IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 1, 2020

Guest: Donald McNeil


"The New York Times" has reported that President Trump has discussed with advisers pardons for his three eldest children and Rudolph Giuliani. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Two thousand four hundred sixty-three I believe American deaths recorded today. They didn't die today. They were recorded today. And there are more in the way and it's fathomable.

Alexis Madrigal, thank you.

That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

We are following a number of developing stories tonight, including one story derived from these court documents that were just unsealed in federal court in Washington, D.C. tonight. And I will tell you in advance, I will tell you right up front that the story that is derived from these newly unsealed documents, the story itself is still sort of shielded in a love lot of mystery tonight in part because these documents that were just released are still almost totally redacted, right? All those black bars on the pages really brings back memories.

This, for me, forever is going to be the sense memory of the Donald J. Trump administration. Redacted, redacted, redacted.

What this is, is a 20-page long order from the top judge in the federal court in D.C., chief Judge Beryl Howell. Judge Howell issued this order in late August. She only made it public today. And I say she made it public. As I show you, a whole bunch of it is still blacked out.

But what we can see in the bits that aren't blacked out is sort of show stopping. What this document reveals is that federal prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice have been actively investigating what the judge describes here as a, quote, bribery-for-pardon scheme, a, quote, secret lobbying scheme and bribery conspiracy, by which some people were suspected of arranging bribes to the president in the form of, quote, substantial political contributions, though substantial political contributions would be the bribe, the official act they wanted from the president in return for that bribe was allegedly, quote, a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence for person whose name is blocked out.

So, this document unsealed today, although still heavily redacted, what it shows, technically, what this sort of the work of the court that is revealed of this document is that Judge Howell approved a request from these federal prosecutors back in August when the prosecutors were asking to look at stuff that had been seized under a search warrant as part of this investigation. Some office was raided this past summer. And from that office, what was seized were apparently more than 50 electronic devices, computer drives, laptops, iPads, iPhones, thumb drives. They were all seized as part of this criminal investigation as to whether Trump presidential pardons were for sale in exchange for cash contributions.

The judge, looking at that evidence, looking at the circumstance under which the evidence was collected ruled in this order that we can see today that those materials seized under that search warrant could be handed over to prosecutors to help them build their case. That's what this order is. And -- and -- that's all we know.

This order was unsealed today, still with lots of redactions, by order of the judge who allowed prosecutors to see that material that was seized as part of that investigation. We don't know of anybody being charged in this case. We haven't seen anything that looks like public charges brought against anybody in a case like this, although sometimes in some cases for some amount of time, charges like this might be kept under seal until the person is actually brought to court to face these charges.

We also don't know who the person is they were allegedly trying to buy a Trump pardon for. We don't know about any level of potential involvement by the White House here, other than the fact they were apparently being targeted by this scheme. But behold, this exists, and at least as late as this summer, a Trump pardon bribery scheme was under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. We're going to get updated reporting on that over the course of the hour tonight.

But I have to tell you this strange and largely unexplained development arrived tonight on top of just an ongoing avalanche of other news and potential pardons, including late breaking news tonight that the president may be seeking to pardon Jared, Ivanka, Don, Jr., Eric, and Rudy Giuliani.

Also news about the Justice Department and some unexpected hurly-burly around the relationship of the Justice Department and the president. At the time the increasingly unhinged craziness around the president, at his point of him continuing to deny the fact that he lost his re-election, his re-election effort, that continues to escalate to almost unimaginable levels.

One of the president's lawyers, although is she is still? They kind of tried to disown her this weekend, so I don't know if she's still one of his lawyers. He tweets about her like she's still his lawyer. I don't know.

She put out a statement -- she promoted a statement last night that called on the president to block the Electoral College from convening. She called on the president to declare an insurrection in the country so he could put the U.S. military in the streets. She called on him to call off the Biden inauguration for January 20th. And she called on him to install a military commission to investigate the election.

The statement also called on President Trump to eliminate, to call off, to at least suspend the two U.S. Senate elections in Georgia next month. Okay. Sure, seems legit, right? Why not? Go ahead with all those things.

I mean, whether or not you are interested in the increasingly insane online musings of one of the president's disowned lawyers, you should know the president did today, after she posted that, the president did today publicly call for the two Senate elections in Georgia next month to be called off. He's going along with that part of it. The president today saying Georgia's governor should call those Senate elections off.

You should know the lawsuit the Trump folks have filed in Georgia includes an affidavit including a fraud fantasy about the Georgia election submitted by the guy who is called 8kun which used to be 8chan, which is the message board that's now hosted in Russia, which carries all the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy stuff. His affidavit is included in the Trump lawsuit in Georgia.

He's the same guy who started a new conspiracy theory today attacking a specific young election worker in Georgia. That led to the pro-Trump QAnon people posting that guy's full name and address and chasing down his family and threatening to kill them. Nice work if you can get it. Nice people, right? Quite an elite strike force team they've got going there working on behalf of the president of the United States.

That all led to this today from Republican Gabriel Sterling. He's the voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia secretary of state's office.


GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA VOTING SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER: I'm going to do my best to keep it together because it has all gone too far. All of it.

Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, this patriot who ran CISA, to be shot. A 20-something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an EMS to a county computer so he could read it.

It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and take a position of leadership, show some.

My boss, Secretary Raffensperger, his address is out there. They've had people doing caravans in front of their house. They've had people come on to their property.

Trisha, his wife of 40 years, is getting sexualized threats through her cell phone.

It has to stop.

This is election. This is the backbone of democracy and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It's too much.

Yes, fight for every legal vote. Go through your due process. We encourage you, use your First Amendment, that's fine. Death threats, physical threats, intimidation, it's too much. It's not right.

They have lost the moral high ground to claim that it is. I don't have all the best words to do this because I'm angry.

And the straw that broke the camel's back today is again this 20-year-old contractor for a voting system company just trying to do his job.

His family's getting harassed now. There's a noose out there with his name on it. It's not right.

I've got police protection outside my house. Fine. You know, I took a higher profile job. I get it. Secretary ran for office. His wife knew that too.

This kid took a job. He just took a job. And it's just wrong.

I can't begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this. And every American, every Georgian, Republican and Democrat alike should have that same level of anger.

Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We're investigating. There's always a possibility. I get it. You have the rights to go through the courts.

What you don't have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going you get to get killed, and it's not right.

I -- it's not right. I don't have anything scripted. This is -- like I said, I'm doing my best to keep it together. All this is wrong.


MADDOW: All this is wrong. That is the cold hard fury of Gabriel Sterling, one of the top elections officials, basically the top operations official for the election system in the state of Georgia. After he made those remarks, a reporter asked him to clarify what he meant when he said at the outset of his remarks, senators, you haven't condemned these languages. And he clarified he meant Republican U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. They are the two incumbent senators running in those runoff elections to try to hold on to their seats in January. The elections the president now says should be called off.


REPORTER: When you talk about asking the president and senators to speak out, you're talking about senators, right?

STERLING: I'm talking about Senator David Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler, two people I still support in the election, but they need to step up in this particular thing. And that's me speaking as a Republican out of office, because I'm -- probably step out of line but I'm kind of pissed.


MADDOW: I'm kind of pissed he says. They need to step up on this particular thing. That was the state of Georgia today.

You know, the president and the Republican Party and the president's lawyers, is Giuliani really getting $20,000 a day? It's reported that's what he's asked for. That's what he's getting, 20 grand a day? I don't know if that's what Giuliani is getting.

But financially as a group, they are cleaning up with this act, $170 million they have raised with this act just since the election. Now, I know large numbers sometimes all sound comparable, but if you want to put that $170 million in context, it means that Trump and these folks have found a way to use these conspiracy theories about the election to raise money at a way faster clip right now than they were raising money before the election. Think about that.

It turns out they have figured out how to shake more money out of their supporters by losing the election and inventing scare stories about it than they were able to squeeze out of them than just by trying to win the election outright in advance, over $170 million. That's beyond Trump's wildest dreams in terms of how much he can still get out of people. And where's that money going?

It's not hard to figure out. It's there in the fine print. It turns out that a big chunk of that money is going to the Republican Party. So, this will now be the financial DNA of the Republican Party moving forward. It's also true that a small portion of this money may be going to these space alien conspiracy theory lawsuits that they're filing around the country still.

But the vast bulk of it is what's called a leadership PAC for Trump himself. And a leadership PAC in this instance is basically a slush fund for the president himself that he can use to pay not just for political activity. He can use it to pay for his lifestyle. He can use it to pay for everything up to and including his personal expenses like food and travel and rent and haircuts and make up, very wide pants and very long ties.

I mean, he -- he can even just take the money for himself as income. He can just pay himself from this $170 million slush fund that he is building off of these conspiracy theories and crazy whack job lawsuits. Nice work if you can get it, right?

I'll tell you though, the whack job lawsuits are not going great. They appear to be devolving over time. There's this new Wisconsin one from the Trump lawyers that includes demand that Trump's lawyers should be given video footage of the vote counting at the TCF Center.

The TCF Center is in Detroit. Detroit is a nice place, but it is not in Wisconsin. Detroit is in Michigan, and this is supposed to be a Wisconsin lawsuit.

That Wisconsin lawsuit also cites as a named plaintiff in the case a Republican congressional candidate who lost his race this year and who had no idea until today that they were going to use his name as the plaintiff in the case. He now wants them to stop.

Quote, I learned through social media today that my name was included in a lawsuit without my permission, said losing Republican congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden. Quote: To be clear, I am not involved in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the election in Wisconsin.

But they're using his name anyway. And they're trying to make Detroit, a city in Wisconsin, whatever works, whatever works to ring more money out of all the suckers.

Attorney General William Barr gave an interview to "The Associated Press" today in which he said this, quote, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election. That's the same kind of proclamation about the election not being rigged but got the cyber security director at Homeland Security, Chris Krebs, fired in a tweet from the president.

That quickly led to another one of the president's charming lawyers on right wing Boston talk radio yesterday that Chris Krebs should be assassinated for having said that the election was not marred by fraud. The president's lawyer said on talk radio yesterday that Chris Krebs should be shot. He should be murdered.

Krebs told "The Today" show this morning that the president's lawyer who said that should have to answer for that in court soon. Chris Krebs also published this op-ed in "The Washington Post" tonight. You see the headline there, Trump fired me for saying this, but I'll say it again. The election wasn't rigged.

Krebs says, quote, on November 17th, I was dismissed as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a Senate-confirmed post in a tweet from President Trump. That was after my team and other election security experts rebutted claims of hacking in the 2020 election. On Monday, meaning yesterday, lawyer for the president's campaign plainly stated that I should be executed. Krebs says, quote, I am not going to be intimidated by these threats for telling the truth to the American people.

He says, quote: The 2020 election was the most secure in American history. The success should be celebrated by all Americans, not undermined in the service of a profoundly un-American goal.

That's Chris Krebs. I don't think that Attorney General William Barr would wear getting fired by President Trump as a badge of honor the way that Chris Krebs rightfully does here. But in any case, Barr knows how to protect himself and how to play the game. Just absolutely stunning today from Bill Barr.

Today, get the timing of this. Even as the "Associated Press" was publishing their interview with William Barr where he said, it's true, there wasn't any substantial fraud in this election, nothing that would overturn the results, even as the "A.P" was publishing that interview with that quote from Barr today, Barr was trooping up to the White House personally while simultaneously he and his office revealed for the first time that just before the election, he secretly promoted the guy who he had assigned to investigate Robert Mueller and to investigate the FBI for having had the temerity to themselves investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit President Trump. The FBI investigated it. Mueller investigated whether Trump's campaign was in on it. Barr then assigned this guy, John Durham, to investigate the FBI and Robert Mueller for having looked into those things.

Well, today as he went up to the White House upon telling the "Associated Press" there was no fraud in the election, Barr decided that this might be a good time to reveal that two weeks before Election Day, he secretly wrote a letter giving John Durham the title of special counsel because he wants Durham to keep his investigation of Mueller and the FBI going into the Biden administration even after Trump's gone.

According to Congressman Adam Schiff, the head of the Intelligence Committee, this is going to go down as one of those nice try PR moves from William Barr, but it's not going to work. Schiff saying tonight on MSNBC that what Barr did here might be good enough PR, might pull the wool over President Trump's eyes enough to maybe save Bill Barr's job for a few more weeks, even as Barr is no longer going along with the election fraud grift effort that's lining the president's pockets.

But as Schiff points, based on his reading of the statute that actually allows you to create things like special counsels, what Bill Barr is doing to try to cover his butt won't actually work beyond that.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): With the initiation of this investigation and now with this, what I think will be an unsuccessful attempt to prolong the investigation through this secret appointment only disclosed now of Durham as a special counsel. The appointment is not consistent with the language of the statute he's relying on and can be rescinded I think by the next attorney general. I will presume the next attorney general will look to see whether there's any merit to the work that John Durham is doing and make a rational decision about whether that should continue at any level.


MADDOW: In other words, per Congressman Adam Schiff, head of the Intelligence Committee, whoever Joe Biden picks to be the next attorney general of the United States, that's who will make a decision on this, whether the investigation of Mueller and the FBI should continue because the Russia investigation was somehow so terrible.

But still, nice try from Attorney General William Barr to saddle the Biden administration with some sort of investigation that he presumably has told Donald Trump they won't be able to get rid of. Maybe that will make Trump not fire you for saying the election wasn't a fraud. Good luck, sir.

I mean, on top of all of that happening just stacked up today, now there's this breaking now on the front page of "The New York Times." Trump has discussed with advisers pardons for his three eldest children and Rudolph Giuliani. Oh, Jared's not in the headline, but apparently Jared's in this too.

That story's next, with one of the reporters who just broke that story. What an incredible day of news this has been.

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: If you had to build a 2020 time capsule in advance, this is probably something you would have invented to put in the 2020 capsule, right? Trump has discussed with his advisers pardons for his three eldest children and also Rudy Giuliani. Just posted tonight at "The New York Times".

Quote: President Trump has discussed with advisers whether to grant preemptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and talked with Mr. Giuliani about pardoning him, as recently as last week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Trump has told others he's concerned that a Biden Justice Department might target the oldest three of his five children, Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka, as well as Ms. Trump's husband Jared Kushner, a White House senior advisor.

Quote: Donald Trump Jr. has been under investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, for contacts that the younger Mr. Trump had on the Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Don Jr. was never charged.

Mr. Kushner provided false information to federal authorities about his contacts with foreigners, for his security clearance, but was given a security clearance anyway by the president. The nature of Mr. Trump's concern about any potential criminal exposure of Eric Trump or Ivanka Trump is unclear, although an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the Trump Organization has expanded to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees by the company, some of which appear to have gone to Ms. Ivanka Trump.

Presidential pardons however do not provide protection against state or local crimes. Mr. Giuliani's potential criminal exposure is also unclear, although he was under investigation as recently as this summer by federal investigators in New York for his business dealings in his Ukraine and his role in ousting the American ambassador there. The plot was at the heart of the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

Potential legal liability for all of them in addition to the president himself. Now the news breaking Trump has discussed with advisers pardoning all his kids and Rudy.

Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke that news tonight, Michael Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times".

He's also the author of "New York Times" bestseller, "Donald Trump versus the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President."

Mr. Schmidt, it's nice to see you. Thanks for being here tonight.


MADDOW: So, Mike, can I ask you what advisers the president is talking with this about? Is this the sort of thing that the White House is handling as a matter of the appropriate actions of the president and how this might affect the presidency, or is this the sort of thing that the president is like calling his buddies and yapping about?

SCHMIDT: Well, the president will talk to anyone about anything and relies on a range of advisers and lawyers, people inside the White House, people outside the White House, people like Chris Ruddy, who runs a television network. So, it's a range of people that the president is always talking to. But specifically on this pardon, if he's going to move forward with these pardons, he would have to do it throughout White House counsel's office, because it is truly the ultimate expression of presidential power to use the pardon, to use the power that legal experts consider to be one of the most sacred one that the president has.

And even in doing that, in granting pardons, preemptive pardons these are, because none of these people have been charged, the president would really need a lawyer to have a delicate look at this because the language of such a pardon would really matter. Does it cover all conduct that someone did over a period of time? Does it layout what the crimes may be that the person committed? This is not just as simply as saying, you know, rubber stamp, pardon granted, and you need lawyers to do that.

And like with everything with Trump, he needs his lawyers.

MADDOW: And, Mike, one of the things when you broke the story in the first instance that Giuliani and Trump as recently as last week were talking about pre-emptive pardons for Giuliani, one of the things you noted pointedly in that reporting was that the president would have to, at least to a certain degree, spell out what crimes Rudy might have committed, Mr. Giuliani might have committed, for which he would require this pardon, presumably that same sort of careful parsing would have to happen if he did try to pardon his kids as well.

SCHMIDT: Yes. So, we're in sort of like a legal land that is not clearly defined because most pardons of very senior people in government are not tested. So, the question would be, if you pardon one of these people and the Biden Justice Department wanted to do something, the question would have to be answered of what does the pardon apply to?

So, what is the wording of the pardon? Is it a blanket pardon for all conduct that occurred during Mr. Trump's presidency? How far does it go back? How specific does it go? Does it actually lay out specific crimes like, you know, the numbers and the letters about what they may have done?

To be the most insulated, some lawyers would say that you would want for the specific crimes you may have committed to be laid out. But would that protect that person from being prosecuted for other things and other criminal theories being pushed by the Justice Department? It's like many things with the president and the law. It's really unchartered territory.

MADDOW: Mike, the -- one of the things that we've sort of tried to follow the threads of and it's been very difficult is the criminal liability for Mr. Giuliani in this investigation that seems derived from the Southern District of New York. There's public reporting about a lot of subpoenas that went out that related to Mr. Giuliani and his business practices. We certainly saw his associates charged with multiple felonies for the Ukraine scheme for campaign finance violations around that.

It really did appear like there was an active criminal investigation of Rudy Giuliani and SDNY through a substantial part of last year. And some of the threads of those investigations are still, you know, Lev Parnas was -- Lev Parnas was in -- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were both answering an arraignment this week in federal court in New York.

How -- from your reporting, can you tell how live the concern is right now that Mr. Giuliani might be looking at charges whether or not Trump chooses to preemptively pardon him for them?

SCHMIDT: So, the -- we know, and as we reported in the story, that Giuliani was still being investigated as of last summer. So, that was still going on as of last summer. It would be hard to believe that the Justice Department would have indicted Giuliani in the lead-up to an election. That's sort of this period of time which we've talked about, you know, dealing with Comey and stuff in the past about how the Justice Department doesn't want to take actions around an election that may impact voters. So, it seems like the question of indicting Giuliani was off the table.

Now, the question is what are they going to do now? If they wanted to indict Giuliani right now, my guess is they would probably hold back on doing that, because imagine if Giuliani in the middle of questioning this election, waging this specious campaign in which he's making all these false accusations about voter fraud was indicted? If that were to happen, then Giuliani would claim that there's a massive conspiracy and there's all these terrible things going on and it would look political.

So, in a sense, if the Justice Department wants to do something in this period of time, it would be very -- Giuliani's made it hard.

MADDOW: Yeah, you want to commit -- you want to get away with committing a felony, make sure you are leading a parade out in public somewhere, proverbial parade, at the time you think you might end up getting arrested. It's just a remarkable time and it's a remarkable beat.

Michael Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times", Mr. Schmidt, thank you so much for being here. Thanks for helping us understand your reporting.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We've got much more to get to tonight on this kind of amazing night in the news.

Donald McNeil, long time award winning science reporter from the "New York Times" is joining ahead.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: More than 2,400 American deaths from COVID have been recorded in the past 24 hours. We are up to 2,400 deaths a day now.

With the case numbers looking like they do, that will keep climbing in coming weeks. We are due to hit, I mean, I guess we could think of it as one 9/11's worth of deaths per day soon, in short order.

Part of the story of COVID in America, part of the history of this time will have to be about people who made it worse, bad actors handling it terribly, punching above their weight in terms of the amount of damage they were able to do as the country reeled under the onset of this virus.

In terms of the spread of the virus, it's one thing to talk about presidential leadership or lack thereof, but the White House as an institution itself has continued to prove that it deserves a spot on the list of bad actor who is have been spreading this thing. For the their final holiday season in the White House, the Trump administration has announced they are planning not one, not two, but 25 separate indoor holiday parties at the White House this month, their parting gift to the nation evidently being to plan to seed the entire Republican establishment with COVID all in one go.

And it's not just what they're doing in public that has a real chance of kneecapping the nation's COVID response on the way out the door. Today, sort of ominous reporting that the head of the FDA, Dr. Steven Hahn, was summoned to the White House by the president's chief of staff, reportedly to interrogate him on FDA approvals for COVID vaccine.

Dr. Hahn immediately signaled that he will not let career scientists in charged of approving the vaccine to be rushed by the White House. But it should be noted that Dr. Hahn himself was under COVID quarantine in isolation and said the meeting should happen by phone. The White House insisted that he break his quarantine and come to the White House in person.

Keep your eyes on whether or not Dr. Hahn keeps his job over the next few days as vaccines start to arrive.

With this crisis continuing to spiral, with more than 4 million of us infected last month alone, there will come to a time to figure out who is at fault, right, how we let this happen, who made it worse, including when they knew better.

But there's also just the more immediate concern of the overwhelming magnitude of how bad things are right now and how rough the next few weeks really look, what it means for incoming administration about to inherit this mess, what options they will have to try to turn things around and what's going to happen between now and January 20th when they finally get the reins.

One of the first American journalists to report on what was then a brand-new respiratory disease coming out of China, a man who has been absolutely ahead of everybody else in predicting how this thing would go, he joins us again next. Donald McNeil from "The New York Times" is our guest next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: The first time this show switched full-time to covering the novel coronavirus was in February. It was February 28th. Our guest that night was Donald McNeil, veteran awarding win science reporter at "The New York Times".

Mr. McNeil has since been a guest on the show several times. He has covered epidemics and diseases all over the world for decades. He was the one who was reporting really the first by line in the U.S., reporting early on before COVID-19 even had a name, about this strange and very transmissible coronavirus that was emerging out of Wuhan in China.

McNeil was one of the first reporters to shock everyone in this country with his early reporting about how lockdowns and travel restrictions wouldn't just be for China, they would need to be implemented everywhere to control the spread of this thing.

Donald McNeil's coverage and his alleges from the outset, I will tell you, it was more terrifying that most of what else we were hearing at the time. But he really has been proven right over and over again over the course of this thing.

That's why it was sort of shocking and sort of felt like the earth shifted a little bit in October when always-terrifying Donald McNeil shifted, himself, to a very uncharacteristic more optimistic tone when he wrote sort of hopeful pieces for "The Times" explaining his hopes for the vaccines under development.

Well, some of the vaccines are apparently on their way now, and Donald McNeil is still quite bullish about them. But in today's "Times," the top story on the front page of the paper, he interviews two dozen public health experts around the world about the vaccines, about how that's going to work when we get them and about what we should expect from now until significant numbers of people are vaccinated. What he's telling us to brace for now is in the headline, the long darkness before the dawn.

Joining us now is Donald McNeil, science and health reporter for "The New York Times".

Mr. McNeil, it's a real honor to have you back with us. Thanks for making the time.

DONALD MCNEIL, SCIENCE AND HEALTH REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for inviting me. I'm sorry you had your own brush with COVID, your partner. You know, nothing is more terrifying than knowing somebody who has suffered from it.

And nothing is more convincing, I hope, than knowing somebody who's come with it and unfortunately there are parts of the country now that are just beginning to feel that. Sorry, go on with what you were going to say.

MADDOW: No, thank you for saying it. I will tell you that I think that -- I mean, the reason I talk about it publicly is because I do think that for myself and for a lot of people, it is scary to imagine getting sick. It's scary to imagine having to go to the hospital or potentially dying from sort of illness. It is considerably more scary to see the person you love most in the world going through that in front of you and you're being helpless to it.

And for me, it was -- you know, an existential thing to see it in Susan more so than it would have been for myself. And I can't help but think the dynamic you're describing and that I felt in doing that is an important dynamic to understand in terms of whether or not people feel motivated to personally take action, whether or not they've seen it, whether or not it feels like it threatens the things that most matter to them.

MCNEIL: In every disease I've ever covered, you know, it's us survivors who are the ones who get convinced. I mean, true of AIDS, true of AIDS in Africa, true of polio. You know, it's often when you see your children get infected you begin to realize that, you know, the disease is terrifying and that, you know, when I was a child, our parents were terrified of polio.

And that's why they accepted that vaccine as readily as they did even though there were disasters with the polio vaccine. There was even a bad batch that infected 250,000 kids and killed ten of them.

And so, I'm optimistic about the vaccines because they seem to be coming in much quicker time than we expected, you know, six or eight months ago. I feel like I'm playing both sides of the fence in these -- with these articles. I was asked to write the optimistic one because an editor was in a meeting I was in and he was so shocked a few months ago when I expressed optimism. He said you've got to write about that. That was a first-person piece about my feelings long range.

But then, after the election, I was asked to write another reporting piece, talking to experts again, about how they felt just about this period, between the end of election and when the Biden presidency begins. And that's going to be our dark time.

MADDOW: OK, so one of the things that I found very interesting and very constructive in your take on this forthcoming dark time is it seems to me that the experts you talk to and you have confidence in the people who Biden has appointed to work on COVID, the people he's been listening to, the people who have been advising him.

But you raise the prospect that he might need to start thinking about vaccine confidence. He might start to have to think about disinformation. He might have to start thinking about other what we think of as more social science things or psychological work around getting the American mindset in order when it comes to dealing with this vaccine because what we've been through in the past year or so has such a stark psychological component in terms of people either denying what's going on or being unwilling to take steps that will -- that the country's going to need them to take.

MCNEIL: Yeah. It's not just for the vaccine. It's for the virus itself. I mean, we've really seen three separate waves in this virus. We saw the northeastern wave in the spring. We saw the summer wave, which was mostly in the Deep South, and now we're seeing along with the wave all around the country, we're seeing this wave that's hitting deeply into the red states, killing people in states that voted heavily for Trump.

The Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, you know, Wyoming. These states are the ones that are being hit extremely hard by this virus. And in effect, you know, that rhetoric has killed Trump voters. The denialism has killed Trump voters and they're now a high-risk group.

And, you know, some people may say, fine, they deserve it. I reject that kind of thinking. I think it's, you know, they are victims of denialism as much as anybody else is and, you know, the experts I talk to are doctors and doctors' ethics is that you have to save the patient who is put in front of you. If you're a combat doctor in a mass shooting, you have to save the person who is in front of you, even if he is the enemy.

And, you know, we're in a situation now where it's important to convince people who have rejected masks to accept masks and social distancing and all the other things that will preserve them until a vaccine gets here. And then I hope the vaccines will come as well and I hope that they'll be, you know, acceptable because people need them. And it may take a lot of convincing and the experts I talk to said, look, you need people who speak to other than fans of the Obama administration.

You need people who are credible to conservative Republicans who otherwise will see this adds the Democrats and the doctors getting together again to shut down the economy, and gee, America of its birthright of personal freedom. You have to get people out there. And people even suggested, you know, maybe consulting with Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Mehmet Oz and other doctors, that is Oz being a doctor, and Marc Siegel of Fox News because they're persuaders who can speak to the audience that now needs convincing.

MADDOW: Essentially forming ambassadors to the political right that have been the target of all of this disinformation for political reasons or whatever the reasons were. Seeing them as a high-risk group to which you need trusted -- for which you need trusted interlocutors. I mean, that's --

MCNEIL: Same as in Pakistan. Same in Northern Nigeria.

MADDOW: It's very rational.

MCNEIL: I'm sorry.


MADDOW: Yes, it's very rational from a public outbreak perspective.

MCNEIL: I've seen it in Northern Nigeria. You have to get to the imams, the local governments, the thought leaders. And whoever those thought leaders are, you have to reach them and convince them, look, your people will die if you don't do something about this and surely you don't want your people to die.

MADDOW: Donald, do you have confidence in some of the recent steps that have been taken at and around the CDC?

We saw the independent panel that advises the CDC today voting to recommend the first vaccine should go to health care workers and people who live and work at long-term care facilities. We've seen the CDC tweak its guidance around how long people should stay isolated from other people after they have resolved their symptoms after getting COVID. Obviously, the CDC has put under some real inappropriate political pressure at times by the Trump administration.

Do you feel like they are regaining their trusted status that these recent decisions that they're making are sound?

MCNEIL: That's my impression. The CDC is so constrained from talking right now that it's very hard to get anybody there to talk to you. But when you test the advice that they give out now against other experts, former CDC experts, independent experts who consult with the CDC, they say most of the time, it's good advice, it's getting better.

It looks less politically, you know, corrupted. It doesn't look like anybody's breaking on to the website and making changes the way it used to happen. I mean, but that's sort of an outside impression that -- and it's possible to get good advice, not just from the CDC, but from other medical experts. They're the ones who had to speak up because -- because the vacuum that existed for so long.

MADDOW: Let me ask you one last thing, just your impression, and maybe that your reporting can add to this, but I also just trust your impression on this if you haven't worked on it specifically. I am very concerned about health care workers right now just because I review a lot of this tape that we get and diaries that we get from health workers all across the country, and I'm seeing levels of exhaustion and people really at the end of their rope, from doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists and all sorts of people in the health care environment, while I'm looking at these numbers just topping out.

Obviously, we've got hospitalization records being broken all over the country every day. We got 100,000 people in the hospital right now. It feels like that number's going to go up. It feels like we're going to be at 3,000 deaths a day before too long.

Is there something we can do culturally and as citizens other than try to reduce the spread of the virus to help to try to bolster the health care workers that we're going to need to save us?

MCNEIL: Remember I said on your show back in march, I think, we ought to think about importing 40,000 doctors from China who had just fought the disease because they knew the disease, they knew how to fight it, they knew what worked. I was mocked for that.

I don't think that's going to happen, but I don't know what we're going to do. Doctors are being pulled out of retirement and nurses and respiratory technicians pulled out of retirement all across the country. When the virus hit New York, it was possible for other medical professions from other parts of the country to go to New York and help out and they did in large numbers.

But now, you know, the virus is everywhere. I suppose some doctors could be spared from New York City because they're, you know, we're being hit less hard than the rest of the country. And, you know, unfortunately, in rural hospitals in small counties around this country, if you have one doctor go down with COVID, that may be, you know, your hospital may start falling apart. You've got, you know, very small staffs out there.

So I do not see a remedy for this unless people, you know, wise up and do what they can to slow down the transmission of the virus. And, unfortunately --

MADDOW: Donald McNeil --

MCNEIL: -- you know, the advice not to travel on Thanksgiving was ignored.


Donald McNeil, "New York Times" science and health reporter, thanks so much. It's always real honor to talk to you, Don. I really appreciate you for being here.

MCNEIL: Thank you very much for inviting me on.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back.


MADDOW: The best new thing in the world today is brand-new, entered the world today. His name is Julian, the son of our beloved producer Matt, look. Our beloved producer Matthew Alexander and his wife Alison have a brand new baby boy.

Julian is doing great. His parents are a little flipped out, understandably, but they're doing great too.

Welcome, Julian. Can't wait to meet you in person. Best new thing in the world today.

I'll see you again tomorrow night.


Good evening, Lawrence.


Content and programming copyright 2020 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.