLACE: You know, I asked Bob Woodward that same question, when he said, all this talk of the obliteration of norms is misguided, that's what Trump ran on.

And I said, yes, I'm not wringing my hands about the obliteration of norms, I got over that years ago. This is about trying to obliterate the Constitution. And I think, I mean, it's incumbent on us to not cover everything in a flat way.

I mean, there's the obliteration of norm and decorum, which is abhorrent and repugnant, and then there's saying, I'm not going to honor the Constitution, which is illegal, which is unconstitutional...

MELBER: Exactly.

WALLACE: ... which, actually, for a president who thinks the Supreme Courts is going to hand him a victory doesn't bode well for the case that he makes there, because we can point back to arguments where he has said, in public, he's not going to honor the Constitution.

It's an unbelievable moment, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, it's an incredible moment. As you say, it's incumbent on, whatever people do, whether you're a citizen, or they're people in government, or yes, journalism has a role to play, but it's not a drill.

We're going to get into it as well.


MELBER: So, always good to see you, no matter what, Nicolle.

WALLACE: I will be watching.

MELBER: Thank you.

WALLACE: You too.

MELBER: Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And, as I was just discussing with Nicolle, today, everyone can see the United States is led by a president openly challenging whether this country will be a democracy. And let's be clear, this is not about anyone's views of Donald Trump as a person or his administration's policies.

This is about whether the U.S. is a democracy or not, as Donald Trump openly pushes the government and thus as well his supporters to pick between himself and democracy itself.

If this sounds serious, it is.

Here's the president rebuffing the longstanding nonpartisan obligation to provide for a peaceful transfer of power in a democracy, the commitment to honor the votes, and not resort to force or violence.


QUESTION: Will you continue with the plan to completely invalidate the ACA or...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to have to see what happens. You know that.

I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster.

QUESTION: I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to making sure that there's a peaceful transferal of power?

TRUMP: We want to have -- we have to have -- get rid of the ballots, and you will have a very -- we'll have a very peaceful -- there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation.

The ballots are out of control.


MELBER: Trump challenging democracy itself, and basically any ballots that don't support his rule.

Now, let me tell you what this is and what it isn't, something that many people have been grappling with today. This is not about voter integrity or the accuracy of those ballots. Any legitimate efforts to make sure the vote is accurate is obviously not advanced by threatening the peaceful transfer of power.

And Trump really has no expertise or credibility when it comes to accuracy.

Meanwhile, nonpartisan experts in law enforcement do not find any larger issue with voting by mail, let alone some magical secret national conspiracy to do voter fraud. And that's not just what is known and documented.

If you prefer a law enforcement perspective from inside the Trump administration, here's Donald Trump's handpicked FBI director today:


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise.


MELBER: So, one, it's not about that voting accuracy. Two, it's not about norms, a word we hear a lot.

The law and Constitution mandate respecting the vote and the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. And he's not the only one. Top federal appointees do as well. All federal officials have a legal obligation to the Constitution.

So, to reiterate the obvious tonight, because it's 2020, and that is increasingly necessary, federal officials must resist unlawful orders, including potentially from the president. Officials who break election law, let alone go anywhere near using force or violence in a potential conspiracy, obviously also face major consequences, including prison.

Now, some Republicans are drawing a line today, Senator Romney saying any attack on this peaceful transfer powers unacceptable. Leader McConnell pushing back and pledging an orderly transition.

And we should note today, in a fairly unusual unanimous rebuke to Trump, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution to reaffirm the commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.

Again, where are we in America in 2020 that the Senate has to restate that, but it is holding a line against Trump. The stakes for democracy here do reinforce what President Obama warned about Donald Trump this very year. And it is also important to see this in the context of how Donald Trump's plotting is taking shape.

So, before I bring in our experts, let me walk this through for you.

First, like many other scandals, Trump is admitting much of this illicit plot in public, even when a goal is controversial or illegal. By now, we have seen he does that. He tries to launder and normalize plans that may have seemed even off-limits to, yes, his own supporters very recently.

So, while some Republicans are objecting to this today, and as I showed you as well what the Senate did, which is notable, the other question we have to stop and be aware of going 40 days into this election is, how will this plan feel?

Will it seem as extreme and obviously wrong if it kicks around for the next five weeks in any ambiguous way?

That brings us to the second thing, Trump's actions, because this is not just one quote in a vacuum. In fact, if you watch THE BEAT, not all of what Trump says or tweets gets news coverage here. But the president is behind in many polls.

He's trying to cheat to hold on to power. Let me repeat that. He is trying to cheat to hold on to power, from welcoming Ukraine and Russia help in going after Biden, to kneecapping voting by mail in places where it might cost them, to new reports today that Trump may demand Republican officials help him override their own constituents' votes, so that, if Trump loses, he might -- quote -- "circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."

Now, speaking of norms and normalization, I want you over the next 40 days and potentially beyond to be very wary of Orwellian words like circumvent. That same report that I'm citing of Republican sources is about a plot to overturn the votes, meaning end democracy.

This ain't no circumvention.

The method would be to ask state Republican officials to cancel democracy, to cancel the results of their own states' voting results, and install -- quote -- "loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority."

Now, I should mention, because I always try to give you the facts here, that is a bad thing. It is a scary thing. It could be illegal. It would also face many hurdles, because the scenario would be that Trump loses publicly, but recruits a whole bunch of Republicans to publicly steal the election, and then that would have to beat any court challenges.

Now, just the fact that this is a publicly reported Trump campaign plan right now spilling out in the open, as he invokes the specter of armed conflict, it tells you how serious things are right now in America.

Now, Joe Biden responded to this news when it first broke, basically telling reporters he didn't know what to say, which is one response, while top Democrats have argued the scandal reveals more about who Trump is, and thus why people should vote him out.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He's trying to have the Constitution of the United States swallow Clorox.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy, and democracy must win.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): This president has a way that, again, dictators do.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): These are the statements of a would-be dictator.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The gravest threat to democracy in America is President Donald Trump.


MELBER: OK, but some of those rebuttals might have you feeling like we're already going through the looking glass together.

Trump's making it a choice between himself and democracy. And people are saying that reveals who he is as you approach your vote.

But isn't the whole issue, what happens if the results of your vote are not honored?

I'm joined now by a former Republican Governor of New Jersey and Bush official Christine Todd Whitman, Professor Christina Greer, politics editor as well for TheGrio, and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post."

Welcome to all of you.

I saved the toughest question for you three.

Gene Robinson, what is to be done if, yes, this is revealing, as Trump's critics say, but it also is raising the specter of a sitting president abusing power potentially illegally to hold on to power?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, if this is an actual...


ROBINSON: ... excuse me -- plot, an actual conspiracy that is unfolding, then it needs to be -- then it's patently illegal. It needs to be investigated.

Given the state of the Justice Department right now, it perhaps needs to be investigated by the state attorneys general.

But if there are people who are actively plotting to subvert American democracy, they need to be investigated and brought up on the appropriate charges. And that process can happen now.

But what I -- just two observations about this. Number one, what I believe will happen is that, after the election, the state election officials will certify, The states will certify their election results.

And then the president will yell and moan and perhaps go to court and try to challenge those results in court. And there will be battles. But I believe most states will stand by their election returns.

The other thing is, politically, the president is making this a referendum on him, which is where, just in pure political terms, the Democrats would like this election to be. So I'm not sure this is a good political move for the president to make these noises.

He needs it to be a choice. And, right now, it's a referendum, and that's bad for him.

MELBER: All interesting points.

Governor Whitman, if you could speak to Gene's point there, the question of, how realistic is it that a state would even consider overturning its own voters' choice?

FMR. GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Well, ordinarily, I'd say it's not conceivable at all, that the governors would not do that, and that the appointment of the electors would be those to represent and reflect the popular vote in that state.

But, Ari, I'm sorry, I'm really scared. Republicans seem to be falling into line with this man, looking the other way, excusing the things he does. Governors have seemed to be less susceptible to that, but they're not immune to it. And they all have very strong -- in many of those red states, they have very strong Trump supporters, who just brush all this aside.

They don't think about the historical context. They don't think about what it means for us as a nation, who we are and what we are and what our founding fathers and mothers did. Their sacred -- they pledged their lives and sacred honor to give us the kind of democracy, republic democracy, that we have today.

And we seem not to understand that and be willing to, look, it's no big deal, he says these things, and we don't have to worry about it.

We do have to worry about it. It's a very real concern. And, as I said, while I would ordinarily say, no way, governors wouldn't do that, I'm afraid I don't feel that same confidence right now.

MELBER: Professor?


I mean, can you imagine DeSantis or Kemp any of the other Republican governors actually disobeying Trump? We have seen that they keep moving the goalposts. I mean, Lindsey Graham speaks about being a Republican first, and not an American. So we have seen the Republican Party cast their lot with a white nationalist, and that's the direction that Donald Trump is moving in.

And that's, sadly, the direction that far too many U.S. senators and Republican governors are going in as well. I'm very concerned. I mean, listen, we have always had democracy with an asterisk. We have been moving, relatively speaking, in the right direction.

The framers intended for a president to never have this much power. They're in the second article of the Constitution. We need a strong legislative branch to make sure that they behave as a stopgap.

And, honestly, Ari, two things. One, we never really processed what happened in 2000. Al Gore sort of acquiesced, for the sake of the democracy. But that was sort of -- that was the first shot across the bow. And now we're seeing it Donald Trump is viewing this opportunity to take democracy sort of as a smash-and-grab presidency, as he's done in the past three-plus years.

And then, secondly, we have to make sure that the media understands the real threat, the fact that what the president said yesterday about possibly not having a peaceful transference of power, and it doesn't even make the front page of newspapers?

Far too many media outlets don't understand race, racism, or white nationalism. And that's what we're facing right now, and governors and U.S. senators in the Republican Party who are in full lockstep with the president.

And we have to be very serious about the threat that he poses and the party poses to our democracy, beyond November 3.

MELBER: And Rachel Maddow was reporting on this last night, Gene, and discussing the fact that, basically, you can't just look at what he says. You have to look at what he does and says. And both of those together create the problem.

Here was Congressman Schiff on with Rachel.


SCHIFF: This is a moment that I would say to any Republican of good conscience working in the administration, it is time for you to resign. It is time for you to resign.

If you have been debating about whether you can continue to serve the country by serving this president, you can't. It is time to resign.



ROBINSON: Well, I think the people who work for Donald Trump who were susceptible to that sort of call have already resigned.

And I think what's left are the sort of blind loyalists who are going to -- who are going to follow him who knows how far. Who knows how far they will go, if, indeed, he tries to disrupt our -- the basic fundamental process of democracy even more than he already has.

I mean, I think he has already shown himself to be the most undemocratic president we have had, certainly in my lifetime, and he has no respect for our history, no respect for the Constitution, and probably hasn't read it.

But I don't think anybody is going to -- at this point is going to listen to Adam Schiff and say, oh, the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I see what a bad person Donald Trump is.

Look, we have to go out and we have to defeat him in November. And we have to do it not by a small margin, but by a big margin.

Now, even if it is by a small margin, if he's defeated 270 electoral votes to 268, he has lost the election. And we have to stand up for that.

And we may have to stand up for it physically, but we have to stand up for that.

MELBER: Governor, the other thing that hangs over this is the efforts to try to justify it.

So that "Atlantic" article that I cited, which has this reporting, and Gene said, I think, accurately, if that reporting involves conspiring to violate election law, it can be investigated now, and it can be investigated locally, not just, of course, by Barr's Justice Department, but by state officials. In Pennsylvania, they would have an obligation to look at whether that plotting is afoot.

And so, if you're in a Republican or Democratic campaign, and someone's coming to you talking about things that might be illegal electioneering, consider this a public service announcement, don't do it, and people may be reading those e-mails along with you right now.

Having said that, there is a legal version of this, which is the debate over the accuracy, as I mentioned, or voter fraud, because, while voter fraud is rare, it is perfectly lawful to talk about it, right, or to go to court about it, and then the judges rule on it.

Ben Ginsberg, a longtime celebrated Republican lawyer on this, was just speaking out about how weak his own party's claims are on this, though, if it's a cover for Trump. Take a look.


BEN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Implicit in everything the Republican Party is asking for is having to produce proof, evidence of fraud, or they're going to lose in court, and they're going to look like they're more interested in suppressing the votes of people who don't agree with them than stopping fraudulent voting.


MELBER: Christine Todd Whitman, as someone who served in Republican administrations, your view on where that fits in and whether Republicans have overstepped on the line that Mr. Ginsberg references?

WHITMAN: Well, they have, but I'm not sure anybody cares. That's the really scary part, is that the public has become so inured to this kind of thing, and to the fact that it is such a pivotal election.

They hear that over and over again. As you pointed out, in that "Atlantic" article, they cite numbers that you cannot justify this fear of the election being -- mail-in ballots being fraudulent. I mean, the president just says it, and his base will absolutely believe it.

And you had the spokesperson, former spokesperson, I guess, for H.W. saying, got to be prepared to get out on the street and fight this, in case Trump loses. And that's where the mind-set is. That's what's so scary about it.

And we have lost our respect for the rule of law under this president. He cares nothing about it. The Constitution is an inconvenient document that he ignores whenever it gets in his way and can hide behind if he thinks it'll serve him, not that it ever really has, because he undermines it constantly.

No, this is something that it's going to be really hard to try to get people -- and there are a lot of people who are still on the fence about whether they can support Joe Biden or whether he's going to go hard left, whether he's going to be -- what's going to happen, should they vote for him?

And that's why, as the chairperson, steering committee of Republicans and Independents for Biden, we're trying to tell those people, look, this is a critical election. It's time to put the country ahead of the party. It's OK to vote for a Democrat when you have somebody in the White House who is not a Republican and who is undermining all our basic principles and everything that made us the Ronald Reagan shining city on a hill.

We're not that anymore. We're not that anymore. We're debased in the international community. We're no safer here, because our allies don't share information with us. They don't trust us anymore in the way they did. We have undermined our international obligations. And we have cozied up to people who clearly don't have our best interests in mind.

But the real problem is here at home and getting people to understand that this is really about what kind of a country we're going to be from here on out. Are we going to be the democracy that we have enjoyed, the privileges that come with that, or are we going to be a Trumpian world?

And, believe me, you may think you like him now, and he may do -- but he may do something you don't like, and then watch out. He will come after you too. He has zero loyalty to anybody.

MELBER: Governor Whitman, Christina Greer, and Gene Robinson, serious times. Thanks to each of you.

Coming up after our shortest break, which is just 30 seconds, in the show, we have why many demand to see the grand jury evidence in that controversial Breonna Taylor case.

Mary Trump suing her own uncle for fraud.

But, first, Tony Schwartz back live on THE BEAT -- when we return in 30 seconds.


MELBER: President Trump under fire for saying more forcefully out loud what many have long accused him of, an authoritarian bent that threatens democracy itself, something we have heard from his own niece and longtime attorney.


MARY TRUMP, AUTHOR, "TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: HOW MY FAMILY CREATED THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS MAN": I heard Jason Johnson say that Donald is trying to steal the election.

And I agree with that. But I would -- I would say even more pointedly, he's already cheating. He's cheating right now. If it suits his purposes, he will take this entire country down with him.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Trump will do anything and everything within which to win. I believe that he would even go so far as to start a war in order to prevent himself from being removed from office.


MELBER: The stakes are higher, but the values here, the pattern follows Trump's long history of cheating.

I'm not talking about hardball tactics here, but defrauding his own colleagues, customers and fans, like the trail of angry Trump University students who -- think about it -- they loved Donald Trump enough to proactively pay for his classes. They didn't love him so much that they couldn't unsee the reality that the character they looked up to was actually ripping them off.

And amidst all of this skepticism, even cynicism in America, it's also worth recalling that, despite Donald Trump's talk and bluster, it was Trump who surrendered in that battle I mentioned. He folded and paid out a huge $25 million settlement to those Trump fans he defrauded.

We're joined by friend of THE BEAT and "Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz. His new audio book is "Dealing With the Devil." He discusses what he views as Donald Trump's thievery, saying he was fascinated by the larceny in Trump's heart, his blithe willingness to set his own rules and define his own reality.

Tony, thanks for being here.


MELBER: The people who've been closest to Trump have some of the worst things to say about him, ranging from some of those I just quoted, yourself.

And yet some of these worst things prove to be true, which is not that Donald Trump holds views that many Americans disagree with -- he got fewer votes in '16 -- or that he has said so many and done so many embarrassing things to the nation, but something much darker that our panel was exploring the top of the show.

Big picture, your thoughts on all of this?

SCHWARTZ: Well, it's hard to say something original at the moment, because it's so clear what it's come down to. It's come down to the election. And it's come down to whether or not Biden's winning the election allows him to be president.

And every minute of every day, Ari, Trump is thinking, and to the degree that he's capable of it, plotting the ways that he will run outside the lines to ensure or to subvert even what voters may say and I hope will say, is to elect Biden.

MELBER: Yes, I mean, the other part of this is that, as a citizen, when he wasn't commander in chief, as a citizen running for office, he always made a big show of this. People remember in the debate. He brought it up on the campaign stage.

And it was walking the line between this famous and perhaps somewhat hackneyed distinction between, do you take him literal or figurative? But here he was on the campaign trail making a joke of it all. Take a look.


TRUMP: I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.



MELBER: So, as the kids say, Tony, LOL, or LOLZ, pronounced LOLZ, but also a laugh-out-loud moment.

So, if you're in the right-wing trolling, it's LOL. It's harmless, because he lost and go and went away, so be it, relatively harmless.

As commander in chief, it's a different story. Where you come down on the line, if you will, between serious threat to democracy and trolling?

SCHWARTZ: Oh, my gosh, there is no question that there's a serious threat to democracy right now.

He has moved down this road of subverting democracy far, far beyond what people generally recognize. I mean, he's systematically undermined the credibility of most of our sacred institutions. Republican legislators are terrified of him. They will accept anything he says and rubber-stamp anything he does.

He's got his Roy Cohn in William Barr and the Justice Department subverting the Justice Department. He casts doubt on America's intelligence agencies. He's falsely won over millions of evangelical Christians by saying things that are clearly not what he believes.

So there's a huge threat. I really do believe -- I have said it to you, I think, multiple times -- that this is a turning point. This is a really extraordinary moment.

And I think this idea -- I heard it today from somebody well-known -- saying it's Trump vs. democracy. There's no question that's the case. And we cannot assume that he will do anything but push, push, push in his effort to win at any cost.

And the cost has already been considerable.


And that comes from someone, as we say, who knows him, and 40 days out is what people and the system need to prepare for, whichever way it goes. If he lawfully wins, then he wins. If he lawfully loses, then it is required, in democracy, that that become the outcome.

Tony Schwartz, thank you.

The book, of course, "Dealing With the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me," you can check it out now.

We will be back soon. We have a lot more in the show, including new calls to get these grand jury documents in the Breonna Taylor case, and some other special guests.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT.

We always like a good ray of sunshine around here. But, honestly, there are many reasons people are pessimistic now. The vast majority of Americans think this country is on the wrong track.

Attorney General Bill Barr just shared one reason, in his view, for optimism, saying -- quote -- "One thing the U.S. has going for it more than anything else is the peaceful transfer of power" -- end quote -- apparently not realizing his own boss was about to literally contradict that one good thing that we have going for.

Barr's comments came a day before Trump's.


QUESTION: Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferal of the power after the election?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to see what happens.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What this country has going for it, more than anything else, is the peaceful transfer of power. And that is accomplished through elections that people have confidence in.


MELBER: The president blatantly challenging the peaceful transfer of power.

Barr himself, though, stands accused of undermining that same confidence that people have in elections, from politicizing the DOJ to undercutting voting by mail, raising new questions about what Barr would do if Trump demands, for example, that states steal a potential Biden victory by overturning their own constituents' votes in the Electoral College.

For his part, Biden already ramping up illegal war room, and he's slamming Barr's DOJ.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This has been the most corrupt administration to modern American history. The Justice Department has turned into the president's private law firm.

The Justice Department, under my administration, will be totally independent of me.


MELBER: We're joined now by a former federal prosecutor, former counsel to New York City mayor Maya Wiley.

Good to see you.


MELBER: Bill Barr obviously had bad timing by saying something that puts him at crossroads with Donald Trump, which is rare, given how loyal he's been to him.

But, on substance, what is the DOJ's set of obligations here, Barr and the loyal people who serve there, loyal to the Constitution, in this climate?

WILEY: Look, in this climate, or in any climate, the obligation of the United States attorney general and every single employee in that building is to uphold the oath they swore, which was to uphold the Constitution and all the laws of the land.

It's that simple. The only boss that matters is the boss that is the United States Constitution, particularly when it comes to elections. And Donald Trump -- I think Joe Biden is absolutely telling the truth and a fact statement when he says that the -- what William Barr has done has made the Department of Justice Donald Trump's personal law firm.

But it's even worse than that, because he's really Donald Trump's personal bully. He has the ability to essentially misrepresent to the American public that there has been a prosecution of mail-in voter fraud. That is a misrepresentation.

And Barbara McQuade pointed this out in an article she wrote. It wasn't true. And he has literally questioned mail-in ballots, which goes exactly counter both to the research and to the experience of states that have been doing mail-in balloting, like Oregon.

MELBER: Right.

WILEY: So, the fact that he is misrepresenting to the American people shows that he is still doing the work of Donald Trump, not the work of the American people.


And it's striking, because Barr has proven to be such a Cheney-esque figure, enforcer for the president, very political, admittedly so. I mean, he's talked about it.

And yet this seemed to be an area where, over the past week or two, he thought he had found a rhetorical space to say, well, Trump wouldn't do that, X, that which Trump is now doing, which means Barr, who is, I believe, widely seen as an intelligent person, whatever one thinks of his judicial and legal ethics, shows that his intelligence ran into the brazen surprise of, wow, no, Trump's going there, too.

So, take a look, for example, at something recent that Barr claimed.


BARR: Liberals project.

The president is going to stay in office and seize power and all that.


BARR: I'd never heard of that crap.


BARR: I mean, I'm the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it.


MELBER: Both there and the sound we played earlier is Barr thinking, oh, well, I can reach out to something really extreme, like, well, there won't be a coup-like challenge to peaceful transition, and that's where I will live, and I will say, well, that bad thing is what liberals project on Trump.

That's what Trump's now saying and doing. I'm curious, as a bit of a Barrologist, if you will, how you think he got himself in this pickle, despite his rumored intelligence?

WILEY: Well, look I'm not sure he's in a pickle. I think he's in the bed that he made for himself by essentially deciding he would do the dirty work of Donald Trump.

And here, he has been in this situation before where he's made and asked the president publicly not make statements he didn't agree with, if you recall. But that's the thing. It doesn't really matter what Barr says. It only matters what Donald Trump does.

And he often delivers his directives, as we have seen, through social media and through public statements...


WILEY: ... like when he was, say, dangling pardons for people, signaling what he wanted that from the Department of Justice, that Roger Stone had been mistreated.

There's nothing unusual about Donald Trump basically delivering orders to his key general here, William Barr, in public, in plain sight, in plain view. And then what we always see, is Barr marches to the beat of his corrupt drummer.

MELBER: Right.

And I think you put that so well, and it speaks to how serious people should take this, if people at home are watching and going, OK, so much noise, how do I understand this?

To the extent that Donald Trump tried to do things in private, he got busted for it, to some degree, by Don McGahn, by the Mueller probe, by sending people out of the room. And so he's really moved off of that. And, really, when it comes to even stealing an election or blatantly warning there may not be peace, when the commander in chief, when the people with the nuclear codes say, that's heavy.

And the fact that he's saying it in public, as you explained, fits a pattern and does not lessen the severity.

Maya Wiley, as always, we appreciate you.

WILEY: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you.

WILEY: Appreciate you.

MELBER: Thank you.

We have a lot more to come tonight, believe it or not, including a special expert on the new data that does suggest where Donald Trump may have real election problems.

Also, a story we're staying on, calls for the release of secret documents from the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case that may shed light on what many are calling a miscarriage of justice.


MELBER: I think we can all agree there is a lot going on in politics and in America.

But no matter what happens or how hot this campaign gets in these next 40 days, the coronavirus pandemic continues, the death toll in the U.S. more than double the Americans killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

And that continues right now, with about 1,000 people dying a day, rising case counts in 22 states a grim reality that the Trump campaign has tried to distract from, even as its own CDC director stresses that nine out of 10 of us in America are still at risk.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: A majority of our nation, more than 90 percent of the population, remains susceptible.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): You're saying that, based on the preliminary indications from your serological testing and studies, that as many as 90 percent of Americans are still -- still haven't had the virus yet?

REDFIELD: Yes, sir.


MELBER: Translation: one out of 10 Americans directly affected, but many, many more, tens of millions more, affected indirectly, as Trump blithely claims it affects virtually nobody, a message that is not helping Donald Trump stop news like this: Donald Trump losing or tied with Biden in key states that he won last cycle and would probably need for an Electoral College coalition.

And while time might help Trump, because he could surge, early voting may hurt him more in places where he trails now. And it is available -- count it up -- in 25 states.

We turn now to someone with deep expertise, including as a famous debate moderator, Jon Ralston, editor of "Nevada Independent" and an MSNBC analyst.

Good day, sir.



As we all know, very big, important things are also political things, life and death war, and this pandemic that affects so many. But it is clearly an albatross on the Trump campaign. Your view?

RALSTON: I think it is, although it's interesting what's been going on here in Nevada, where, as you mentioned, cases are going up again. We're in the red zone in Clark County, Las Vegas.

But they just opened bars, Ari, here. So we're going to see if that's going to affect things.

What's really going on here -- and this is going out in some other states too -- is the tension between people blaming Trump for the virus and for his performance and blaming the governor here, who is a Democrat.

And the Republicans are trying to focus everything on the governor and kind of put him on the ballot as a shadow, running as much against him as they are against Biden, to say, the governor shut down the economy, he didn't handle this well, Trump has done a wonderful job.

People just got a mail piece from the campaign, saying he's handled it well. Eric Trump is in town today, saying that it's the governors fault, et cetera. That's what's going on here.

I don't know if it's going to sell. Every poll, except one outlier, has shown Biden the head in this case. And, as you know, Clinton won the state, as did Obama twice.

MELBER: Yes, you're talking about Nevada and some of the other Southern and Sunbelt areas.

We will show some of the other tight polling in states that have some overlapping issues of Arizona and Florida. You can see here, these are basically ties within the margin of error.

You're also talking, Jon, about the dueling campaigns that we're seeing. Sometimes on TV or on Facebook, it may all look like a similar blend. But there's extensive documentation that the Trump folks, consistent with some of his general attitude about the virus, are out door-knocking and doing the traditional in-person organizing, and Biden has been way more virtual.

One, have you seen that? Do you agree with that contrast, as reported in your state? And, two, who do you think, politically, has the better solution there?

RALSTON: You know, it's a great point, Ari.

And in this state, that is exactly what has happened. The Democratic machine here, which a lot of people know as the Harry Reid machine, has been one of the most formidable machines in the country. It's part of the reason that Obama won here twice and Hillary won. They are tremendous in registering voters and then turning them out.

They essentially shut down during the pandemic. So they have been shut down for about six months. Republicans got out into the field a lot earlier. They haven't picked up a lot here, Ari, where the Democrats have about a 5.5 percent advantage statewide, but they prevented the Democrats from pulling out to the kind of lead...

MELBER: Do you think that might be a mistake?

I mean, you mentioned winning coalitions. The Obama campaign had a famous ground operation. And we're all adapting. So the prudent medical thing in month one of the worst part of the virus may look different than month six, particularly if people can know how to wear a face shield or talk at a distance.

But you're telling us that your reporting matches what we're reading, that it was a kind of a unilateral disarmament on the ground game by the Biden folks.

RALSTON: Yes, it's less the Biden folks. Even Biden didn't even get here until relatively late, but the Democratic Party machine in Nevada...

MELBER: Party, yes.

RALSTON: ... yes, essentially did unilaterally disarm. And I think some people were very frustrated by that.

They're just getting back into the field now, Ari. The Culinary Union, which, as you know, is the most potent Democratic force in Nevada politics...


RALSTON: ... about 60,000 members, it's also the Hispanic turnout machine in Nevada, very important vote here, has been now out in the field. They are -- they have, I gather, a couple of hundred now people out in the field, and they're going door to door with masks, but trying to register and turn out the vote.

Early voting here starts on October 17. But the first mail ballots from Nevada -- we're mailing to all active voters -- went out today, and some more going to go out next week.

So voting is going to start very soon. And the Democrats are just now getting back out in the field.

MELBER: Yes, really interesting points you raised, particularly the distinction there of sort of what the local party, state party folks were doing, and the reminder that this vote is on, as we have emphasized.

It's a long period of potential voting. And it may be potentially take some time to count it all up. And there's nothing unusual about that, I remind folks.

Although we in the media can get a little jumpy, there will be an election night, but there may not be an election night result. And that's fine, too.

Jon, I'm sure we will be seeing a lot more of you in this -- in this final 40 days. Good to see you, sir.

RALSTON: Always a pleasure, Ari. Thanks.

MELBER: Thank you.

We're going to fit in a break, but there's a lot going on, including the president paying respect his way to Justice Ginsburg. Of course, there's still a battle over filling her seat.

We also have an update on a fallout -- piece of fallout from this Breonna Taylor case, new calls to release secret grand jury documents. People say, if there's nothing to hide, release it. On the other hand, there's usual grand jury secrecy.

A big, important debate -- when we come back.


MELBER: The governor calling for new transparency into what is normally secret -- that's standard under the law -- grand jury proceedings in Breonna Taylor case.

The request is for the attorney general to release new information.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): That the attorney general can release the information from his criminal investigation without impacting the federal civil rights investigation.

I don't think a ballistics report, for instance, is going to have an impact on a civil rights investigation.

It's about trusting the people of Kentucky.


MELBER: Trust is a big issue, as the attorney general won't say whether he made any formal recommendation to the grand jury which could have shaped this decision, or even if any evidence about the other two officers involved was presented.


DANIEL CAMERON (R), KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I won't get into the specifics of the makeup of the grand jury.

Grand jury proceedings are secret. And so I'm not going to get into the specifics. I don't think it's appropriate for us to release any information.

I won't get into the specifics, again. The proceedings themselves or secret. I don't want to get into the specifics. I don't want to get into the specifics. And, again, I don't want to get into the specifics.


MELBER: Pretty clear he didn't want to get into the specifics.

And the justice system provides for secrecy for grand juries in traditional cases.

But there are many saying it is time for injustices in the system to catch up to a reality that more and more Americans are seeing from the evidence, that police officers kill about 1,000 people a year, but only 121 officers have ever been arrested since 2005, only 44 convicted for any such related claims, the question being whether more transparency would help people understand what's really happening.

When we come back, an update on the vacancy from Justice Ginsburg.


MELBER: Finally tonight, a live view right here of the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in repose, crowds gathering.

President Trump did pay a visit to the site this morning. It was not exactly a warm greeting from the assembled crowd.


CROWD: Vote him out! Vote him out! Vote him out! Vote him out! Vote him out!


MELBER: Tomorrow, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first woman ever to lie in state, a formal honor, at the U.S. Capitol.

That does it for THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER. I will be back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But keep it locked on MSNBC, because "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.


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