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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 24, 2020

Guest: Bernie Sanders


Interview with Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, former presidential candidate. Justice Ginsburg will become the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol ever, and next week, she'll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Sources say that the CDC director's office told CDC to water down guidance on meat plants in April.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Dr. Peter Hotez, it is wonderful to have your insight. Thank you very much for that tonight.

That is "ALL IN" this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

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

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

The Fox News Channel has just released its latest swing state head-to-head polls for the presidential election.

Per these new Fox News polls that just came out, in Pennsylvania former Vice President Joe Biden is leading President Trump by seven points.

In Nevada, former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump by double digits, by 11 points.

And in Ohio, this latest Fox News polling shows Joe Biden leading Trump by five.

That Ohio result is interesting. There's been this sort of emerging political common wisdom this year that Ohio isn't even supposed to be within reach for a Democratic candidate anymore, that Ohio is no longer a swing state. But this is the third Ohio poll in a row all from this month that all have had Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in Ohio.

This Fox poll, the one out today showing Biden leading Trump in Ohio by five, is the largest margin, but there have been three in a row now.

Iowa is another one of those states that per political common wisdom is supposed to be an absolutely lost cause for a Democratic candidate now. But the last few polls out of Iowa are, well, a mixed bag. One shows Trump up by three. Another shows Biden up by three. And "The Des Moines Register" poll out of Iowa this month shows them tied, tied in Iowa, where Trump won by ten points in 2016.

Nationally, here's what it looks like at "Real Clear Politics" when they put the national polling average for Biden versus Trump, when they plot that graph over time. It has varied a little bit over the course of the race but not that much, and the same story has been the same story from the beginning. Biden's leading Trump nationally by a pretty considerable margin. Right now, in their national average, they've got Biden at 49.5 percent and Trump at 43 percent.

Again, this is a national polling average, an average put together by Real Clear Politics. Right now with Biden at 49.5 and Trump at 43, that means Biden as a 6.5 percent national lead over the president.

And you can see this graph in time. It goes back about a year. Over time, Biden's lead over the president has been as high as 12 points roughly this time last year. It's been as low as four points back in May of this year. But that's as close as it's gotten, and right now, again, it's over six.

The president, the incumbent president, looking at the polling, he's losing his race for re-election. He's losing in national polling. He's also losing in swing state polling, and even in some red state polling, all of which adds up to a prediction right now that he's losing in the Electoral College, and he will be a one-term president.

The president is losing his re-election race against Joe Biden, and I have to say that has been true and clearly true since even before the COVID pandemic hit and before the economy up and died in a fiery wreck with very few survivors.

This isn't something that just happened to him recently. He's been behind the whole time. And as we're now within less than six weeks until Election Day arrives, the president is contending with a lot of terrible news, large and small. I mean, he has to be frustrated.

I mean, just over the last couple of days, right, one of his adult sons, the blond one, has just been ordered by a judge that he must produce documents and sit for a sworn deposition before the New York attorney general, and he needs to do it within the next two weeks. He has to do it by October 7th at the latest.

Eric Trump had insisted that he wouldn't be available to give this deposition until after the election was over, but a judge has now told him otherwise. You, sir, do not get to set the terms of this. This is a legal proceeding, and you will sit when you are told to sit.

This pending deposition from Eric Trump is in conjunction with what appears to be a fairly sprawling inquiry by New York authorities into allegations of fraud and other potential crimes by the president's businesses. The president's businesses in which the president himself remains invested but his businesses are now at least nominally run by his adult sons, again, one of whom is about to be deposed under oath by the New York attorney general.

The president, of course, is still fighting subpoenas for his own tax returns and financial records in conjunction with other investigations brought by New York authorities, but at least in those ones, the president and his lawyers have been able to stretch it out a little. Trump family members, for example, are not expected to be under oath in court in relation to those matters within two weeks. But his son, Eric, is expected to be deposed.

The president also got news today that his niece, the daughter of his oldest brother, has brought a lawsuit against the president and his sister for tens of millions of dollars in inheritance that she says the president cheated her out of. And while that might sound just like a super charged edition of "Family Feud," in this case, Mary Trump has the receipts. It was her trove of tens of thousands of family financial documents and tax returns that provided the basis for the epic Pulitzer Prize-winning expos of the Trump family's financial fraud schemes and tax evasion schemes over the years.

Those documents came from Mary Trump. They were part of the basis for her own best-selling book this summer. They are also now the foundation for this newly filed lawsuit against the president and his sister. And did I mention it is for tens of millions of dollars?

Today, there were more than 1,000 Americans who were killed by coronavirus again. In more than 20 states, the numbers of new cases are rising again. The national numbers are ticking back up too.

Look at the case number curves right now in the Dakotas, in North Dakota and in South Dakota. Look at that, North Dakota upper left. South Dakota upper right. Look at Wisconsin and Oklahoma, bottom left and lower right there.

I mean, here we go again. With over 202,000 Americans dead already and 1,000 Americans dying per day and numbers in these heartland states just taking off like a rocket again, I mean more than six months into this crisis and more than 200,000 Americans dead, we are trending worse and not better, and there is no reason to expect that that will let us between now and the election, not with the way the president at least is modeling behavior and not with the way that Trump supporting Republican governors are following his lead in terms of not taking aggressive measures to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The unemployment numbers today were also worse than the government expected, 870,000 Americans filing for unemployment in the past week. That means we've now had, I believe, more than 25 straight weeks of unemployment numbers being worse than they were in the worst week of the Great Recession back in 2008 and 2009.

I mean, things are bad. I keep saying this. I keep just like ad-libbing this on TV night after night. Wow, things are bad on a lot of different fronts. Things are terrible right now in our country in terms of the pandemic, in terms of the economy, in terms of our political norms and the dissolution of civility and everything else. I mean, things are very bad.

But put yourself in the president's shoes, right? If you are the incumbent president of the United States right now and you think about all the structural things that predict whether or not presidents get re-elected. You think first about the economy. You look at the smoldering wreck of the economy.

You think about this externality that was foisted upon you, which is a pandemic. How you're going to deal with it. You manage it more poorly than any other industrialized country in the world, and you have the largest death toll on Earth because of it, right?

You think about that, and then you think about the investigations that are trailing you, trailing your businesses, trailing your family now, and you're running for re-election right now, and the election's really soon. Things are very, very bad, right? It's just one bad news day after another if you're the president right now.

And even the things that he has developed since he has been president, even the things he has tried to do while in office, particularly to punish his enemies, to try to turn the power, the awesome power of the U.S. federal government into his personal weapon that he wields for his own purposes, even that's getting a little bumpy here at the end of his term.

You will recall that President Trump fired the FBI director, who wouldn't back off on the Russia investigation, who wouldn't back off on prosecutions the president tried to interfere in. That FBI director's story has been made into a two-night Showtime movie called "The Comey Rule," that is going to air starting this weekend, starting this Sunday night.

The president is really not going to like that less than six weeks out from the election. He's really, really not going to like what actor Brendan Gleason looks like when he's in his wig and makeup and extra long cheap tie and his fat suit to make him look just like the president. He's not going to like that at all.

After the president fired James Comey, you'll recall that the next director of the FBI after Comey got fired was Andrew McCabe, and the president insisted that Andrew McCabe be fired too after McCabe signed off on the opening of a counterintelligence investigation into the president.

Although the Justice Department went along with that and fired McCabe, Andrew McCabe sued, contending that he was actually fired as retaliation and as a direct result of political pressure from the White House. Well, today a federal judge allowed Andrew McCabe's case over his firing to proceed to discovery. So Mr. McCabe is now going to have the opportunity to try to prove what he says is the real reason he was fired.

Meanwhile, the current director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, keeps showing up and telling Congress things that are true and that directly defy the president's publicly held conspiracies. Yes, Russia is interfering with our elections again to denigrate the Democratic candidate again, to benefit Trump again.

No, there's no mystical election threat that derives from people voting by mail because they have to because of COVID. No, the country is not overrun by highly organized left-wing revolutionaries, and actually the biggest domestic threat the FBI is dealing with now is white supremacist right-winger who want a race war.

And Christopher Wray keeps saying what is going on at the FBI, infuriating the president. Is he going to fire another FBI director right before the election this time? Maybe.

I mean, nothing is going the way the president wants it to go. All of this is very bad news for him, and it must be very frustrating. After the chief of staff of his own Homeland Security Department came out and called him a threat to the country and started organizing not only former Trump administration officials but some currently serving Trump administration officials to try to persuade the American people to vote against this president's re-election.

When the top aide to the vice president on coronavirus came out and called the president a threat to the country who doesn't care if Americans live or die, who said COVID -- who says she saw the president call COVID a good thing because it would stop him from having to shake hands with his supporters, who he called disgusting, disgusting people who he didn't want to have to touch.

After the president's umpteenth national security adviser came out and wrote a book saying that the president was manifestly unfit for the job and, by the way, he says he heard the president ask China to help his re-election this time just like Russia helped him the last time. After that one, the president sicced the Department of Justice on John Bolton, tried to block his book from publication, has since been threatening criminal charges against Bolton for supposedly disclosing classified information.

Well, that one's gone pear shaped too. Now, the career official who oversaw the review of Bolton's book to see if it had any classified information in it, she's now told a federal judge that the whole national security review process inside the White House was bastardized, ginned up and falsified, specifically trying to fit John Bolton up for these criminal charges for something he didn't do, because they wanted to block the book. And when they couldn't block the book, they wanted to punish him for publishing it.

I mean, when you're an aspiring authoritarian leader who can't even use the power of the state to destroy your enemies, that's a bad day. The president is having a bad time.

Today, nearly 500 senior military officers and national security officials signed off on a letter decrying President Trump as manifestly unfit for office, imploring people to vote for Joe Biden instead, and we have seen before lists of national security experts and retired military personnel coming out and saying that this is the wrong person to be commander in chief. President Trump is a bad president, and you shouldn't keep him in office. We're getting used to that a little bit.

But this is something a little bit different because on this statement today, there are 22 retired four-star military officers, including some who served quite recently under Donald Trump, including, for example, the general Trump him self-appointed as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's the number two person in the pentagon hierarchy.

Air Force General Paul Selva retired a year ago after serving under Trump, after being appointed vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Trump. He has now signed on to this letter saying vote for Biden. Trump's a catastrophe.

Same goes for the admiral who ran the Coast Guard under Donald Trump. Same goes for a vice admiral who led the Navy SEALs until he retired last year under Trump. These officers are not doing this anonymously. They're putting their names on it. Which is rare, right? For military officers in any case.

But given that these guys served until quite recently at very high levels directly under this president, they're now putting their names out there to say do not re-elect this person no matter what you do. That's something.

And this cascade of bad news for the president, all of these sort of signs and indicators pointing toward him being a one-term president, this all comes as voting is not just on the horizon. Voting is under way already in tons of places. Early, in-person voting is under way now both in Virginia and in Illinois.

If you're going to vote absentee this year instead of inside the polling booth, that's under way too. In at least nine other states, you can now start dropping off your absentee ballots early and in person. Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, South Dakota, Wyoming, New Jersey, Vermont, Alabama, Mississippi, Delaware.

I mean if you are freaked out about the integrity of this election and the likelihood of your vote being counted when you cast it, everybody's planning their vote. Figure out how you can get your vote in as early and safely as you can. If you have received the application for an absentee ballot in the mail and you're going to vote absentee, get your absentee ballot application in right away, immediately.

Do it right away if you haven't done it already. If you have received your ballot in the mail, fill it out and get it in right away. Do not delay.

If you're going to vote in person, either early in person or on Election Day in person, make a plan. Who are you going with? How are you going to get there? What's your transportation plan? How are you going to keep safe in terms of COVID?

Don't be afraid to overplan for this. You might get stuck in line. Even if you've never been stuck in line before, you might get stuck in line this time. Don't let that flummox you. Plan for it. If it turns out there is no line, you can treat it like a windfall.

But plan for there being a long line. Plan for it being a long line. Expect it. Don't let it stand in your way. Don't let it surprise you. Don't make it something that causes other plans to fall around it to potentially make you leave the line and risk not getting your vote in this year.

I mean, we've seen long lines for in-person early voting already, including in Virginia over this past week. Even in Fairfax county, where Trump supporters showed up en masse this weekend to try to intimidate voters and poll workers at an early site in Fairfax County, we've seen long lines there as people are intimidated and they keep turning out.

We saw long lanes in DuPage County, Illinois, today. People waited 2 1/2 hours in line in Illinois today to vote on the first day of early voting.

Wherever you are going to vote, whether or not you have ever had to contend with a line before, there might be a line this year. Bring something to sit on if you're going to be in line for a long time. Bring snacks. Bring water. Bring a mask for yourself. Bring an extra mask or two maybe in case somebody else forgets theirs.

Charge your phone. Bring an extra battery if you got one. Dress comfy, bring a jacket. Go with friends and family. Make a plan. Overplan.

If you have overplanned, you can send me hate mail after the election saying, Maddow, you made me overplan. I could have done lots of other things that day. I will -- I will accept your hate mail at the time. Overplan.

For a third straight day today, the president showed his cards in terms of what he thinks he can do with all the news being this bad against him. For the third straight day, he talked openly about what he thinks his only option is in this circumstance where really everything is going against him, where it's just bad news after bad news after bad poll after bad poll. I mean, where the polling really does seem stuck like this, and this looks like the story of a one-term president.

In the face of this, in the face of what looks like a losing re-election effort, with each passing day it is more unequivocal that it is a losing effort thus far by the president. For the third straight day today, President Trump said that the election isn't a legitimate thing, that voting in this election is something he sees as illegitimate, that the election isn't a real election, that it's a fraud and a hoax and it should be viewed as such.

After last night, when he said they'd get rid of the ballots and then there wouldn't be a transfer of power, there would be a continuation of power because he got rid of the ballots, because the ballots are out of control, after those unbelievable remarks from the president yesterday, Republicans in the Senate today issued some mild rebukes, generally not naming the president but gently insisting in anodyne terms that of course we'll have a normal election. Of course, we'll have a peaceful transfer of power. Don't mind what the president is saying, and don't ask me about it in more detail.

As always, though, the real key is to watch not just what they're saying but what the administration is doing, news on that front as well today. Today, we learned that part of what they're doing is that the Justice Department today bizarrely started hyping the risks of mail-in ballots, specifically in Pennsylvania. Just like the president and Attorney General Bill Barr have been hyping fears about voting in recent weeks to try to cast doubt on the election overall, Trump appointed U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania put out a strange statement today claiming that there was some scandal involving mail-in ballots.

It was an initial statement that was rescinded and then a follow-up statement. It was all very weird.

David Laufman, who served as head of counterintelligence in the national security division of the Justice Department under President Trump, was among those who called bullpucky on this today as soon as it happened. Laufman saying online today, quote, this is both bizarre and disturbing. U.S. attorney's offices don't issue reporting on pending investigations, and certainly not reports so blatantly contrived to provide political ballast for a sitting president's campaign narrative.

As I mentioned, the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney's office in Pennsylvania put out this weird statement today, hyping concerns about mail-in ballots. They ended up rescinding their original statement and reissuing it later under different terms that made it even weirder. But this is what they're going with.

This is what they've got. This is the way the president is going to continue to talk about the election and this is apparently what he's going to expect the administration and I guess even the Justice Department to fall in line, to fall in line with in terms of trying to make Americans believe that the election doesn't matter this year.

I mean the real news and the real polls are real bad for the president right now, and he doesn't want to lose. So this is -- now we're in it. The president and the administration, including the Justice Department, increasingly his supporters in the Republican Party are all getting on board now with the strategy to essentially not run for re-election but to run against the election, to say the votes are all fraudulent. The count doesn't matter. This will all be decided in the courts, and that's why we need Trump judges.

That seems to be what they're settling on, what they're going with. But adding to the president's bad day today, he did get a shove back today, a hard shove back today from the anti-establishment politician on the political left who seems to unnerve the president almost more than any other, and who hasn't otherwise given an in person speech or done an in person event since he himself left the presidential race way back in March. Watch.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): What I am going to talk about is something that in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be discussing. And that is the need to make certain that the president of the United States, if he loses this election, will abide by the will of the voters and leave office peacefully.

This is not just an election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy. And democracy must win.

Let us be very clear. There is nothing in our constitution or in our laws that gives Donald Trump the privilege of deciding whether or not he will step aside if he loses. In the United States, the president does not determine who can or cannot vote and what ballots will be counted. That may be what his friend Putin does in Russia. It may be what is done in other authoritarian countries, but it is not and it will not be done in America.

This is a democracy. No matter how rich or powerful you may be, no matter how arrogant and narcissistic you may be, no matter how much you think you can get anything you want, let me make this clear to Donald Trump -- too many people have fought and died to defend American democracy, and you are not going to destroy it. The American people will not allow that to happen.

And to my Republican colleagues in the Congress, please do not continue to tell the American people how much you love America if at this critical moment you are not prepared to stand up to defend American democracy and our way of life. Stop the hypocrisy.

In this unprecedented moment, what can we as a people do in the struggle to preserve American democracy? It is absolutely imperative that we have by far the largest voter turnout in American history and that people vote as early as possible.

As someone who is strongly supporting Joe Biden, let's be clear -- a landslide victory for Biden will make it virtually impossible for Trump to deny the results and is our best means for defending democracy.

The American people, no matter what their political view, must make it clear that American democracy will not be destroyed. Our country from its inception and through the sacrifices of millions has been a model to the world with regard to representative government.

In 1863 in the midst of the terrible civil war, Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg stated that this government, quote, of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. That was true then. That is true today.

Regardless of what Donald Trump wants, the American people will preserve democracy in our country.


MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont today giving his first major speech since leaving the presidential race six months ago. And as you saw there, he is -- he is making -- he is making a clear point with it, a barn burner today from Senator Sanders.

He's going to join us live for the interview here, next.


MADDOW: It has been five months since Senator Bernie Sanders ended his own presidential campaign. Today was his first major public address since ending that campaign. In that speech, Senator Sanders warned of what he called the unprecedented and dangerous moment we find ourselves in now with the president who's casting doubt on November's results ahead of time and who, Senator Sanders says, will do everything in his power to stay in office regardless of the election results.


SANDERS: It is terribly important that we actually listen to and take seriously what Donald Trump is saying.

From a president who is a pathological liar, who has strong authoritarian tendencies.

In Trump's mind, there is no conceivable way that he should leave office.

He's attempting massive voter suppression.

He wants to defund the Postal Service in order to limit the use of mail-in ballots. He urged his supporters in North Carolina to try voting twice.

Asked to give a direct answer on whether he would accept the election results, Trump refused.

He wants his supporters, some of whom are members of armed militias, to intimidate voters.

Trump may well announce that he has won the election before all of the votes are counted.

In the United States, the president does not determine who can or cannot vote and what ballots will be counted. That may be what his friend, Putin, does in Russia. It is not and it will not be done in America.

This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy. And democracy must win.


MADDOW: And democracy must win.

Senator Bernie Sanders' first major public speech today since dropping out of the presidential race five months ago. The senator says he now plans to spend the next six weeks until Election Day urging the country to prepare for, quote, "a nightmare scenario" in which Trump declares himself the winner of the election regardless of the results and refuses to step down.

Joining us now for "The Interview," I'm very happy to say, is Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders, I'm so happy to have you here tonight. Thank you for making time.

SANDERS: Well, thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: I played a whole bunch of your speech there because I think it was important and because you kind of tore the lid off here.

Can you just -- can you talk a little bit about your decision to give the speech and the urgency that you feel about this?

SANDERS: Look, Rachel, I am worried and have been worried for a long time that we have a president who will refuse to leave office if he loses the election. And what I believe we have got to do is listen carefully to what he says.

I know there are people out there, oh, Trump's crazy, he says this, he says that, don't take him seriously.

Take him seriously!

He says that he's not sure if he will leave the presidency if he loses the election. He says that the only way, Rachel, the only way that he can possibly lose is that the election is rigged, no other way. And if that is what he believes and he loses, that means the election is rigged and he is not going to leave office.

And right now, as you know, he's mounting a massive assault on so-called voter fraud. Only problem is, study after study had shown we have virtually no voter fraud in the United States. That's something that his attorney general confirmed today, Benjamin Ginsburg, you may remember that name. He was the lead Republican election official during the 2000 Gore versus Bush recount in Florida. This is the lead Republican guy on these issues. He said voter fraud in America is virtually non-existent.

So, why is Trump doing all of this? And here's the answer. For whatever reason and we don't have to discuss why, it turns out that Republicans are far more likely to walk into a polling booth and vote than Democrats. Democrats are far more likely to use mail-in ballots.

So, what could very well happen is on election night, when you're sitting there moderating the show, it appears that Trump is winning in Michigan and Wisconsin and Florida. People see it, oh my goodness, Trump is ahead.

And then at 10:00 at night, Trump announces, I won the election. And, by the way, my attorney general has told me this massive fraud with the mail-in ballots. And we got to stop counting those ballots. Thank you, America, I won. Have a good night.

And then the mail-in ballots keep coming in and Trump's lead disappears and Biden becomes the leader, and then you have massive chaos and conspiracy theories. And that is the nightmare that I worry about.

MADDOW: And, Senator, what do you think is the challenge of leadership, both for Joe Biden and his campaign but also for other leaders around the country and other elected officials around the country in trying to avert that nightmare, describing it in advance, describing the signs of it that you see coming, certainly, is the sort of subconscious raising that's needed as a first step. What else can be done to avert what seems like the president's telegraphing that he's going to do?

SANDERS: Rachel, you know, I mentioned in my speech that I get sick and tired of hearing Republicans tell us how much they love America. Well, if they love America, then they love American democracy and now is the time for them to stand up in a very forceful way and say, hey, Mr. President, if you lose this election, you are leaving office, no ifs, buts and maybes.

Will Republicans do that? Some may. But, I have my doubts.

But what we have got to do is, among other things, put pressure on Republicans to demand that we do not lose our democratic heritage in this country and that they're going to stand no matter how they vote, they're going to demand that every vote is counted and the winner is inaugurated.

MADDOW: Senator, over the next -- less than six weeks now, I know you've said you are going to do everything in your power to try to avert this nightmare scenario. And I know this remark today and speech today was part of it.

What else should we be on the look out from you over the next five and a half weeks? And you obviously still command incredible support and loyalty from all the people who worked on both your presidential campaigns and supported you through all that and who really still see you as a leader of the progressive movement in this country who doesn't really have any peers in that regard.

What are you asking people who respect you and like you to do over these next five and a half weeks, and what should we expect to see from you?

SANDERS: Well, we are working very, very hard, not only on this issue, Rachel. We're working hard to see that Biden wins. We've already held I think 12 virtual town meetings. I'm going to be out I suspect on the campaign trail as best as we can given the pandemic as soon as I can.

But I think all of us have got to do and I say to the Republicans who are watching. I know you're not going to vote for Biden. That's fine. You're going to vote for Trump, OK.

But stand up. If you're a veteran, you fought -- put your life on the line to defend the Constitution of the United States. And now is the time to demand that that Constitution be respected and adhere to.

So, one of the things, I know it may sound strange to people, I'm going to reach out to Republicans, and say we disagree on everything. But, I hope that you respect the Constitution.

People like Benjamin Ginsburg, people like Dan Coats wrote a very good op-ed at "New York Times" recently. He is Trump's former Republican senator from Indiana, conservative guy, former intelligence director under Trump, and he said, we need a bipartisan commission to oversee this election so that people have faith in our democracy. We've got to reach out to those folks as well.

MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders, sir, it is great to see you. Thank you so much for making the time tonight. It's good to have you here.

SANDERS: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: This is day two of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lying in repose at the top of the steps of the Supreme Court building. The second day of public viewing will soon draw to a close in about 15 minutes from now, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Tomorrow, Justice Ginsburg will become the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol ever. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden will pay their respects to Justice Ginsburg at the Capitol tomorrow. Next week, she'll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The outpouring mourning the justice, celebrating her life, isn't surprising. But the sheer volume of mourners who have turned out to pay their respects these last two days and the raw emotion of their tributes has been, I think, pretty remarkable to see, mothers and daughters hugging and marking this moment. Little kids dressed up in black robes and lace collars a la Ginsburg. We saw Justice Ginsburg's former law clerks of course lining the steps at the court, standing guard as honorary pallbearers.

Today, President Trump visited the court to pay his respects, and people who were there chanted at him. They chanted "vote him out," and they chanted "honor her request." that being her dying wish that her seat not be filled until a new president is installed.

Joining us is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Michael, thank you so much for being here. I've been wanting to talk to you about this since we learned about Justice Ginsburg's passing. Thanks for being here.


MADDOW: I want to ask you an open-ended question. As an historian, what are -- what are things we should be thinking about right now in terms of Justice Ginsburg passing, this vacancy on the court? How are you approaching this in terms of relevant historical precedent? What about this is unprecedented or whether yet again this is another time that we're overusing that word.

BESCHLOSS: Well, number one, we all just heard Bernie Sanders' great interview. I hope all of our friends were listening. We are in danger of losing our democracy tonight, and one way it might happen is the Supreme Court.

Donald Trump the last couple of days has said that the contested election may come to the court. We know now that he is secretly meeting with various possibilities, and what is he telling them in secret? What did he tell James Comey when he met with him after the inauguration? Can I depend on your loyalty?

Is he asking those candidates tonight, can I depend on your loyalty? And if I can't at the time of a contested election, maybe you're not getting the seat.

MADDOW: I guess thinking about precedent in a legal context in addition to just a historical context is more complicated. But if the president does put somebody on the court through this unusual process that the Republicans are trying to engineer right now, and then almost immediately that justice is called upon to adjudicate some sort of case that's going to determine whether or not this president gets a second term, what you expect that justice, having just been installed, to have to recuse from that kind of a case?

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely that justice should recuse. I mean, that's what William Rehnquist did at the time of the Nixon tapes case as you know in July of 1974 because he had been in the Nixon Justice Department. A new justice who's been rushed into office, if that happens, after a rushed process defying all precedents, including Mitch McConnell's demand of Barack Obama that there be no court appointment for the last 11 months of his administration, Lincoln in 1864, LBJ in 1968, refrain from doing anything other than leave this appointment to the next president.

If the Supreme Court decides this, and the deciding vote is a new justice who has just been in secret making some kind of hidden promise to Donald Trump, that will be the most illegitimate of all.

MADDOW: Michael, watching the news over the last few days, there has been, I think, a little bit of a genuine freak-out about the president's remarks that the election, by definition, right now, in advance, before we know what any results are, is illegitimate. It's fraudulent, that the ballots need to be stopped, that the ballots are out of control, that there won't be a transition of power. There will be a continuation of power because he's going to get rid of the ballots.

I think there has been, for all the outrageous things he's said, there has been a sort of genuine freak-out about the president crossing a lot of new lines with this kind of rhetoric particularly close to the election.

Did any other president ever play with this kind of fire in advance of the votes being counted, talking about the election as something that ought to be disregarded?

BESCHLOSS: Nothing even remotely similar. You want to go into history to look for something like this? Go into Italian history and look at Mussolini.

This is the way dictators come to power. He's telling you what he intends to do, and we've got to make very sure that in the next 5 1/2 weeks and after that, we do not get in a situation where just as Senator Sanders was saying tonight, Donald Trump announces that he's won and puts us in a situation where our democracy is being stolen minute by minute.

This is not a drill. Franklin Roosevelt said in 1940 at the time of Adolf Hitler, never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has American civilization been in this kind of danger. We're approaching that point tonight.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, I've never heard you say anything quite (AUDIO GAP) before, sir, thank you for being here. Thanks.

BESCHLOSS: Stay well, Rachel. We need you.

MADDOW: Oh, man. When the presidential historian says this is not a drill and then says we need you, I'm going to take an extra long break. I'll be back sometime in the next few days.


MADDOW: Here's an update on an exclusive story we brought you a couple days ago. Last spring, the CDC issued a weird, very un-CDC-like report following a COVID outbreak at a Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The report was released April 22nd. It described how Smithfield could take steps to protect its workers, but only where feasible and if possible.

CDC doesn't write reports like that. What we discovered was that just one day before that weird mealy-mouthed report was issued, the CDC scientists working on that had issued a different, stronger report, a normal CDC report telling Smithfield how to handle that outbreak in no uncertain terms. For months now, we've been trying to get our hands on that first report, the real one that CDC scientists first issued before they were told to rescind it and replace it with there watered down version.

Well, this week, we got that original undoctored report and multiple sources confirmed to us that the whole reason this happens was because of a directive from D.C., from the office of CDC Director Robert Redfield, which forced the change, which made those CDC scientists rescind their real report and turn in this very un-CDC-like watered down mess instead.

Well, yesterday the CDC director, Robert Redfield, was asked about it in Congress. He said that the Smithfield report was changed in order to make it clear that, quote, CDC is not a regulatory agency. He said that's why the language in the report was weakened, why Smithfield was told to take certain measures only if they wanted to, only where feasible.

I'm glad that Director Redfield is trying to explain what happened here now, but with all due respect, that explanation doesn't make any sense even just in logical terms. The CDC isn't a regulatory agency, but it never has been. It wasn't before COVID. It hasn't been since then.

There was no sudden revelation about that or change about that that would cause the CDC to suddenly start pulling its punches and watering down its recommendations specifically for this one meatpacking plant.

Nothing about CDC changed. Why did that thing that's always been true about CDC result in dramatic changes to this one CDC product? It just doesn't sit right. Neither did this.


SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): Did your office have any contact with Smithfield Foods or the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the White House concerning specifically this memo before it was edited?

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: No, not at that time.


MADDOW: No, not at that time.

You know, that answer strikes me as weird because CDC has acknowledged actually that Dr. Redfield did speak with Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on the very same day that CDC scientists were forced by Redfield's office to take back their initial report and replace it with the bad one.

Here's what a CDC official said about that April 22nd conversation between Redfield and Perdue, in an email to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. They said, quote: To the extent that they discussed the Smithfield report, the content of that discussion would be considered pre-decisional, meaning you're not going to be able to get access to the content of their conversation but there's no denial that Redfield and Perdue spoke about the Smithfield memo that day, the day that Redfield's office called those CDC scientists and told them to take back their report.

So there's still a lot we don't know here, but thankfully, some powerful people are now on it. Senator Patty Murray of Washington for one has made it clear she still has questions about the CDC director's communications around this.

Something tells me that her friends on the House side, including Congresswoman DeLauro and the House, Education and Labor Committee, which shared the original version of the Smithfield report with us, something tells me they're not going to let this one go either. For the sake of the CDC, we should all hope that none of them let it go.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: That's going to do it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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