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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, September 28, 2020

Guests: Kamala Harris, Daniel Goldman, Walter Schaub


Interview with the Democratic Party's candidate for vice president of the United States, Senator Kamala Harris of California.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Rachel. I don't see how it can be ten years since I'm only five years older since when I started the show, so I don't get it. It can't be.

Rachel --

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": You're getting younger all the time.

O'DONNELL: I want to say thank you. I want to say a thank you to Greg Kordick who was the executive producer on this show on the very first night that it started ten years ago and still is. And the beloved Greg has put together a fantastic staff that has made this show possible. I wouldn't be here without them.

And, this is very important, for a variety of reasons that we will not get into at the moment, I know that I would not be here, I would not be here tonight if you were not introducing this show every night for the last ten years and so for that, Rachel, a very big thank you.

MADDOW: That's crazy talk, but I'm going to take the thank you anyway because this has to be over now and I'm getting embarrassed and it is your anniversary.

O'DONNELL: Me too.

MADDOW: Take it and run with it. Have Kamala Harris. You go, you go, you go.

O'DONNELL: Me too. I'm wicked embarrassed. Thank you, Rachel. Okay.

Well, now we know, of course, we kind of all officially knew, but now we know why Donald Trump became the first presidential candidate since 1970s who refused to release his tax returns. Those tax returns would have shown that the Republican candidate for president in 2016 was paying zero, zero federal income taxes.

Thanks to yesterday's investigative reporting by "The New York Times" that appears on the front page of today's print edition of "The Times", we now know that Donald Trump usually pays zero in federal income taxes, but since he has become president, he has decided to suddenly pay $750 per year in federal income taxes. And what "The New York Times" calls the art of the write-off, Donald Trump avoids paying income taxes because of his claim that his -- and his tax returns that he is a loser, a huge loser.

In fact, some of the Trump tax data revealed by "The New York Times" shows Donald Trump losing more money than any other taxpayer in history at that time. The losses that he has used, that he has declared shield him from tax liabilities. And, so, this is going to become of particular interest to prosecutors, especially New York City prosecutors who are already well on their way to obtaining the Trump tax returns.

It is very, very unlikely that there will be a federal criminal investigation of the contents of the tax returns and the underlying documentation because Donald Trump controls the IRS and he controls the Justice Department. But once they are swept out of office and Joe Biden's appointees take over on January 20th, it will be probably too late for a federal investigation because Donald Trump will not leave the presidency without a pardon even if he has to pardon himself.

But a presidential pardon only covers federal offenses, so that could leave the criminal investigation of Donald Trump's tax returns entirely up to the state of New York where the Manhattan District attorney is well on his way to obtaining those Trump tax returns having won round one in the United States Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision that the new Trump nominee for the Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett will not be able to reverse.

We will get a prosecutor's view of Donald Trump's tax returns later in this hour, when Daniel Goldman joins us. He's a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, and he served as a special counsel to the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment of Donald Trump. Our first guest tonight is a former prosecutor, Senator Kamala Harris, now the Democratic Party's candidate for vice president of the United States.

And every day now, Donald Trump wakes up to a new poll showing the Biden-Harris ticket crushing Donald Trump's re-election campaign. The latest poll shows Biden-Harris two points ahead of Trump-Pence among likely voters, 55-44. The latest "New York Times" poll shows Biden-Harris up eight points among likely voters, 49-41. New polling in some battleground states show similar leads of 8 to 10 points, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and now undecided voters know that they pay more federal income taxes than Donald Trump does.

Donald Trump sees the same polls that we do and he knows that he's losing. That's why Donald Trump was talking about getting rid of the ballots last week. That's why Donald Trump said he needs a ninth justice on the Supreme Court, so that she can decide the election cases that he promises to bring in the Supreme Court.

Donald Trump has essentially publicly said that he's counting on Amy Coney Barrett to get rid of the ballots when Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court to do that in cases that the president is promising to bring in the hope that the majority Republican Supreme Court will once again award the presidency to the Republican candidate for president.

I asked senator Kamala Harris about that in an interview earlier today. But we began with a discussion of the president's tax returns.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now is the Democratic Party's candidate for vice president of the United States, Senator Kamala Harris.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Great to be with you, Lawrence, and happy tenth anniversary. That's exciting.

O'DONNELL: Oh, boy.

You know, you were on this program ten years ago when you were San Francisco district attorney. You have really moved up in this world.

HARRIS: Yes, I was.

O'DONNELL: And I'm still sitting here. So, one of us is doing something right.


HARRIS: You have been just consistent and great.

O'DONNELL: Senator, I want to begin with the breaking news of yesterday, which remains the stunning news of today. And I just want to -- I just want to hear where you were, what was the first thing you have thought or said when you got the news yesterday that the president of the United States pays $750 in federal income tax and before he was president, he paid zero?

HARRIS: The first thing I said, I said, did you say $750.00? Did you say -- I couldn't believe it. I honestly couldn't believe it.

I -- literally I thought that someone left out the three zeros, you know, after a comma. I honestly couldn't believe it. I really couldn't.

It's -- you know, Lawrence, I mean, here's the thing, like not only is it shocking, really shocking, truly shocking, but it's so unfair. And I guess that's really how I feel mostly about it. It's just not right.

I mean, you've got teachers. You've got firefighters. You've got, you know, front line workers. You've got people who are doing God's work to protect and lift us up paying more in taxes than the self-processed billionaire?

It's inexcusable and it's just completely patently unfair.

O'DONNELL: You've said in your speech today that you understand that sometimes it feels like it's just too much, and you meant too much negative news coming from the Trump administration and from what Donald Trump is trying to do.

Do you think the Trump strategy is to create so much that something like this comes along and it just becomes part of what is too much?

HARRIS: Well, I definitely think that the American people are feeling overwhelmed and tired and, you know, look, let's just -- let's just maybe start and end the conversation with COVID-19.

Let's not be distracted by the latest that we forget what we just learned, you know, a week or two ago because Bob Woodward taped a conversation, which is that the president knew back in January that this virus was contagious, transferred through the air and that it was lethal. And he did nothing to tell the American people of the seriousness of it and now, we're looking at over 200,000 Americans dead in just the last several months and over seven million Americans who have contracted this.

Let's look at the fact that all of that is happening while he's in court trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, that gives protections from people with preexisting conditions.

By the way, those seven million people that contracted the virus and God thank you lived, that's going to be a pre-existing condition for which he may destroy coverage. And all of that on top of the fact that he paid $750 in taxes. I think that it's just more of the same.

And what is the same, the same is giving the people real legitimate reasons to be very clear that he is incompetent and really incapable of being a leader of our nation, especially in a moment of crisis and especially when we need our leaders to have integrity and to reflect the values that, you know, we and in particular working people hold dear.

O'DONNELL: Senator, one of the elements we've discovered in "The New York Times" reporting on the tax returns is that the president has massive debt, hundreds of millions in debt. Now, a range of possibilities with that, one is it could just be tax fraud and he doesn't have that debt, and he's using it to reduce his tax liability.

One of the others that's been speculated about is that that debt could be held by foreign entities, including Russian entities and that could compromise the president.

And as you know from your work in the Senate Intelligence Committee, debt, personal debt, is a very significant issue when considering security clearances.

What is -- what is your reaction to that debt that the president has?

HARRIS: Well, I mean, Lawrence, this is why the American people deserve to have a full accounting of the financial interest, including the indebtedness of the president of the United States. And I do share in that concern. Who does he owe the money to? Tell us. Who do you owe the money to?

And do you owe debt to any foreign nation? You know, do you owe debt, do you owe money -- let's just be clear about what debt means, you owe somebody money. Do you owe anybody money who is impacted by any decision you make as president of the United States? We need to know that.

The American people have a right to know that when the president of the United States acts, he acts with their priorities in mind, not with his priorities in mind. And we have already known that he puts his political priorities in front of the American people. But we are now seeing in a way that is evident -- clearly evident that he also is prepared to put his personal interest ahead of the American people by not disclosing who he owes money to.

And apparently he owes a lot of money, maybe to a lot of people. And we should know.

O'DONNELL: Senator, at a times when it seems like it's Trump versus Harris, not so much Trump versus Biden. Let's listen to the president talking about you on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a woman president some day, but you know what, it can't be Kamala. Kamala.


O'DONNELL: He's -- he's campaigning against you for president now.

HARRIS: Lawrence, listen, he is going to try and create every distraction possible because he is running against Joe Biden who has a plan for dealing with COVID, has a plan for dealing with our economy, has a plan for unifying our country and Donald Trump can't stand it because he knows he has failed on all counts as a supposed leader of our country.

So he's going to try to distract people from the reality, which is that he's going up against Joe Biden who the people, the American people know has the capacity and the desire to lead on behalf of all Americans in a way that brings us together and strengthens our nation.

O'DONNELL: Let's listen what Joe Biden -- I'm sorry, what Donald Trump said about his taxes in a debate four years ago with Hillary Clinton, which might be what he's going to say to Joe Biden tomorrow night. Let's listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only years that anybody has ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax. So, if he paid --

TRUMP: That makes me smart.


O'DONNELL: "That makes me smart" is his defense as stated so far on his tax returns.

If he tries that tomorrow night, what should Joe Biden say?

HARRIS: The American people are smarter. The American people are smarter. And I'll put the IQ of the American people above the IQ of Donald Trump every day of the week.


O'DONNELL: We'll have more of our discussion with Senator Kamala Harris after this break. We discussed what she hopes to establish in the senator confirmation hearings of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee and what she expects from Joe Biden in tomorrow's presidential debate. That's next.


O'DONNELL: In my interview with Senator Kamala Harris earlier today, I asked her about Donald Trump publicly saying that he needs a ninth justice on the Supreme Court to help him win the election.


TRUMP: We need nine justices. You need that. With the unsolicited millions of ballots that they're sending, it's a scam. It's a hoax. Doing it before the election would be a very good thing.



O'DONNELL: So, Senator, to translate that from Trump speak, he's saying, I expect to lose to the -- to the Biden/Harris ticket. I'm going to have to go to court to invalidate millions of ballots cast for Biden/Harris, and I'm going to need those cases to end up in the Supreme Court where my nine justices, including he hopes, Judge Barrett, will rule in his favor. Presumably if he talks that way publicly, wouldn't it be fair to assume he talks that way privately to Judge Barrett?

HARRIS: Regardless of what conversations, public or private, he is having, I do strongly believe and have faith in the American people that they and we will fight for the integrity of our democracy and it includes fighting for free and fair and open elections, fighting for access to the polls for all people, fighting to make sure everyone's vote counts, and I believe through that process, it will be very clear that the American people want and know they can do better than Donald Trump as president of the United States.

O'DONNELL: Will you be participating in the confirmation hearing and what would you hope to accomplish?

HARRIS: I will be. I'm a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I, as all members, I think, take that responsibility very seriously. So I will be participating.

And, you know, there is a lot at stake when we look at the Supreme Court. It is the issue of the Affordable Care Act, and I'm going to be very focused on whether there is going to be a process of reviewing that lawsuit that Donald Trump has brought to get rid of the Affordable Care Act because he tried to get rid of everything Barack Obama created. I'm going to look to see if there is going to be fairness and integrity as applied to the review of that case.

I'm going to be looking at the issue of Roe versus Wade and whether there is going to be an adherence to precedent and an adherence to a woman's right to make decisions about her own body with her family, with her God, with her physician. I'm going to look to see if there is going to be a commitment to the integrity of the law in protecting worker's rights, including the right to collective bargaining, including the right to equal pay for equal work. Those are the kinds of things I'm going to look for.

O'DONNELL: If Judge Barrett is confirmed, should she pledge to refuse herself from cases involving Donald Trump?

HARRIS: Well, I'll -- let's wait to see that. But I think that there is no question that Donald Trump has interfered with branches of government and agencies for which he has no -- he has no right. I think, for example, when you talk about something like this, the United States Department of Justice and how he -- and Bill Barr have, I think, colluded and conspired in many ways to manipulate the United States Department of Justice in the interest of Donald Trump and not the interest of the people of the United States, so we'll see.

O'DONNELL: If Judge Barrett is confirmed and the Democrats have control of the Senate next year and the White House and the House of Representatives, should the Supreme Court be expanded?

HARRIS: You know what, let's -- I think that -- first of all, Joe has been very clear that he is going to pay attention to the fact, and I'm with him on this 1,000 percent, pay attention to the fact that right now, Lawrence, people are voting. They're voting. This is not -- you know, some can debate about election year should a sitting president be allowed or able to nominate someone to the United States Supreme Court for a lifetime appointment.

This is not even an election year. This is like -- we're actually in the election. People started voting. People have been voting. Almost a million Americans have been voted.

People will be voting next week. People will be voting up until Election Day, and they have a right in an election to elect their next president who then will make the decision about who will be the nominee.

And sadly, my Republican colleagues in the Senate are violating, I think, that most important right that the American people have, which is to choose their president, who will choose who will serve for a lifetime on the United States Supreme Court and especially during an election. Not just in an election year, but during an election.

This election is 36 days from today. People have been voting. It's wrong.

O'DONNELL: We all read the extraordinary reporting in "The Atlantic" last week about the army of Republican lawyers who are already targeting cases that they want to bring to invalidate ballots cast in battleground states.

Do the Democrats have an army of lawyers ready to go to fight this?

HARRIS: Well, we are definitely -- we have a lot of support in terms of whatever might be necessary in terms of any illegal process. But more importantly, we've got volunteers. We've got people who are active in making sure that everyone in their family, in their community is registered to vote, to make sure people are voting early, and that is our push right now, because we know that when everyone votes, especially on issues that are most important to them such as health care, we do believe that there is going to be no question that Joe Biden wins this election.

O'DONNELL: If the Supreme Court does repeal the Affordable Care Act in the middle of this pandemic possibly this year, does health care legislation, reinstituting it in effect to the Biden version of that become the first order of business in a Biden/Harris administration?

HARRIS: You know, Lawrence, let's have that conversation after the election. But I just have to -- on the point about where we are today, 36 days before Election Day, we're in the midst of a pandemic. The Affordable Care Act brought health care to over 20 million people who didn't have it. And Donald Trump has got a lawsuit in court right now with Bill Barr trying to get rid of it. It's outrageous.

It really is unbelievable if it weren't happening, that in the midst of a public health pandemic, over seven million people have contracted this virus and probably will have pre-existing conditions for their lifetime. Over 200,000 people have died from it, and he's trying to get rid of what brought coverage to tens of millions of people. And if he wins, tens of millions of people will lose that coverage. He's trying to get rid of protections for people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure and breast cancer and, you know, the effects of COVID, lung scarring, things of that nature. It's outrageous.

So I say all this to say the American people right now have the ability to make a decision about whether or not that happens and it's going to be through their vote. So instead of sitting back and wondering what can happen after the election, let's actually determine the outcome of this subject by voting. And when we vote, we win on so many issues including affordable health care and access to health care without concern for how much money you have in your back pocket.

O'DONNELL: Senator, one question before you go. Joe Biden has a lot of Senate experience, more than most people. He has a lot more Senate experience than you do.

But you have experience on the Senate that he has never experienced. You have tangled with Trump officials, William Barr. You have had to deal with the way they run away from the truth, the way they try to play sleight of hand. You have had to deal with this basically propaganda machine of Trumpism in the Senate in a way that Joe Biden has never had to deal with it.

What would you say to him about tomorrow night in terms of how to deal with the biggest fog machine there has ever existed on a debate stage, Donald Trump?

HARRIS: I think Joe knows what to do. I wouldn't dare tell him. He's been on that debate stage so many times, and he's so good. He's so good.

And I think Joe -- what Joe is going to do is what Joe always does. He's going to speak directly to the American people understanding what their needs are. He's going to talk about facts and he's going to talk about solutions.

And I think that's really what the people deserve, which is to know that anyone who wants their vote has to earn it and they have to earn it in a way with solutions and not scare tactics and not distractions. And so, Joe is going to talk about what the American people I think truly care about but with a lens to what he could fix.

O'DONNELL: Candidate for vice president of the United States, Senator Kamala Harris, thank you once again for joining us once again. We always appreciate it.

HARRIS: Thank you, Lawrence. Thank you. Good to be with you. Thank you, Lawrence.


O'DONNELL: Up next, a prosecutor's perspective on the Donald Trump tax returns. Former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman who served as special counsel to the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment of Donald Trump will join us, along with Walter Shaub, who was the director of the Office of Government Ethics. That's next.



MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY: They testified before the House Oversight Committee in February of 2019.

What I stated was Trump fraudulently (ph) inflated the value of his properties in order to receive favorable terms from lenders only then to underreport their value for tax purposes.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: That was Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer earlier tonight with Joy Reid. Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier today with Andrea Mitchell.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This president appears to have over $400 million in debt or $20 -- whatever it is -- million in debt. To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have?

So for me this is a national security question.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now, two invaluable perspectives on the Trump tax returns. Daniel Goldman is a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. And he served as the majority counsel to the House impeachment inquiry and director of investigations for the House Intelligence Committee.

Also with us Walter Schaub, served 14 years in the U.S. Office of Government Ethics working his way up to the top job of director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in the second term of the Obama administration. He resigned six months into the Trump administration when it became clear that Donald Trump and his administration were not going to follow the ethics standards that were accepted by previous administrations.

Daniel Goldman, let me start with you. As I read this yesterday, I could only imagine a federal prosecutor reading exactly the same article in "The New York Times". What do you see in "The New York Times" reporting so far?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER MAJORITY COUNSEL, HOUSE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY, PROSECUTOR: Well, I think the speaker is exactly right that from a political and national security standpoint there are real questions about what kind of compromise Donald Trump may be under if he requires the income from foreign sources in order to finance these debts even if they are domestic.

But from a criminal standpoint, the thing that's interesting is along the lines of what Michael Cohen said to Joy Reid earlier tonight, it is hard to tell directly from tax returns whether there is any fraud going on.

There certainly may be some tax fraud in here. The consulting fees paid to Ivanka Trump who was a full-time employee of the Trump Organization jump out as one area that I would want to investigate.

But when you compare the representations made on your tax returns under the penalty of perjury two representations you make to a bank in order to get a loan. That is that is where you are really going to find whether or not there is a criminal violation here because if he is truly inflating the value of assets and inflating other, you know, other brand values, et cetera, for himself in order to get loans, which is why he's so highly-levered but then he is undervaluing those or writing off things that he shouldn't be writing off, when you compare the two, that's where I would begin to focus.

O'DONNELL: Walter Schaub, in your experience, trying to guide government officials away from conflicts of interest, "The New York Times" reporting certainly had, as we expected, an awful lot of conflict of interest in there.

WALTER SCHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Yes. I mean, one of the things that they highlighted was some examples of the way that his business debts and his business dealings interacted with other countries. They talked about how the Philippines and Argentinian governments both appointed individuals who had business dealings with Trump, different roles that could interact with the United States.

A Turkish business group canceled an event at the Trump Hotel when international relations with Turkey were going badly and then rescheduled it when he and Erdogan made up.

I think one thing that's important for people to remember is that debts are as much and, in many cases, more of a potential conflict of interest when they're this large. We're not talking about commercial loans for a house or a car or a boat. We're talking about the kind of financing that requires many different players. And when they come due, if you don't have the money, you have to bring in additional players. So Trump remains exposed to a lot of potential conflicts of interest.

O'DONNELL: Daniel Goldman, when I look at the reporting on the losses, these massive Trump losses over the years, it seems like there is two possibilities with that. One is he's lying to the IRS and he actually hasn't sustained all those losses. He's using fake losses to eliminate income tax liability.

And then the other possibility on it is that the question of how are these losses being sustained over time and what other possibly secret and including possibly foreign sources of support are coming in underneath these losses that would otherwise wipe out some other businessman?

GOLDMAN: Well, I'll add a third option to that, Lawrence. He may just be a really, really bad businessman and that he failed in New Jersey when he got an influx of money from his father and that went all to waste. He squandered it all with bad investments, six bankruptcies.

Then he was able to renew himself with "the Apprentice", and "The Times" reports that he made over $400 million from various aspects of "The Apprentice" and his role in that, but that's all been squandered through losses, through bad golf course investments and otherwise.

So, yes, I mean there certainly could be write-offs that are unwarranted and unsupported. I have no doubt based on my experience investigating this president that he pushes the envelope -- at a minimum he pushes the envelope absolutely as far as he can.

The question of whether it is legal or illegal is too hard for us to tell without having the back-up documentation. But you know, buying a golf course in rural Scotland and trying to develop it for you know, with fancy homes, et cetera and pouring all sorts of money into that is not a smart move.

And I think that gets to your point which is if it's so obviously a bad investment and he's so obviously losing so much money from it through normal legal means -- I say legal meaning reported means to the IRS -- what else is going on underneath that we don't know?

Is -- where is the money coming from that's being funneled into his golf courses in Scotland? Is it coming from his own pocket? Is it coming from the Trump organization? Or is it coming from foreigners who are interested in laundering money through some of his properties?

And that's the big question that I think is impossible for us to answer, and it may be very hard even for a federal prosecutor, prosecutors with subpoena power to answer right now.

O'DONNELL: Walter Schaub, we all remembered during the transition and in the early days of the Trump administration you were trying to advise the president on how to clean up his finances basically, to conform to the Office of Government and Ethics guidelines. And that was before you really knew the enormity and the complexity of this.

"The New York Times" is reporting that there is at least 500 different businesses identified under this thing called the Trump Organization. He sets up a new little business for every new little paycheck that he gets.

When you read this unfolding in "The New York Times", that is, I assume, much more than you were ever allowed to see from Donald Trump.

SCHAUB: Yes. I mean, we did have a lot of information showing he was heavily leveraged in his own personal capacity. What we lacked and still lacked was how much his businesses owed. And there is still a great many potential debts that his business may have that we know nothing about.

But one of the things I was concerned about even at the time from having to work with a lot of presidential nominees in particular who are very wealthy is that these kind of large deals come with a lot of financing.

What we're learning now is the depth of his financial problems. That raises a question of maybe the reason he didn't divest was he couldn't. He's locked in by these debts which may make him particularly desperate to solve this problem as so many of these debts are coming due.

And that means we have a president not covered by the conflict of interest law, not governed by any kind of character or principles who is in a position to wield great power to help himself at our expense. And that's frankly a worst case scenario for national security, public health and the economy.

I think one other thing I would like to point out is, as Daniel mentioned you want to compare different forms. If we look at his financial disclosure report, he reported making $434 million in a year that he told the IRS he lost $47 million. That discrepancy is an enormous problem that I think he owes the American people an answer as to how his financial disclosure form could be so different than his tax form.

O'DONNELL: Daniel Goldman, Walter Schaub -- thank you very much for your invaluable perspectives on this important story tonight. Really appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Lawrence. And congratulations.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

Up next, 24 hours from now we'll be talking about what we just saw in the first Biden versus Trump debate. Joe Biden is going into the debate with double digit leads in some battleground states and that's before the voters in those states knew that Donald Trump pays less income taxes than they do. We'll take a look at the polls and the debate coming up.


O'DONNELL: And tomorrow night's debate it is on Donald Trump. A "New York Times" poll shows Joe Biden with a 9-point lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania among likely voters. Joe Biden at 49, Donald Trump at 40. A new NBC News poll of likely voters in Michigan shows Joe Biden with an 8-point lead over Donald Trump at 52-44. And an NBC News poll of likely voters in Wisconsin shows Joe Biden with a decisive 10-point lead 54 to 44. Joe Biden told Stephanie Ruhle what he's expecting in tomorrow night's debate.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he's failed and why I think the answers I have to perceive will help the American people and the American economy and make it safe internationally.

It is going to be difficult, I know. I mean my guess is it is going to be just straight attack. They're going to be mostly personal. That's the only thing he knows how to do. He doesn't know how to debate the facts. He's not that smart.

He doesn't know that many facts. He doesn't know much about foreign policy. He doesn't know much about domestic policy. He doesn't know much about the detail.


O'DONNELL: Speaking about not that smart, yesterday Donald Trump was asked how he is preparing for the debate.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think prepare every day. I think, you know, when you're president, you sort of see everything that they're going to be asking and they may disagree with you, but we have done a great job.


O'DONNELL: In other words, he's not preparing at all, which is the same way he has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which will be central in tomorrow night's debate.

As of tonight, the United States has suffered 206,194 reported deaths from coronavirus. The worldwide death toll total has now crossed one million at 1,000,555.

And as of tonight, the United States has reported 7,176,925 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Today "The New York Times" is reporting, quote, "Top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer to downplay the risk of sending children back to school. The effort included Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator and officials working for Vice President Mike Pence who led the task force. It left officials at the CDC alarmed at the degree of pressure from the White House.

Today Dr. Anthony Fauci said this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: There are states that are starting to show uptick in cases, and even some increase in hospitalizations in some states. And I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths.


O'DONNELL: After this break, Zerlina Maxwell will join us with a look at tomorrow night --



BIDEN: Look, the people know the president's a liar. I mean they know that. It's not like it's a -- it's going to come as a surprise. So he can do what he wants. I think he'll -- like you said, it will be mostly, you know, personal attacks and lies, but I think the American people are on to him.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Zerlina Maxwell, senior director of progressive programming at Sirius XM Radio and an MSNBC political analyst.

Zerlina, 24 hours from now we'll be talking about how that whole thing went, that first debate. Joe Biden is preparing. Donald Trump, it sounds like, is doing no preparation at all.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No. He was basically leaving his golf course over the weekend, and they were asking him how he was going to prepare for the debate. And he said, you know, it's what I do every day as president.

And so I think we've been witnessing what he does every day as president with a lot of television-watching and, you know, presidential time in the administrative office building and in the residence but not necessarily in the Oval Office doing the work for the American people.

And I think that one of the things that Joe Biden needs to focus on tomorrow is that contrast that we've all been talking about. The daily chaos that we see every day from the president and this administration and also the alternative option, which is a competent administration that is going to sufficiently handle the very, very raging pandemic that we're in the middle of and that we need testing and we need tracing and we need all of the PPE to head into the fall. And Donald Trump's not doing any of that.

He's playing golf every weekend. Somehow he still finds the time. It must be nice.

O'DONNELL: Before "The New York Times" delivered its print edition of its front-page story, the Biden campaign had an ad out last night about "The New York Times" reporting that Donald Trump has paid zero income taxes most years and $750 for his two years of tax returns as president. Let's take a look at that ad.


O'DONNELL: Zerlina, we might be hearing some of those numbers tomorrow night from Joe Biden.

MAXWELL: Absolutely because those are the people that are on the front lines of this pandemic, getting up and risking their lives every day. The Congress has not given those folks hazard pay to make sure that if they are afraid of going to work or if they are actually sick after going to work during this pandemic, that they have the support they need for their families.

And so I think Joe Biden can speak to why this tax issue should matter. I mean it really goes to the core of the brand that Donald Trump sold the American people in order to become the president. We now know that was based on a lie.

Now, those of us who worked for Hillary Clinton, we were trying to make the case for that in 2016. But I think that now that there is the actual documentation that Donald Trump has been trying to hide for over four years, we are now seeing potentially some of the reasons why he wanted to keep this a secret from the American voter. And I think that Joe Biden will be smart to hone in on that but also lay out his vision for the future, which I hope means listening to scientists and implementing a COVID policy that saves lives instead of talking about herd mentality while people are dying every single minute.

O'DONNELL: And we have the reporting tonight breaking in "The New York Times" tonight that the CDC was basically corrupted by Deborah Birx and others in the Trump administration trying to get them to downplay the dangers to young people, to children, as parents were deciding about having kids go back to school.

That is news that we didn't have yesterday. That's going to be something Donald Trump's going to have to answer for tomorrow night.

MAXWELL: Absolutely. As I've said before, I'm quarantined with a biology professor, and so one of the things that I've been talking to my dad about is if I was of school age, would he send me? And he was like, absolutely not.

There was also a report where dozens of epidemiologists were interviewed and asked the same question. And I think it's incredibly concerning as a citizen, relying on the government to give me scientifically accurate information to keep myself and my family safe, that they would manipulate the science in order to send kids back to school with deadly -- potentially deadly consequences for those children and their parents and all of the administrators that make school possible.

So I think that Donald Trump has exposed that he doesn't care about anybody but himself in this moment. He's talking about herd mentality when it's called herd immunity. He can't listen to even get the terminology correct.

So how could the voter have the trust and faith in Donald Trump that he will get the plan to keep us safe correct if he hasn't demonstrated that he can listen?

O'DONNELL: Zerlina Maxwell gets tonight's LAST WORD. Thank you once again, Zerlina. Always appreciate having you on.

MAXWELL: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: That is tonight's LAST WORD.



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