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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, November 16, 2020

Guests: Don Fox, Bob Woodward, Celine Gounder


Joe Biden is going to be the certified winner in each of the states where he is the apparent winner and then he is going to be winner of the Electoral College on December 14th. In an interview with "The Washington Post," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. We are in the final 65 days of Donald Trump's presidency and his final days are not very different from the rest of his days as president. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the test results announced today for a new coronavirus vaccine are, in his words, "as good as it gets".


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: I can't imagine we do not have a proper transition in place and the president is considering military action. Wouldn't it be great if the incoming president had some information about that?

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Well, yeah. This is really the strangest final days period we have seen since Richard Nixon --


O'DONNELL: -- which is why -- which is why, Ali, Bob Woodward is joining us later in this hour. He wrote the book about President Nixon before he resigned. And you'll remember, one of the things in that book is reporting on how the defense secretary took precautions against any orders that President Nixon might issue in the middle of the night, similar to what Donald Trump is talking about in these meetings.

VELSHI: But, Lawrence, but one of the things that came out of that was the that you can about having adults in the room to control the president's impulses. Toward the end of the Nixon administration that was important. The president has been clearing any adults out of the room and that's the part that we're worried about.

O'DONNELL: And makes it more -- we'll get Bob Woodward's assessment as to which was more dangerous, the Nixon final hours or these Trump final hours.


O'DONNELL: We'll get that later in the hour.

Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: I look forward to it.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

VELSHI: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: With 65 days left in the Trump presidency, we learned today of a development of a new vaccine against the coronavirus, with test results that Anthony Fauci says, quote, are as good as it gets. Those are Anthony Fauci's words.

That news makes the delay in the beginning of the official transition to the Biden administration a deadly delay because it is the Biden administration that will be distributing vaccines to you, not the Trump administration. We will not have widespread distribution of vaccines in this country until sometime next year when Joe Biden is president and Kamala Harris is vice president and delaying the Biden team's access to the development of distribution plans of the vaccine will mean a delay in the delivery of the vaccine to the people who need it to stay alive.


GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What do you see as the biggest threat to your transition right now given President Trump's unprecedented attempt to obstruct and delay a smooth transfer of power?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: More people may die if we don't coordinate. If we have to wait until January 20th to start that planning, it puts us behind, over a month, month and a half.


O'DONNELL: In a country where the current president is fond of calling the news media the enemy of the people because they tell the truth about him, what should we call Emily Murphy?

Joe Biden said more people may die if we don't coordinate, and the only reason they are not coordinating transitioning is Emily Murphy. She is the reason. Emily Murphy is the reason more people may die.

Emily Murphy is the Trump appointed head of the General Services Administration. She has the sole legal authority to ascertain, that's the legal word, ascertain the apparent winner in a presidential election and she can sign a document that begins the transition process.

Donald Trump does not have that power. Emily Murphy does. Forget about Donald Trump. He's a hopeless case. We know that.

But fortunately for the country we have actually reached the legal point where none of this is up to Donald Trump, none of the transition. It doesn't matter that yesterday Donald Trump tweeted that he won, that he tweeted he won when talking about Joe Biden, meaning Joe Biden won and then later he tweeted "I concede nothing!" with an exclamation point so he must mean it, and then he tweeted "I won the election."

None of the Trump Twitter nonsense matter because we have what the transition law calls an apparent winner. And that's in the definition of apparent winner in the transition law. There's not a single court challenge anywhere in the country that can reverse the outcome of the vote in any state.

And so, the apparent winner, Joe Biden, is going to be the certified winner in each of the states where he is the apparent winner and then he is going to be winner of the electoral college on December 14th and Emily Murphy has been violating the transition law every single day since November 7th when Joe Biden officially became the apparent winner.

Emily Murphy took an oath of office in her job, as she has done for other Republican staff jobs she's had in Washington, and Emily Murphy is violating her oath of office every day. And now, she's doing it not just in denial in the will of the people as expressed in a Democratic vote, but she's doing it in a way that Joe Biden says more people may die.

ABC News reported today that Emily Murphy is looking for a job because Emily Murphy knows Joe Biden is going to be president on January 20th. And while Emily Murphy's looking for a job, she obviously does not care how many people might die because she has already delayed the transition over a week.

Emily Murphy is going to find a job. She's going to find a very high paying job in a big corporation run by Republicans who won't have the slightest qualm about the way she broke the law to please Donald Trump, who yesterday tweeted "great job, Emily." Donald Trump had to reach back to one of Emily's tweets of over a week ago that had nothing to do with the election just to tag those words "great job, Emily" yesterday. He chose yesterday to say "great job, Emily" because Emily was doing for Donald Trump exactly what he wanted her to do, which is breaking the law.

And Emily Murphy is going to get away with it. That's how this works. She's going to get away with it. And corporate America will make her rich and her name will be forgotten because the crimes against humanity by Donald Trump are so overwhelming, so dazzling, that all the blame always goes to him.

It wasn't always this way. We used to be able to remember more than one criminal name in a horror story. We were able to remember more than one name after World War II. We were able to remember more than one name when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and 48, 48 members of the Nixon administration were convicted of crimes.

Emily Murphy loves that everyone is blaming Donald Trump for what she and she alone is doing and she alone has the authority to do and she knows that she will get away with it. The most charitable label that you could give Emily Murphy now is enemy of the voters. She is refusing to carry out the voters' expressed will as required by law.


RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF, PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Trump's Twitter feed doesn't make Joe Biden president or not president. The American people did that. What we really want to see this week, Chuck, is the General Services Administration issue that ascertainment so we can start to do the kinds of things you and I talked about a few minutes ago, meet with these vaccine officials, kind of get the intelligence briefings for the president-elect, the vice president-elect.


O'DONNELL: Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator Graham has taken his place on the side of the enemy of the voters. The Republican secretary of state of Georgia has described a phone call with Lindsey Graham which was made across state lines, and so might be of interest to Attorney General William Barr, who urged federal prosecutors to investigate any whiff of attempts at voter fraud.

In an interview with "The Washington Post," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said, quote, he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn't have the power to do what Graham suggested as counties administered elections in Georgia. It sure looked like he wanted to go down that road he said.

Here's the way the Georgia secretary of state described that conversation on CNN today.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You described to "The Washington Post" a conversation you had with a Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday. You came away with the impression he essentially wanted you to toss out mail-in ballots. What exactly did he say to you?

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: He asked if the ballots could be matched back to the voters. I got the sense that it implied that then you could throw those out, look at the counties with the highest frequent error of signatures. So that's the impression that I got.

BLITZER: I just want to be clear on this, Mr. Secretary. You say Senator Graham wanted you to find ways to get rid of legally cast ballots because CNN asked him about these allegations, he denied them. He says that's ridiculous. His word, "that's ridiculous."

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, it's just an implication of look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out.


BLITZER: See how many ballots you can throw out. That's what the enemies of the voters are hoping for tonight. Joe Biden will take the office on January 20th and at least there's nothing that the enemies of the voters can do to stop that.

Leading off our discussion tonight, John Heilemann, an MSNBC national affairs analyst. He's executive editor of "The Recount" and host of the podcast "Hell and High Water."

Errin Haines is also with us. She's editor at large co-founder of "The 19th," nonprofit newsroom focused on women, politics and policy. She's an MSNBC contributor.

And, John Heilemann, I'm going to take a wild stab into history without checking, but I think I know enough about United States senators to say this, I suspect Lindsey Graham may be the very first United States senator in history to make a phone call across state lines to another state that he knows nothing about to call the secretary of state of another state that is not his state to say what's going on with the way you're counting votes and how many of them can you throw out for us?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, Lawrence, look, some strange stuff has happened in American history as you and I both now. I mean, we've seen some weird stuff, right? And particularly in the last four years, we've seen some really weird stuff but this really kind of veers beyond the weird into the ultra hyper weird, in a particular kind of ultra hyper weird that involves the kind of craven corruption that we've seen really now for years when it comes to this particular senator and this particular president. It's an amazing thing.

I mean, a call to the South Carolina secretary of state would be potentially illegal of the same kind -- potentially illegally, and obviously deeply troubling and problematic. But the notion that Lindsey Graham's call in a neighboring state -- secretary of state to make this kind of inquiry is really -- is really -- especially given what we know is that it's all in vain, it's all just an exercise in optics, there's no chance that that is going to work, there's no chance that the elections are going to be overturned, there's no chance that even Georgia is going to be overturned and yet here's Lindsey Graham enacting this thing, which puts it into real, criminal, legal jeopardy or not, as you pointed out in your operating, this is something that Bill Barr says he's looking into, potential voter fraud.

I say to you. You know what, we're going to have a new attorney general in the United States in January. Could be someone like named Sally Yates for instance, who could be the attorney general and, you know, the statute of limitations will not have run out on this particular potential crime, this avenue of inquiry. And I will say there will be a lot of areas where the new attorney general might want to start poking around. This might be one of them.

O'DONNELL: And, Errin, we'll discover it may be the truth of this if Bob Woodward gives us a book about the final days of the Trump presidency. But my suspicion is that Lindsey Graham made the call so that he could then make a call to Donald Trump saying, hey, I just called that terrible secretary of state in Georgia to press your case with him.

But, Errin, this just shows you that they need apparently to continue to impress Donald Trump for some people still exists, especially Emily Murphy.

ERRIN HAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And, Lawrence, we are in a moment when -- you know, there are people, elected officials and others across this country who are trying, this election for they was largely about how they want to be remembered in history. I'm not sure what the answer for that is for Senator Graham, who was re-elected among those 70 million-plus votes that did not reelect the president, he was able to -- his voters returned him back to the Senate.

But, listen, Brad Raffensperger is somebody who in a state that has been the focus of voter suppression -- just two years ago, Georgia had a recount for, you know, the gubernatorial race with inspector of voter suppression with our now sitting governor, who was the then-secretary of state. And so, you know, he seems to want no part of that.

"The Atlanta Journal Constitution" ran above the banner, you know, editorial, basically, saying, you know, to David Perdue, to Kelly Loeffler, cut it out. You know, raising the specter that something is wrong with the electoral process in Georgia, he certainly does not want to be remembered for that, basically said that outgoing Senator Doug Collins was a liar for trying to raise the specter of fraud.

So, Brad Raffensperger does not want to be the face of any kind of voter shenanigans in Georgia in this election cycle.

O'DONNELL: And, John, ironic that it is that we are lucky as a country right now and just right now at this stage of this process in the recount in Georgia that the secretary of state in Georgia is a Republican and is part of that power structure in Georgia and Republican power structure in Georgia that has worked very hard at voter suppression of Democrats but they couldn't do it and, though, the Democrats who were trying to be -- who they were trying to block out of voting rose up, vote, delivered votes that this Republican secretary of state cannot and will not deny.

HEILEMANN: Yes. I mean, you talk about an incredible ironic twist, Lawrence, but you're right. I mean, there is -- this is now a bullet proof process in the sense that like all of the skepticism in the world is brought rightly upon the voting process in the state of Georgia, the history there is miserable, is lousy with voter suppression.

And so to have a Republican secretary of state, to have a Republican power structure headed by the governor, by Brian Kemp, to have all of that there, it makes the outcome, when the outcome that we now are all about certain to have, an outcome in which Joe Biden claims after a recount, after all the scrutiny, after all the study when Joe Biden wins the state of Georgia, there will be no ground upon which Republicans can stand and there will be full certainty that even in this state, even with this history, even with this Republican Party, Joe Biden's going to win that state and maybe change the politics of the Sun Belt, start the change of a generation's long transformation of the politician in the Sun Belt that will remake the electoral map.

It is rich, rich irony indeed.

O'DONNELL: And, Errin Haines, I want to go back to the point you made about Doug Collins and read what "The Washington Post" reporting is on that. We know Doug Collins was in the impeachment hearings investigation, trying to make as much noise and throw as many blocks as he could for President Trump.

He's now in Georgia as he is a member of Congress from Georgia and he's down there fighting on the Trump side in this post-election situation. It says that Raffensperger saved his harshest language for Representative Douglas Collins who is leading the president's efforts in Georgia and whom Raffensperger called a liar and a charlatan.

And there are many of us sitting here, welcome the secretary to that observation, as late as he is making it in the game. I think it was an available observation before. But -- and Raffensperger is talking about the pressure that he's feeling from other Republicans that includes death threats and death threats to his wife and he is so disappointed and shocked at Republican reaction.

HAINES: Yes. I mean, there's infighting in the Republican Party in Georgia. You are right. His harshest words for outgoing Senator Doug Collins.

But, you know, Lindsey Graham, Doug Collins, these are senators who have been surrogates and staunch defenders of President Donald Trump and apparently are willing to do that until the bitter end. But their protestations, this recount to your point is not going to change the outcome of this election either in Georgia or in the rest of the country. We do have a president elect, his name is Joe Biden and come January 20th, he will be the next president of the United States.

And so it is -- I think, you know, folks -- Brad Raffensperger, somebody who is thinking about his political future as well beyond this election and headed into 2021 and beyond.

O'DONNELL: Errin Haines, John Heilemann, thank you both for starting off our conversation tonight. Really appreciate it.

HEILEMANN: Good night, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, Bob Woodward will join us to compare Richard Nixon's horrible final days in the White House to Donald Trump's final days. And we'll have more on Emily Murphy's decision to block the Biden transition team from beginning the orderly transition of power. That will be next.



REPORTER: What options do you have to try and ensure that you are ready to go on day one?

BIDEN : Deal with every individual organization in the country from business to labor, Republicans and Democrats to try to pull together a serious and consistent plan so we're ready on day one, everything from staffing to ultimately naming cabinet members, to moving along on coordinating with business and labor.


O'DONNELL: President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisory group will be meeting directly with vaccine manufacturers, even though they are being illegally blocked from access to the Trump administration's information about the vaccines and the plans for vaccine distribution.

Joining us now is Don Fox. He is the former general counsel and acting director for the Office of Government Ethics.

And, Mr. Fox, I want to get your reading of the situation now with Emily Murphy and the Transition Act. She appears to be in violation of the law, but most of these kind of civil laws governing governmental procedure don't carry criminal penalties to the extent that you might be sanctioned for being in violation of it. It was usually a sanction within the workplace.

What is -- what is the legal status of what Emily Murphy is up to tonight?

DON FOX, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Well, Lawrence, you're right. I think she is in violation of the law. The Presidential Transition Act requires her to make available federal office space, people, personnel, funding and to turn on, more importantly, background checks for President-elect Biden's senior appointees as soon as there is an apparent winner.

You know from your time working with the Senate that Congress chooses their language with care and they could have chosen a much different standard. They could have chosen the Electoral College but they didn't, they said an apparent winner. I think by all cultures that's what we have here.

You're also right that the vast majority of federal laws are not criminal. They're enacted by the Congress, signed by the president on the assumption that thousands and thousands of civil servants and political appointees will honor their oaths of office to support the Constitution and the laws enacted there under.

O'DONNELL: Yeah. And so, she is in my view in violation of her oath and she's also in violation of this law, but I think it's odd for the audience to consider I know that when they live their lives if there's violation of a law, there are going to be handcuffs. They're going to be in a courtroom.

But some of this does involve kind of behavioral convention. And as I understand it, the only sanctions could be her superior, which in this case would be the president presumably, somehow sanctioning her for being in violation of that law.

FOX: Well, that's right. In a normal world we all work for somebody. We have a boss somewhere who holds us accountable to not just the laws and rules and regulations but the civil norms of behaviors, and it's pretty clear that her current boss, President Trump, is not going to do that.

So there really is no recourse. If she really did want to honor her oath of office, she would make the determination that President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have, in fact, been elected and she would prepared to be fired after that.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, she's going to lose the job on January 20th and it is her sole authority to sign her name to that document to start this. The focus on Donald Trump's reluctance to me is immaterial. It is entirely up to Emily Murphy to sign that piece of paper that starts this.

FOX: That's right. That's exactly what the law says. The Transition Act doesn't allow the sitting president to make the determination about an apparent winner, again, not to a mathematical certainty, but to some logical and reasonable certainty. It gives that authority to the administrator the General Services Administration.

And Congress did that for a reason because they recognize that, in fact, a president could be running for reelection and that he or she should not make that determination himself.

O'DONNELL: And they also had a working understanding that in general, that certainly at the time this law was being written, the kind of person who occupies that job is supposed to be one of the straight shooters in governor, nonpartisan, no matter how they got there or how they were appointed, and I think Emily Murphy's conduct in this position would really shock the people who wrote that law.

Don Fox, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

FOX: My pleasure. Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, we are watching the strangest and most dangerous final days a presidency since Richard Nixon was forced to resign the presidency. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein literally wrote the book about Richard Nixon's final days, entitled "The Final Days". And Bob Woodward has written the most important book about Donald Trump's final year in the presidency. Bob Woodward will join us next.


O'DONNELL: We are in the final 65 days of Donald Trump's presidency and his final days are not very different from the rest of his days as president.

"The New York Times" reports Trump has spent his days toggling between his White House residence and the Oval Office, watching television coverage about the final weeks of his presidency. His mood is often bleak, advisers say.

He has always spent his day watching television coverage of his presidency. It's the bleak mood that might be different.

We've seen this presidential mood before in the final days of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974, captured masterfully for history by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in "The New York Times" best seller "The Final Days".

Here are some of what President Nixon's staff and Vice President Ford's staff were considering in those summer days that led to Richard Nixon's resignation on August 8, 1974 and the pardon of Richard Nixon issued by President Ford a month later.

The White House staff was repeatedly buzzing about pardons in Nixon's final days. Quote, "The president could pardon himself and resign. The president could pardon Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and all the rest and then resign. He could resign and hope that Ford would pardon him.

Could the president pardon himself? Haig asked the lawyer. Yes, Buzhardt had researched the issue. The president could pardon himself. Or Ford once he became president could pardon Nixon. Could ford pardon him even before Nixon had been charged with a crime? As far as Buzhardt could determine under the presidential pardon powers, Ford could. And indeed Ford did.

President Ford issued a pardon that did not refer to any crimes but instead to the calendar. Richard Nixon's pardon covered every day of his presidency. Donald Trump's pardon will surely use the Nixon pardon as a template but will cover a much longer period of time in Donald Trump's past.

Like Donald Trump, Richard Nixon had a son-in-law on the scene, President Nixon's son-in-law Edward Cox, quote, "was worried about the president's mental health. The president was not sleeping and he had been drinking. The man couldn't take it much longer," Cox said. The president had been acting irrationally. The president was up walking the halls last night, talking to pictures of former presidents, giving speeches and talking to the pictures on the wall.

And then there is the most memorable scene of all in the final days on the night before President Nixon announced his resignation to the world, he was alone in the White House with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Quote, "The president broke down and sobbed. Nixon got down on his knees. Kissinger felt he had no alternative but to kneel down, too. The president prayed out loud. He was weeping. And then still sobbing Nixon leaned over and struck his fist on the carpet crying what have I done, what has happened?

Kissinger touched the president and then held him, tried to console him to bring rest and peace to the man who was curled on the carpet like a child."

Joining us now is Bob Woodward. He is the two-time Pulitzer prize winning author and associate editor at "The Washington Post". His latest best-selling book about the presidency is "Rage".

Bob, thank you very much for joining us tonight. As these final days have ticked off, I just keep thinking about those final days in 1974 and the comparisons.

The one thing that we have to note right off the bat as I know you would is Donald Trump doesn't drink. So whatever scenes we have at least we know he will be sober.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR: Well, since you asked me to come on, Lawrence, to talk about this, I've been trying to think it through. What's the difference, what are the similarities, Nixon/Trump situation.

Senator Ervin you may remember was the chairman of Senate Watergate Committee, and he said this is what Watergate was. It was a successful effort to destroy the integrity of the process of nominating and electing a president.

And Nixon's crimes were to sabotage and spy on the Democratic opposition so Nixon could get a weaker candidate to run against, which he got in George McGovern. And then to keep it from coming out, Nixon ordered the payment of hush money to people so they would not speak before the election. Now, the interesting question is what is the process of nominating and electing a president? I think it definitely includes that period after the vote because the will of the people has to be implemented.

This is that period from November 3rd to January 20th. And what Trump has done is committed a parallel crime to make sure that that process has no integrity, no certainty and so there is where Nixon operated in the early part of this electoral process, Trump has acted in the latter part.

And because of the pandemic, because his negligent attendance to the issues which I've written about about the pandemic he knew on January 28th of this year that it was going to be a crisis, that it was going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic a century earlier that killed 675,000 people and he denied it.

He set up no process. So where Joe Biden, as you played earlier on your show, said the failure to make sure that there is an implementation of the will of the people may lead to more deaths from the pandemic.

I don't think it's "may", I think it's obvious with the number of deaths that are occurring, the number of cases, this is wild. It is on fire, as Trump was warned on January 28th.

So I think it is, you know, there was a saying during Watergate, no one died at Watergate. And I think that's true. People are now dying because of the failure of President Trump to responsibly make sure that the integrity of this process was working.

O'DONNELL: You know, it's so -- no one died at Watergate has been in my mind, Bob, thinking about this because you think of those dozen -- four dozen Nixon officials who ended up being convicted of crimes, most of them sentenced to prison, and they were all crossing criminal law lines and you look at Emily Murphy tonight and it just that civil law for which there is no criminal penalty. If she violates that law and continues to violate that law and refuses to ascertain the apparent winner of the election, she will face no penalty at all and yet she might be responsible for lives lost because of this delayed transition, and that would be much worse than what anyone was accused of in Watergate.

WOODWARD: Well, that's true. But how about president Donald Trump. Now wait a minute. He could step up and say -- in the nine hours of interviews I did with Trump in the last year for the book, I asked him at one point what's the job of the president? And he said to protect the people.

Part of protecting the people is protecting the integrity of this process from November 3rd to January 20th. And if he would step up and say look, we're going to clear the decks. We're going to do and take the actions to protect the people, I'm sure he could get her to go along with this or something could be done to get around it.

This is on Trump's head and shoulders. I see your technical legal point, but this is where Trump and everyone has looked back at all of the transitions of power and how there were really better campaigns and people all came in in both parties and said so and so won, I'm going to help, I'm not only going to help but we're going to make sure we do it in a very elegant way to give substantive assistance to the new administration.

That's Trump's. We shouldn't run away from that.

O'DONNELL: Bob, I'd like to squeeze in a commercial break here.

we come back with today's news reporting in "The New York Times" about Donald Trump, President Trump, asking about possible military strike on Iran. I want you to compare that to the worries in the White House about a possible military strike by Richard Nixon in his final days.

We'll be right back with Bob Woodward after this break.


O'DONNELL: And we're back with Bob Woodward, who was the author of "The Final Days", about the final days of Richard Nixon in the White House. I want to read one passage of your book, Bob, co-authored with Carl Bernstein where you talk about Nixon's final days where he's approaching the possibility of resigning and there is speculation among the staff saying suppose he went crazy and tried to use the military to retain office. Two men wondered if perhaps they should raise the question with secretary of defense James Schlesinger.

And Bob, there were other concerns that secretary of defense had at the time and I'm reminded of this today because we have reporting that President Trump was within the last 48 hours or so discussing a possible strike against Iran.

WOODWARD: Yes, that's always possible. And, again, I think it emphasizes the extraordinary power that the president has, a sitting president, even one who is soon to depart office.

And as we learn, presidents can start wars on their own. They're commander in chief. They can employ the force as they see fit. Congress can take away the money, but that's unlikely, particularly if it's a reasonable military operation. Now, whether one in Iran or somewhere else in the world would be reasonable, I don't know. One of the things in doing this reporting for almost 50 years, Lawrence, is that there are people in the military, in the intelligence world, in the White House who won't do certain things. They just say no.

People have often discussed, well, suppose Trump ordered the FBI to break into reporters' offices or homes or arrest them. I don't think there are a lot of FBI agents who would do it. And I think their supervisors would say no.

So I think I can see Trump discussing possibilities, maybe kind of testing the waters to see how people -- whether people would go along with this, like so many Republicans have gone along with this idea, this declaration that has won and kind of giving him running room on the issue which they shouldn't have done.

So I -- you know, that's something to keep in the back of the mind. But what happened in the Nixon final days was his chief of staff, Al Hague, who was a retired temporarily general in the army when Nixon started talking about maybe taking his own life and saying to Hague, you know, in the army they leave a pistol in the drawer. Hague ordered all of Nixon's pills taken away so he could not take his life that way.

And as best we know, there was no revolver in the drawer in the Oval Office or in the residence anyplace. So there are people who will step up and stop things. Do you think that's plausible?

O'DONNELL: I absolutely do. We know that there was a time when J. Edgar hoover was running the FBI where things operated differently but I've been saying to people since my time in government in the 1990s, you know, J. Edgar Hoover doesn't work there anymore. It is a much more honorable kind of backstop against this stuff that we have in place now, but we have 65 days left of this presidency and we will see what happens.

Bob Woodward, thank you very much for joining us tonight. You've proven once again --

WOODWARD: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: that every Bob Woodward book continues to live in "The Final Days" about the Richard Nixon final days remains absolutely mandatory reading.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Bob.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: And when we come back, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the test results announced today for a new coronavirus vaccine are, these are his words, "as good as it gets".

We'll be joined by a member of President-Elect Biden's coronavirus advisory group, next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: How do we get the vaccine? How do we get over 300 million Americans vaccinated? What's the game plan? It's a huge, huge, huge undertaking.

If we have to wait until January 20th to start that planning it puts us behind over a month, month and a half. And so it's important that it be done and that there be coordination now.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Dr. Celine Gounder, member of President-Elect Biden's coronavirus task force. She is an epidemiologist, infectious disease specialist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Doctor. I want to get your reaction to the latest vaccine announcement today from Moderna. Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's as good as it gets.

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, MEMBER, PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN'S CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Yes, the data looks really good both for the Pfizer vaccine as well as the Moderna vaccine. They both seem highly effective, over 90 percent effective, which is quite high especially for a brand new vaccine based on a technology that frankly we have not used in prior vaccines.

So this is all very exciting that we finally have some tools that will soon be available to us at our disposal, another tool in the toolbox so to speak.

O'DONNELL: Now, because you're being locked out in terms of the legal process and the transition at this stage are you going to be having direct meetings with the vaccine manufacturers?

DR. GOUNDER: We -- I personally have not yet. This is something that our team more broadly, the transition team will be looking at doing, whether that's with vaccine manufacturers or others who will be involved in delivering the vaccine. That includes partners at both state and local health departments as well as in the private sector.

O'DONNELL: And what about picking a vaccine? Is that what's going to happen that we're going to pick one of these, and it will be the Pfizer or the Moderna or possibly some other that emerges very soon?

DR. GOUNDER: I think you're actually going to see a number of different vaccines deployed. If you were to compare say the Pfizer and Moderna, one critical difference between the two is that the Pfizer vaccine requires deep freezing at minus 70 degrees Celsius where as the Moderna vaccine is stable at, you know, more reasonable temperatures for up to 30 days.

So I think what you're going to see is different vaccines used in different locations, for example, urban versus rural, also in different patient populations. So for example the elderly versus others.

And so the good news is we have a number of these different vaccines in the pipeline and that we'll be using them based on what they do best.

O'DONNELL: What would you like to know from the Trump administration that you cannot yet know?

DR. GOUNDER: You know, I think about this like we're at war. It would be like we're at war with a foreign power and we're supposed to take the reins on January 20th and we have no idea where the aircraft carriers and the tanks and the troops are. And that's very difficult to get up to speed in one day on all of those kinds of logistics.

We really need to know at a granular level not just what's available on the CDC Web site or in the newspapers, but really the internal government information on where cases happening in much more detail at the hospital, you know, facility level, how fuller are beds, how are we doing in terms of ventilators, how are we doing in terms of our supply chain.

You know, all of those kinds of details we really need to know now.

O'DONNELL: And the infection rate is increasing. We're now getting up to a million a week. It seems like the vaccine if we're going to have it is arriving kind of I guess just in time but how do you transition from managing a pandemic with no vaccine to suddenly having a vaccine option?

DR. GOUNDER: Well, the critical thing to understand is that you -- just because we invented a vaccine, developed a vaccine and tested it does not mean we have the hundreds of millions doses necessary to vaccinate everybody.

And there's a lot of logistics involved in getting it distributed, getting people to come in and get vaccinated.

What you'll see is probably end of this calendar year we'll start to vaccinate first responders, health care workers on the front lines and certain high risk populations, for example, those living in nursing homes.

You won't see this available to the general population until April or May at the earliest really. And in the meantime we really need to double down our efforts on the basics of public health control. The mask, the social distancing, outdoors more than indoors, getting tested, and cooperating with contact tracers.

O'DONNELL: Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

DR. GOUNDER: My pleasure.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. Dr. Gounder gets tonight's LAST WORD.



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