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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, September 9, 2020

Guests: Andrew Weissmann, Ezekiel Emanuel, David Frum


In new tapes released by Bob Woodward, Donald Trump admits that he did want to play down the pandemic, despite knowing how potentially serious the coronavirus was. A new whistle-blower accuses Trump officials of lying to Congress and twisting intelligence. A new scandal hits Bill Barr's Justice Department. Stunning resignations are made by police in Rochester, New York.


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

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. How are you doing?

WALLACE: Well, it's one of those days, right? You make a plan, you write your top. I wrote two tops. And then the Woodward book came out, and I threw it all in the garbage.

So, I hope that didn't happen to you.


MELBER: Would you -- a little bit happened to us.

Would you advised your president, a different one, to even do these kind of interviews? I know that Woodward was all around your White House, but the president's worst comments are really made by him here.

WALLACE: Yes, Bob Woodward, I think, wrote four books about the Bush administration.

I was not part of a senior communications team after the first one. I think the first one, he would even say, was where he had the most access to President Bush and others. The books became more unsparing, frankly, as the wars became more troubled and challenging.

And there were always big, robust debates. I worked for Dan Bartlett, who was a counselor to the president. And there were always big debates about how much time to spend with Bob Woodward.

But here's the bottom line. It didn't really matter. Woodward always got the story. And I think this is so interesting, because now he's got it in Trump's own words on tape. It's a whole different kind of escalation of credibility.

And Woodward has got the goods 60 days out from an election.

MELBER: Yes, I think you hit on the head. He's got the tapes, and he's got the corroboration, which is what makes it such a fascinating book.

We will be digging into it.

Nicolle, always good to see you.

WALLACE: We will be watching. We will be watching.

MELBER: Thank you.

And thank you for joining us. This is THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

And we're tracking these stories now, Donald Trump on tape admitting he did want to play down the pandemic, as we were just discussing, and he knew how deadly it was.

Meanwhile, other stories hitting this hour, a new whistle-blower accusing Trump officials of lying to Congress and twisting intel.

Plus, a new scandal hitting Bill Barr's Justice Department.

We begin with this breaking news rocking the White House, President Trump admitting on tape he knew how deadly this coronavirus was back in February.

Now, that matters because it's evidence showing Trump was deliberately misleading the nation about this threat, as he played it down. This was before it really even hit the U.S.

So, listen to these tapes, which really offer more damning evidence and seem even worse today than when Trump said these words in February.

Take a look here. We're going to play for you the newly released material.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very tricky situation. It's...


TRUMP: It goes -- it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch.

The touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your -- your -- even your strenuous flus. People don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

WOODWARD: I know. It's much forgotten.

TRUMP: I mean, it's pretty amazing.

And then I say, well, is that the same thing?

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for...


TRUMP: This is more deadly. This is 5 per -- this is 5 percent vs. 1 percent and less than 1 percent. So this is deadly stuff.


MELBER: Deadly stuff. At had the data top of mind.

These excerpts are new from "The Washington Post," as I mentioned, from legendary Watergate reporter Bob Woodward.

Now, we don't know what came before after Trump telling Woodward that the virus was so deadly, worse than strenuous flus. But this was February 7.

At the time, Americans were living through normal pre-pandemic lives. There were just 12 cases in the country, a flat case count, to say the least. But Trump had the intel then in secret, and, according to him, he believed it.

Woodward reports also that Trump's national security adviser warned this was the biggest national security threat the president would face.

By March 19, it was a growing crisis, 4,000 cases 48 deaths, quarantines on the East Coast.

And Woodward, in the next clip I'm going to play you, he presents these facts pretty diplomatically and just asks point blank how Donald Trump came to pivot in his approach to the virus.

But, as I was just discussing with Nicolle, in what is pretty damning, Trump's own words, he stresses in this taped interview his goal was just to play it all down.


WOODWARD: It's clear, just from what's in -- on the public record, that you went through a pivot on this to, oh, my God, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable.

TRUMP: Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you...

WOODWARD: Sure. I want you to be.

TRUMP: ... I wanted to -- I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down...

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: ... because I don't want to create a panic.


MELBER: Now, pandemic experts were not concerned at that juncture about panic.

They were concerned about apathy, because getting the facts out about these dangers, what Trump called this deadly virus, so much worse than the flu, getting those facts out, as you probably know by now as a news viewer, can help save lives.

Woodward shows that Donald Trump knew it was deadly in February, which makes it all the more damning that he was telling his own supporters after that, publicly, these falsehoods.


TRUMP: A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April.

We're in great shape. We're going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time.

But that's a little bit like the flu. It's a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we will essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.

It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear. And from our shores, we have -- it could get worse before it gets better. Could maybe go away. We will see what happens. Nobody really knows.


MELBER: "Nobody really knows." That's a common expression the president uses.

What's important here is that he knew. He knew the facts. He knew the dangers. He knew this was deadly and said so himself. He just wanted to play it down, compare it to the flu, when he knew it was far worse.

On February 7, the day that Trump revealed the dangers to Woodward, the case count, at that point, as mentioned, was flat.

Here's how it looks since then. That downplaying approach to governing and communications was wrong. And you can see the massive spike, 6.3 million recorded cases nationwide.

We are approaching 192,000 deaths. The president responded today by saying that his goal was always to keep people calm and avoid a -- quote -- "frenzy."

That's his spin tonight after being caught on tape.

Now, just put the science to the side for a second. When is Donald Trump ever worried about creating frenzies in public or in the press? He lives on that kind of thing.

The new spin makes no more sense than the old spin, because this is about lies, lies caught on tape.

I'm joined now by Michelle Goldberg from "The New York Times," David Frum from "The Atlantic," and Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who, like David Frum, has White House experience.

Great to see all of you.

Michelle, whether or not this is surprising, which is sort of a Beltway media question, what do you see as substantively important in evidence, tape, of what the president knew and when he knew it?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, it's not a secret that the president is a liar.

But I think that what this tells you is about the intent behind the lies. One thing about this president is, besides being a creator of propaganda, he's also an avid consumer of it.

And so when he's saying something that's untrue, it's never entirely clear whether he knows it's untrue or whether distinctions between truth and falsehood have any relevance for him.

I think what this shows us is that he was very clear about what was actually going on, and he very deliberately and repeatedly told the country something else.

And I think that we all know that the only panic that the president was concerned about tamping down was panic in the stock market, right? So, he basically -- he lied to the country. He lied to his own supporters. In some ways, this reminds me of the Steve Bannon scandal, in that the -- kind of the people that buy Trump and Trumpists treat with the greatest contempt are their own supporters.

He put people in grave danger. He has caused a crisis that -- or he has exacerbated a crisis that's led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. And he did it, I think it's pretty clear, both out of apathy and also because he was concerned about what a stock market crash would mean for his reelection.

MELBER: Dr. Emanuel, Michelle lays it out and reminds everyone what that word panic really could mean to him and why that was about personal interests.

It is true that there has been a learning curve for many people. And it's always easier in hindsight to look back and say, gosh, in September, what we think about where this headed feels very different than when everyone was learning on the fly in, say, March.

But people like you inside a White House, people like the president tend to have a jump on those things.

What is interesting or striking to you about the fact that the president was already ticking off the data on the death rate before this had hit the U.S.?

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, he knew how serious this was going.

His national security adviser told them. And then he told Bob Woodward how serious it was going to be and how uncontrollable it was going to be. And the fact that he didn't take decisive action on February 7 has meant that 190,000 Americans have died, maybe less -- well, we're sure less would have died had we taken decisive action on February 7, action that would be similar to, say, what Taiwan did to lock down and to prevent the people coming into the country and it spreading out in the country.

And to lie repeatedly to the public about not wearing masks, not social distancing, and having a rally, like he had in North Carolina, which flouted all of this, he really has got a lot of blood on his hands, because many people ended up dying needlessly because of the way he managed the government and encouraged people to do things that we know increase the transmission rate and increase the risk of dying.

And that is a horrible place to have a president. That is not leadership. That is a failure of leadership.

MELBER: David?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, here's what's so strange about the president's action.

You can cover up a crime. You can cover up a scandal. You cannot cover up a pandemic. If what Donald Trump was saying was correct, as it was, it was going to happen. He knew at that time that, very shortly, he would be confronting massive disease, massive death.

What he also, if he thought about it, would have understood, is that world leaders who have acted decisively in many countries and from every point of view, whether they are right of center or left of center, those who acted decisively become much more popular.

Justin Trudeau in Canada is in the middle of a big scandal, but he's got pretty good numbers because of the COVID response. And Angela Merkel, her numbers are up. And, in Australia, New Zealand, leaders are up, and in South Korea, Taiwan, leaders have seen their polls up.

MELBER: Or Cuomo.

FRUM: So, he knew and he chose -- or Cuomo, who mismanaged many of the early parts of the scandal and yet -- or the pandemic.

I think we should understand this in conjunction with the report from the whistle-blower at the Department of Homeland Security about how President Trump has tried to cover up the news of Russian interference in the election and dangers from white supremacist groups, which is what -- that's what Michelle said.

President Trump is kind of a victim here. He thinks he can actually manufacture reality through words. And so he concealed in February and March, not thinking maybe someday there will be an April, maybe someday there will be a May, and doesn't June follow then, and won't there be a July after that? Won't, at some point, this explode?

He really thought he could lie his way through a pandemic. And that suggests that he is actually a much less rational person than the act of lying would suggest he is.

MELBER: All very important. And this is obviously one of the big headlines out of it, but not the only one.

I want the whole panel to hang with me here.

I want to give viewers a few more revelations we have from Bob Woodward's book, Trump revealing a supposedly secret nuclear weapons system, saying -- quote -- "I have built a nuclear weapons system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff you haven't even seen or heard about. What we have is incredible."

Woodward tracking that down and finding sources inside government surprised that Trump disclosed even that much.

Woodward also writing, Trump was basically awestruck meeting Kim Jong-un, that he found him beyond smart, and bragged that Kim was telling him everything, including a graphic account of having his uncle killed.

Trump also disparaging his own handpicked military leaders, saying: "My F-ing generals are a bunch of 'blank.'"

And Trump's top military officials also going on record. Take former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who now says -- quote -- "Trump doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie."

Or Secretary of Defense James Mattis, saying Trump has no moral compass. Mattis disgusting in this new account praying for the country and even saying -- and this is a military man -- "There may come a time when we have to take collective action because Trump is dangerous and unfit."

Michelle, any and all of the above.

GOLDBERG: Well, I would say, first of all, the time has come, right?

I think it's inexcusable that Mattis and Coats and some of these other people who know what a danger Trump is have not spoken up to warn the American people.

I also thought it was striking that, according to this book, Coats, again, the director of national intelligence continued to believe that Trump was somehow compromised by Russia, even if he didn't know exactly how.

And that's where this story really dovetails with the whistle-blower complaint, which is also talked about -- which also talks about how the administration is manipulating intelligence and stopping investigations or stopping analysis of further attempts for -- further Russian attempts to interfere in the election.

MELBER: Yes, it's all important.

And, I want to reach even deeper into this, because I do think we're living through these extraordinary times. And we all find different ways to make sense of it. Michelle Goldberg uses the con example from Bannon and Breitbart, Bannon currently indicted.

Zeke Emanuel, obviously, well-known for constantly, sometimes even stretching, to apply hip-hop to the news. And we just say. Dr. Emanuel, like, it's a reach. I mean, he does it a lot.


MELBER: David, I want to ask you about what Jared Kushner reached for, according to the new Woodward book, which is saying that the mistake people make in the White House is treating it as a logical place, where you can go from A to B.

And, according to Woodward, Kushner says, instead, the best way to think about it is "Alice in Wonderland," that there will be no internal logic, and that people who last are rewarded for their sheer persistence, rather than direction. And he says, for that, he's modeled his work in the White House after the Cheshire Cat.

Now, again, not unlike music, you could argue this as a reach. But this is someone inside the White House saying that.

I'm curious, as a veteran of a White House yourself, what you think of that and just the insanity of all of that?

FRUM: Well, as we are seeing now in these hard times, reality does catch up with you.

Voters vote on the basis -- at regular intervals in the United States, fixed intervals the United States, and they vote on the basis of results. And the Trump people -- this is maybe another thing that the author of "Alice in Wonderland," Lewis Carroll, wrote. A word means what I choose the word to mean, neither more nor less, that they believed they could use words magically to shape reality.

If you tell people there isn't a pandemic, there won't be a pandemic, even though their loved ones are sick. If you say, it's a strong economy, they won't notice that they themselves are out of work and can't pay the rent. If you tell them that there are lots of successes, they won't notice there are lots of failures.

And Kushner is simply wrong about that. I mean, there is a -- where he's onto something is, politics isn't about logic. Politics is art, not science. Politics is about connecting.

And people will forgive a lot to politicians who they believe care about them. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the first two years of his presidency had only bad news to deliver. But, because he convinced people that he cared, they forgave him.

If you -- so there is that emotional element. But, at the end of the four years, there had better be something to show for it. And this administration inherited success, and is bequeathing ruin.

MELBER: And I'm running over on time, or, as they would say, I'm late for an important date, the next segment.

But, Dr. Emanuel, briefly, your final thoughts, sir?

EMANUEL: Yes, I think this is the undoing. And, unfortunately, it's taken four years to show the farce that this president has run.

And the country is suffering, and let's make no mistake about it. We're going to suffer for the next decade because of this. People have died because of it. The economy is going to be in shambles because of it. It's going to take us a long time to climb out.

And people have been ruined, made unemployed, thrown into poverty, lots of stores will be closed, because this man has been reckless with a great country. And we may become a second-rate power as a result of Trumpism.

And that's a horrible thing to think, that we could elect someone who can ruin the country right before our eyes, and Congress and the American people couldn't do anything to stop it. It is a real nightmare.

We have 55 days before it has to change.

MELBER: Strong warning and food for thought.

Zeke, David, Michelle, thanks to each of you.

As mentioned, we have a break. We're back in just 30 seconds with some new revelations from the book, including Trump talking about Barack Obama.

Also tonight, that story that David mentioned, a whistle-blower accusing Trump officials of twisting intel.

And Bill Barr under fire for potentially misusing Justice Department powers.

All that and more. We're back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: Attorney General Bill Barr under fire again, this time for intervening in a lawsuit to defend Donald Trump personally. He's trying to replace the president's private lawyers.

And "The New York Times" says the move is highly unusual. It's not the first time that Bill Barr has drawn criticism, including from nonpartisan and even Republican veterans of the DOJ, for abusing or blurring the lines on personal vs. public obligations of the Justice Department.

Now, this involves a defamation suit. It was filed against Donald Trump in his -- quote -- "personal capacity" by author E. Jean Carroll. She accuses Donald Trump of raping her in the 1990s and says that he defamed her in the way that he both denied the rape accusation and also said he would not have -- again, his words -- raped her because she was -- quote -- "not his type."

Now, that's germane to what she says is illegal defam -- defamation -- excuse me.

Now, the DOJ's filing claims that government lawyers can take over the case because Trump was acting within the scope of his office when he publicly denied these allegations as false. The move could also protect Trump from potentially embarrassing disclosures in the run-up to this election campaign and November's voting.

He might have been deposed. He might have had to provide DNA.

Barr today defending the move, which legal experts have condemned. And he says -- and this is his view -- it was all just quite normal.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This was a normal application of the law. The law is clear. It is done frequently.

And the little tempest that's going on is largely because of the bizarre political environment which we live.


MELBER: Joining is Andrew Weissmann. He served as a prosecutor on Mueller's team, also former FBI general counsel, and a celebrated attorney.

Good to have you here.

It is true Bill Barr mentioned something that we discussed in the "Alice in Wonderland" portion of the broadcast tonight. This is a bizarre time. People may debate why and how.

Your view on his legal claim, though, that this is a normal use of DOJ authority?


I think that the attorney general has an argument that his claim is in good faith, meaning that he can look at the law, which is a little strange in this context, and say there's some law to support him.

But the issue here is, is this what the Department of Justice does in any other case? In other words, is the rule of law being applied here? Is this what they would do for any other federal employee?

And that's where I think there's a real problem. And, to me, what Barr has said reminds me of his defense of his actions in the Stone case, his defense of his actions in the Flynn case, even his moving of Paul Manafort into federal custody, instead of state custody.

These are all actions that would not have happened but for the relationship of those people to the president. And so here the real issue is, is the standard that's being applied here really one that's applied to everyone else?

And one little sign that there may be a problem with this is that the filing that you put up just a moment ago by the Department of Justice was made in the Southern District of New York.

Well, you know whose names do not appear on that filing? Anybody from the Southern District of New York, meaning nobody in that office, which usually very much protects its turf, was willing to sign that. It all is people from main Justice in Washington, D.C.

MELBER: Well, and you're bringing up, again, another area where there's been extensive controversy, which is the president and Mr. Barr's attempts to take control, not just any of the 90-some offices, but the ones in New York and D.C., where the president has allies have the most legal liability or, in some cases, convictions.

Where does that go? I mean, does that again go in this category that viewers sometimes come up to me and understandably object and say, look, is this the whole system, it was all a tradition, but New York is only as independent as it's respected, et cetera?

I mean, do you see there being anything to be done about any of this?

WEISSMANN: So, I think that one of the things that, when we are finally in the post-Trump era, whether it's in a couple months, or whether it's in four years...


MELBER: When will that be? Do you have the date on that?


WEISSMANN: Yes, I don't have the date on that.


MELBER: Hold on. You're one of the smartest lawyers we have had on. You don't have that information for us?

WEISSMANN: Yes. Yes. That's not a legal issue.



WEISSMANN: That's in your area.

But I think that that is one where a lot of what people have taken to be norms that govern what we all expect to be applying in the Department of Justice are really just norms, and not enshrined in hard-and-fast laws.

So, one of the things that, for instance, Congress can do is, they can change the law that Bill Barr relied on in making his filing to make it clearer that the kind of thing that the president did is not within the scope of his employment.

In other words, denigrating somebody who accused you of rape in your personal capacity is not something that the Department of Justice should be getting involved in. That seems pretty obvious and logical, but they can make that clearer and enshrine that in something that's hard and fast.

MELBER: Understood.

And, as you mentioned, there's the traditions, like President Clinton, who did face also accusations of impropriety, but was not using the DOJ in that way.

Andrew Weissmann, thank you, sir.

WEISSMANN: Thank you very much.

MELBER: Appreciate you coming on.


We got several stories we're tracking, including a new government whistle-blower who says Trump appointees are putting on pressure to manufacture, downplay threats from Russia to fit the intelligence towards a political agenda, big story, brand-new.

And, later, something I hope you will stick around for. We have one of our special reports. And we think it's important. We're looking at stunning resignations by police in Rochester, race and mental health.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Turning to a new story we haven't even hit yet tonight, a government whistle-blower accusing Trump officials of lying to Congress, twisting intelligence and trying to support Trump's political agenda.

The allegations come from inside the Homeland Security Department. Now, these have come out through the House Intelligence Committee, the whistle-blower saying he was ordered to cease providing intelligence assessment on the threat of Russian interference, and instead just play up threats from China and Iran.

As for a report on internal threats, he was told to -- quote -- "modify the section on white supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, in order to modify assessments to ensure they match what Trump said about Antifa and anarchist groups."

The whistle-blower also accused former Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen of lying to Congress, this regarding suspected terrorists crossing the Southern border.

The allegation, that her testimony was a -- quote -- "knowing and deliberate submission of false material information, because the true number was three people, not over 3,000, as she testified."

Joining us now is MSNBC terrorism analyst Malcolm Nance.

Your view of the severity of these allegations, as we learn them?


And, as you recall, the last time we heard from a whistle-blower who bought fourth damaging information to this White House was just about this time last year, when we had learned that there was a whistle-blower who was in the room when he heard the president of the United States intend to extort the president of the Ukraine.

So, that being said, this specific whistle-blower is an intelligence professional. And what he is alleging is that the White House deliberately wanted information to be downplayed, or they didn't want to anger the petulant president with information that would upset him, surprisingly, about Russia, the one thing that we all know Donald Trump gets very upset over.

MELBER: Yes, you draw that direct line.

And while I say this is the first time we have hit this story, because this is new, viewers can understand, wait a minute, we have heard about other whistle-blowers, yes. We have heard about many other scandals that relate to a kind of insistent, recurring submission to Putin in Russia.

Yesterday was Michael Cohen talking about Trump's belief that he got Putin oligarch money. Today, one of our other experts was discussing the Woodward book's reference to the intelligence chair worried about Trump being compromised.

I'd also like your view on that language that I quoted, where basically the analyst is being told, make your assessment of these domestic threats, which are very real -- this is life-and-death stuff for some people -- make your assessment match what the president said in public, because I haven't worked on the inside of this kind of stuff like you.

But, logically, it would seem to me that, if the threat assessment just regurgitates what politicians say, that it wouldn't be a very useful exercise.

NANCE: No, because the job is to provide you threat warning.

Our career goal is I&W, intentions of the threats, warning about threats which manifest themselves. We do that through precedents, through information we have seen before, current collection, and then we put it into the context of the political or domestic environment as it appears at that time.

That is turned into an intelligence product. That product is then sent to the consumers like the White House. But what we have here is, someone told the producers of the product to edit it down, so that it wouldn't anger the White House and it wouldn't, obviously, show the threats as they actually appear.

Now, let me give you an example of where this is bad. You might recall a few years ago that a SWAT team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was called to the house of a gunman. This gunman thought that they were coming to seize his guns. He killed the first three officers through the door.

I have done intelligence for SWAT teams and police forces. They want to know -- when they're door-knocking and they're bringing down the gates, they want to know what's going to happen when they go through that door.

If you play that information down, and you say, oh, they're not as bad as Antifa, and Antifa is going to throw a Molotov cocktail at you, but you're ignoring men with AR-15s in a building, people will die.

All I can say to this -- about this, Ari, I want to just say one point, because, believe it or not, there are intelligence watch officers all around this world watching this program.

So, all of you, heads up out of your terminals. Do not change intelligence for the consumer. Report as it exists, and the United States will be better served.

MELBER: Malcolm Nance, appreciate your expertise, your clarity.

And, as everyone can see, I know you care a lot about this, and you have done the work. Thank you, sir.

NANCE: My pleasure.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We're going to fit a break, but coming up, we have other updates out of the Bob Woodward book, including comments about race, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris.

And coming up next, my special report, what's going on in Rochester, why it matters in the rest of the country, new police resignations that weren't expected and the mental health piece of this crisis.

All of that straight ahead. Stay with us.


MELBER: Turning to major news on police reform.

This year's protests have sparked pressure and some change, but rarely do protests force the kind of change that just went down in New York.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After growing calls for his resignation, Rochester's police chief and several high-ranking officers suddenly stepped down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears the multiple resignations caught Rochester leaders off-guard.

LOVELY WARREN (D), MAYOR OF ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: I am confirming that Chief La'Ron Singletary today announced his retirement, along with Commander Morabito.


MELBER: A police chief out, along with the command staff.

This is sweeping change that didn't come days or weeks after a controversial police incident. And it didn't come after pressure from the top, like the mayor. No, this sweeping change was driven by two key factors, a damning video of police and protests.

Activists mounting a relentless presence here in Rochester, you can see, hundreds taking to the street night after night. The pressure ranged from marches and demonstrations of strength, to also presentations by smaller groups during the day, demanding justice for a new case, where police responded to a mental health distress call by restraining and killing Daniel Prude, an unarmed black man.


JOE PRUDE, BROTHER OF DANIEL PRUDE: How many more brothers got to die for society to understand that this needs to stop?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daniel deserves justice.

QUESTION: Why are you out here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Black lives matter, end of story.


MELBER: Or beginning of story, because these protests have been keeping up the pressure, moving the public.

The mayor and the state attorney general has now impaneled a grand jury to investigate this incident. So that's the pressure.

Then there's the video. But I want to go through this very carefully with you. When Prude first died in March, the local police reports claim he was taken into custody -- quote -- "without incident," describing what sounded like some sort of routine force us to arrest and restrain him.

And the reports say he became unresponsive and then was offered medical assistance before his death.

Now, that official claim in Rochester, like in so many cases around the country, that was the only storyline for months. But it was contradicted by this newly released video that clearly shows police pressing Prude's face into the ground, putting this spit bag over his head, applying force to his head and back for several minutes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, get on the ground.

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

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

D. PRUDE: All right, all right. Take it.

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

D. PRUDE: They're trying to kill me.


MELBER: That's just a small excerpt, but everyone there in Rochester, everyone who watches the news can see what really happened.

Now, police kept that video secret for months, the city hiding police's involvement in Prude's death, despite the medical examiner ruling that death a homicide.

So, even as this is a new story because of the video, the city always had this evidence in what was declared a homicide.

So, just think about what that means. The police there, the government, the mayor, they all had access to this evidence. Now, they didn't do anything about it or completely avoided seeing it.

Everything that's happening now, what I just showed you with the resignations, the street pressure, it's all based on this old secret evidence that finally went public.

Now, the mayor there says the police chief kept her in the dark. If that's true, that's bad for the police chief, but it's also bad for the mayor. The buck stops with her, and her team has a duty to oversee the police and review this kind of evidence.


WARREN: I also want to be very clear today about what I knew about Mr. Prude's death and when I knew it.

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


MELBER: The city also defends itself by blaming other New York authorities for allegedly preventing the video's release.

But that doesn't even address the mayor's failure to privately look at that video.

This is way broader than one city in New York state. It's a similar storyline, where even there is not a police killing that might change everything, but, rather, eventually a video that comes out.

So, here's a question reasonable people might ask. What other first draft stories from police prove to be inaccurate or dead wrong?

Remember Laquan McDonald? Police initially reported that he was lunging at them with a weapon. That was the first draft of history for months. And it was false.

When the video you see on your screen finally came out, it showed McDonald walking away when over 16 shots were put into him.

Or take Walter Scott. The officer who shot him initially claimed that Scott was posing a mortal threat. That was the first draft, but it was false. Video shows an unarmed Scott running away, clearly fleeing. The officer there, you see armed and about to shoot. The officer then planted a Taser near his dead body to frame him. That was also caught on video.

It was not in the first draft police statement. That officer ultimately got 20 years for murder.

False first drafts not just arise in these shooting cases. This year, Buffalo police said -- you see there -- that 75-year-old protester simply tripped and fell out of the blue. But he was actually shoved by police and then spent a month in the hospital recovering from a brain injury and fractured skull.

Now, why am I bringing this all up right now? There are parallels here to the Prude case, because of misleading information from police, and real questions of why a call for help turns violent, especially since it was Prude's own brother who called the police that ended up killing him.


J. PRUDE: Those in dire need to understand that I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched.

Now, when I say get lynched, that was a full-fledged, ongoing murder, cold-blooded, none other than cold-blooded murder.


MELBER: Prude made that fateful call, the brother you just heard from, because he was in a situation that he didn't think he could solve himself, his own brother acting very radically, struggling with mental health.

And Prude believed police would still help them, just like a Utah mother who called police in an incident this week because she said her 13-year-old autistic son was having a mental crisis.

Police ended up shooting the unarmed child as he ran away. He's now in serious condition with injuries to his intestines, bladder, shoulder, and ankles.

On the long list of police problems which America has been discussing, this is a large one. About one in four people killed in police custody have evidence of mental illness. And people who do not get treatment are seven times more likely to be killed by police interactions.

Those are facts about police using force against individuals who really need doctors or treatment more than any punishment. That's especially true in the case of unarmed individuals who, yes, may look erratic or unpredictable, may need to be restrained in some way, but are medically a greater danger to themselves than others.

And these problems are compounded by inequities in health care and race in the United States. Black Americans have less access to quality mental health treatment, which brings us all the way back to the system.

The incident in Rochester that led to actual change, to multiple police people, police leadership designing, it starts with what those officers did. But you peel back the layers, and you find out why reformers emphasize not just the people in charge, but systemic racism and injustice, because even when there was police video footage, it was suppressed.

Even when there is diversity in city government leadership, as there is in Rochester, we still see a systemic model of policing through secrecy and cover-up that continues.

So, fixing policing requires more than police. It requires changing the inputs for policing, like investing in health care and treatment, reforming these years of unequal access to health care and the economics in the United States, as well as funding other first responders who are experts on addressing mental health crises before the guns come out.

So, here we are with another story. And it may sound like a lot. It may feel overwhelming.

But, as a matter of reporting, I can tell you tonight, the change here is already coming. In fact, you see it in this very case's timeline. Police killed Daniel Prude in March and hid the video. And it could have been one of those many stories where that false first draft is the only draft of history.

But think about it like this. By the time this video came out just this past week, authorities were actually forced to respond in a post-George Floyd America, where, yes, many things are the same, but many people are demanding those things change, leading to the ousting of the police chief and his command staff, and those new criminal probes in New York I mentioned, and a movement to apply the language of law and order back towards the police themselves.

There's talk of punishment, which is part of any justice system, but there's also talk of deterrence. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, consequences deter crime, and, more than anything, when it comes to the deterrence against killing the innocent or the unarmed or the mentally challenged, there is a movement demanding justice, so these things stop happening in the first place.


MELBER: Bob Woodward's new bombshell book is rattling the White House.

And while we have covered many aspects of it, as promised, there's some other things we didn't have time to get to yet, Donald Trump discussing race relations in the U.S.

This was at a pivotal period, about a month after the killing of George Floyd.


WOODWARD: Do you think there is systematic or institutional racism in this country?

TRUMP: Well, I think there is everywhere, I think probably less here than most places, or less here than many places.

WOODWARD: OK, but is it here, in a way that it has an impact on people's lives?

TRUMP: I think it is. And it's unfortunate, but I think it is.


MELBER: As a side note, Bob Woodward with the follow-up, just a straightforward, OK, but is it here? Answer the question.

There's also the discussion of systemic racism and white privilege in general.

And this is an exchange where it's Trump's tone, his reaction that actually gives you a little insight into his views. Listen to Bob Woodward tee up the issues and Trump's response.


WOODWARD: Let me ask you this.

I mean, we share one thing in common. We're white, privileged, who -- and my father was a lawyer and a judge in Illinois. And we know what your dad did.

And do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave, to a certain extent, as it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave, and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain particularly black people feel in this country?

Do you...

TRUMP: No. You -- you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you. Wow.

No, I don't feel that at all.


MELBER: The president's response there really revealing a kind of an inability to even see that as a potentially reasonable position.

Interesting coming from someone in sort of his contemporary in age in Mr. Woodward.

Trump, also, according to the book, had very visceral reactions to Democrats, including minority Democrats, like Senator Harris and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, telling Woodward that, while a picture was shown of Harris calmly, silently watching him deliver the State of the Union, he said -- quote -- "Hate. See the hate. See the hate."

He also says he doesn't think Obama is smart, calling him -- quote -- "highly overrated."

Now, as I mentioned earlier in the program, these are quotes that are from "The Washington Post" and the book's account. We don't have the entire context.

Now, we will be right back.


MELBER: We covered a lot of ground tonight, but if you ever want to catch THE BEAT, and you're not at home live, you can always DVR us right now.

You just go on your remote, press your cable home page, search Melber, and press DVR for this show, and you won't miss any episodes of THE BEAT. We even made this graphic to remind you.

I will see you back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Joy Reid is up next.


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