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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 22, 2020

Guests: Chuck Schumer, Debbie Berkowitz


Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Minority Leader is interviewed.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much. It's always great to talk to you even if the content is tough.

That is ALL IN for this Thursday tonight.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts, of course, right now.

Good morning, Rachel.

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

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

Really big show for you tonight, including an exclusive report tonight, a previously unreported story about the CDC's scientific work on coronavirus being compromised and changed because of top-down political pressure from Washington. You have heard other stories sort of like this along these lines in recent days. You have never before heard what we are going to report tonight.

That is coming up this hour. This is something that we have been chasing for months. We have finally nailed it down with multiple sources. We've got that for you in just a moment.

We are also going to speak in just a moment exclusively with Senator Chuck Schumer, who, of course, is the top Democrat in the United States Senate. He is at the center of the brawl over filling the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that has now been left open by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This interview with me tonight will be Senator Schumer's first interview since Justice Ginsburg's death.

We are also following a slew of late-breaking news tonight. Some of it quite dramatic, including the news that Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Cindy McCain is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

Mrs. McCain writing tonight, quote: My husband John lived by a code: country first. We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost. There's only one candidate in this race who stands up for our values as a nation and that is Joe Biden.

She says, quote: Joe and I don't always agree on the issues and I know he and John certainly had some passionate arguments, but Joe is a good and honest man. He will lead us with dignity. Quote, he will be a commander in chief that the finest fighting force in the history of the world can depend on. Because he knows what it is like to send a child off to fight.

Cindy McCain's decision tonight was reportedly informed in part by recent reporting in "The Atlantic" magazine from reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that President Trump had repeatedly called U.S. service members who were hurt or killed in battle, quote, losers and suckers.

Again, that dramatic endorsement tonight from the widow of Senator John McCain.

Also tonight, with just 42 days until the election, we are six weeks out exactly from the election. Tonight, the FBI has put out this unusual warning to voters. And you see at the very top there, the headline is literally "public service announcement," but this is not like a, you know, look both ways before you cross the street. Make sure you turned off the stove kind of thing.

You see the headline there: Foreign actors and cyber criminals likely to spread disinformation regarding 2020 election results. Quote: The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, that's a thing, are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the potential threat posed by attempts to spread disinformation regarding the results of the 2020 election.

They warn that, quote, state and local officials typically require several days to weeks to certify elections' final results in order to ensure every legally cast vote is accurately counted. The increased use of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 protocols could leave officials with incomplete results on election night.

Quote, foreign actors and cyber criminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections results by disseminating disinformation. That includes reports of voter suppression, cyber attacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections' illegitimacy.

Again, that remarkable public service announcement, this stark warning from the FBI being released tonight. Six weeks from the election, saying that foreign entities are likely to try to convince us that the election has either been botched or that it is over when it is not, given the time that it will take between the ballots -- between polling places closing on Election Day and when ballots are finally counted.

OK. There's a lot going on tonight, as I said, six weeks until the election, one week until the first presidential debate. Things are moving fast now on many fronts.

And the man at the center of a lot of these fights and a lot of this discussion is the top Democrat in the United States Senate.

Joining us now, I'm pleased to say, is Senator Chuck Schumer. This will be his first TV interview since Justice Ginsburg's passing on Friday night.

Senator Schumer, I really appreciate you taking the time to be here tonight. Thank you.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Thank you, Rachel.

Yes, and just a word about how we miss Justice Ginsburg, what a wonderful person she was. In a male-dominated world, she changed the world for women and then she got on the court and changed it for everyone.

She went to James Madison High School, my alma mater. And our whole neighborhood always felt pride in what she had done, and accomplished. So, we miss her.

MADDOW: Senator, what do you want Americans to expect in terms of what is going to happen with her seat on the court? We know it's been reported this week that you told your fellow Democrats that nothing is off the table if the Republicans choose to ram a Trump nomination through.

What do you think Americans should expect about this process?

SCHUMER: Well, what they should expect and what they should see is how the nominees -- the nominee that the president will pose poses a real threat to Americans in their lives. This is not just a game of politics, Democrats, Republicans.

This nominee and a conservative right-wing court will take away America's rights, will take away America's progress.

Let's look at the issue of health care, 130 million Americans have the protection for pre-existing conditions and the insurance company can't pull the rug from out (ph) -- from under them.

As we speak, Donald Trump and his Republican cohorts are in court -- the case will come before the Supreme Court on the 14th of November as to whether this should be taken away, whether Obamacare should be eliminated, whether 10 million people will lose their health care.

But it's not just health care, as important as that is. It's also voting rights. This court even without this new right-wing nominee, whoever it will be, was horrible in the Shelby decision.

Justice Roberts, the so-called moderate Justice Roberts, said there's no more -- there's going to be no more discrimination so we can get rid of the tools of the voting rights.

Labor rights -- this court will want to make America a right to work nation. They began to do that in the Janus case. And it will be much worse with a new nominee.

LGBTQ rights -- Rachel, I was at my Rosh Hashanah dinner with my family, and it was announced that Justice Ginsburg passed away and my daughter and her wife were at the table and immediately they started wondering, what about gay rights? What about gay marriage? What will happen to their ability to live a normal life?

Climate -- this court has undone so many strong climate regulations. They'll get rid of the Clean Air Act. They'll get rid of Clean Water Act. And I could go on and on with issues that matter here.

This affects every American. And what we Democrats are doing tonight as I'm speaking to you, we are occupying the floor of the House -- of the Senate and we are letting the American people know how much this affects them. And asking, pleading with Americans, call your senators, tell them how bad this is, tell them to abide by Justice Ginsburg's last honorable wish. And that is let the next president decide. And then the election can help be a referendum on these issues.

Rather than jam it through, as Mitch McConnell is doing. He has defiled the Senate. He has just about destroyed the Senate. And we have to fight him every step of the way.

MADDOW: Senator McConnell, who you just mentioned, sir, has been trying to portray this as a fait accompli. That this is done, that they have the votes. That this will happen maybe even before the election, and that there's nothing that you can do to slow them down.

Do you disagree with that?

SCHUMER: Yes (ph).

MADDOW: Do you believe that --


MADDOW: -- you have tactical options to slow them down?

SCHUMER: Yes. A, we have tactical options to slow them down. We will use every tool in the tool kit. Now, admittedly, McConnell has changed things and changed the rules, so we have fewer tools and they're less sharp, but every tool we have, we will use.

Today, we delayed committees going into effect. We had the right to do that and we did it. Tonight, we're on the floor taking up all the time on the floor to talk about how bad this potential nominee -- and there will be many other things that we can use. You'll see them in the days ahead.

But our number one goal as we slow it down is to give us more time to convince the American people -- and I don't believe it's a fait accompli. You have a whole bunch of Republican senators who have not taken a position. When you find the nominee, you never know what's going to be in their background, that you might find something that wins people over, even who were the other way.

You know, a great metaphor for this, Rachel, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Against the longest of odds, she never gave up and she kept fighting. We are going to keep fighting and she is an inspiration to us.

MADDOW: Senator Schumer, when we think about fights like this in Washington, you say this isn't just a political fight. It isn't just Democrats versus Republicans.


MADDOW: It's about all of these life -- central life issues, including health care and whether the ACA is going to potentially go away next month.


MADDOW: When -- when I was talking last night with a number -- a number of your Senate colleagues, but also an activist leader from the group Indivisible about what tactical options are available here, he said one of the things that Indivisible is asking is that on Friday after Justice Ginsburg has laid in state in the state capitol and after -- as her memorials are going forward, they want people who care about her legacy to bring flowers, to bring mementos, to bring things memorializing the justice to their senator's office at home.

SCHUMER: Good. I like that.

MADDOW: Whatever your home state is, whoever your senators are, let them know.

SCHUMER: That's good.

MADDOW: Are efforts like that to nationalize this fight, to not make it just not a Washington-focused thing, do you think those --


MADDOW: -- types (ph) of things would be effective?

SCHUMER: That is so important.

And I was on the phone a day or two ago with all of the leading groups, the civil rights groups, the labor groups, the environmental groups, the LGBTQ community groups, and that was our plan. To go to the people in the states, show them how they're affected by this and then them to call, write, picket, bring roses, whatever they will do, to their senators.

This is a consequential and monumental fight and we have to use every tactic. But the number one thing is letting America know how bad this court will be for them, for their health care, for their ability to vote freely, to breathe the clean air and drink clean water. To organize and get more money from the bosses as labor unions do.

This is all so, so important. And we got to keep at it and keep at it and keep at it.

MADDOW: Senator, let me ask you bluntly. Obviously, you've been very clear and your colleagues have been very clear that the Affordable Care Act is at risk.


MADDOW: That very shortly after the election, there will be a case before the court where the ACA would likely be wiped out by a conservative majority on the court. That would cost tens of millions of Americans their health insurance coverage.

Let me ask you if you can also be as blunt about the prospect for reproductive rights.


MADDOW: The president says he will only appoint justices who are pro-life who will overturn Roe versus Wade. Do you think that is -- that will happen if he is allowed to put another justice on the court?

SCHUMER: Yes, I am so -- I am so worried about that. You know, I grew up in a time before Roe v. Wade and what women did, had to do to have the freedom to -- for their bodies -- to use their bodies in their own way, the way they wanted.

The Federalist Society, and Donald Trump has only chosen justices from the Federalist Society, their goal -- I think Leonard Leo has said it. If he's not, he's stood for it. Their goal is to repeal Roe v. Wade.

Anyone who thinks Roe v. Wade is safe under this court is not looking at who the justices are, what they have said and what they have done.

So, this is absolutely -- Roe v. Wade is on the line. And I was heartened. I was with a group of young women who were born after I was, of course, and after Roe v. Wade had been law. And they realize the risk. They realize the risk. All of America realizes the risk.

MADDOW: Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the United States Senate, sir --

SCHUMER: Thank you.

MADDOW: -- you're at the center of the hurricane, as usual. Thanks for taking time to be with us tonight.

SCHUMER: Yeah. We're going to keep fighting, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right.

SCHUMER: Keep fighting. We're going to win.

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator.

All right. It is, like I said, this is a fast-moving news environment. It is likely to stay that way for the next six weeks. Election night is six weeks from tonight. The first presidential debate is one week from tonight. Early in-person voting is starting all over the country. Absentee voting is starting all over the country. This thing is upon us.

Coming up next, though, we are going to have an exclusive report here that you haven't heard anywhere else on the Trump administration messing with the Centers for Disease Control during the pandemic, including specifically in one of the worst outbreaks we have had in the entire country since the pandemic began.

This is exclusive reporting. We have been working on this for months. We have nailed it. And it's next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: It would be like if your community was in the middle of fire season, you knew you'd be contending with terrible wildfires like we've seen in so many communities on the West Coast this summer.

It would be like in your community, you're in the middle of a terrible, terrible fire season that threatened the whole town. But the mayor of your town and the town leadership decided that they would go down to the fire station and start stabbing knives into the sidewalls of all the tires on all the fire trucks. And then they'd start ripping out the wiring, right? Pulling the -- pulling the trucks apart, scrounging for parts and stuff they like the look of. Maybe something they could use in their own cars or trucks at home.

It wasn't like this was short-sighted action by the mayor in your town, like he forgot it was coming up on fire season or thought we might not have a bad fire season this year. This would be like the mayor choosing to do this, choosing to sabotage all the fire fighting equipment in your town while your town was in the middle of the worst fire season ever, while the fires were raging. That's how bad this is.

Or maybe it's a different kind of sabotage. Let's say your town has a bridge fall down. The bridge collapses into the river. This is a critical artery for traffic in and out of your town. With the bridge down, nobody can get to work or get to school.

And in the middle of your town, starting to rebuild that bridge, you catch the mayor one day down at the construction site for the new bridge and he's, like, gathering up all the rebar, all the steel that's going to be used in the construction of the new bridge and he's putting it in the back of the truck to go sell it for scrap.

And later that night, you catch the mayor and some of his friends again down at the construction site, and they've taken the keys to the cement mixer trucks that they're using for the construction effort to rebuild that bridge and they're, like, playing bumper cars with the cement trucks, they're crashing them into each other and destroying them in a big cement mixer demolition derby, and all the trucks are smashed up and destroys and then they shove them into the river, right?

The site the town thought we were all going to be hard at work rebuilding the bridge. This type of government failure, this type of government self-inflicted sabotage is like that. It's that level of self-inflicted destruction -- it's not just for fun or for profit, it's them monkey wrenching the specific thing the community most needs at a time of serious crisis.

Now, why are they doing it? Lots of potential explanations. But how bad is it for the community that this is what they're doing? It's very, very, very bad.

And we are only starting to learn the depths of it. I mean, it is -- it's six weeks until the election right now. It's a week until the first presidential debate. We've just passed 200,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus.

In the United States, we have 20 percent of the world's total body count from coronavirus, even though we're only 4 percent of the world's population.

Right now, our national graph of new cases looks like this. We had that first peak in April that was so terrible, and then a second much higher peak in late July, twice as bad. Now we're starting to head back up again.

Some of that new increase in recent days being driven by sharp increases in very, very conservative red states like North Dakota and South Dakota and Utah. But it's also being driven by bad turns in terms of the case numbers in battleground states like Colorado and Minnesota and Wisconsin. Look at the Wisconsin curve right now.

We are at 200,000 Americans dead and things are going in the wrong direction, even from here how bad they are now. The president is not only not talking about 200,000 Americans dying on his watch, he also keeps saying we're turning the corner, like it's all better, like this thing's almost over.

It is not at all almost over. It is not going away. It won't go away unless we take action to stop it, which he has no intention of doing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we know it, it affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that's what it really affects. That's it -- you know, in some states, thousands of people, nobody young, below the age of 18, like, nobody. They have a strong immune system. Who knows?

You look -- take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It's an amazing thing. By the way, open your schools.


MADDOW: It affects virtually nobody. That was the president last night at a weird rambly late-night rally in Ohio saying COVID really affecting virtually nobody. I mean, a few old people with heart problems or whatever, but, you know, nobody really. Open your schools.

We're at 200,000 dead. We are in a catastrophic public health crisis. At the start of this crisis, at the start of this administration, we had public health agencies that were the envy of the world, the international gold standard for authoritative scientific excellence in controlling and monitoring and stopping the spread of disease. That's what we had.

It's part of our inheritance as Americans, something that previous generations and that civil servants had built up over decades, over generations, over multiple administrations. The best apparatus on the earth for confronting and stopping the threat of a communicable disease, that's what we had. Past tense.

But, boy, does it take less time to kill something off than it does take to grow it. And for whatever reason, the Trump administration in the middle of this public health catastrophe decided that they were going to slash all the proverbial tires on the fire trucks. They were going to play demolition derby with the cement trucks at the construction site. They would discredit and disarm and mess with the best resource we had, the best resource the whole world had for fighting this pandemic.

And tonight, we have some new news about what they've done. In recent days, you have seen reporting about how the Trump administration wrote up its own bogus guidelines, telling people who have been exposed to COVID that they don't necessarily need to get tested. The Trump administration wrote these new bogus guidelines themselves at the White House, and apparently in other parts of the administration and then they put out those bogus sidelines on the CDC website as if they were the CDC's recommendations, even though they were not.

That testing recommendation debacle happened last month. It was only undone this week when somebody squawked about it to "The New York Times." "The New York Times" reported about what had been done and the administration ultimately rescinded what they did. The testing recommendations have gone back to where they were.

We've also seen in the past few days the reporting that the CDC's weekly scientific reports, the more morbidity, mortality weekly report, their signature, weekly, scientific data vehicle, had its language changed and had reports delayed by pressure from a Trump campaign aide who had been assigned to ride herd on them and intimidate CDC scientists.

We've seen just in the past two days, the CDC rescind other scientific guidance about COVID spreading through the air and how six feet of distance between people indoors might not be enough to protect you from airborne transmission. We still don't know what happened there with the rescinding of that guidance that was put up on Friday night, but nobody expects the answer to that to be good news when we finally get to the bottom of it.

Well, now what we're going to talk about tonight is another one of these. In early April, as we were heading toward that first terrible peak, when we couldn't even conceive of the fact that that peak we were hitting then was something we would double by this summer. As early April as we were heading toward that first terrible peak, up sprung what would be for a time the single-worst COVID outbreak in our country. It was in the great state of South Dakota at a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Nearly 4,000 people employed by that plant.

Ultimately, more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus traced back to the people who work there and the family members and close contacts to whom they brought the disease home. And in response to that huge outbreak, one of the biggest outbreaks in the world, the CDC sent in one of their elite disease detective squads to do what's called an Epi-Aid investigation into the nature of the public health threat there at that plant in Sioux Falls and what needed to be done to stop it.

And the -- one of the things you should know about the CDC and what the Trump administration has done to it is that Epi-Aid teams from the CDC, these -- these disease detective teams from the CDC, forgive me, they are bad asses. Sorry for swearing, but they really are.

They are who gets called when there's an E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce like there was years ago. Dozens hospitalized in 36 states. Five people dead. Call the CDC, send in an Epi-Aid team. They will figure it out. And they did.

These guys are the ones you call when you've got a legionnaires disease outbreak, killing veterans at veterans home in Quincy, Illinois. Or you've got a TV outbreak at an assisted living facility in Duval County, Florida, where you got a mysterious case of people all barfing their guts out on South Bass Island in Ohio in 2004. What's going on there? Call in the CDC Epi-Aid disease detectives.

In that South Bass Island, they found it was contaminated groundwater. They came up with a whole list of things that South Bass Island needed to do to shut down the source of that contamination and they fixed it. That's what these CDC teams do.

It's what they have done for decades. They swoop in, they figure out what's causing the disease outbreak, they isolate not only the source of the problem but what it will take to neutralize that threat and stop the public health risk and stop it from happening again. They're great at it.

And their reports from these Epi-Aid investigations are stark. They do not mince words. In that Quincy, Illinois veterans home with the Legionnaires disease, for example, CDC tells them they need to re-rig their plumbing, including how to calibrate and adjust the thermostatic valves for all the water temperature in the veterans home, right?

OK. That will be the fix. The CDC tells them exactly which kinds of tests all the veterans in that home need to get and how the transfers of those veterans in and out of the hospital, back and forth to the veterans home need to be supervised to make sure every case is caught and nothing falls through the cracks. In the E. coli romaine lettuce thing from a couple of years ago, the Epi-Aid team, again, minces no words.

They tell them specifically what changes these farms need to make in terms of sources the water they use on those crops. The proximity of nearby cattle operations and dairy farms and what needs to change to protect these lettuce crops from these kinds of infections in the future -- how to stop, how to find it, how to isolate it, how to stop it from happening again.

That TB outbreak in Florida. The CDC Epi-Aid squad comes in tells them among other things what kind of ventilation filters they need to use in that home and how frequently those filters need to be changed.

Here's what's wrong. Here's what you need to do to fix it. They are very good at what they do. They are experts, best in the world, these flying squads, the disease detectives that come in and nail it.

You got a disease outbreak, you call them, and then get out of the way. They will identify the problem, identify the source, tell you what to do about it and then you freaking do it because they know what they're talking about.

We're lucky to have them. Took a long time to build up that expertise.

The Trump administration, though, has cut them off at the knees. In April, the CDC's Epi-Aid team got called in to do their disease detective thing on what would quickly become the worst COVID outbreak in the country. And now tonight we can tell you the story about what the Trump administration did to that investigation. That's next.


MADDOW: In April of this year, as the country headed toward its first big peak in coronavirus cases and deaths, one of the CDC's elite disease detective teams, one of their Epi-Aid teams got called in to investigate one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the whole country. They were brought in to review problems at the Smithfield meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

This elite disease detective team got called in. But you may remember from our coverage at the time that something quite obviously went wrong.


MADDOW: The CDC did get called in to do one of their famous Epi-Aid investigations, at one of these meat plants, at one of the first, worst outbreaks. The Smithfield plant outbreak in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The CDC got called in to investigate what happened here and tell them what to do, but something hinky appears to have happened there.

You remember just a few minutes ago the kind of language I described from the other CDC Epi-Aid reports on other public health disasters that they've investigated, right? They don't tend to mince their words in terms of what they tell people to do, right? Screen all staff and clients with one of these four forms of testing.

A moratorium on the new construction of on-site waste water treatment should be imposed. The veterans home should establish control limits for the hot water temperature range at fixtures. That's how CDC Epi-Aid reports are written, except not anymore. Not in this crisis, apparently. Not in the meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that accounts for already more than 1,000 cases in Sioux Falls.

CDC went in and did their investigation. Their recommendations in terms of what the plant ought to do. If you look at all the nouns, all the substance of what they say would be a relevant fix, it all seems rational. But for some reason, there is a whole lot of very un-CDC language throughout this report.

I mean, it just flat-out says, quote, these recommendations are discretionary and are not required or mandated by CDC. What? Look at this. Quote: Consider the following actions to physically separate employees.

Consider the following actions? Just think about it?

Portable handwashing facilities could be utilized. Oh, they could, could they?

Stagger shifts, start times and break times as much as feasible. Yeah, but Smithfield, don't knock yourself out. If it's not feasible, of course, we understand.

Quote: Consider moving training online. You should consider that.

Quote: Make unidirectional paths through the facility where possible. Face coverings are generally recommended.

Quote: If feasible, all employees should wear face coverings, but if not, you know, no big.

Quote: The facial covering should be discarded and replaced when wet or dirty, comma, if possible.

What CDC is this? This kind of language is not what the CDC does in these kinds of investigations. Literally, over the course of decades we've looked at the language in these investigations. This is not the way the CDC tells you what to do after they investigate the public health disaster in your facility or in your town or in your state.

All this if feasible, if possible, consider doing this, this isn't mandatory, you might want to consider -- I mean, this gives all the meatpacking plants any kind of out to not do any of this stuff. All they have to say is, oh, that's not feasible. They told us not to do it. We considered it. I expect anything from the Trump administration. I do not expect this from the CDC.

CDC, are you okay? Would you let us know if you're not? We're going to try to get some answers here.


MADDOW: That was our coverage in April. We have been trying to get those answers since April. What happened to the CDC investigation of that huge outbreak and why did CDC go all pudding mouthed and indirect and make all their recommendations sound like just some ideas you guys want to consider instead of the way the CDC has always done these things before?

Well, we figured it out. It took us this long, but we frigging, fracking finally figured it out because we just obtained the real CDC advice for that meatpacking plant. We just obtained the real version of what those CDC disease detectives actually found and recommended to stop that outbreak at that plan. Their real report before it was spiked and replaced with the one that told the meatpacking plant they didn't actually have to do anything if they didn't want to.

We now have both versions. We obtained the real report, the first undoctored version of the report from the House Education and Labor Committee. It has never before been made public, but here it is, and with this, you can see what used to be your CDC, what used to be the world's gold standard public health agency having its legs cut out from them in the middle of this epidemic when we needed them the most while they were evaluating at the time what was the worst outbreak in the country.

The original version we just obtained is dated April 21st. This is the one that was disappeared until now. It was replaced with a new version that came out one day later on April 22nd. The new version on April 22nd took all the stuff the meatpacking plants were told to do.

I'll show you how it changed. The real document, the one from April 21st says, this memorandum provides observations and recommendations based on our visits to the Smithfield plant in conversations with plant management and the union's local president that represents workers at that plant. That's how the lead paragraph ends in the real version.

Look at how they changed it. Look at what's in the new version they put out one day later. This memorandum provides observations and recommendations based on the visits to the Smithfield plant, conversations with plant management, and the union, local president.

But then there's next sentence, quote: The recommendations in this memorandum are steps that Smithfield Foods may want to consider implementing. These recommendations are discretionary and not required or mandated by CDC, right?

This huge, I mean, more than a caveat to throw in right off the bat. They're basically saying pay no attention to anything that comes after this sentence. The CDC doesn't usually put big caveats like that, hey, feel free to ignore us, when they do these investigations and these reports. In fact, we've never seen it before from CDC.

But in this case, that's just the start. And, again, we can see the difference now as this document evolved. The real document on April 21st becomes the weird mealy-mouthed one day later on the 22nd.

Version one, April 21st, the document says the management -- that management and local partners should, quote, develop an implementation plan to reduce the spread of COVID. The version from one day later, April 22nd, that's watered down. It says it's recommended that they work together to reduce the spread of COVID. It's recommended that they try and get this problem under control, but we're not going to tell you anymore what you should do. We just, you know, have a feeling, no pressure, do what you need to do.

Here's the real document on April 21st, the one they disappeared, barriers should be used in combination with other social distancing, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment. That was in the real version. Then they watered it down. Here's what they actually put out in the one they released to the public. It says, the company, Smithfield, should only be using barriers wherever feasible. Only put them in where it's feasible, you guys. If you don't think it's feasible, don't worry.

The real version of the CDC record says all employees should wear face coverings, but 24 hours later, the watered-down language's changed. It says if feasible all employees should wear face coverings. The first version, the real version, is very straightforward in terms of a mask protocol. Employees should wear the supplied facial covering to cover their nose and mouth. The favorable covering should be discarded and replaced when dirty or wet. The employee distributing face masks should be following appropriate social distancing and wearing appropriate PPE and facial covering.

That's in the real version. That's first version. Look how they change, though. They add in all of these caveats.

Facial coverings should cover the nose and mouth, if possible. They should be discarded and replaced when dirty or wet, if possible. The person handing out masks should practice social distancing, if possible. If not, that's cool.

The revised report also has all these same kinds of caveats about hand sanitizing stations and high-touch areas. Smithfield might want to think about adding those hand sanitizing stations but only where feasible.

Look at these last two. These ones kind of stopped me in my tracks. On April 21st, the first version of the report, the real one says, quote, specifically ask employees about recent history of fever in addition to the symptoms -- in addition to symptoms like cough and shortness of breath.

But then in the revised -- the watered down version that they ultimately release, they take that out. It's no longer a directive. They're no longer saying this is something you need to do, you need to ask about something as important as a recent history of fever and whether the person has had a cough or shortness of breath. Suddenly, Smithfield only has to do that, quote, if possible, ask employees about recent fever and additional symptoms like cough and shortness of breath.

How about this one, the real report, the one on the 21st lays out what you would think would be pretty noncontroversial guidance, employees who are ill should stay home and not work or be allowed in the workplace.

But then look at the actual -- look at the final version of the report. Look at version two. Employees who are ill should stay home, if possible. But if not, who are we to say? We've got the real report.

And now we've got this weird watered down version of the report where the CDC -- the CDC scientists, instead of telling Smithfield what to do they just say, like, here's some ideas but you don't have to do any of it, and just do what you feel like, and if you can't really do anything, it's fine.

Having these two versions, what this shows us is that the CDC, our CDC is full of good scientists. They're still capable of doing their normal scientific work, including prescribing what should be done in a big meat processing plant to stop them infecting thousands more of their workers, but we can now see that their work got squelched.

Something happened between April 21st and April 22nd, and I told you we would figure this out. We have figured it out.

On April 21st, we now know the CDC scientists, the Epi-Aid investigative team who had been sent from CDC to South Dakota to do this investigation, on April 21st, they finished their work. And they submitted their totally normal regular CDC scientific report with its straightforward recommendations. They submitted it to the South Dakota Department of Health. Here you go. We are done.

By that point, their report with all of its recommendations had been through all levels of necessary clearance at the CDC. Up to and including the office of the associate director for science at the CDC.

CDC officials also told Congress that that first memo, the 21st, was cleared internally by two task forces within the CDC response. So it's cleared by the team on the ground in South Dakota, by two task forces within the CDC, goes all the way up to the associate director for science.

Cleared. Signed off. Good to go. Submitted to the requesting agency, which is the South Dakota Department of Health. Done -- until it's undone the following day.

April 22nd, that same scientific team on the ground in South Dakota gets told they need to take it back. They have already submitted their report, version one was the real report. They're told claw it back, rescind it.

Two sources familiar with the matter tell us that the team on the ground was contacted by the office of the director of the CDC, contacted by Robert Redfield's office and told to recall their report, to take it back and to change the language in it, to remove anything that sounded like a real recommendation, any power language had to be removed from their report, anything that made it seem like the meat company actually had to do something. Take it out. Submit a new report that has no language that tells them to do anything.

That's the message to the team on the ground from the office of CDC Director Robert Redfield. That directive was not based on anything happening on the ground in South Dakota. The scientific team's work was already done. We now have their original report, which isn't watered down at all, which is normal CDC work product. That call to rescind it and water it down and make sure the plant didn't actually have to do anything, that came from Washington, from the CDC director's office.

How can you stay the CDC director if that's how you are spending your time? Members of Congress inquiring into this matter have been told that the CDC director did have a meeting that day, April 22nd, with Sonny Perdue, President Trump's appointee as secretary of agriculture.

We know from recent "ProPublica" reporting based on FOIA requests that on April 21st, the day the real report was submitted, the day before Redfield told them to take it back, when Sonny Perdue's office took draft language from meat lobbying offices used as the basis for Trump's executive order mandating that meat plants stay open.

And that doesn't surprise me one bit, right, that the Trump administration would let the meat industry write the order that Trump put his name to saying all the meat plants had to be kept open despite the public health risk. That doesn't surprise me. It's not the proper function of government, but it's exactly the way the Trump administration has comported itself. What does surprise me is that the CDC director, Robert Redfield, would order his own scientists to water down their findings and actually rescind their own final guidance on how to fix this problem at this meat processing plant in South Dakota, how to keep people working in that plant from getting sick and dying.

I mean, the Trump administration messing with the CDC, messing specifically with their scientists' guidance on monitoring COVID and transmission risks of COVID, that's very bad. That's, you know, that's ripping the wiring out of the fire trucks while the town is actively burning. That is terrible. The way that they have sabotaged our own government's most important assets for fighting this pandemic that has killed 200,000 of our fellow Americans.

But you know what? That's what the Trump administration has been like. I contend to you right now that what is worse is the CDC acceding to this interference. Letting it happen. Not that somebody is trying to manipulate them and shut them up and crush them and ruin their authority.

I know that the Trump administration would do that. I know them now. Well enough to understand that. What I don't expect is that the director of the CDC, his office would actually give the order, would actually participate in the degrading of that agency and having its scientific work undercut and its reputation and its authority torn up like this. That's not just terrible, that's intolerable. We need the CDC all the time.

With 200,000 of us dead, we need the CDC desperately. The CDC director under this administration is acceding in the undermining and discrediting of that agency and the muzzling of its own scientists.

We contacted the CDC for comment on this reporting. They did not respond.

We contacted the USDA for comment on this reporting, given the appearance that Trump administration Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue may have been the impetus behind the scientific report being torn up and rewritten. The USDA also gave us no comment.

We also contacted Smithfield, the meat company whose plant who's at the center of this investigation. They told us they have focused on keeping their employees as healthy and safe as possible. They have maintained publicly that they had to do that on their own without help they wanted from the government, without help from anybody else on the outside. And that's good to know.

But their industry has seen tens of thousands of their employees infected across the country. Hundreds of their employees are dead. And our best in the world public health agencies were supposed to stop that. They very well could stop it, and instead, they were told not to.

And the CDC director acceded to all of it. Hundreds dead.

More to come on this. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us now, I'm pleased to say is Debbie Berkowitz. She is the director of the Worker Health and Safety Program at the National Employment Law Project. She served as chief of staff and senior policy adviser at OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Obama administration.

Ms. Berkowitz, thank you for joining us.

You spoke with us back in April when we were first worried about what appeared to be bad CDC or weird CDC advice around meatpacking plants. Now we think we figured out what happened there.

DEBBIE BERKOWITZ, FORMER OSHA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yeah, Rachel. I'm so grateful to you for first breaking this story back on April 28.

I was on the air with you, and then keeping on this story and covering it now because it is totally stunning, and I, in all my history, when I was at OSHA for six years and doing work with CDC on these Epi-Aids and other reports, I have never seen this kind of issuing report taking it back and weakening it.

MADDOW: Our sources indicate that this came from the director of the CDC, that he received pressure of some kind in Washington, we know, around the time that he conveyed this pressure to his team on the ground in South Dakota. He apparently had a meeting with the Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, but we don't know anything else about -- at least nothing else reportable at this point with multiple sources as to what the nature of that pressure was.

But what we can nail down, we have identified this pressure from the CDC director's office on that team in the field. That -- it strikes me as a profound sort of perversion of the scientific process. It's not the way these agencies ever work, right?

BERKOWITZ: No, and it had an enormous impact in that CDC then used this watered-down guidance as the guidance for the entire industry. So the industry could say, listen, nothing's required. Nothing's possible. So I'm in compliance now with the CDC guidance.

I mean, I think in the end what we're going to find out based on your great reporting and based on what we know about the enormous and outsized influence of corporate greed and the meat industry in this administration is that, you know, they succumbed to pressure from the industry to weaken the guidance so that the industry could keep going and making profits and not worry about workers.

And so, as you know, 41,000 workers in the meat industry alone are sick. It spread from so many Smithfield plants. There were 700 workers when CDC went in. Then it grew to 1,300, 40 hospitalized, 4 dead, and more in the community.

MADDOW: Forty-one thousand infections and all of those hospitalizations and all of those deaths. This is just stark stuff.

Debbie Berkowitz, thank you for helping us contextualize it and understand it. And thanks for being with us from the beginning on this story. I really appreciate it.

BERKOWITZ: Thank you.

MADDOW: Again, Debbie Berkowitz now runs the worker health and safety program at National Employment Law Project. She was senior policy adviser and chief of staff at OSHA in the Obama years.

Thanks to the forbearance of my staff particularly for me being obsessed with this story all this time. I'm glad we got the receipts. It makes me sick, this story. It makes me absolutely sick.

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: I just want a quick sort of anti-programming note. In this scoop that we had tonight about the CDC, the corrupting of CDC guidance on meatpacking plants, as I mentioned, we have obtained the two different versions of the report, the real report that the scientific team turned in, and then what they were forced to water it down to, thanks to pressure from Washington, conveyed to that team through the CDC director's office.

We're going to try tonight to get both versions of that report, the real one and the watered down one, posted online. Hopefully to facilitate further reporting on this and so you can lay eyes on it for yourself. We should have that done sometime before I go to bed tonight.

All right. That does it for us now, though. We'll see again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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