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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 25, 2020

Guests: Nancy Gibbs, Katty Kay, Emily Bazelon, John Flannery, Bob Woodward


Bob Woodward discusses how much of a threat he believes President Trump is to the country. President Trump is expected to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Is Attorney General Bill Barr coordinating with President Trump to push misinformation on voting by mail? Breonna Taylor's family speaks out.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. We have a ton of Friday night news. So, I'm going to get to it. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

WALLACE: We will be watching.

MELBER: Thank you.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we're tracking two big stories that are unfolding this Friday night.

New clues about who is now atop the short list for replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one name above all others emerging tonight. We have the latest on that shortly.

Also, the bruising clash in this presidential campaign, more bad news for the Trump campaign 39 days out from the election. Let me show you what we mean. State polls show Biden shoring up support out East in Virginia and Ohio, while the yellow states that you see there in the South, for example, and over on the right in Florida, that's where things are completely statistically tied.

Donald Trump, of course, under fire for blatantly undermining democracy this week.

Now, on substance, that's drawing pushback across the spectrum, and, politically, his own allies frustrated, as a top Republican senator anonymously called out Trump for taking an overwhelmingly good week politically for Republicans anyway and changing the subject.

He went on to say, he or she: "Shocking. I don't know what to say."

That's a view from a Republican. Trump is acting like he agrees that he erred, at least politically, because he's now rushing to change the subject again, rolling out a supposed plan for $200 gift cards for seniors, but no budget to deliver, and touting an order that he says protects people from health care discrimination based on preexisting conditions, which we should note is legally toothless.

Now, think about it. If this sounds politically familiar, it's because this is a fundamental pillar of Obamacare, which Trump is trying to gut in both Congress and the courts.

So, just two clear points quickly here. One, Obamacare is so popular, even Donald Trump is now pretending to embrace part of it as he fights for reelection.

But, two, there's no need to pass executive orders defending parts of Obamacare, if you just stop trying to repeal it. That's the politics.

Meanwhile, deadly serious new reporting shows the military is taking it deadly seriously, when Donald Trump threatens to use force to hold onto power.

Senior leaders at the Pentagon acknowledging they're talking now among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump invokes the Insurrection Act, and tries to send troops into the streets, as he repeatedly threatened to do during these recent protests against police brutality -- quote -- "General Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper opposed the move then, and Mr. Trump backed down."

I want you to take that in. That's "The New York Times" reporting on what our military is doing right now to ward off the credible prospect of Trump attempting to seize power through violence.

And they're making that clear in the press publicly, facing off against a president who they work with who they know only gets the message, to the extent he ever gets it, when it's in the media.

I want to be clear about this. I know it's been a long week. I know it's Friday night, but let's take a look at the first part of that "Times" report again, if we could put that -- yes -- back up, Pentagon leaders discussing what to do if Mr. Trump uses federal law, to deploy the military.

They are planning how to stop a potential coup. That's what they're talking about.

Now, that's a serious word in civic discourse. I don't use it casually or lightly here at this desk. But that's what the military is planning for. A coup is a violent and illegal seizure of power from a government, illegal seizure of power.

Now, that can come from outside the government, or it can come from within it. But you can mark your calendar. September 25, 2020, this is the day the U.S. military began publicly telegraphing its preparation to stop a potential coup by Donald Trump.

And I'm not quoting or referring to his critics or outside analysts or any of the many people who diagnose what America is going through. This is the day the military leaders who deal with Trump daily privately behind the scenes began preparing and noting it for "The New York Times," so everyone knows what they are prepping for.

As it happens, they're not the only ones using the word.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're assuming that even a Republican court would respond in an appropriate way based on what the law is, and I'm -- that our Democratic and Republican friends and the Congress would respond.

The last thing we need is the equivalent of a coup.


MELBER: We turn now to Michelle Goldberg from "The New York Times" and Katty Kay from BBC News. And we have more on the Supreme Court side of developing news shortly.

Michelle, you have written about this. You have warned about this. What does it tell you that the military is both preparing and publicly telegraphing?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think we have seen a parade of figures at the highest level of the national security establishment saying some off the record, but increasingly on the record, that Donald Trump is a danger to the future of the republic.

In some ways, it's one of the biggest stories in America right now. We have never seen anything like this, right, one person after another, including today a person who was in charge of briefing Donald Trump, saying that this presidency endangers us, although, in terms of "The New York Times" story, I'm not sure that they are doing enough to actually prevent a coup.

They're certainly talking about how to respond to one, but one of the ways that they have talked about responding to it is by resigning. I would like to see something a little bit more proactive, if they are all that stands between Donald Trump and unleashing kind of violent repression on the majority of Americans who watch in horror what he's trying to do.

MELBER: Katty?

KATTY KAY, BBC NEWS: Yes, I first heard these stories a couple of weeks ago from somebody who had been very senior at the Pentagon, but actually stepped down earlier this year. And she said to me that these conversations were taking place.

I mean, I think it's worth one step back and asking, is Donald Trump talking like this, because he is really planning to hang on to power even if there is a clear vote against him, or is he talking like this because he feels that he can sow discord, chaos, undermine confidence in the democratic process even before November the 3rd?

And my tendency is to think it's the latter, in which case the damage is already being done right now. I mean, why does Vladimir Putin interject himself in democratic processes, not just here, but in Europe as well? Why does he try to undermine the European Union and the elections there and NATO? It's to destabilize democratic processes, right?

Well, there's -- I think there are echoes of that here. If you're thinking of voting on November the 3rd and you wake up and it's cold and it's rainy and there's a long line and there's COVID out there, and you have been hearing for weeks on end that the vote may actually be invalid, or that there may be a fight about it, or that it might not matter because the president's not going to step down, you might say to yourself, actually, I'm not going to bother to go out and vote at all.

And that's, I think, the real risk that we're facing.

MELBER: Well, I appreciate the distinction you draw, Katty, because we give a lot of thought to that in what we actually report on and give weight to and what we deliberately don't.

It is possible, for the journalistic purposes of exploring, that it's both A and B.

KAY: Yes.

MELBER: "The Times"' reporting is interesting, because the reference to the Insurrection Act is, again, a thing that you can lawfully use, just like if there were, God forbid, an attack on mainland United States, the president would lawfully be overseeing the use of forces to defend the homeland, right, the way it's supposed to be.

But the Insurrection Act example was that Secretary Esper, who's gone along with many other things, pushed back on doing that then.

Another piece of reporting here for both of your analysis is the Pentagon in the same article discussing what would happen if you did have to remove the president. "Under no circumstances," they say, "would the chairman of the Joint Chiefs send, for example, Navy SEALs or Marines to haul Mr. Trump out of the White House. If necessary, such a task, Defense Department officials said, would fall to the Marshals or the Secret Service."

Now, Katty, I'm reading from "The New York Times," not a screenplay. This did happen in "24." I think we have some of that here to remind everyone. This is the scene where it goes down that way about who is actually in charge of the government anymore.

But, Katty, this ain't "24."

KAY: No.

And you're right to remind me that you're not reading from a screenplay, because it sounds like a screenplay, right? I mean, as Mitt Romney said, and he responded very quickly to this, when President Trump suggested that he -- there might not be a peaceful transition of power, this is why we are not Belarus.

And that, too, sounds almost like a fabrication. It sounds like fantasy to suggest that...


KAY: ... senior Republican politicians are comparing the United States potentially even to Belarus, but that is the comparison that people like Mitt Romney -- you could not get more sober, calm, measured a politician, I think, in the U.S. Senate, really, than Mitt Romney.

And yet he feels the need to draw that distinction between the United States of America, the greatest superpower in the world, the country that like to call itself the greatest country in the world, and Belarus.

MELBER: Right.

Because this is real, Michelle, and words and comparisons fail us, so we look to failed states or movies, because we don't want to think that this is what the U.S. is capable of or what Trump is pushing for.

In such a serious discussion, I hate to reach for a Jay-Z reference, Michelle, but I will do it. It is Friday night, because when he says, shoot at you actors like movie directors, the rejoinder is, this ain't a movie, dog.

And this ain't a movie. And so I guess, Michelle, my question to you is, given a lot of thought to the unique threat to civil society of Trumpism, what do you think people and viewers and citizens should do with this information from "The Times," from our reporting, et cetera?

GOLDBERG: Well, look, I think that Katty is absolutely right when she says that one of the objects here is for Donald Trump to make -- is for Donald Trump to make people feel like they have no power to remove him, right, to demoralize people and confuse them.

And so I don't want to underplay how serious the threat is. I think that we're in the situation that we're in now because, all throughout Donald Trump's presidencies, people with the -- all throughout Donald Trump's presidency, people with the power to act have underplayed the threat, have acted as if those who see Trump as an authoritarian were just being hysterical.

At the same time, Donald Trump does not have the power to stay in office if he loses the election, right?

MELBER: Right.

GOLDBERG: He has the power to confuse things. He has the power to use his office to try to manipulate the outcome, try to tilt the playing field.

But if there is a clear result on election night, we will be rid of this man. And people who are watching this have some agency in making sure that that happens.

MELBER: May I amend your analysis slightly, for your consideration?


MELBER: If there's a clear result on election night, or the days or weeks after, because the United States has long had a process that can take time.


KAY: Yes.

GOLDBERG: And I -- yes, that's right.

I think it would be ideal if we had a -- if Democrats win a state like Ohio, a state like Florida, this could end on November 3. There's a very good chance that it won't. And that's also part of the media's job, I think, in the next couple of weeks is to prepare people for that possibility, that just because the counting is drawn out does not mean, as Donald Trump would like to pretend it means, that there's something illegitimate going on.

MELBER: Yes, all very important points.

Katty Kay, thank you, as always.

Michelle, stay with me, as we turn to the other big top story here Friday night, breaking news.

NBC News is now reporting that Donald Trump is -- quote -- "expected" to make his choice for the Supreme Court to nominate Amy Coney Barrett tomorrow. Now, she is currently a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is some video we captured here. This is just her leaving her home, you can see there, going to the car in South Bend, Indiana, today.

Now, we can't tell you where we -- she was driving to or what the rest of the day looked like. But we do know that's when she left.

We know she's a former clerk to the hard-right Justice Antonin Scalia on the court. And she is believed to be, although no one knows her entire record -- she hasn't been judging that long -- but she is believed to be a very conservative, pro-life judge.

NBC News -- I want to give you the exact language -- is reporting Trump is So, "expected" to nominate her tomorrow. That's a little bit of information about her up on the screen.

Now, of course, nothing is final until it's real, the president and the White House not commenting on this news late tonight.

We're joined by Emily Bazelon from "The New York Times," Michelle Goldberg still with us.

Emily, your views of this developing story here on the eve of what will be an announcement of someone to replace Justice Ginsburg, if confirmed?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Amy Coney Barrett is the choice of conservatives. They made that really clear. Especially, evangelical groups were really pushing hard for her.

And so I think you see President Trump going back to his base with this pick. He promised justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade and take the court in a very conservative direction.

And I think that Amy Barrett is likely to do that.

MELBER: Many people have made the quasi-political legal argument that, if he went with the -- with a judge from Florida, who was equally pro-life, whatever that estimation is, he could also help himself in the campaign.

I'm curious if it is, as NBC and others expect, not confirmed, but expect, Ms. Barrett, what does that tell about who is really quarterbacking this decision?

BAZELON: Well, Judge Barrett is a more known quantity.

The other judge you're talking about, Barbara Lagoa in Florida, she has a very short record on the appeals court. She also is connected to the Federalist Society, the very conservative group that is driving a lot of the decisions about judicial picks in the Trump administration.

But they just didn't have the same amount of time to vet her. She is more of an unknown, whereas Amy Coney Barrett, Judge Barrett, was vetted for the seat that Justice Kavanaugh now occupies.

And so I think that, to the people who are deeply immersed in this process in the Trump administration, and who want to make sure they are getting a justice they can rely on for conservative goals, Judge Barrett is the safer choice.

MELBER: Michelle?

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think that's right.

I think that there was some fear that Barbara Lagoa would be -- I mean, it's amazing that we think about Neil Gorsuch as a judge who has disappointed but right, because he is very, very conservative judge, but he has shown some independence, most recently authoring an opinion that basically said that you can't fire gay or transgender people under the 1964 civil rights law.

I think that they see Amy Coney Barrett as somebody who is much more guaranteed to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Senator Josh Hawley has said that he won't vote for a nominee unless he is sure that they view Roe vs. Wade as a travesty, and that Amy Coney Barrett satisfies that criteria, whereas I think there's just -- as Emily said, there's less of a record with Barbara Lagoa.

And so we can, I think, say pretty definitively that Amy Coney Barrett's nomination will mean the end of Roe vs. Wade in this country. It may also mean the end of the Affordable Care Act and a whole host of other, not just progressive legislation, but legislation that's been woven into the fabric of American life.

But I think that this is, on -- on a day when Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state, we are about to see a big part of her life's work and a right that I think, for many American women, is so hard to imagine life without, right -- the idea of forced pregnancy is so dehumanizing, it seems like something from some -- either a TV dystopia or the wretched past.

But I think that's going to be the reality for a big part of this country. And, again, it's a reality imposed on us by one of the most openly misogynist presidents in American history, but also one of the most openly licentious presidents in American history.

And it's a reality that's about to be imposed on us as Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state.

MELBER: All very important points.

As mentioned, it's Friday night, but there's a lot of big stories here. And I'm really appreciative of Michelle Goldberg and Emily Bazelon for your analysis.

I hope you both have a good weekend.

I want to mention, we played just some of that newsworthy sound from that Joe Biden interview, the talk of a coup, Stephanie Ruhle's interview.

The full interview, I want you to know, will air as part of the L'Attitude conference. That's tomorrow, and MSNBC will have coverage of that. That begins at 12:00 noon Eastern, a lot of other interesting stuff in there, so something to check out.

We're coming back now in 30 seconds with new reports of what Bill Barr is doing to give Trump a special heads-up on an unusual election probe.

Later, Breonna Taylor's family with a new call for a way that could get more transparency.

And my live interview tonight with the legend Bob Woodward on THE BEAT.

When we're back in 30 seconds, all of that.


MELBER: Attorney General Bill Barr under fire again tonight, and it's for a brand-new move.

A DOJ source revealing Barr personally briefed President Trump on this new probe into allegedly discarded Pennsylvania ballots and did it before any of this was public, ABC News reporting that.

Barr running to Trump on election matters is not proper procedure. Neither is a new and unusual memo the DOJ released, its announced inquiry into these discarded ballots. It makes a point of saying who the ballots were for. Of course, the election isn't over. That's unusual.

And it also basically issues attacks on voting by mail, no mention of -- quote -- "fraud," the DOJ also inaccurately claiming that nine of the ballots or for Trump and that they were -- quote -- "incorrectly discarded by a seasonal independent contractor."

Now, Barr has been caught pushing inaccurate, misleading voter information before. He and Trump often echo each other on what some call blatant propaganda.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you do all mail-in voting ballots, you're asking for fraud.

BARR: These practices like mail-in ballots that open the floodgates of potential fraud, then people's confidence in the outcome of the election is going to be undermined.

TRUMP: There's mail-in voting where they mail indiscriminately millions and millions of ballots to people. You're never going to know who won the election. You can't have that.

BARR: This is playing with fire. This is playing with fire.

TRUMP: Universal is going to be a disaster, the likes of which our country has never seen.


MELBER: We turn to our friend and counselor former federal prosecutor John Flannery.

A good Friday evening, sir.


MELBER: Let's start with this.

Sometimes, democracy can feel like a frog, and if it is put in this Trump soup, and the temperature is slowly turned up, you don't always know when you start boiling.

We began the show with one story on all this. We turn to a totally different story that would have been the lead, if not for everything else going on, which is what many independent election experts say is a completely suspicious approach to opening a federal probe on this handful of ballots.

Your view?

FLANNERY: Well, I suppose, if you kiss this frog, you don't get Prince Trump.

But what you're really saying is that we get so used to the misconduct, that it becomes normalized, and we don't react to it.

But it is ironic that Trump is saying, this is the worst than history. It is, but it's because of him and because Attorney General Barr is serving as a campaign player, and as the lawyer for Trump.

And he's doing several things I could never have done as a prosecutor. One, you do not comment on any investigation, criminal or otherwise. Two, you certainly don't give it to a candidate to use, when there has been no announcement by the U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Three, you do not give out information that's false and wrong. Basically, they're saying it was a fraud. And the press release forced upon the U.S. attorney afterwards makes no mention of fraud. In fact, it appears that there was a question of whether the ballots they were looking at were either ballots in which people were sending in their vote or they were sending in requests and they made mistakes.


MELBER: And, John, is it valid while the election is open to publicize which candidate the votes were for?

FLANNERY: No. No, not at all.

And they have used this information and what appears to be an error by officials at that election office that, by the way, turned in the information to say, you better look at this, we don't know what we have got.

MELBER: Right. And one more thing.

FLANNERY: And no one has said, it's fraud.


MELBER: One more thing. We're in the legal thicket, and you have given a very concise fact-check.

Then there's the wider thing, which is, 2016 involved a lot of Republicans going completely bonkers over individual incidents like, for example -- Chris Hayes was -- my colleague was pointing this out -- whether Bill Clinton, former president, spoke to Loretta Lynch, the then attorney general, and whether that itself, that contact, was bad.

I think we have this, Chris Hayes asking: "OK, but did they do it on a tarmac? That's all that counts."

The hypocrisy, sir.

FLANNERY: Well, the hypocrisy is that we have to be stupid to the fact that, unlike the tarmac question, we have 100 data points, starting with the Mueller report, in which he basically misled the entire nation as to what that said to protect his client, Mr. Trump.

And so we have had these statements now about, what could be worse than mail-in ballots, though the president everybody on his office is probably themselves voting by mail-in ballot. I wonder how Barr is voting.

And yet, at the same time, they're criticizing it, and they may be skewering their own population, because mail-in ballots was a very strong strategy Republicans have used, in my experience, in past elections.

But the bottom line is that we have a massive fraud, like you would see in a dictatorship, Stalin, Hitler, Erdogan, Putin, who's the puppeteer, who we have information is interfering in this election. And

so what do they do? They attack Wray at the FBI for saying...


FLANNERY: ... this is minimal.


MELBER: Yes, the FBI fact-checking and saying, no, there isn't this kind of national fraud, and then the chief of staff in the White House hits him for it.


MELBER: I think there are objections that could be rationally lodged to some of the names you mentioned.

And yet, at the same time, there are many independent experts concerned about, and Trump's own military appointees concerned about this abuse.

I'm getting more breaking news, actually. Not making it up.

So, John, I'm going to let you go. Thank you, sir.

FLANNERY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

MELBER: And we turn to a -- we have a lot -- thank you, John -- a lot more on the show.

There's emotional new demands from Breonna's Taylor -- Breonna Taylor's family, I should say. We have developing news I'm going to update you on.

And a BEAT interview. Amidst the fears that Trump wants a constitutional crisis, the legendary reporter Bob Woodward joins us live.


MELBER: We are joined now by legendary journalist Bob Woodward. He won a Pulitzer Prize, of course, for his Watergate reporting and continues to document every single White House right on through the Trump era.

He is, of course, the author of the book -- you have heard about its reporting -- it's called "Rage," an inside look at the White House, drawing on primary sources, as always, including many discussions with the president.

Good to see you again. Thanks for coming on.


It's been a long time. I had to go underground to do the book.


MELBER: Well, you're revealing that, yes, sometimes, when I called on you at times, you said: Hey, trust me. I'm just writing this book right now.


MELBER: It's great to have you.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

MELBER: In reading it, there's many, many key disclosures that, of course, have gotten a lot of attention by now, rightly so.

There's also a larger presentation of how this White House works differently than others and who has sway.

I want to read something you wrote about Jared Kushner -- quote -- "Kushner's recommendation for understanding Trump was, surprisingly, the Cheshire Cat in 'Alice in Wonderland.' If you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there. And, thus, the key survival strategy was endurance and persistence, not direction."

That was so striking. And I want to just reflect with you, Bob, on the Cheshire Cat and what that explains, in your view.

WOODWARD: Well, it's all reflected in this larger goal of reelection at any cost.

And so you will -- like I quote Dr. Fauci in the book saying that he realized everything for Trump was reelection. And I think that's true. And I think we can see, as we're talking about the coming election and what Trump says about it, if I may, we're never going to have electoral purity or perfection.

But I believe, from the Constitution, not just tradition, but from the Constitution, the president has a responsibility to make sure that there's electoral coherence or what Earl Warren used to call fundamental fairness in the process.

But he is just throwing an axe at all of this, and not only neglecting his responsibility, but what are the next six weeks going to be like? What's the election going to be like? When are we going to know?

He has to get -- but I don't think he will. He always is thinking about himself, and not the larger national interest of the country. And the national...

MELBER: How real -- Bob, how real is the fear that -- you write about rage and fear -- the fear that he would try to abuse force or military power? In your view, how serious should people take that?

WOODWARD: I don't know.

Look, anything can happen. We -- happily I reach the conclusion in the book, we still have a democracy. The storm troopers aren't coming and shutting you down or breaking into my house.

The failure here is leadership, that Trump doesn't understand -- I think a president -- I don't know -- I'm sure you would agree -- has a moral responsibility to the larger public, and not just his own party or his own reelection.

And he has abrogated that in a way that is a tragedy. And you and I know each other well enough. I'm not a partisan. This isn't a partisan judgment.

MELBER: Right.

WOODWARD: This is a judgment based on the facts before us. And he's intentionally allowing the whole process of the election to disintegrate and be put in doubt.

Where is an adviser, where is Jared Kushner, where is his wife, Melania, or somebody saying, Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, saying, you cannot do? This is -- you are going to go down in history as a president who intentionally leveled democracy against the people.

MELBER: May I press you a little bit on your point about, there aren't the troopers in the streets?

WOODWARD: Yes, there aren't.

MELBER: One thing I learned...

WOODWARD: There have been -- yes, go ahead.

MELBER: Well, I was going to say, Bob, one thing I learned being around lawyers was, when I dealt with the lawyers who had decades more experience, any pressing was just a question to learn more, and thus it is with a journalist like yourself.

But, taking you seriously. I noticed that passage in the book, and the nuance of saying, as far as things have gone, there's not martial law. True.

WOODWARD: Up to that point.

MELBER: Up to that point.

And so my question to you, then is, when you do look at even all of the efforts -- we quoted earlier tonight "The New York Times" on saying an effort to use more troops, the Insurrection Act, it was stopped, an effort to get Comey and McCabe prosecuted, it was stopped, an effort to get John Bolton prosecuted. It's now real.

An effort to get the mayor of Seattle prosecuted appears not to be happening yet. Threats to prosecute others, threats to put more forces in the streets, and then what some would call the quasi-justified partial overreach of the federal forces dealing with the protests.

When you -- when you stack that all up, what do you think?

WOODWARD: Oh, but it's nibbling around the edges.

But, I mean, the idea of perhaps prosecuting or trying to get John Bolton's money that he made from this book, you can make a legal case on that. You don't need the FBI breaking into his home and stealing his manuscript or his notes. That has not happened yet.

And I think we need to deal with the reality. I got to know Trump in this book, nine hours and 41 minutes of interviews over 10 months. On any subject, I could press him. You could get a sense of what his fundamental attitudes were and so forth.

And it's alarming. It's alarming because, quite frankly, he doesn't understand the country he governs.


MELBER: Right.

WOODWARD: In March, when he told me about -- yes -- about the virus, and he said...


MELBER: Right, about the virus and about sort of his approach.

I got to ask you. One other big theme throughout the book that's gotten maybe less attention...

WOODWARD: Sure. I'm sorry.

MELBER: No, of course, Bob.

You really lay out the way that people who are in another branch of government, Senator Lindsey Graham, is sort of a shadow adviser, chief of staff.

I just want to remind everyone briefly what Lindsey Graham used to say about Donald Trump. Take a look.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.

I don't believe he's a Republican. His policies are really bad for the country.

That he is a jackass.

You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.

Trump's foreign policy is a complete disaster.

He is a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.


MELBER: Whew. You document...

WOODWARD: Yes. And that's...

MELBER: ... the key role he plays. Explain why that was important to you.

That's my final question.


Well, in 2016, that's what Lindsey Graham said. Then he signed up for Trump. And what I have in the book is that Lindsey Graham actually is a moderating voice on Trump.

He's saying, look, you always go for division. You can't go out, like Trump did, and wave a Bible. That's not going to convince people. You have -- and this is, quite frankly, what I also think the election is about.

What can Trump deliver to the average person, or what can Joe Biden delivered to the average person? Because the average person is going to decide this election.

And we -- for Trump to somehow think, oh, he can't panic America, you know this country. I try to understand this country. Americans don't panic if they're told the truth. When they're lied to, then they say, oh, wait a minute, I'm not getting the full story.

And that's the history of the Trump presidency, not getting the full story.

We are -- as citizens, we -- and journalists -- I would argue, are entitled to it.

MELBER: I think that's fair.

And I don't want to overcompliment you, but the full story is what people have come to expect from a Bob Woodward book.

You're going to -- you're willing to stick around here for a little bit more tonight?

WOODWARD: Sure, whatever you would like. You're the boss.

MELBER: Great.


MELBER: Thank you.

Bob Woodward stays.

Turning to a breaking news update we promised. This is building on NBC News reported.

NBC News now, at this state in the hour, has learned Donald Trump has -- quote -- "decided" to select the federal judge we were reporting on, Amy Coney Barrett , to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. That official announcement expected tomorrow.

That is an advancement upon where we started in the hour. I told you it's a busy breaking news Friday.

Bob Woodward returns.

And the other story I wanted to tell you about when we come back, Breonna Taylor's family speaking out.

A lot more ahead on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Reporting on new calls in Kentucky today for the lead prosecutor, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, from the Breonna Taylor case to release secret grand jury evidence.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF BREONNA TAYLOR AND CROWD: Release the transcripts! Release the transcripts! Release the transcripts! Release the transcripts!


MELBER: And Breonna Taylor's family, which did settle their civil case, but is highly concerned about the criminal process thus far, saying this:


BIANCA AUSTIN, AUNT OF BREONNA TAYLOR: I never had faith in Daniel Cameron to begin with. I knew he was too inexperienced to deal with a job of this caliber.

The officer who told a lie to obtain the search warrant failed her. The judge who signed the search warrant failed her. The terrorists who broke down her door failed her. The system as a whole has failed her.

I hope you never know the pain of your child being murdered 191 days in a row.


MELBER: You hear the words there, the system as a whole failing.

And that's a big part of this. There's other evidence that does significantly undermine initial police claims that, for example, there was no body cam evidence whatsoever.

And while the attorney general did say they found a single witness resident who heard the police knock, let's be clear, Taylor's lawyers and "The New York Times" found all the neighbors they were able to speak to heard nothing of the sort.

We also want to bring you the other side of the story, Cameron's office responding today , saying -- quote -- "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but prosecutors and the grand jury members are bound by the facts and by the law."

Now, it is true everyone's bound by the law. The question is, what was presented to those members of the grand jury? We may never know, and thus have no accountability for whether they were misled on that fundamental evidence in this decision they made.

Now, coming up after the break, we are joined by two very special guests, Bob Woodward still here, as mentioned, and the great journalist Nancy Gibbs with a lot more here on Friday night news.

Stay with us.


MELBER: You know, I feel like it's been quite a week.

And then we are on a Friday night edition of THE BEAT, Donald Trump here barreling forward on his Supreme Court pick, Supreme Court pick tomorrow, NBC News now reporting just this hour he's decided on conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

The first presidential debate is early next week. We're 39 days out from Election Day. Early voting has begun in 25 states. So, plenty to reflect on.

And we are joined by two titans of journalism, the bestselling author and presidential historian Nancy Gibbs is the former managing editor for "TIME" magazine, the first woman to hold that post, by the way. She wrote more cover stories than any other writer ever for the publication, topping 175.


She also directs the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Pretty good credentials all around.

And back with us, someone else who needs no introduction, Bob Woodward, breaking the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, covering nine presidents, authoring 13 bestselling books. You can go get the new one that we have been discussing this hour, "Rage."

So good to have both of you here.


MELBER: Nice to have you both.


MELBER: I'm guessing, Bob, that you know each other.


WOODWARD: Only in passing, I think.


GIBBS: Yes, and by, of course, legendary reputation.

MELBER: Yes, I feel like, Nancy -- I mean, again, I'm tipping my hand here, but every journalist who's tried to do any work in Washington knows of Mr. Woodward.

But, as you join us here for the first time tonight, I turn to you.

And, a lot of times on Fridays, we just take a moment and reflect big picture. I'm curious, what's on your mind, what, if anything, you need -- you think needs to fall back out there?

GIBBS: You know, I would like the impunity of Mark Zuckerberg to fall back.

I think, this week, for all of the hurricane of news, we also saw more political ads being taken down because they were misleading, even though millions of people had already seen them. We saw more Russian accounts have to be taken down.

ProPublica has found that half of the top-performing posts that mentioned vote by mail were false or misleading.

MELBER: Half? Wow.

GIBBS: And it's easy to underestimate just how much power -- half -- that one person has over...

MELBER: I had not heard that particular point.

GIBBS: ... has -- yes, has our perception of the fairness and legitimacy of this election. And nothing matters more in these coming weeks.

MELBER: Yes, it's a really important point, as you say.

We're here in one forum. Millions of Americans are getting their sense of what's happening from that Facebook forum. And what are the really rules and obligations there?

As for the parts that might come from abroad, that's something that, Bob, you really document in looking at how the U.S. government dealt with the Russia probe.

I didn't get to ask you this earlier. So I'm going to use moderator's privilege, reading from a section of the book.

You write -- quote -- "The central flaw in the Mueller investigation was that prosecutors never found an inside witness who could tell a story of corrupt illegal conduct. There was no figure comparable to John Dean," you write, "Nixon's White House counsel who testified in 1973 to both his own illegal actions and Nixon's."

Obviously, interesting coming from you, having reported on both, Bob.

And I'm curious about that contrast, that when it came to whatever did or didn't go down during the campaign with Russia, that did hobble the search, Bob?


And there was lots of smoke, and there were lots of really unanswered questions and untoward behavior. And people have focused on that. But you know, as a lawyer, to really make a case, you need somebody who will turn, somebody who -- like John Dean in the Nixon case, or there are people who have turned.

People in Trump world basically did not kind of come clean fully. And so you don't have that narrative from somebody who was a participant and a witness who can, with credibility, talk about the president or the people in all of this.

If I may -- you asked the general question of what's on people's minds. I think, if there is a journalistic task that we are facing collectively, that we need to understand the Trump voter better.

And I think we need to make a maximum effort to do this. I think, if there's a failing in our business, it's kind of, oh, the Trump voter fits a stereotype. And, yes, sometimes that's the case. Same with the Biden voter.

But I -- if I may, not on a Friday night, because I don't like Friday nights. I like to get out of town. But take one night, say, a Thursday night or a Wednesday night. Ari.

I mean, you're serious about all of this. And breaking news is wonderful. But get a panel of people -- I will volunteer to come -- and talk about the Trump voter. Get some Trump voters on. Get some people who speak for the Trump administration...


WOODWARD: ... and really peel back what's going on here, because I think -- I think we didn't understand...


MELBER: Let me bring in Nancy, because I have -- I'm going to sound like a TV cliche. We have about 40 seconds.

Nancy, what do you think of Bob's idea?

GIBBS: I think it's a great idea.

I think we can always, obviously, learn from listening maybe less to each other and more to the people who have this decision in their hands. So, I love that idea.

MELBER: Yes, it's fascinating.

And we spoke recently, in a Zoom panel, to several just regular citizen voters, including a Trump supporter, Barber (ph) in Georgia, recently. Maybe we have him back with Bob Woodward, because then I could learn how to ask even better questions.

But, to your point, Bob, we have got to keep listening in these last five weeks.

I got to fit in a break for Joy Reid. So, I want to give my special thanks to Bob and Nancy, and hope you will both come back on THE BEAT.


MELBER: And remind everyone, Bob Woodward's new book, the one you keep hearing about, it's "Rage," available now.

And we will be right back.


MELBER: One update on the biggest legal and political news in the country breaking regarding the Supreme Court.

NBC News confirming this hour that President Trump has made a decision. And he intends to select federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacancy on the high court.

Barrett, as we have been reporting tonight, is widely known as a very conservative pro-life jurist. This could completely reverse what has been the fifth vote upholding Roe v. Wade on the court. She has said publicly she supports precedent.

All of this will be quite the debate in the Senate. The formal announcement from the president is expected tomorrow.

Now, that does it for THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER tonight.

We did want to give you one programming note, everyone in politics looking at these debates Tuesday night. And, as part of our team, I will be hosting some of the late-night coverage after the very first Trump-Biden debate.

So, you watch the debate right here on MSNBC Tuesday night, and we will be joining you at 12:30 a.m. Eastern time with extended live reaction coverage.



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