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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, September 11, 2020

Guest: Tom Steyer


The United States marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks as nearly 200,000 Americans died from the coronavirus. President Trump deliberately misled the American people from the beginning by lying about what he knew about the coronavirus threat. Matthew Miller and Nora Vance discuss reporting that Nora Dannehy, a top prosecutor working for U.S. Attorney John Durham on the probe of the Russia investigation, has resigned amid concerns over pressure from Attorney General Barr.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That is going to do it for us tonight and for this week. Take good care of yourself this weekend, do something that makes you bigger and stronger and better at what you do and who you are. This time in the news right now is rough. You need to be at your best. Your country needs you.

I'll see you again on Monday night. Now it is time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Thank you. It is fair to say the country needs you, as well, so please take your own advice, Rachel. Get some rest, and we shall see you back in the chair next week. Thank you, my friend. Have a good weekend.

MADDOW: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: Tonight, we begin on a somber note. It is September 11th, as you know, a moment of reflection that most of us don't take often enough, a moment to remember what we lost 19 years ago and how we came back.

It is also a moment or at least it has been when our leaders rise up, a moment in which we see compassion. The consoler-in-chief, the leader, who unites us and gives us hope -- presidents have filled that role, some of them.

But this year again, President Trump read scripted condolences while he is it who was available for everyone to see on Twitter. On Twitter, he attacked Democratic leaders in Congress. He praised a bank that decided to force employees back to work despite the ongoing COVID threat.

Joe Biden took a different approach. Here he is in New York City this morning with a 90-year-old Maria Fischer, who lost her son, Andrew, on 9/11.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You know, I lost mine. It never goes away.

MARIA FISCHER, LOST A SON ON 9/11: Never goes away.BIDEN: You and I will be here next year. God love you. Thank you.


VELSHI: It never goes away, does it? That's what Vice President Biden said to Maria Fischer. The 9/11 will always be seared into our memories as it should be.

Hard to separate that tragic loss from the tragedy that we are experiencing right now because the collective response this time has been markedly different.

Think about this. About a thousand Americans continue to die every day from the coronavirus. That means every three or four days, the number of Americans who died from COVID-19 equals the number of Americans who died on 9/11. That is an astonishing number that many of us have somehow become inured to.

How is it possible to not be in a constant state of national mourning when nearly 200,000 Americans have died, and when many of those deaths, as we have heard for months from experts, could have been prevented under the right leadership? Well, I might have just answered my own question, the right leadership. That's what's different.

This time, we have a leader who ignored the threat. The president still has no national testing plan. He still has no national tracing plan. He praises businesses for reopening too soon, and he's on the campaign trail breaking social distancing norms, breaking mask mandates, and forcing supporters to sign waivers releasing the president and his campaign from liability if those supporters get sick or die from the virus.

He's not tried to solve the problem. As it turns out, he never was trying to solve the problem. Thanks to Bob Woodward, we know that president Trump deliberately misled the American people from the absolute beginning. He lied about what he knew about the coronavirus threat.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: Sure, I want you to be.

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


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

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: He didn't want to create a panic. This is the president who thrives on fear and panic. Right now, he's stoking fears, lying that low-income housing is going to destroy the suburbs if Joe Biden wins the election. That's racist, that's classist, and that's panic that the president wants to create among suburban voters.

Isn't it a job of the leader to lead? Look at Roosevelt. Look at Churchill. In times of crisis, real leaders revel with their people. And through their leadership and their words and their actions, those leaders keep people calm.

Look at leaders through these crises. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Germany's Angela Merkel, Canada's Justin Trudeau. There were ways to get through this. Real leaders did what needed to be done. They told the truth. They guided their people through difficult times. Real leaders didn't lie.

Truly, what does it say about the president that he thought so poorly of his own leadership abilities that he didn't think he could tell the truth to the American people or that they could handle the truth? This president lies, and we have to hope that there are other leaders who will push back on those lies, leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You said it was time to hunker down because the fall and the winter is -- quote -- "not going to be easy." The president says we have rounded the final turn. How do you square those two messages?DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, you know, I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that because if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are disturbing. You know, we're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day, and the deaths are around a thousand.(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: The evidence is everywhere you look. The president couldn't rise to the moment. He couldn't do the right thing or say the right thing. And he knew that, so he lied and he downplayed the threat, and people died because of that, multiple 9/11s a week. People are still dying in horrific numbers. The president is still doing nothing except holding rallies against -- or in violation of state COVID regulations.

This is no longer a time for Americans to defend their support for the president by arguing that Trump is going to be better for the stock market or Trump won't raise taxes. Nearly 200,000 Americans are dead. Close to a quarter of a million people could be dead by Election Day, maybe 400,000, according to some projections, by the end of the year. This is beyond the time for a yes but defense of Donald Trump.

And the president's downplaying of the COVID threat is just one of the many disturbing revelations we have learned this month. There is the reporting that the president called American soldiers who died fighting for this country "losers" and "suckers."

There is the whistleblower who says the Trump administration manipulated intelligence reports so as not to make the president look bad. There is the Bob Woodward reporting that Trump bragged about saving the ass of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the brutal murdering of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

It is almost impossible to express the degree to which norms have been broken by this president in ways that they have never been broken before. And it is unbelievable that there are so many people who are not faced by the neglect, the lies, the corruption, the covering up of the targeted killing of a journalist who is critical of government, who shrug, who ignore or try to defend their support because of the stock market or taxes.

Almost 200,000 Americans have died, a quarter million. A quarter million could soon be dead and then possibly 400,000. It is what it is, as the president himself said. We might have become desensitized in this moment, but some day, I hope we can appreciate and come to terms with the enormity of the loss this country has suffered because of this president. It's a loss we didn't need to suffer. And when we do, I hope we never forget.

Leading us off on our discussion tonight are Dr. Vin Gupta, pulmonologist, global health policy expert, and affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington Medical Center, an MSNBC medical contributor, and Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino. She is an MSNBC contributor, as well. Thank you to both of you for being here.

Maria, I'm going to start with you because it is hard for my little brain to process all we have learned this week about the irregularities, the abnormalities, the illegality that has come from this administration. We are 50-some odd days from the election and the evidence continues to grow about the fact that Donald Trump is not the man for this job.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: When Donald Trump, Ali, talked about how he can go into Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not suffer consequences, he has basically driven a Mack truck through America with this pandemic and his response for the deaths of almost 200,000 individuals. It is going to be on the conscious of the American people whether they are going to re-elect him.

When we talk about the faces of 200,000 people, my grandmother sadly lost her partner of 38 years, and she was not able to hold his hand. My family is not digitally connected and so she wasn't even able to hold a memorial service over Zoom. She was only given his ashes in the middle of the plaza in Sonoma and they were taken back to her room. That was all she was able to grieve him.

These are real American stories. With every single person that we talk about sadly as essential workers who are disproportionately getting beat up. When we talk about the Latino where there are multiple generational families. When we're talking about families that are losing their mothers, we are leaving orphans in the wake.

The fact that the president, at his disposal in February, when he knew that we could actually protect ourselves through masks, the only protection that we knew was reliable, he stigmatized it, so he was directly responsible for the cause of deaths.

Instead of actually providing solutions and actually rolling up his sleeves and trying to provide us with road maps, he created nonsense confusion, and in doing so, many needless lives were affected, because it is not just the loss of life but also the loss of income, the loss of ability.

I had a friend. Today, he sent me a picture from his two daughters that are going to Spain to school for the first day. I in the meantime and millions of American parents right now, we are zooming indefinitely because we don't know when we can actually send our child back safely to expose them possibly to COVID and other things.

That is the challenge in this presidency. It is not that he is incompetent, it's malpractice. We have to speak very plainly and very clearly that it is malpractice that he's put us in the precipice. It is not just massive destruction of lives but also a possible great depression while at the same time feeding into the largest civil unrest in close to 50 years.

And he just adds fuel to the fire because last week, I had this woman named (INAUDIBLE). She is an expert on Putin. She said that one of the things that Putin does quite well --


KUMAR: -- to ensure his re-election is anxiety and that is what this president knows how to perpetuate quite well.VELSHI: Vin Gupta, you and I have been talking about this for months. I don't buy the argument that Donald Trump hasn't -- this is one of the few things he hasn't invented later and imposed upon something that he did earlier because we know that those recordings were contemporaneous. Back then, he told Bob Woodward, I don't want to create panic.

You're a doctor. We don't have to lie. I was quoting Roosevelt and Churchill on all this. But doctors have to deal with this all the time, right? You can't be dishonest with your patients about their condition in the hopes that might be upsetting to them.VIN GUPTA, NBC NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ali, you know, a lot to unpack there. First, I would say that the moving story that Maria just mentioned about losing a family member, what that's like, that's the story of 200,000 families right now who have lost their loved ones.

And to your point, Ali, much of those lives were preventable. The loss of life that was preventable, 60 to 70 percent perhaps based on some models, had we acted early.

And when I hear and when the president hears on February 7th that this virus from China is potentially airborne, even if he wants to assuage the public and not speak in dramatic terms, fine, nobody is arguing with that, speak calmly.

But readiness is key, Ali. That means making sure all your health systems is doing table top exercises. That means making sure that the Pentagon, CDC, and HHS are looking to the strategic national stockpile to make sure N95 masks are there.

Because you know what, when you hear airborne, you immediately, reflexively, if you know what you are talking about, if you have experts around you, you think (INAUDIBLE) which are a fancy PPE and you think an N95 masks. If you don't have either one of those, you invoke the Defense Production Act. You need to think contingency planning. That is a key and that just wasn't done.

Here is the problem, Ali. We aren't talking about things that matter now. For example, the entire West Coast of the United States. Here in the West Coast, we're suffocating in smog up and down the West Coast.


GUPTA: So we know now that smog exposure is increasing the risk of successful infection if you are exposed to COVID-19 across demographics. This is not just the problem if you're older 65. This matters to all of us. Those of us who are parents who are sending our children to daycare or to school and those children getting exposed during recess potentially, this matter to all of us.

And we're not talking about these issues because we're talking about distractions because that's what the president traffics in and that's the big problem here.VELSHI: Yeah. The fires are remarkable problem. We have more than 500,000 people tonight under evacuation orders in COVID, in an environment where they can get sick and they're more likely to get sick because of this.

Maria, you talked about anxiety. You talked about (INAUDIBLE) and anxiety. That anxiety or the sense of uselessness is a trick that can be used to keep people away from voting. What do you hear from people who sort of have given up on the political system? Is there a sense that people are energized about this election and they are energized to not have more of this?KUMAR: People are rightfully angry, Ali. They are seeing themselves surrounded in areas where they can't actually make wise decisions to protect their family, simple decisions on whether or not to send their child to school, whether or not to wear a mask, whether or not to go into a store.

We are seeing, at least Voto Latino, a huge surge in participation in voter registration in record numbers we have never seen before. Eighty percent of the people who are registering right now are under the age of 33. That tells me that young people are connecting leadership and their future prospects. It tells me that people are fed up and that they're starting to prepare themselves so that they can participate.

Our biggest right now is that states that don't have a uniform plan, every single state is playing by their own rules, so we are really trying to push to ensure that Mitch McConnell passes the Heroes Act that Congress passed back May 15th, so that they can actually get the $3 billion back into states so that they can get the PPE and all the other safeguards that they need in order to conduct a safe and fair election.

VELSHI: I'm going to grow an afro before the Congress -- before the Senate passes that bill.

(LAUGHTER)KUMAR: Don't say that! We need this bill.VELSHI: Yeah. I'm with you. We need it. I don't know if it's going to happen from this Senate.

Vin, let's talk about the fact that you and I knew when the president was saying 15 cases are going to go to zero and we didn't want that ship to dock because it will double the number of cases. We knew we were going to be dealing in big numbers. For a while, we were dealing in very large numbers. We're in September and we are still averaging around a thousand people a day. This is remarkable. What needs to happen to stop this?GUPTA: Well, Ali, it's a loaded question here, but we need the American people to recognize one thing and they're not getting it because they're not getting clear messaging from the president or Dr. Scott Atlas, who is now his chief medical adviser, which is flu and COVID, respiratory viral pathogens. These viruses love dry, cold climates.

So all those parents out there who are sending their children back to school with community outbreaks around them, with lack of testing, insufficient PPE for teachers and staff, you should be concerned because we know that flu and COVID like to transmit in indoor settings that are poorly ventilated, especially in dry or cold climates.

So, Ali, this is going to get worse before it gets better. We're already at a high baseline here. Things are not going to be good, and we need to be prepared for that.VELSHI: Thanks to both of you. Dr. Vin Gupta and Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you for joining us tonight.

Coming up, a top prosecutor tasked with investigating the Russia investigation has resigned reportedly because of pressure from Attorney General Bill Barr to produce something before Election Day. We'll talk about that on the other side.


VELSHI: A top deputy to U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is leading the so-called investigation into the Russia investigation, has resigned. The Hartford Courant reports that top prosecutor Nora Dannehy's resignation was -- quote -- "at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said."

Colleagues also told the Courant that Dannehy believed the pressure was coming from the attorney general, William Barr. That's not just yet another example of the Department of Justice acting as Donald Trump's lawyers and protectors, it is undermining the work of its own staffers, work they've done on Russia's attack on our election in 2016.

Here is former counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and what he said to Rachel Maddow last night.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER STRZOK, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION AGENT: I think it is fair and accurate to say that he is engages in a series of behavior that are deeply politicizing the Department of Justice both to things that are going on right now, as well as seeking to unwind the prosecutions of General Flynn, the sentencing of Roger Stone and others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: Today, a former federal judge advising on the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn criticized Attorney General Barr's decision to drop the charges as -- quote -- "a corrupt and politically motivated favor unworthy of our justice system. In the United States, presidents do not orchestrate pressure campaigns to get the Justice Department to drop charges against defendants who have pleaded guilty twice before two different judges, and whose guilt is obvious" -- end quote.

Now, keep in mind the context. We know Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. Microsoft has said so. Congress has said so. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence's assessment confirmed it.

But a whistleblower analyst from the Department of Homeland Security says that he was told by administration officials to stop providing intelligence on Russian interference and disinformation efforts in the 2020 election because it -- quote -- "made the president look bad" -- end quote.

Trump pal, Rudy Giuliani, was recently soliciting disinformation about Joe Biden from a Ukrainian whom the Treasury Department yesterday confirmed is an active Russian agent, the guy with the mustache. It appears that the Barr Justice Department is doing its part to aid Donald Trump's claim that it was all a hoax.

Joining us now is Matt Miller, former spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder, former director of Public Affairs, and an MSNBC contributor, and Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney and professor at the University of Alabama Law School. She is an MSNBC legal contributor. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here.

Matt, let me start with you. The New York Times is reporting that Barr is expected to release his interim report, the Durham report, findings of John Durham, before the election. What does that make you think?MATTHEW MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think it makes me believe, her resignation today, some of the circumstances that the Hartford Courant reported, I believe confirmed this, but there is something very rotten going on at the heart of this investigation.

Look, no matter what you believe about the underlying merits of this investigation, I have always thought it was investigation that was in search of an outcome. It wasn't about fact finding. It was reaching a goal that the A.G. had mind from the beginning to discredit the original Mueller report, the Mueller findings and all the related prosecution.

But even if you are a supporter of this investigation and think it's on the level and think it's a meritorious investigation, there is no good argument for releasing its findings or releasing interim findings before the election, especially in light of the Justice Department's longstanding rules and practices, not to take any steps before the election that might impact the election.

I think it's telling that the attorney general has never been able to offer a public reason for why he might do so. When you compare it with what the department's normal rules and practices are, he said there is a public interest to release something, but there is no public interest that could be served by releasing something in the next 55, 54 days that wouldn't be reserved by releasing it on November 15th.

And so when you look at what happened today, it think it is another sign that there is something very troubling about this investigation. I think it's very clear the attorney general is pushing for a result that is completely inappropriate.VELSHI: And Joyce, to be fair, because not everybody may be following this on a daily basis, this is an investigation in search of a predetermined result.JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that that's right, Ali. I agree with Matt in this regard. This is not a criminal case that came into being based on reports that there had been some sort of a crime committed.

This was actually an investigation that was prompted by the president's repeated insistence that there be an additional look into the origins of the investigation into whether or not his campaign was colluding with the Russians.

We know that DOJ's inspector general concluded that nothing criminal had occurred. And, yet, this investigation continues to plow some of that same ground. So that entire context, when you combine that with the notion that longstanding DOJ policy would be broken if a report was issued within days or weeks before the election, it takes on a real political flavor.

And the final kicker is this. There is no such thing as interim reports or temporary reports in prosecutions. You either indict the case or you don't. So I suspect Nora Dannehy, a prosecutor with a sterling reputation, resigned because she simply couldn't stomach what she was being asked to do. Hopefully, we will have a chance to hear from her at some point.VELSHI: I was going to say, until we do, this is a brand-new name to most Americans. What do you know about Nora Dannehy?

VANCE: This isn't Nora's first time that she's been involved in a high-level prosecution. She actually was asked by Attorney General Mukasey, the final Bush attorney general, to look into the politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys in that administration.

She continued that work moving forward because that report was not completed until sometime later under the next administration. She has a reputation for being someone who keeps her head down. She's quiet. She doesn't like the spotlight. She just gets the job done. She's an investigative whiz. That's where she's at her best.VELSHI: Matt, at this point, we know Barr was involved in the Russia investigation before he was involved in it. It's how he got his job. He's now talking about the so-called interim report before the election.

At what point is Barr held to account for the things that he's doing, acting as Donald Trump's personal lawyer, running interference, the case of E. Jean Carroll? I mean, he's really acting like he's moving towards being the president's fixer.MILLER: Yeah. He's the president's fixer. He's out campaigning for the president all the time. He was on TV last week attacking Joe Biden, attacking Kamala Harris, another thing you got for long line of list that are completely inappropriate for the attorney general to do.

I think the only way we're going to be able to hold him accountable is through the election. He knows that. That's one of the reasons he's doing everything he can to act as a political operative for the president and try to help him get re-elected.

I will just say one last thing about John Durham. I worked with both him and (INAUDIBLE). I don't recognize the John Durham I have seen throughout this probe, and I hope that he takes a signal from what Nora Dannehy did today.

This report is nothing without his name on it. A report from Bill Barr has no credibility. I hope he sees what Nora Dannehy did, realizes his reputation is on the line and won't put his name on something as political as what Bill Barr wants to do.

VELSHI: Thank you to both of you for giving us some clarity on this topoic. Joyce Vance and Matt Miller, we appreciate it.

Coming up, the west is literally on fire. Washington Governor Jay Inslee says we need to stop calling them wildfires and start calling them climate fires because it is climate change that is creating the tinderbox conditions that allowed these fires to be started and to spread.

Tom Steyer says we're already living the climate catastrophe. He joins me after the break.


VELSHI: As of tonight, wildfires raging across the West have burned over four million acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington. At least 26 people have been killed as a result of the wildfires in these states. Entire towns have been wiped off the map. Thousands of people have been displaced in forced evacuations while we are still in a pandemic.

Remember what Vin Gupta says. Your exposure to smoke makes you more prone to getting ill because of coronavirus. Massive clouds of hazy smoke have darkened the skies to an eerie orange glow over much of the West Coast's sky this week.

Governors of the hardest hit states are sounding the alarm. These fires are rampant. They are not random. They are the new normal unless we act soon.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): You know why the grass becomes drier and the heat goes up and even wind goes up. And that's because our climate is changing.

So we have to take reasonable approaches to deal with that. And you know, when I try to think about this, we talk about this as a wild fire. I think we have to start thinking they're more climate fires. They're climate fires because that's what creates the conditions that makes them so explosive.


VELSHI: Here's California's Governor Gavin Newsom talking to NBC News today.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): There is a sustainable problem. And that is climate change. It is a climate emergency. This is what everyone predicted. This is what all the experts have been saying for decades. Climate change is here. It's real. It's omnipresent. What more evidence do you need. If you don't believe in climate change, come to the state of California. If you don't believe in climate change, walk in our shoes.


VELSHI: Joining me now former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer. He's the president and founder of NextGen America, a progressive advocacy non-profit and political action committee.

And of course, before you knew him as a presidential candidate. If you knew Tom Steyer, you knew that this was his topic. This is the thing that he feels so strongly about.

Tom Steyer, I mean the president said the other day, and I don't want to run the sound of him saying so, but he talked about you have to rake the forest. There's too many leaves and they're very flammable and that's why we get climate fires.

How do you deal with this nonsense?

TOM STEYER, NEXTGEN AMERICA: Look, I don't think there is any question but you have to ignore that kind of ignorant comment from the president. We're in a situation which is grim, which is expected, but which is causing historic damage and there is absolutely no question that these fires are related to the record setting heat in the west coast this summer.

So, in fact, we need bold action. We need to take into account that this was predicted as Governor Newsom said and we have to do the kind of progressive and aggressive program that honestly Joe Biden has proposed as part of his campaign.

And we have to change the leadership of this country so that we can actually address a known quantity, a dangerous problem that threatens the health and safety of every single American citizen.

VELSHI: Last October, you and I sat down at Georgetown University, all the presidential candidates sat down to talk about this. And everybody agreed that this is that serious. Every summer we sit and have this conversation. Every summer when I cover hurricanes, we sit and have this conversation of how it's warmer water and they're getting more powerful. We can't wait 20 or 30 years to get this done.

Are you confident in this environment we're in, in this highly politicized environment that we're in that a president can penetrate this and start really setting an agenda to fix climate now?

STEYER: Ali, we're going to have to have a generational change at the ballot box. We absolutely need to elect a president like Joe Biden who deeply understands this problem and knows what has to happen, but he can't do it alone.

It is absolutely clear that we need to bring him senatorial support, House of Representatives support so that we can get the kind of comprehensive plan that the Biden campaign has.

But it's much more than that, Ali. 85 percent of the CO2 of the carbon pollution around the world comes from outside the United States. We need a president who can have a comprehensive plan here, who can lead the world and who knows that we can do this, that we can be better employed if we do this, that it will create literally millions of good paying middle class jobs and that it will increase the health particularly in underserved black and brown communities.

This is something that we can solve and solving deals with a lot of our issues comprehensively.


VELSHI: You talked about generational change. You know because when you have talked about this that you're always surrounded by young people. They have led the charge on this. They've changed so many minds on this thing.

But many of them are frustrated. They think that a whole bunch of people running for office today do not treat this as one of, if not the most important existential issues for us. And as a result, a number of them have said nobody really carries this flag, so I'm not that interested.

What do you tell young people who think that we are not prioritizing, we meaning not so young people are not prioritizing this matter so they get disengaged with the political process?

STEYER: Well, Ali, as you know, I started the largest youth voter mobilization effort eight years ago in American history. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that those young people understand this problem and care about it desperately. And I think we're going to see them show up in record numbers at the ballot box this November and change our democracy.

And I'll say this. When people say to me and hundreds of thousands of people have said to NextGen, the reason I don't vote is I don't believe in the system. To us, that's the start of a conversation where we say to them, if you show up, if the largest generation in American history shows up in force, you change everything. You take the power to your own hands.

And look Ali, just ten days ago in Massachusetts, Ed Markey, a true climate champion came back against all odds because young people showed up for him in record numbers. They led the argument. They led the numbers -- more than two to three times as many people voted in that primary as normal.

It was absolutely incredible. And I think that's the harbinger of what happens this November. Young voters show up force largely around climate, and they sweep in a new group of transformational leaders.

VELSHI: Because it really is existential.

Tom, thanks for the work that you continue to put into this. Tom Steyer, former presidential candidate. He's the president and founder of NextGen America.

Coming up, it is hard to be shocked in 2020, but what Donald Trump reportedly told Bob Woodward about what makes him happy is truly jaw-dropping. We'll have that next.


VELSHI: There is another stunning revelation in Bob Woodward's new book. "Business Inside" reports that in a conversation with Bob Woodward on January the 20th, Donald Trump bragged about protecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, after the premeditated torture, assassination and dismemberment of a Saudi critic and an American-based journalist -- this man, Jamal Khashoggi. Quote, "I saved his" -- word that's like butt -- Trump had said amid the U.S. outcry following Khashoggi's murder, the book says. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop. He will always say that he didn't do it." Trump of MBS. Quote, "He says that to everybody and frankly, I'm happy he says that."

Well, the Congress is not leaving it alone. Today the House Intelligence Committee heard from the United Nations' investigator into the Khashoggi murder who listed the crime that Donald Trump says he is happy to help cover up.


DR. AGNES CALLAMARD, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS: An extrajudicial killing, an enforced disappearance, an act of torture, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a violation of the U.N. charter, an act inconsistent with the core tent of the United Nations, a wrongful act against Turkey, a wrongful act against the United States since Mr. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and a wrongful act against the entire commercial (ph) community.


VELSHI: Joining us now, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times" and co-author of the book "Tightrope". Nicholas, you had known Jamal Khashoggi. You had been writing about this at the time. You and I talked about it a lot.

On some level, some of the things that Donald Trump said to Bob Woodward don't surprise us. This one made me sick all over again.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This outrage is made, but it also just breaks my heart. You know, here you have a foreign leader who presided, who sent a hit team to preside over the kidnapping, torture, murder and dismemberment of a "Washington Post" columnist who was a permanent resident of the United States who then lied about it, who didn't return Jamal's body to his family and still hasn't. And then our president boasts about having defended the person who ordered that torture, murder and dismemberment.

You know, I just don't know what to add. But I also -- you know, I also think that Jamal -- I mean, Jamal cared deeply about human rights. And he would also know that, well he is dead, that MBS is also presiding over a brutal war in Yemen that has left millions of children on the brink of starvation and over the imprisonment of among others, a Nobel Peace prize nominee Loujain Alhathloul (ph) for defending -- for defending women's rights in Saudi Arabia. It is too late to save Jamal's life. It is not too late to safe Loujain.

VELSHI: So there's Jamal's issue. There's Mohammed bin Salman and then there is Donald Trump. Here is what Michael Cohen, his former fixer, told Rachel Maddow on Tuesday.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He wants to be an autocrat. He wants to be the president of this country for life. He wants to be just like Putin. Just like Kim Jong-Un. Just like Maduro. He wants to be just like Mohammed bin Salman.


VELSHI: Wants to be just like Mohammed bin Salman. I wonder what a brag like that gets you. I don't know why he even told Bob Woodward that. But I don't know who is supposed to be impressed by the idea that he said I covered MBS' ass. What does that get Donald Trump? What does that tell us about Donald Trump?

KRISTOF: You know, I think that he is trying to boast to Bob Woodward his -- you know, his power, that he can defeat Congress. That he can -- that he is the one who matters in foreign policy.

But I will just remind the Saudis, if they're watching, that there may well be a change of government and the Saudis have burned their bridges with Democrats and with Americans as a whole when they murder a "Washington Post" columnist, when they hold a mock trial, when they brutalize Yemen and when they imprison and abuse a Nobel Peace prize nominee.

So you know, to some degree, Trump is right. He did help. He did help MBS.


KRISTOF: But that time may be coming to an end pretty shortly.

VELSHI: Something you wrote in 2018 is a green light to him, meaning MBS, and any other autocrat who wants to make a troublesome journalist disappear. Journalists and democracy activists all over the world will have targets on their backs.

Nick, thank you for joining us, as always. Nick Kristof.

Coming up, a deep dive into battleground Florida. Polls show Joe Biden leading but can we believe the polls? Steve Schale helped Barack Obama win that state. Next -- twice and he's going to join us, next.


VELSHI: Tonight's last word is about polls, but I want to start with a quick bit of self-promotion. Every weekend from now until the election, I will be traveling across America visiting battleground states to talk to voters and local leaders, try and get as accurate a picture as I can of what people in those states are thinking because I want to learn from people who live there and vote how they feel about the news, about what is driving their voting decisions. You can watch me do that every Sunday and Monday from now right until the day before the election.

But tonight, we're going inside the polls of battleground Florida. Here are three recent polls of Florida voters taken in the last two weeks, ranging from a tie to a three-point lead for Joe Biden.

One important note before we start. Florida starts sending out absentee ballots on September 24th. All registered Florida voters can vote by mail and early voting in person starts in some Florida counties on October 19th.

Joining us now, Steve Schale. He was the Florida state director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. He was the Florida senior adviser to Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

Steve, good to see you. How do you assess this because I do not know enough to be able to make sense of Florida polls? What do they tell you right now?

STEVE SCHALE, STRATEGIST: Well, I think (INAUDIBLE) it's just going to be a close. Here's a kind of a crazy stat. You take all the people that have voted for president in Florida since 1992 when it became a battleground state. It's like 51 million ballots. And if you add up all the Republicans and all the Democrats, it's like 20,000 votes separating the two parties.

And so this thing is just kind of -- the state is built for close elections. We've had seven -- there's seven elections in the last ten years that have been inside of a point statewide.

So, you know, I think Joe Biden has a little bit of an advantage right now. As I said publicly, I think he's in better shape in the state today than we were at this point in either '08 or '12. But that right there is a good example that you can't count on anything.

I think at this point the McCain folks probably felt they had Florida pretty much in the bag too.

VELSHI: How do you compare demographic and political advantage versus logistical advantage, particularly in a race like this where some people are going to vote in person, some people are going to vote by mail.

Florida is better than a lot of places in terms of vote by mail. I mean the rest of us have such nightmares when you think about Florida and presidential voting. But in fact, this mail-in balloting has become something that Florida's good at.

SCHALE: Yes, about five million Floridians are going to get a ballot in just about 10 or 11 days. And so, I mean this election is pretty much right upon us. And among that, certainly Democrats -- 800,000 Democrats that have never voted by mail that are going to get a ballot.

So it's going to be kind of a new thing for a lot of folks. Probably going to have upwards of 10 million folks vote, maybe as many as 7.5 million vote before the election between absentee and in person.

You know, the challenging thing just from a campaign standpoint is, you know, want your story to be an arc. Hopefully sort of the conclusion of your story is when people vote. But now people vote in the second and third chapter of the book.

So, I mean it's incumbent for campaigns to be out there on TV, making calls, because again it's a close (ph) vote really at any point over the next 40 days.

VELSHI: So when you're looking at the polls -- and I get your point that you're smart enough not to make a prediction on this show because you know how strange things are in Florida when it comes to what actually happens on election night. What are the trends that you're looking for right now? If those poll numbers -- if Biden starts to break away by, you know, two more percent on the average poll, is that going to make you think that Biden is in better shape? Or is that just not the way you think about Florida election results?

SCHALE: Yes, I think this is just a dogfight to the end. I mean, you know, even in 2008 when it looked like we were in pretty good shape, you know, for most of the last four or five weeks, I mean we saw some poll numbers the last week or so that kind of made us all a little anxious.

And so, I think it's going to be closed all the way to the end. I mean, you know, if you're Joe Biden, the thing right now that you really like is, you know, in most of these polls, he's getting in the low 40s among white voters. That's because of white seniors and suburban white women particularly driving higher support than Hillary Clinton got. Hillary Clinton in the exit won 32 percent of the white vote.

Now at the same he's not doing as well with Hispanic voters. Now he's not doing his-- you know, he's doing kind of what we did in '08. It's not like he's doing poorly, not as well as Hillary Clinton.

So, I think if you begin see the Hispanic number get better for him and the white number stays where it is, there really isn't much path for Donald Trump honestly.

VELSHI: How does one do that in Florida, particularly in coronavirus? How does one increase their standing with any given demographic right now? Is it issue-driven, or is it something else?

SCHALE: Well, I mean it's just -- you know, it's just kind of a volume of things. I mean, you know, for example, right now he's probably not doing as well with non-Cuban Hispanics as he should be. I think the campaign has really ramped up what they're doing on TV.

I think sending Senator Harris down to Miami was a brilliant move. In my organization, the country has gone up with a bunch of digital in south Florida to help with that. You know, the campaign -- I can tell you I'm in a pretty swing precinct. I get about three texts a week from the organizer for my community.

So, I think they're trying to do the best they can, you know, to talk to voters without sort of going door to door and risking issues with the virus. And again, it's just -- it's going to be noise and for a lot of these voters, it's going to be kind of hand to hand combat all the way to the end.

VELSHI: Steve, for those of us watching it on election night, quick answer. Is Florida going to do what Florida always does, meaning is it going to decide who the president is?

SCHALE: Well, the last republican to go to the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge, so I feel pretty good if we get to a win. And I think the good news about Florida as we talked about the last time, we're going to know by 8:00 -- 8:30 kind of where this thing is headed. And I do believe if Joe Biden wins Florida and you know, we know at a relatively early hour, folks can go to bed knowing who the next president is going to be, and it's not going to be Donald Trump.

VELSHI: I'm making sure we just recorded what you just said, and one way or the other that's going to come back to you, good or bad.

SCHALE: I'm sure.

VELSHI: Steve, good to see you as always. Thank you, my friend. Steve Schale joining us tonight.

All right. That's tonight's LAST WORD.

I'm going to see you tomorrow morning starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. As I said we'll be coming to you live from battleground Minnesota this Sunday. You don't want to miss that.

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again.


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