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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 29, 2020

Guests: Daniella Gibbs Leger, Tony Schwartz, Adam Schiff, Libby Casey, Robert Barnett

Summary

President Trump and Joe Biden get set for the first presidential debate. Congressman Adam Schiff speaks out. Major new developments emerge in the Breonna Taylor case.

Transcript

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber broadcasting on a pivotal night in this 2020 race.

This is all well under way, nearly a million votes already cast, 36 days out from Election Day, all eyes on this first presidential debate tonight, as both candidates face each other in-person for the first time.

You can see here all of it developing. And we know the debate topics include COVID, the Supreme Court race in America and election integrity. We don't know how the candidates will confront each other or disrupt any plan set by the moderator.

Now, this debate comes amidst a round of punishing bad news for Donald Trump that has his campaign reeling, busted by his own newly revealed tax returns as a debt-ridden, tax-dodging con man, who literally spent the decade paying no taxes.

Democrats argue Trump exposed now as a freeloading self-proclaimed billionaire who demands working-class people fund the government, while he runs from his own bills.

Now, does any of that matter to voters watching tonight's debate? Well, we have some clues on the answer, new reporting showing Trump's own campaign now concerned, because even their friendliest polling shows support falling after this tax report.

Trump's alleged defrauding of the U.S. a contrast to his opponents now voluntarily sharing their own tax returns, which show both Biden and Harris paying what they owed under law, just over 30 percent.

Tonight, Joe Biden can unload that factual ammunition Trump using a debate stage promising the largest audience of the year to present voters -- as mentioned, over a million having already voted -- with his view of who Donald Trump really is.

Now, that is a challenge even with a good hand, because Donald Trump, whether people like it or not, has proven to be a wily, domineering, and at times effective debater.

He often defined the topics and tempo in that first debate with Hillary Clinton, which drew a record 84 million viewers. His mix of sweeping claims and, yes, brash lies and then the personal attacks have thrown off politicians with decades of experience in both parties.

And let me be clear as we kick off tonight's coverage. This constant lying the Donald Trump is known for, it invariably upends the very format of a debate because it taunts the opponent and the moderator into deciding whether to spend a lot of precious time fact-checking him and his chosen topics, or leaving, as the alternative, a blizzard of Trump falsehoods unanswered.

Now, that's why some top Democrats, you may recall, even talked about why Biden might be better off skipping tonight's debate, echoing a maxim cited by an expert on rhetoric, none other than Shawn Carter, who said, a wise man told me don't argue with fools, because people from a distance can't tell who is who. Now, look, arguing with a lying fool can be harder than it looks.

Mr. Carter was, of course, invoking more ancient lines from Proverbs itself. And I was looking at this today. This actually offers debate tips relevant for tonight. From Proverbs -- quote -- "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes."

The world changes, but they say human nature doesn't. And this is probably a big test for Biden tonight. Can he prevail where other candidates faltered? Can Joe Biden avoid answering Trump's follies, reacting to Trump's framing and gimmicks and lies, and instead shred Donald Trump in ways that expose him before, yes, the eyes of his own voters?

A couple examples, a man who claims to be a big chief executive, but can't execute a plan to protect Americans from COVID. A man who claims to be rich, but can't afford the kind of tax bills most Americans pay. A man who claims to have great ratings and popularity, but has never cracked 50 percent in votes or polling.

As Shawn Carter says in that same battle rap, we don't believe you. You need more people.

That's one point Joe Biden may want to explore tonight dealing with all of these challenges.

Let's bring in our experts on this big night in politics, Cornell Belcher, a polling guru who worked for both Obama campaigns, now an MSNBC contributor, Daniella Gibbs Leger, executive vice president for communications at CAP, and Libby Casey from "The Washington Post."

Good to see all of you.

Cornell, having worked directly inside recent presidential campaigns, I begin with you and this problem. It's one thing to judge and morally condemn a candidate, a president who lies so much, but it's another thing to get in the ring and decide, when do you rebut the lie? You can't leave it unanswered, but when do you say, wait a minute, you got your time to use for your own topics?

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

No, it is getting caught up in the Trump whirlwind. Part of that issue is, look, I talked to voters who were on the fence going into 2016. And, as you know, Ari, a lot of Obama voters, especially those younger voters, sat on the fence in 2016 or voted third party.

And what they said time and time again is, look, we get that Trump is bad and all the debates and all the conversation is about Trump. I want to know what Hillary's going to do for us.

I think it's easy to get caught up in attacking Trump, because it's a target-rich environment, because there's so many lies and so many falsehoods out there.

But I think that'd be a mistake on the part of the vice president. I think he may have 90 million viewers tonight and it's an opportunity for the vice president to speak -- tell those 90 million viewers exactly what he plans to do to change the direction of this country, to tackle COVID, and to fix our -- and fix our economy, and not spend as much time on Donald Trump, because Donald Trump's numbers are already in the trash can.

Donald Trump needs to be the one who changes the dynamic, because he's the one who's behind.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Libby, this is not a debate that's moderated, say, by the Associated Press or "The Washington Post" your outlet, a respected outlet, or "The New York Times." This is a FOX News moderator.

And whatever one thinks of Chris Wallace, FOX News, in general, I think it is accurate to say, has been more on directly Donald Trump's side, has echoed things he said even when not true, for example, on COVID. And so that also is something that both candidates are going to have to deal with, even though, to give full -- full sort of awareness, Donald Trump has had his own clashes with Mr. Wallace as well.

So, with that context, I want to play a little bit of how Chris Wallace says he approaches tonight. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, MODERATOR: One of these two people is going to be the next president of the United States. And my job is to be as invisible as possible.

I'm trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues, to give people at home a sense of why I want to vote for one vs. the other. But if I have done my job, right, at the end of the night, people will say, that was a great debate. Who was the moderator?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And, Libby, that's fine.

And yet, in today's era, and particularly Donald Trump, you can also factor in him trying to make the moderator an issue. I'm curious what you think about all of the above.

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Chris Wallace, certainly, we understand the idea that the moderator is not the main story, right?

And I think it is admirable to say you don't want people walking away because you're stealing the show and taking all the oxygen out of the room. But fact-checking is an essential role that journalists can bring to the table. And Chris Wallace has said that that's really not his job. He's leaving that to the candidates.

And so we get into this tough position that you're talking about. Does Joe Biden spend his time trying to fact-check Trump? And what people are saying, what Democratic strategists are saying is that you can do that to some degree, but then you need to pivot, pivot back to the message you're trying to hit.

So if you can use a fact-check as Joe Biden to hit home a message and to bring it back to the topic you want, then you're going somewhere.

Now, you bring up this great question of the role of the moderator and sort of bias. Now, Chris Wallace tries to take a different tone than the -- sort of the entertainment, the infotainment part of FOX News. And he has held President Trump accountable in interviews in the past, frustrating President Trump, who perhaps expected more of a soft interview coming from someone working at FOX.

But even just this morning, we saw FOX News anchors allowing false information about Joe Biden to go unchecked on their own show, accusations about his mental acuity or how he might behave tonight.

And so Chris Wallace wants to try to take this lane of being sober, being serious and being focused. But I'm wondering if he can resist doing some Fact-Checking, because it may be hard for him, as a moderator, because he does know the facts.

He may have moments where he just says, this is not -- he may call -- call one of the candidates out on some issues. But it puts all journalists in a tough position, when the idea of fact-checking is taken off the table.

MELBER: Yes, and I appreciate you said that Chris Wallace is sort of the sober one over there.

But, Daniella, that's a little bit like claiming you're the most silver person at Margaritaville. You may be. But I explicitly referenced the Associated Press of "The Washington Post" for the reason that it is a striking evolution,

Roger Ailes may have passed, but he would be doing a dance today when you think about building something like FOX News and getting it to this degree, where it's not only in the debates, it's the first one, because, Daniella, a lot of viewers will just say -- take that as the kind of default middle ground.

And I think Mr. Wallace -- again, it's not about anything personal. It's just about where he's fit in historically and where FOX News fits in.

Having said that, everyone here has weighed in on a bunch, the Biden side, the challenge and the media. You can pick from all the above.

(LAUGHTER)

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes, I just want to second that point about I feel that, if Donald Trump does -- he's going to lie a lot tonight, but if there is some really egregious thing, I think it actually will harm Chris Wallace's reputation if he just lets it go, because we all -- we all are privy to the facts.

And we all can see and hear what Donald Trump is saying. So I would be curious to see if he doesn't actually step in, and fact-check Donald Trump.

Look, Biden, I think, is in a slightly tough position, because, like I said, Trump will lie the entire night. But he really needs to use this opportunity to talk to the American people and explain to them why their lives will be better under a Biden administration.

And one of the first things you learn in media training is the art of the pivot, as you say. So, if Donald Trump lies about something, say, that's a lie, that's why, and quickly move off of it and talk about what you want to do for people, because that is what's most important right now.

We all know, most people know what Donald Trump has done the last four years. We know that he's incapable of leading. So, now it's time for Vice President Biden, what is America going to look like under your administration?

That's what we want to hear tonight.

MELBER: Yes. And you have a lot of experience in this as well. That, I think is why we -- look, these are big nights in politics.

Before I was full-time in journalism, I worked for two U.S. senators, and when you're prepping for certain appearances, you do talk about, can you put something in a frame that doesn't cost you a lot of your precious time?

So, can you say, well, look, he's a deadbeat liar? So, again, he's saying what deadbeat liars say, and let me tell you the facts. And then you can repeat that frame for 90 minutes to the point that, the next morning, people say, they remember something about Trump, deadbeat liar, and they remember, hopefully, something about your plan.

But Trump is very good at hitting back even within that. That's why, again, in a world where he is rightly held accountable and criticized for a lot of shortcomings, it may be easy, Cornell, for some people to forget that, wait, there's a reason why he beat a lot of other Republicans.

Take the red/blue thing out of it. He came into a Republican Party where he was initially underestimated. There were a lot of people on those stages -- we showed some of them at the top of the broadcast -- and did pretty well, according to a lot of different metrics, including ultimately the Republican primary vote.

I want to ask you specifically, Cornell, about that and the numbers as a pollster, because numbers cut both ways, depending on your mood. We have had jokes on this program with you, with you and others, about, how can there be undecided people?

And yet I think you would agree, if you can move 10 percent of people in this race tonight or in the coming days, whichever candidate could move 10 percent could win, right?

BELCHER: Yes.

MELBER: Right. That's a lot. That's a lot of people.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: So I want to put up for your for your analysis here. Look at this.

We have 86 percent of people saying their minds are made up about who they will vote for; 14 percent say they're persuadable tonight. Half-empty or full, Cornell, you could say, OK, most people made up their mind. Or you could say, wow, if one out of 10 or more people tonight are watching and make up their mind, this thing could really swing tonight.

BELCHER: No, that's an important -- because not even on the national picture, but you move 4 percent one way or the other in, say, Pennsylvania or Michigan or certainly Florida, and it's a different race.

So, the debate tonight is important, although, at the same time, I'm torn, Ari, because we say these debates are so important, but, at the same time, historically, are they that important?

I mean, I remember I worked for a guy by the name of Barack Obama, who you all panned in every debate he did, particularly ones with Hillary Clinton, and then you panned him against the first debate with Mitt Romney.

And, in the end -- and Ronald Reagan was panned for his debate performance, and then he won in a landslide. So, they matter. I think what matters most is really the likability.

I think you -- if you're the front-runner, I think you got to come out of this thing unscathed. You got to make sure you do no harm.

But I think it all falls back on this thing. And I think this was a problem with Al Gore in his debates. And I love Al Gore, but this was a problem in Al Gore -- in his debates. He knew all the answers, but he wasn't the most likable person on stage.

And I think, to a certain extent, when you look at what Biden has to do tonight -- and I do think -- look, I think if he says something outrageous, I think you got to check him on it. But I swear to you, Ari, I would not spend most of my time in a back-and-forth with that foolishness.

I'd be talking to the American people and make myself more relatable and try to come across as relatable and likable and strong.

MELBER: Right. Right.

And I got just under a minute left here, so I will and Daniella and then Libby.

GIBBS: Yes, I totally agree with that.

I mean, look, what this country is missing is a leader, but also a leader who shows empathy, a leader who shows that they understand what the American people are going through. And that is something that Vice President Biden has leaps and bounds.

So, when he's telling the American people what he's going to do for them, showing them his empathy, I think, is going to go a long way. And only hit Trump if he's being ridiculously outrageous and egregious, but spend your time telling the American people how you're going to lead.

CASEY: Yes, can he put Donald Trump in a box? Can he put up Donald Trump in a box, and talk directly to the American people about what he wants to do?

Donald Trump is the one who has to make up ground tonight. Having that bombshell tax report come out from "The New York Times" on the eve of this is not helping Donald Trump. He's got to be the one here to try to claw back some momentum.

So, Joe Biden needs to maintain and also present that, may I say presidential, presidential manner to the American public.

MELBER: Presidential manner.

Boy, that's a term that could be widely debated these days.

Libby Casey, Daniella Gibbs Leger, and Cornell Belcher, I want to thank each of you.

We are going to fit in our shortest break, 30 seconds.

Coming up on tonight's show, we have Chairman Schiff and all the concerns about Trump's foreign debt, a turn of events in the Breonna Taylor case we're going to bring you later this hour, and also revelations from Trump's taxes, including lies on "The Apprentice."

Tony Schwartz back live on THE BEAT when we return in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back.

And continuing a theme from our first segment eying this debate tonight, Donald Trump has been hiding and lying about his taxes for decades, so it's especially rough timing for him to find them exposed as he heads into this debate tonight.

"The New York Times," of course, breaking this story over the weekend, with the most exhaustive accounting Trump's ever faced. And now the paper is out with more, showing how Trump's claims of bouncing back as he launched "The Apprentice" were a total hoax.

He actually faced $90 million in net losses from his core businesses. Now, Trump's debt was so bad and some of it so public, he did feel pressed to acknowledge it. So, while he kept hiding the $90 million in losses, at the time, he falsely claimed the debts were behind him and the company was stronger than ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was seriously in trouble. I was billions of dollars in debt.

I used my brain, I used my negotiating skills, and I worked it all out. Now my company's bigger than it ever was. It's stronger than it ever was. And I'm having more fun than I ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: New reporting showing there was nothing fun about Trump's desperate clashes with creditors then, nor his ongoing efforts now to outrun loans that come due in the several years ahead of us, all issues that are on the table at tonight's debate.

I'm joined by friend of THE BEAT and "Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz. He's out with a new audio book, "Dealing With the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me."

Good evening, sir.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": Good evening to you, sir.

MELBER: The issue of media bias came up earlier in the broadcast. We at THE BEAT are somewhat biased towards you, as a trusted expert and guest.

But, even with that positive bias, I will say you are uniquely situated to help us think about what we're going to hear tonight, because you have sat with Donald Trump and crafted arguments and words together.

What is it important for viewers and citizens to think about as they listen to both candidates tonight?

SCHWARTZ: Well, first of all, when Trump starts to repeat words, enemy of the people, a hoax, so phrases that he's used over and over again, it's designed to spellbind.

It's designed to overwhelm you with the repetition. And so one of the things I would say to Biden is, don't be afraid to repeat yourself. Don't be afraid to say a phrase, as one of your last guests said, over and over again, particularly if it's something -- if it's about something that you are capable of doing that he's not.

So, that would be, to me, a really critical way for Biden just to start.

MELBER: When you were around him, did you see the same skills or panache, or just brazen lies, all of it a part of it, that would later be on display in these past debates?

I mean, you could make the argument, not on morality or truth, but on efficacy, which matters in politics, that Donald Trump hasn't really lost any big debates.

SCHWARTZ: No, and I attended all three of the last debates when I was, honestly, advising the Hillary campaign on what was likely to get under Trump's skin.

And, interestingly, everything that I remember advising, she -- not everything, but much of it, she did. And it did get under his skin, and it didn't matter.

So, it is...

MELBER: Now, Tony, Tony...

SCHWARTZ: I'm listening.

MELBER: Are you taking credit for Hillary Clinton's Electoral College loss? Is that what you're doing?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I have taken so much...

MELBER: They followed your playbook.

SCHWARTZ: I have taken so much blame, and willingly taken so much blame for the impact that I have had on Trump that, if I had a little positive impact on Hillary, that would be offsetting.

MELBER: But go ahead.

SCHWARTZ: Well, I just think that he should indeed be talking about the things that he can -- that he will do.

I believe that this idea of Biden simply being Biden -- he doesn't have to be anything else, because if it's true that the front-runner, if it's true that -- I'm sorry -- not the front-runner -- the president has to come off more likable, that's very, very tough for Trump against a guy who actually has empathy, who actually has a conscience, who does care.

And so I think just reciting the facts simply and plainly, and when Trump comes at him, well, why did you call American soldiers who died in war losers and suckers? Why do you allow people to come to rallies without wearing masks? Why did you put your Supreme Court nominee and her whole family at risk for coronavirus by not having them wear masks?

Why have you praised Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed peaceful protesters? Why have you lied 18,000 times? There you go again.

Remember when Reagan said, "There you go again"?

MELBER: "There you go again," yes.

SCHWARTZ: That was one of the most important moments. And why? Because it showed how avuncular Reagan was, how relatable Reagan was.

I wouldn't mind Biden pulling that phrase back in where it's appropriate. There you go again.

MELBER: Well, and, Tony, part of what you're talking about, and why debates are more three-dimensional than they might appear, because it looks like two people having the same talking points debate and the extra theatrics, but part of what you're talking about with posing questions or pushing back, right, is what we were discussing earlier, that effective debating doesn't only win the moment you're in, but it casts a shadow over the other coming time in the exchange.

And Trump has proven very good at that, for the reasons mentioned.

What you're talking about is, given how many vulnerabilities there are, attacking in a way that puts the onus on Trump to address it, to respond with his time, and to really upend the format.

That's the other thing I wanted to ask you about. Donald Trump, in many ways, has gotten away with breaking rules and breaking format. And, again, the morality and the legality of that has been well-discussed.

But ,in a debate, Trump just completely runs over the moderator, the time, this and that. Biden, we noticed in the primaries, kept saying, oh, I see that I'm out of time, or I see this and that. I mean, that would look downright quaint tonight. Your thoughts on how that figures in?

SCHWARTZ: Don't debate Trump.

Now, that sounds crazy. Talk to the people who are in the audience. Look at the difference between this. I'm talking to you right now. I'm talking directly to you and to your viewers.

If I'm looking over here at Trump, who's on the debate stage, I'm not talking directly to you. Talk to the American people. And talk in the way that you do?

Make believe that Trump isn't really in the equation. Yes, he's there. You have to deal with him. But speak to people about what you're going to do to protect and extend their health care, what are the specific actions that you're going to take. How are you going to invest in whatever it takes to get climate change under control?

And, most important, what are you going to do to heal the divisions that have emerged under Trump over the last five years -- four years? How are we going to find common ground? How are we going to bring people back together?

Because, honestly, I suspect that 70, 75 percent or more of the electorate, even the 28 percent of that group that is for Trump or leaning to Trump, wants a different kind of world than we're living in right now, and a world in which you (AUDIO GAP) feel antagonized all the time.

MELBER: Yes.

A lot on the table tonight, and interesting to get your views for all the background reasons we mentioned.

Tony Schwartz, good to see you.

I will remind everyone, the audiobook, brand-new, is "Dealing With the Devil."

Coming up, we have a very special guest with all of these new disclosures, the intelligence chairman in the House, Adam Schiff, Democrats talking about the national security threat on the table.

First, though, we go deeper inside the debate strategy and how Biden can draw lessons from the past.

We have an expert who literally coached Obama and many other Democratic nominees -- when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We are hours away from this first presidential debate of 2020, the most eagerly anticipated political moment for many people since Donald Trump first squared off with Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will release my tax returns, against my lawyers' wishes, when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, you have got to ask yourself, why won't he release his tax returns?

TRUMP: She tells you how to fight ISIS on her Web site. I don't think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: All right, the next segment, we're continuing on the subject of...

CLINTON: Well, at least I have a plan to fight ISIS.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...

TRUMP: You're the puppet.

CLINTON: I have a feeling that by, the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.

TRUMP: Why not?

CLINTON: Why not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We're joined by Robert Barnett, who's worked on literally 10 different presidential cycles as a debate guru, also a very celebrated attorney, and Heather McGhee, co-chair of Color of Change, an organization that fights inequality.

Great to have you both here.

I want to look at some of the biggest moments from debate history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell me how it's affected you again.

You know people who have lost their jobs and lost their home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, yes.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): They brought us whole binders full of women.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please proceed, Governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Some of the moments people remember.

Robert, when you look at all of that, what does it tell you about tonight?

ROBERT BARNETT, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It tells me I'm very old because I was involved in some of those. That's one thing it tells me, Ari.

The other thing it tells me is that those moments carry on in history. Those moments will be analyzed by the pundits tonight.

But I think, this time around, more than any of the 10 cycles I have been involved in 19 -- since 1976, those memorable lines will not matter as much as what people face tomorrow, when they have to remotely school their child, when they have to find a job because they're unemployed, when they have to fight racial injustice.

I think, this time around, the debates will be interesting, will be important. I don't minimize it. But I think the sterling moments will be usurped by the realities of life in America under Donald Trump.

MELBER: Heather?

HEATHER MCGHEE, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's a really good point.

But I think there's a way for the vice president to connect everything that happens on the debate stage to the lived experiences of Americans, right? Obviously, the big marquee story going into the bait is $750, right?

It's the fact that Donald Trump is someone who has contributed less to our government in taxes than a fast food worker. And he's going to say that it's fake news, but I think Joe Biden has to say, which is it? Are you a tax cheat or are you a failure? Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and then you basically choked on it?

Like, what is the truth about what you're hiding that you don't want to release your tax returns? Either way, you're not someone who's fit to lead; $750 is also more -- less than many people pay in health insurance premiums. And Donald Trump wants to make that higher by appointing a Supreme Court justice who could repeal the Affordable Care Act.

So, there's lots of ways to pivot and move into the things that people really care about, which is absolutely putting food on their table, health care, surviving this pandemic, getting back to some sense of normalcy.

BARNETT: Ari, there's a phenomenon that exists this time that's never in my lifetime occurred.

And that is, in the last week, approximately, two mega-events have occurred that, a week ago, we wouldn't have even been talking about as we preview this debate. But now we are, the Supreme Court and, of course, "The New York Times"' story about the tax returns.

And it will take some quick maneuvering by the candidates to make sure those things are addressed, in one case in a defensive way, in another case, I think, in an offensive way. But it will also raise the stakes for the moderator, who is very good and will be very good, who's laid out the topics, but probably has to change those topics, because it would probably be moderator malpractice not to bring up those two intruding topics and critically important topics.

MELBER: Now, we have talked a bit about some of the vulnerabilities potentially of Donald Trump.

Robert, when you look at the way Trump goes on the attack and creates smoke and issues, what is your view, having coached so many candidates, about what to do when or if he hits Biden or goes after Biden's family or his son?

BARNETT: You have to balance.

First of all, if it's personal, and if it's obvious that you have got to respond, you respond. But you don't take the bait. You pivot. The magic, history and success of debates often hinges on the pivot. And you go from what he's done, not take the bait, not get down with him, go high, as Michelle Obama would say, not go low, and move to the subject you want to talk about.

So, for instance, if he hits...

MELBER: Would you say -- I'm going to jump in. I'm going to use a moderator's privilege myself and jump in on you.

Would you say that going high has always worked for Democrats against Trump?

BARNETT: No, understand, I'm not saying immediately go high. There's a need to answer certain things. There's a need to counterpunch with certain things.

But you don't want to get 15 minutes into the debate and be strictly attacking. It's so important, if you're Joe Biden -- and I think he knows this -- I'm sure he knows this -- to use this as an opportunity to tell 100 million people what he's for on climate change, on the economy, on the pandemic, on racial injustice.

And that's the wise use of this time, I think.

MELBER: Right.

No, and I appreciate the nuance you're drawing, because that's something that has coursed through all that, but the Donald Trump certainly makes more complex, which is the time answering vs. your own vision.

Heather, I want to play a little bit of what we have heard from Joe Biden about how he's approaching this, which is pretty interesting going into the high-stakes evening. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, the people know the president's a liar. I mean, they know that. It's not like it's going to come as a surprise to them.

And so I'm prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he's failed.

My guess is, it's going to be just straight attack. They're going to be mostly personal.

That's the only thing he knows how to do. He doesn't know how to debate the facts because he's not that smart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Heather?

MCGHEE: That was pretty good.

You know, I think there's a big question for the campaign, which is, what are the core audiences that the vice president wants to shore up, wants to move, wants to really get enthusiastic and excited, right?

We're seeing the sort of other swing voters, right? We spend so much time talking about the swing voters who are moderates or white married women in the suburbs, however you want to slice it. But the other swing voters are the millions of people who swung away from the Democrats and stayed home, which is disproportionately African-American voters...

MELBER: Yes.

MCGHEE: ... who really want to see, in this moment of crisis, someone stand up to Donald Trump, someone say that the incitement of violence against peaceful protesters is wrong, that the targeting of protesters, that the disinformation and smearing of movements like Black Lives Matter is wrong, and that he -- he, Joe Biden -- has a plan for really turning the page on the last vestiges of mass incarceration and racial slavery in America that are still with us and showing up so much in our criminal legal system.

So, I think he has that challenge, where he really needs to speak to black Americans, who have always been the linchpin of the Democratic Party in the modern era, and who have every reason, obviously, to choose not -- to vote against Donald Trump, but who really still at every juncture need to hear that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to demonstrably change things for the better.

MELBER: Well, I think you raise a great point both on the substance and the politics, Heather, because you're also discussing something people have noticed, which is Trump seems to be going so hard to his base all the time.

And then, sometimes, some of the Democrats don't seem to be doing the same, when that's the mobilization, the energy they need.

I have to get the Congressman Schiff.

So, Robert, very briefly, last word?

BARNETT: Yes, I was just going to say that, when you're the incumbent and you have the megaphone in the White House, you can get a lot of attention.

It's much more difficult when you're the challenger. Joe Biden has some terrific plans about the pandemic, about climate change, et cetera, et cetera. But they're on his Web site.

This is an opportunity, a golden opportunity, to get them in front of 100 million people. And I think that's what he will be doing tonight, while still defending himself against ridiculous attacks and downright lies.

MELBER: Yes.

Robert Barnett, Heather McGhee, thanks for both of your expertise tonight.

I will mention, the last person to debate Trump, Hillary Clinton, is a special guest in our special coverage. It launches at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight with all your favorite anchors and Hillary Clinton.

Up ahead, hours out from the debate, Democrats pouncing on new national security concerns.

We have a very special live interview with a man who's led so many of these issues, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This president appears to have over $400 million in debt. To whom? This is a national security question.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who does he owe the money to? Tell us, who do you owe the money to?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It did take years, but Trump's tax returns finally exposed, and they feature tons of bad news for Donald Trump, exposing him for counting the U.S. government and his own supporters, ducking those tax bills, and just generally lying a lot to everyone, including potentially the government, which is a potential crime.

There's also a speck of good news here for Donald Trump. "The Times" reporting the returns did not specifically reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia. Trump allies argue that rebuts the longstanding concerns about his weakness towards Putin, while intelligence veterans stress that Trump's foreign debts actually provide -- quote -- "outrageous vulnerability" because so many foreign agents and actors could exploit them.

For one basic comparison, these are the kind of debts that would literally stop anyone else from getting a basic security clearance, let alone a top government job.

We are joined now by Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thanks for being here at a busy time, sir.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): You bet. Good to see you.

MELBER: Good to see you.

I want to ask you this question with both pieces to it, that "The Times"' own reporting says they didn't find new Russia ties. Your response to that, given how much you have looked at that issue, and then, the flip side, how many other vulnerabilities there may be that affect our national security?

SCHIFF: Well, first on the no Russia ties in the tax returns, our committee is seeking the bank records, not the tax returns, the records of Deutsche Bank, which, when no other bank would do business with Donald Trump because of his poor credit, was willing to extend hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

Now, of course, Deutsche Bank has a history of laundering money for the Russians and has paid billions in fines for doing that. So, our focus has always been on the bank records.

But what the tax returns do reveal is that the president is heavily indebted. To whom he's indebted, the tax returns don't tell us. Whether he's going to be dependent on foreign powers or foreign parties, or face another bankruptcy, we don't know.

But it's certainly a vulnerability, a national security vulnerability for us not knowing the answer to those questions.

MELBER: Yes.

SCHIFF: And I think you're absolutely right. He would never get a security clearance, let alone a position of responsibility, without those questions being answered.

MELBER: So, this is the wild part.

And, Congressman, we have discussed this before, but now we have more evidence. This is where I feel a little bit like we're in the movie, and I'm asking you the questions that are in the spy thriller.

But now that this level of debt has been confirmed by this exhaustive new report, we know something about the debt we didn't know last week, what is to keep a foreign government or foreign government-linked bank from buying up that debt, even at a premium, so they have new leverage over the sitting president?

SCHIFF: Nothing at all. Nothing at all.

And what's more, never mind having leverage over him, although that's obviously a paramount worry. They could curry favor by bailing him out.

MELBER: Sure.

SCHIFF: You can imagine -- I mean, this president does nothing that's not in his personal interest.

And you can imagine how grateful he would be if some foreign power bailed him out. But also just his dependence on being able to market his brand and other countries, because it was the brand, frankly, that made up for all his tragic business decisions, if that were to be impaired, if Erdogan was to say, no more Trump Tower in Istanbul, then you could obviously have a huge influence on U.S. policy.

It might already explain his bizarre affinity for autocrats like Erdogan.

MELBER: So, what does the United States do as he goes towards a campaign, which he may or may not win? But, if he did, there'd be four more years.

And you're in the co-equal branch of government. And what was hypothetically scary last week, but possibly false, in fairness -- we cover a lot of public officials, and we can't just go around saying, well, the worst possible scenario is how we're going to treat them, right, because that's not journalism.

But now, journalistically, that bad scenario has been confirmed. What is to be done about what you say is currently possible?

SCHIFF: Well, I think the sad reality is, unless the Senate were to flip, if Donald Trump remained president, he would continue to stonewall any oversight by Congress.

So, we wouldn't be able to tell whether a foreign power made a secret business arrangement to help rescue Donald Trump from his debt, or whether they were calling in his debt, and, therefore, he was compromised. We would try to find out.

But, as we have seen, the GOP in the Senate is utterly unwilling to even enforce its own institutional prerogatives, like subpoenas. It refused to even convict the president for stonewalling all of congressional oversight.

So we have to hope, frankly, in the interest of protecting ourselves from compromise, that, if Donald Trump isn't removed from office, which is the ultimate way to protect the country, that the Senate changes hands, so there is accountability.

MELBER: Yes, it's really wild.

I mean, I just -- it's a bad thing -- and I say that regardless of who the president was or their party -- to have this confirmed debt out there.

Last thing I want to get you on, fallout from the Mueller probe. Flynn's attorney now discussing counseling the president about this -- quote -- "She asked Donald Trump not to even issue a pardon and gave him a general update on the status of that case."

Your response to that and these loose ends from the probe?

SCHIFF: Well, I mean, just the staggering impropriety of a case involving someone who lied to essentially cover up for the president, who the president and his attorney general intervened to try to make the case to go away, and now the president is continuing to have direct conversations with that person's lawyer.

It's hard to know where to begin to talk about how improper all of that is. I can certainly understand why the judge in that case is so alarmed and incensed at what he is seeing.

But it really is -- it's part of the broader attack on the rule of law that has Bill Barr now dribbling out information in advance of the election, has Director Ratcliffe publishing Russian intelligence that he acknowledges may be demonstrably false.

And in the latest really staggering announcement from the director of national intelligence, he says that it was derived from very sensitive sources and methods he hasn't even briefed Congress on.

Well, the disclosure of that information is potentially going to reveal those sources and methods. And for what? To try to give the president some minuscule advantage in the next few days?

It's just incomprehensible how much damage they're doing to our national security.

MELBER: Yes, all important stuff.

Congressman and chairman the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, thank you, sir.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back, a story we have not yet hit this hour that is very important.

There are some major developments, including secret leaks, coming out of that Breonna Taylor case and the grand jury.

I will update for you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: A key update in this Breonna Taylor case that we have been falling, a judge now ruling the recordings of grand jury proceedings actually must be released to the public. They could come out as soon as tomorrow. That's unusual.

The judge's ruling, though, comes after a grand juror in this very case filed an unusual motion to request the freedom to speak out and urging evidence to be released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN GLOGOWER, ATTORNEY FOR TAYLOR GRAND JUROR: The attorney general laid a lot of responsibility at the grand jurors' feet. But they have yet to answer what was actually presented as far as the charges and the individuals they were directed to.

And I think that is important for the public to know. And I think my client feels strongly the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: If you decode some of the legalese there, what is being suggested is that this prosecutor may have put a finger on the scale in the presentation to the grand jury.

We need to get more evidence to know how to assess that.

There's also the insistence we're hearing that one witness who did hear the police identify announcing themselves in the raid, there's more to that story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Of a dozen witnesses that I spoke to, only one, a man who was directly upstairs, heard them announce.

Do you think that's enough, in the middle of the night when somebody is asleep, for just one person up in a tight-knit apartment block to have heard that? Is that a sufficient way of announcing?

DANIEL CAMERON (R), KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Your question was, it is enough for me? I think the more pertinent question is, what was the evidence provided to the grand jury?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Again, you see the effort to put this all on the grand jury. But there are questions about what was presented and whether the evidence changed.

One Kentucky journalistic outlet reporting that that very witness referenced there, they have changed their story, that, right after this shooting, he told investigators, no one identified themselves as police.

Then officials went back two months later, and the story became that he did hear the officers identify themselves, saying, "This is the cops."

These are major questions that are currently being addressed in a shroud of secrecy. The Taylor family is asking for both public transparency to end the secrecy and an independent special prosecutor, who might present a more independent case to a new grand jury.

Important updates we wanted to get to you, even though there's a lot of else -- national news going on.

I want to tell, you should keep it right here for debate coverage, which starts especially at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, full debate analysis immediately afterwards.

And, after that, the late-night coverage has Brian Williams up, and then I will pick up after him at 12:30 Eastern with our special live post-debate recaps.

But don't go anywhere right now. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up right after this break.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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