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WATCH LIVE: Columbia University president testifies before Congress about antisemitism on campus

Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, August 21, 2020

Guests: David Dayen, Robert Garcia

Summary

Steve Bannon arrested for fraud for misusing contribution money behind the "We Build the Wall' campaign. He was arrested on a Chinese-owned yacht and calling the arrest as a political hit job. Judge rules in favor of Manhattan DA on subpoena on Trump's financials in August 2019 as Trump tries to delay. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy could not provide a detailed plan for how he would ensure that every mail-in ballot would arrive in time to be counted.

Transcript

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I'm going to go paddle a canoe around in circles for a couple of days to try to get my head on straight. But I will be back with you again on Monday night. Our coverage of the Republican National Convention, which should be fascinating, begins Monday night at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

I'll be there along with the whole gang. Now it's time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence O'Donnell tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: That -- it is going to be fascinating coverage. It will be the definition of putting lipstick on a pig. I think something you said a few moments ago is really interesting, though. No word yet from the United States president on the suspected poisoning of a major opposition leader or major critic in Russia.

We have heard from everybody else in the world on this thing. Nothing officially from the U.S. government. We will continue to follow that story. Rachel, canoe around for a couple days. We'll see you Monday. You have a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you. Absolutely. Thanks.

VELSHI: All right, seven years ago, our own Chris Hayes wrote much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks. That observation is certainly true at the time, but now it's far more important because the con is not just most of conservatism anymore. With Trump at the top, it is the entire movement.

This week former White House strategist Steve Bannon became the latest Trump associate to be taken into custody when the Chinese-owned yacht on which he was sunbathing was boarded by U.S. Postal Service agents. Bannon was accused of defrauding people who gave tens of millions of dollars to a private fund which existed, Bannon claimed, to finance construction of the border wall.

Federal prosecutors said that the real purpose of that fund called "We Build the Wall" was to cover the luxury lifestyle of Bannon and the other departments. Now, depending on how you count it and in honor of conservatives, we shall count conservatively tonight. Steve Bannon is now the seventh former close Trump adviser to be arrested, face charges, plead guilty or be convicted of a crime since Donald Trump took office. The seventh.

As "The New York Times" Michelle Goldberg writes, "The truth is that We Build the Wall is what Trumpist private enterprise looks like -- a gaudy scam that monetizes grievance."

And it's a scam that speaks to a much larger problem with the GOP and its base. Conservative operatives like Steve Bannon have always seemed to view the right's rank and file with utter contempt as little more than a collection of fools to be taken advantage of.

Con men see their marks. MSNBC Steve Benen, spelt differently and no relation, notes "Many prominent Republican voices, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, et al, have created lucrative mailing lists used for highly dubious purposes. Similarly, the rise of the Tea Party in the Obama era lead to the creation of scam PACs that targeted conservative donors, but existed mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who ran them."

It is not about their beliefs. It is about their bottom line. Now, while previous Republican administration had their share of those who were trying to personally profit and those willing to break the law to serve the political interests of the president. The Trump administration is unique.

Look at another example just from this week. It was revealed that the Senate Intelligence Committee made criminal referrals of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Eric Prince and Sam Klovis to federal prosecutors in 2019, passing along their suspicions that these Trump linked officials may have misled the committee during their testimonies.

The large number of people in direct contact with this president often for years who are revealed to be out and out fraudsters or possible criminals just keeps growing. As former Bush official, Paul Rosenzweig writes, "This level of criminality surrounding a president is unparalleled." The president was asked yesterday about the criminal syndicate of sort that hangs around him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEOFF BENNETT, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Respectfully, sir, it is not just Steve Bannon. It's Roger Stone, it's Michael Flynn, it's Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen. What's it say about your judgment that these are the kind of people who you're affiliated with?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have no idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: How did all these people get into Trump's inner circle? Trump has no idea, none at all. I should note we cutoff the sound bite because the president then went on to lie, actually a lot of lies about the Obama administration. There is no need to amplify those lies. But Trump has made an effort to brand himself as the president of law and order.

Look at the people he surrounds himself with. Look at him. Robert Mueller detailed nearly a dozen potential instances of obstruction of justice by Trump during the Russia investigation.

Trump paid $2 million in fines and closed his family foundation after admitting that it had used donations to pay campaign and business expenses, some personal expenses, too.

The prosecutors in that case and the New York attorney general's office are still investigating Trump's banking and tax conduct. Federal prosecutors in New York, the ones that bring charges -- that are bringing charges against Steve Bannon are also looking at alleged fraud by Trump's inaugural committee.

And then there is the Manhattan district attorney, which is investigating Trump's tax records. In fact, just breaking tonight, a federal appeals court has refused to give Trump immediately relief to stop his accounting records from being turned over to a New York State grand jury, instead scheduling arguments for September 1st over whether the subpoena of Trump's records should be paused.

Now, that filing following an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Morero who denied Trump's request to put his decision dismissing the lawsuit on hold to allow the president's legal team time to appeal. Trump's associates are literal con men, grifters and base criminals.

Trump himself is using the power of the presidency to block details about his own alleged criminal conduct from coming to light. The length, the breadth, and the depth of this con is all consuming, and that is what separates the Trump world con from all the other conservative con jobs that came before.

This con has consumed the Republican Party. The GOP has been taken over by the Trump con. Republicans don't stand up to Trump. They don't stop him. They don't excommunicate him. Their silence is a tacit acceptance of his con and the cons of his associates, a tacit acceptance that their base, conservatives, can be duped again and again and again.

Party officials have had years to stop it and they have barely tried. The Republican Party is now becoming one big con, no longer representing conservative ideals or values, but representing and defending one con man and the cons around him.

Michelle Goldberg writes, "The social philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote the in America, every mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult or a corporation. Trumpism reversed this. The racket came first."

Leading off our discussion tonight is Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general and an MSNBC legal contributor. Neal, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. This just becomes hard to process after a while, the degree and the depth of stuff. And then you have to read it on a whole new thing, the We Build the Wall.

It's not -- it's not even complicated, high level, highly sophisticated con stuff. They opened a page, crowd funding page, took money, said they were going to spend it on the wall. Didn't quite happen that way.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, Ali. As I listened to you, I was so glad you started the show this way about two things, con men and criminals because, you know, Chris Hayes was exactly right when he wrote that about what the Republican Party had become some years ago, really a con.

And what the Bannon episode shows is really that at its height. I mean, what Bannon has done here is not a bug. It's a feature of the modern Republican Party. It's their whole strategy to pretend, oh, this is for you. We're doing this for the American people. We're building this wall.

VELSHI: Right.

KATYAL: And meanwhile, secretly, they're lining their pockets. And Hillary Clinton might have used the word deplorable, but it's these folks who are really treating the American people as deplorables. And so that's on the comments side.

And on the lawlessness side, absolutely, Ali. I was so glad you quoted Paul Rosenzweig who's a very strong Republican lawyer. There is a culture of criminality around Trump and his inner circle and it is not just, you know, Steve Bannon who was the president's chief strategist.

It was Paul Manafort who has been jailed, who was the president's campaign manager. It was Rick Gates, his deputy campaign manager. It was Roger Stone, his close -- Trump]'s close political confidant. It was Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer.

I mean, it's personal -- you know, Michael Flynn, the president's national security adviser. It's like who around the president hasn't been indicted at this point.

VELSHI: Right. As you say, it is not a bug. It is a feature. In the beginning when these things would happen, Trump tried to throw them under the bus. I don't really know them. I'm not really close. But now that we're on the seventh or eighth, depending on how you count it, and you just enumerated them. You just named them all, there is no space between the president and all of these people.

KATYAL: Exactly. And I'm not sure I named them all. I think there are others. And indeed this week, we really learned and you just started to revert to this at the top of your show. You know, the New York prosecutors, both federal and state, have been investigating Donald Trump personally because Trump went and evidently tried to deduct his $130,000 in payment to porn star Stormy Daniels as a business expense.

And so New York -- federal prosecutors were investigating that as the state ones were. The federal prosecution after Bill Barr mysteriously disappeared. but the state one did not. And the president had been subpoenaed and the Supreme Court said, yeah, Mr. President, it looks like you got to turn that information over.

And just yesterday a federal judge in New York said, yeah, Mr. President, you got to turn that information over. And the president is trying through his desperate appeals today to try and stop that. But this is the rule of law asserting itself.

It's the genius of our founders. It is the state prosecutors coming and saying, not so fast. You don't get to stymie us this time. We want this information and we're going to get a court order to do it.

VELSHI: Neal, let me ask you about what happens next because time is short before the next election and the next election may solve this issue or it may not. But Lawrence was talking with Joe Biden in May during a "Last Word" town hall in which a viewer asked Joe Biden as president how he would handle this. Let's listen to the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: From Edward in Ohio, and this is for Vice President Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, if you were to win the election, would you be willing to commit to not pulling the president forward and giving Donald Trump a pardon under the pretense of healing the nation? In other words, are you willing to commit to the American ideal that no one is above the law?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Absolutely yes, I commit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: He's talking about not pulling the president forward. He wants a commitment that Joe Biden is going to pursue, continue to pursue Donald Trump and his associates and his family and his businesses and his foundation. What does that look like to you?

KATYAL: Well, I think Vice President Biden is absolutely right to say nobody should be above the law. And he's also right to not commit in the demands to some prosecutorial or nonprosecutorial strategy.

I mean, the whole fault of Trump is that he uses the Justice Department as his personal army to go after his enemies and to benefit his friends, dolling out pardons and commutations and the like. And that is a sin.

That is, you know, anyone who worked at the Justice Department, that is the last thing you do. So when Trump said, lock her up and all that stuff in 2016, it was reprehensible.

And I'm so glad to see Vice President Biden who understands the traditions of our justice department, understands the American tradition of the rule of law not trying to pull those stunts. And, yes, you can probably get some votes that way, but I think people like Biden understand the presidency is not worth that.

We don't cheat that way. We don't like to diminish our great institutions by trying to tarnish them by saying we're going to use this to go after our political enemies. I mean, that's what Russia does and that's why I suspect Donald Trump writes love letters to Putin.

And, you know, this came out this week, you know, wrote a love letter basically saying I so respect you, Mr. Putin, and stuff like that. You know, that's not the way an American president should behave.

VELSHI: I mentioned in the intro to this, more reporting out of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I just want to read you some of this. The Intelligence Committee, one person said, reserved its harshest allegations for the president's former chief strategist, Steven k. Bannon, former campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, and private security contractor Eric Prince, saying it had reason to believe all three had lied to congressional investigators -- a potential felony.

That's reporting from "The Washington Post." So, I've tried to put this whole net together of corruption, lawlessness, grifters, con men and liars. It all sort of blends together at some point.

KATYAL: Yes. And I think there, Ali, you bury the lead of that Senate report because that was a report by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. And it said that Donald Trump knew and discussed those stolen Democratic e-mails in the 2016 points that he knew that that had been discussed with the Russians.

And it rejected, this committee rejected the idea when Trump said, as he said to prosecutors, I didn't remember my conversations with Roger Stone. They said, no, despite Trump's recollection, the committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his campaign ant Stone's access to WikiLeaks.

So, it is a direct repudiation by the Senate Republican Intelligence Committee about Trump's own story when it comes to the Russians. The bottom line here is every time it is about Russia and Trump, there are lies. There are lies with Stone. There are lies with Trump. There are lies with Flynn. Person after person. And finally I think we're starting to get to the bottom of it.

VELSHI: That Senate report, by the way, is 966 pages long. Steve Bannon in typical form after being arrested came out and made a statement. Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, TRUMP'S FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST: Look, when I said yesterday, this fiasco is a total political hit job. The timing is exquisite. I'm not going to back down. This is a political hit hob. Everybody knows I love a fight. That was to stop and intimidate people that want to talk about the wall. This is to stop and intimidate people that have President Trump's back on building the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Neal Katyal, as a lawyer, that's not much of a defense.

KATYAL: I didn't hear a defense. And I think if I'm Steve Bannon I would be particularly worried because three other defendants were indicted. And the first thing federal prosecutors do is go and try to get those to flip on the bigger fish here, which is Steve Bannon. And I suspect they will flip or someone will. And then the question is will Bannon flip and who will Bannon flip on? His former boss perhaps.

VELSHI: Neal, good to see you as always. Thank you. As a complicated block to get through with a lot of moving parts and we appreciate you helping us make it clear. Neal Katyal is a former acting United States social -- sorry -- solicitor general.

Coming up, if you are feeling hopeful that the system is working after that discussion, don't. At least not yet, because none other than former President Barack Obama is warning that democracy itself is on the ballot in this election and it is your responsibility to fix it. We'll talk about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. We opened the show tonight talking about how checks and balances are, however slowly and imperfectly still working. What happens if Donald Trump is re-elected in 75 days.

In the Bill Barr run Justice Department, in our federal courts, in the Supreme Court, if Donald Trump gets four more years of his nominees confirmed, in our elections where Russia has interfered once with impunity and is interfering again right now.

That is what is at stake as laid out by many of the speakers at the Democratic National Convention including a stark warning that has never ever been uttered by a former president against an incumbent president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe.

M. OBAMA: If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.

B. OBAMA: So I'm also asking you to believe in your own ability to embrace your own responsibility as citizens to make sure that the basic tenants of our democracy endure because that's what's at stake right now. Our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us now is Ben Rhodes. He's a former deputy national security adviser to president Obama. He's an MSNBC political analyst. And, Ben, there were a lot of people speaking in the last few days who made part of that point that Barack Obama made, and that is they can't actually stop you.

You can actually vote. They can make it difficult. They can make you despondent. They can cast doubt upon the whole thing, but what they can't actually do is stop you from voting. They can make it hard, but they can't do it.

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right, Ali. And look, the goal, the Republican strategy, the Donald Trump strategy is to prevent people from voting, is to engage in the systematic voter suppression tactics that they have used for years to try to make it harder for people of color to vote, people and poor communities to vote.

And now we have this unprecedented assault on the Postal Service. Part of what I think the Obamas do at their best when they are speaking is they tell you the truth about what's happening. And I think everybody can sense on some level that this is a fundamentally undemocratic president seeking to change the nature of our democracy.

But they always try to leave you with a sense of agency, that you have power that cannot be taken away from you and frankly no matter what cynicism or apathy that Trump is trying to engender in people, don't listen to it and get out there and vote.

VELSHI: How successful do you think the effort was to convey to people the importance of their agency, their ability to make the decision, their ability to overcome any obstacles put in their way to vote?

RHODES: Well, I think that if you look at the convention, you know, having worked on several Democratic conventions, the entire convention is supposed to tell a story about, in this case, what is the problem with the person who is currently in the office, what are the stakes in the election and why should you choose our candidate, in this case Joe Biden?

And I think that the campaign in the convention was incredibly successful at laying out in stark terms the stakes, but in a way people already know what the stakes are because they're living through it with COVID.

And I think what Michelle Obama did so well with her line, it is what it is, is she didn't have to go through the litany of Trump scandals or the 10 things people have been outraged over the course of last week. People know intuitively that this guy is not up to it and they're living that reality right now. And she just laid it out and said, look, it is what it is. You know it.

And you aren't just the partisans Democrats. It is a lot of, maybe even Trump voters who know on some level this guy is not up to the job. But the extra step is convincing people and you don't succumb to the apathy. Don't succumb to the fear.

That you have to do this. You have to figure out a way to vote. And there are different ways of doing it. And now, I don't think it closes the deal though, Ali, because what has to happen is people have to get out and register people to vote.

People have to communicate. Here is how you vote for him (ph). This is how you vote by mail. Here is your polling sites. A lot of work has to be done. I think if everybody -- I think, you know, who looks at this impartially right now, would suggest that if there is a free and fair election, Joe Biden will win.

But the objective of the Democratic Party, which is an unusual one in American history, is to ensure this is a free and fair election and that's going to involve a lot of voter education between now and Election Day.

VELSHI: A number of prominent Republicans spoke at the convention. Let's just play a little of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KASICK, FORMER GOVERNOR OF OHIO: Joe Biden is a man for our times, times that call for all of us to take off our partisan hats and put our nation first for ourselves and of course for our children.

MEG WHITMAN (R), FORMER GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump has no clue how to run a business, let alone an economy. Joe Biden, on the other hand, has a plan that will strengthen our economy for working people and small business owners. For me, the choice is simple. I'm with Joe.

COLLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: With Joe Biden in the White House, you will never doubt that he will stand with our friends and stand up to our adversaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Ben, what kind of impact do you think that has on centrists, on Republicans, on conservatives, on people who are a little bit disaffected, maybe a lot disaffected by Donald Trump but aren't in love with Joe Biden?

RHODES: Well, look, I think first of all you are trying to reach that narrow sites (ph) of the voters who might still be on the fence that will be persuadable. I think more in generally though, Ali, something else was happening because at every convention, you know, the Republicans tried out a Democrat and the Democrats tried at Republican to make this a message.

I think what those voices said and the scale of the number of Republicans who in some way were part of this convention either in endorsements or in speeches, it was meant to convey this is an emergency. And you know what? Probably after the election, we're going to go back to disagreeing about a lot of things, about the size of government or the nature of economic or foreign policy.

But I think what the convention conveyed with all those speakers and what they said is this isn't normal. And again, you out there Americans, you know this isn't normal. And we can't afford to take the risk of four more years of this. And I think that the collective weight of those speakers delivered that message well.

VELSHI: Ben, good to see you, my friend. Thank you for joining me. Ben Rhodes is a former deputy national security adviser to President Obama.

Coming up, how confident should you feel that your postal service is prepared to handle the predicted record number of votes cast by mail this year? If you listen to today's Senate hearing with Trump's big donor turned postmaster general, then maybe not too much. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOUIS DEJOY, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: The postal service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail securely and on time. We are very, very comfortable that we will achieve this mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Well, if only it were that easy to have confidence in Donald Trump's big donor who has become postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. His appearance before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security Committee today was meant to give Louis DeJoy a friendlier forum before the fierce grilling that he's going to get before House Democrats in the Oversight Committee on Monday.

DeJoy could not provide a detailed plan for how he would ensure that every mail-in ballot would arrive in time to be counted. Also today, DeJoy acknowledged that his operational changes are causing disruptions in delivery but claimed that they were motivated solely by cutting costs.

DeJoy also admitted that he had not considered the impact of delayed prescriptions or paychecks on veterans, seniors or working families. Imagine that. The guy who runs the post office just didn't think about it.

But while DeJoy suspended additional changes to mail service earlier this week, today he refused to reverse the changes that have already been made including replacing mailboxes that have been removed or reassembling mail processing machines.

Ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Gary Peters pressed DeJoy on whether he was suspending other measures that postal workers have complained have slowed delivery including limiting overtime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR GARY PETERS (D-MI): Are you suspending your policy eliminating extra trips, yes or no?

DEJOY: No. First of all, the policy was not to eliminate extra trips. It was to mitigate extra trips.

PETERS: Are you limiting overtime or is that being suspended right now and people will overtime if necessary to move the mail out efficiently every single day?

DEJOY: Senator, we never eliminated overtime. That's not --

PETERS: It's been curtailed significantly is what I understand.

DEJOY: It has not been curtailed by me or the leadership team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Ok. So there might be a little splitting hairs going on there. Internal postal documents obtained by NBC News shows how his policy changes effectively have limited overtime.

The document circulated beginning in July stresses that late or extra trips are no longer authorized or accepted, black and white. Carriers must begin, leave and return on time and quote, "no additional transportation will be authorized to dispatch mail", end quote. Black and white, there it is.

While DeJoy testified this morning, six states in the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the postmaster general and the postal service alleging that the cutbacks and restructuring efforts were unlawful and designed to impede efforts to conduct free and fair elections as Axios reported.

Joining us now is David Dayen. He's the executive editor of "The American Prospect".

David, thank you for being with us. There are a lot of things going on here not the least of which is that Republicans have been demonizing the postal service for years on the basis that it's got a failed business model.

You have written so clearly about the fact that it's not meant to do what FedEx does or what UPS does in the same way that prisons are not, you know, state prisons are supposed to be as profitable as for-profit prisons. They do different things and some people don't believe that prisons or public schools or hospitals should even be in the profit making business.

But the post office wasn't designed to be a competitor of those agencies. It predates them and has a different and a more important mandate.

DAVID DAYEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE AMERICAN PROSPECT": Right. And it has a universal service mandate, in fact, to deliver six days a week to every mailbox in the United States no matter where it is. And so, you need some redundancy in that system in order to ensure that you can get that mail to its intended target every day, save for Sundays.

So when you get rid of every sorting machine but one in the state of New Hampshire as Senator Hassan talked about today, if there is only one machine left for sorting and it breaks down, then you have a real problem. And maybe that makes sense --

VELSHI: And it did break down.

DAYEN: It did, in fact, break down, that's right. So I mean maybe --

VELSHI: Yes.

DAYEN: -- that makes sense in a business management kind of sense. Like you are lean and mean and you're doing just in time logistics but when it is the mail, you have a different mandate and you have to honor that.

VELSHI: But as you understand from covering businesses, businesses often replace human labor with cheaper mechanical labor. For some reason, we're even taking out the mechanical labor here. We're taking out sorting machines. They're not really clear. A machine that sorts 35,000 pieces of mail in a short period of time. If you are trying to save money, why would you dismantle the machine?

DAYEN: Well, that's absolutely right. And the machines are already paid for so, you know, I don't even really understand what the money-saving portion of that is to consolidate. I guess it's because they're making money on selling the parts for scrap or something.

Look, if you can't perform your job function because you can't give enough overtime, then you lack staff. I mean that's just the bottom line.

VELSHI: Right.

DAYEN: So, you know, by taking manpower out of the agency, it costs demonstrably, obvious deleterious effect. If you look at Senator Peters put out a chart and it showed that in the middle of July on time delivery dropped precipitously.

And, you know, DeJoy was trying to blame this on the pandemic, but you know, we started the pandemic in March. It was only in July when you see this dip that's being shown right there. So this excuse that this is about COVID-19 just doesn't add up.

VELSHI: So one of the questions here, DeJoy was sort of trying to paint a picture of a guy who didn't really study it, didn't really know, wasn't really sure, didn't think it would have this kind of effect. I guess the more important question is whether or not he was appointed to this position for this purpose, to be disruptive of the postal service and whether or not that discussion was had with either Trump or Mnuchin.

Gary Peters asked him about that today. Let's listen to that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETERS: Did you discuss those changes or their potential impact on the November election with the President or anyone at the White House? And remind you, you are under oath.

DEJOY: I have never spoken to the President about the postal service other than to congratulate me when I accepted the position.

PETERS: Did you speak or discuss any of these changes with Secretary Mnuchin?

DEJOY: During the discussion and negotiating the note, I told him I have -- I'm working on a plan, but I never discussed the changes that I made. I just said I'm working on a plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: David, what is your sense of motivation here? It seemed a little less than believable that DeJoy didn't really think through the implications of some of the things he was doing.

DAYEN: Yes. That was a very long pause when he was asked about Mnuchin. And you know, we had testimony yesterday with the Congressional Progressive Caucus with David Williams, who is the former vice chair of the Postal Service Board of Governors. And he testified that Mnuchin was very interested in who would bee the next postmaster general. Very interested in operational changes to how the postal service runs.

This is one agency trying to tell another agency in the federal government what to do. And so, I thought DeJoy just didn't pass the lab test there. And you know, if you know you are bringing in someone who, you know, has a business management, logistics style, you know that's going to be disruptive. And you also know that it's a hundred days before the election when he got in -- a little over a hundred. And you know it is 75 days now and you see the effects.

I think that it's very likely that Mnuchin played a role here on behalf of the administration and we need to get to the bottom of that. I suspect House Democrats will ask DeJoy about that and, you know --

VELSHI: Yes.

DAYEN: -- yesterday at the hearing Ted Lieu, for example, said Mnuchin should testify.

VELSHI: Katie Porter, a Democrat said she hopes that DeJoy comes prepared because she's certainly going to.

David, good to see you. Thank you. David Dayen is the author of the new book, "Monopolize: Life in the Age of Corporate Power". Thank you for joining us.

Coming up, at this weeks Democratic Convention, America got to meet some of the party's brightest stars including Mayor Robert Garcia who is leading his city through the pandemic while dealing with unimaginable loss in his own family. Mayor Garcia is going to join us with a very personal message to Donald Trump. It didn't have to be this way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: "Give light and the people will find a way." That quote from civil rights icon Ella Baker is how Joe Biden began his speech last night, accepting the Democratic nomination for president. A fitting reflection of where we are as a country under President Trump, who as Joe Biden puts it, has cloaked America in darkness -- a deadly darkness because Donald Trump has failed repeatedly to save lives, to follow scientific advice and to put the well-being of Americans before his ego.

As of tonight 176,257 people have died in the United States to coronavirus. With more than 5.6 million confirmed cases and 1,118 deaths reported today.

Tonight, hundreds of people marching in New York City and other cities in a mass memorial for the 176,000 lives lost -- 176,257 shattered and grieving families. While many of the people who have survived coronavirus are dealing with long-term and in some cases extremely debilitating health effects.

Last night Joe Biden promised to end what he called this season of darkness. He laid out his plan to address the pandemic. But he also spoke to a nation in pain based on his own understanding of the grief of losing someone you love.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I know that deep black hole that opens up in the middle of your chest and you feel like you are being sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes.

But I have learned two things. First, your loved one may have left this earth but they will never leave your heart. They will always be with you. You will always hear them.

And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: One of those people who knows that pain and grief is the Democratic rising star Robert Garcia. The mayor of Long Beach, California, who was introduced to most of America at this week's convention.

He made history in 2014 as the first openly gay and the first Latino to become the mayor of Long Beach, California. Garcia was sworn in by another person of color who has made history, Kamala Harris, who accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination this week.

In the last month, Mayor Garcia lost both his mother and his stepfather to coronavirus. His mother was a health care worker in the front lines in the battle against the virus. Here is part of what Mayor Garcia told the country during the Democratic Convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR ROBERT GARCIA (D-CA), LONG BEACH: We're facing the biggest economic and health crisis in generations because our president didn't and still doesn't have a plan. And you know what? You deserve more than the constant chaos that Donald Trump delivers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us now is Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, California. Mayor Garcia, good to see you. Thank you for being with us tonight.

I have to ask you about what Joe Biden said about finding purpose in helping you deal with your grief because you've got a lot of it. Your mother was 61 years old when she died. Two weeks later, your stepfather died at the age of 58, so young.

In the middle of these efforts that you have been involved in, you have been involved in the campaign, you are dealing with your city and how it deals with coronavirus. Talk to me about your own grief in this.

GARCIA: Well, first, thank you. And what the vice president said last night hit me right in the gut. And I felt like he was talking directly at me and at everyone else across the country that has lost someone due to COVID-19.

It was an incredibly powerful moment. My brother and I felt like that was a President talking to a country that was mourning and certainly far and above what anything the current president has done. So we were very grateful.

It's been a tough few weeks. I think to lose both my mom and my stepdad has been really hard. But it also has -- it's renewed a sense of doing the right thing, following their values and moving forward and sharing their story and their amazing legacy from this country and as an immigrant family what they have contributed to this country.

VELSHI: One of the things you did, by the way, in their memories, you started up a scholarship fund at your alma mater California State University in Long Beach to help students in health care with a focus on helping women and immigrants.

In fact, there is a page right now on Beach Funder. You have raised almost $50,000 when last we took this picture. This is in honor of your mother.

GARCIA: Absolutely. You know, my mom immigrated to the U.S. when I was five years old. We came here. She was -- we were poor, didn't have a lot of money. She worked odd-in jobs, cleaned houses, worked in thrift shops and finally became a health care worker, was a medical assistant for almost 30 years.

She absolutely loved her job and loved her country and was the most careful person, always wore PPE, always did the right thing. And the one thing she taught us was to give back and to love this country.

She loved her job and she loved this community. Becoming a citizen was so important for her and she always told me and my brother that we would never be able to give back to our country what our country has given to us. That's what I learned from her.

Her and Greg were really great people. And I want to make sure through that scholarship and through just remembering her life, that other immigrants have the same shot that she had and that I had to citizenship and that they remember that these health care workers like my mom are on the front lines and they need our help.

VELSHI: What did you think as an immigrant watching, as a child of immigrants watching the convention in which so much focus was put on immigrants and the role they have played in building this country in the midst of an administration and a presidency that was born on racism and a disdain for immigrants and still continues to practice that?

GARCIA Well, I was inspired to see us represented. I came to the U.S. just as a kid, and my whole family are immigrants. We were Spanish speakers. We learned English. I remember standing in long lines getting cheated from immigration lawyers. And being an immigrant is hard. We came to this country for a better life. That's what immigrants come to this country for.

And, you know, one thing that I have learned over time as well, and through my family, all immigrants that are here. They just want to improve their life. They want to take care of their family. And every single immigrant in my opinion that's in this country took the same shot that I did when I was a young kid.

I became a U.S. citizen at 21 years old, became a teacher. Got elected mayor of my community and my hometown, all of which would not have been possible had I not gotten the honor of becoming a citizen of this amazing country.

And that's what immigrant and the immigrant experience is like all across this country. We have dreamers. We have people that were my students in my classes that just want an opportunity. And I'm very, very proud that Vice President Biden and Kamala Harris have talked about immigration reform and putting forward a real immigration plan and path to citizenship within the first few weeks of their administration.

VELSHI: Mayor Garcia, good to meet you. And I'm glad the country got to meet you this week. Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, California. We look forward to talking to you again, sir.

Coming up, Zerlina Maxwell gets tonight's LAST WORD on a history-making Democratic National Convention. And the first word on what to expect next week when the Republican Party renominates Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight, as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle we will win, and we'll do it together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was Vice President Joe Biden accepting the nomination for president of the United States last night in a week that saw Senator Kamala Harris accept the Democratic nomination for vice president, becoming the first black woman to do so in history.

Democrats made their case for a more empathetic and inclusive country in stark contrast to Donald Trump's American carnage vision.

That is not, of course, how Donald Trump saw it. Today Trump called it, quote, "the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history.

Joining us now, Zerlina Maxwell. She's the senior director of progressive programming at Sirius XM radio. She's an MSNBC political analyst. She's also the author of "The End of White Politics: How to heal our liberal divide". And even if you don't like Democrats or you're not a Democrat -- it's quite a stretch to call that dark, angry and gloomy.

There were some serious moments in it, but it was generally speaking an empathetic thing. In fact, there was some criticism on social media that it didn't feel policy-heavy. It felt like a bit of a kumbaya thing. Dark, angry and negative is not really what it was.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Not at all, and, you know, to be clear, if anybody saw Brayden last night bravely try to get the words out, being inspired by his meeting with the vice president, who also struggles with speaking and a stutter, and telling him, you know, there's a strategy. If you have an obstacle, here's how I worked to overcome obstacles in my life.

And that's such a powerful connection and anecdote about Joe Biden. But there are so many stories like Joe Biden like that, and it's a clear contrast with what you're seeing coming from the White House, coming from Donald Trump and his administration frankly, that implements policies that are cruel towards communities of color and frankly marginalized people.

I mean everybody remembers the infamous moment where Donald Trump made fun of somebody who was differently abled. As opposed to the Biden case, where you're taking someone aside and giving them inspiration.

And that's, I think, something that is not partisan. So on the policy end, I understand why there are critiques about there not being a lot of specifics in terms of policy, particularly on reproductive health care. But I do think that this is a contest between decency and dignity for all people --

VELSHI: Right.

MAXWELL: -- and whatever the other side of that coin is, which is what we've been living through for the past four years.

VELSHI: Well, that's the complexity of it, right? Because next week the Republicans are going to have to do this. And as I said to Rachel at the top of the hour, it will be a little bit like putting lipstick on a pig.

And that's problematic because there have been many years in this country where Republicans could proudly hold a convention and trumpet certain successes. But in this case there's just a long list of failures, criminality, cronyism, replenishing the swamp that they're going to have to make really good for America for four nights.

MAXWELL: Well, look, Donald Trump is essentially running commercials right now saying that you should be afraid of Joe Biden's America.

I'm sorry, but we are in quarantine. There has been an economic collapse as a result of his failures on COVID-19. He still is not believing in the science and the scientists. And so until that happens, there won't be an effective solution to COVID-19.

And so what is he going to stand up there and say? I guess he just has to pretend like everything is ok when it is so clearly not.

And I think that there is no world in which 176,000 dead Americans in less than a year's time is a success for a president.

So let's see what they pull together next week in terms of their message and the American people and voters will be able to compare. But I don't think that there is much of a comparison there because I do see this as a contest between decency and the other side of that which I think is cruelty and brutality towards people and committing acts of harm towards them when that is just the opposite of what we would want in a leader, an effective leader, particularly in an emergency.

VELSHI: Zerlina, I've got less than a minute, but you and I talked at the front end of Kamala Harris being nominated, her accepting that nomination that night, that historic night. That was something.

MAXWELL: That was the most amazing thing that has happened in the past few years, and not on a partisan level. For me as a black woman --

Yes.

MAXWELL: -- seeing a black woman in that position for the first time ever was amazing. And the reason why is because it's not just superficial-level representation. It's the fact that she's going to bring her perspective, having lived her entire life in a black girl's body. And that makes your experience and your perspective very different because unfortunately we do not treat white men or white women just like we treat black ones.

And so she's going to have a unique perspective and certainly to get to that level, she is tough enough to push for those communities that for so long have been left out of the Oval Office.

VELSHI: Zerlina, thank you for your unique perspective that you always bring to us. Good to see you, my friend. Zerlina Maxwell, thank you for joining us tonight.

That is tonight's LAST WORD.

I'm going to see you tomorrow morning and every weekend morning starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC. We've got a great show lined up. I hope you'll join us.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.

END

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