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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 25, 2020

Guests: Robert Cardillo, Olivia Troye


Today, in a blistering op-ed in his hometown paper, "The Denver Post", former intelligence official Robert Cardillo writes that after serving six American presidents, four Republicans and two Democrats, he says he believes that President Trump has failed to serve U.S. national security interests as commander-in-chief. For more than two years, Olivia Troye served as a senior homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, and she has become one of the few people to actually detail what's been going on behind closed doors in the White House's disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic; and it has caused her to take this remarkable step to warn the country about the president's unfitness for office.



Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Talking about understatement of the week, thanks, my friend. I appreciate it. This has been a wild ride.

All right. Thanks to you at home joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.

It has been a historic week, and it is about to be a historic next few days.

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid in repose outside the Supreme Court building for these last two days, we saw so many dramatic images of the public turning out to pay their respects. Long lines from 9:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. People turning out to mourn her.

More than 150 law clerks who served in her chambers over the decades turning out to be her honorary pallbearers. It's just been a very emotional thing to see over these last couple of days.

Today, Ruth Bader Ginsburg received an honor that no woman has ever received before. Today, she laid in state at the United States capitol.

As "The New York Times" put it in a headline today, quote, Justice Ginsburg breaks one final barrier. She is the first woman to ever lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. She's also the first Jewish person to ever lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden paid his respected today as did his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

One striking scene today was a bipartisan group of female senators and female members of Congress who lined the steps of the capitol as her casket was carried to the hearse. After all of these honors for the past few days for Justice Ginsburg, she will ultimately be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Her husband, martin Ginsburg, who preceded her in death, he's an army veteran. He's buried at Arlington as well. She will be laid to rest alongside him.

Tomorrow, Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, the president is due to announce his nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg on the court although it's not clear whether or not that nominee will be confirmed, full stop, or confirmed before the election, confirmed before the inauguration. It's all going to be a gigantic brawl in Washington.

Tonight, NBC news is reporting that the president will nominate a hard-line conservative young federal judge named Amy Coney Barrett, who has been seen all along as the leading contender. Amy Coney Barrett has been a judge for just three years. She was appointed to the 7th Circuit in 2017 by President Trump. She is 48 years old. She would be the youngest member of the court by several years.

Justice Barrett served as a law clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Her conservative backers have reportedly told President Trump that Judge Barrett would be like a female Scalia. Obviously, a justice like that replacing Ginsburg on the court would tilt the court very, very, very much further to the right.

Abortion rights may be particularly and immediately at risk if Barrett is confirmed to the court. She's seen as sort of an arch hard-liner on that issue. Also, though, President Trump has vowed to only appoint anti-abortion justices to the court who will pledge to overturn Roe v. Wade, so she is one among many choices in that regard.

But Judge Barrett also promises almost more than any other pick the president could have made to be a deciding vote to eliminate Obamacare, to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, by which tens of millions of Americans have been able to get health insurance. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments literally the week after the election in a case brought by Republican-controlled states and backed by the Trump administration, a case that is specifically designed to kill all of the Affordable Care Act, which would, among other things, have the immediate effect of stripping health insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic.

The last time the Affordable Care Act was before the Supreme Court, it was saved by dint of one vote from Chief Justice John Roberts. Amy Coney Barrett wrote a law review article excoriating John Roberts' opinion in that case, so she is essentially an assured vote to kill the ACA. Now, she, of course, would have to be confirmed to the court super quickly to participate in that case, but that's what the administration and Republicans in the Senate are trying to do.

Let me just sort of step back from the drama of it and look at the politics here. It is a heck of a closing argument for this election, right? Confirm this justice right before the election and re-elect this president so we can and will nuke your health insurance less than two weeks later.

That said, you know, nothing is ever for certain with this president. We will find out for certain who his nominee when he announces it tomorrow, but there are multiple news organizations now reporting it is likely to be Judge Barrett.

Whoever it is, it appears that Republicans really are going to try to get that confirmation done before the election despite the fact that when Justice Scalia died in February 2016, when that year's presidential election was not weeks away but still months and months away, these exact same Republican senators and this exact same Republican leadership insisted the vacancy had to be held open until after the election.

Despite that, despite the fact that the latest polling indicates that Americans by nearly a 20-point margin believe that the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by the president who is the winner of the November election.

Republicans are planning to move on this as quickly as they can despite that. But a lot of stuff is going to happen very quickly, over this weekend and the next few days and the next few weeks. But in the immediate sense, remember that Tuesday is the first presidential debate.

President Trump, former Vice President Biden will debate Tuesday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The moderator will be Chris Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday".

Vice President Biden has made fewer campaign appearances in recent days. His campaign says he's been focusing on debate prep. We've heard no such pronouncements from the White House. It's not clear at all whether the president is doing debate prep. What he has been doing almost every day in recent days now is holding these increasingly large, almost completely mask-free, no social distancing rallies, including this one that he's doing tonight right now in Virginia.

This crowd was gathered there for hours before the president got there. The president has just taken the stage within the last few minutes. Health officials in Virginia tried to stop this rally tonight because a gathering of thousands of people violates the ban in that state on large gatherings in order to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The campaign and the White House were totally defiant in the face of that state rule.

A local director from the state health department in Virginia wrote to the group hosting tonight's rally, pleading with them to cancel it for health reasons. Quote, the Make America Great Again event will draw thousands, estimates of up to 4,000 people into the city of Newport News. An event of this size during the COVID-19 pandemic is a, quote, severe public health threat. We ask that you reconsider moving forward with the event and cancel or reschedule the Make America Great Again event or scale the event down to a maximum capacity of 250 people.

That plea from local health officials, as you can see these pleas fell on deaf ears. The Trump campaign has gone ahead with this rally with thousands of people tonight. And, again, as all of these have had, there are some people who they put close to the cameras who are wearing masks. Lots of people are not, and there's no social distancing whatsoever.

The governor of Virginia himself and his wife just tested positive for coronavirus within the past couple of days. They're going to be isolating for the next ten days. Governor Ralph Northam issued a statement after his diagnosis that said in part, quote, the best thing you can do for us and most importantly for your fellow Virginians is to take this seriously.

This is actually the second time in just the past couple of days where we've heard that a governor and the governor's wife have both tested positive for coronavirus. It was just two days ago when we learned that Missouri's governor, Mike Parsons, who has insisted there shouldn't be any mask rule in his state even as his state's numbers have taken off like a rocket. Governor Parsons and his wife have just announced they've both tested positive for coronavirus.

In that state, in Missouri, the situation right now is particularly bad. This is the case numbers over time in Missouri. You see an inexorable rise, including recently.

Today, Missouri again reported a new record for its number of hospitalizations. They also just today reported their second highest daily case count ever since the start of the pandemic.

Tonight, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan pandemic task force tells us that specifically St. Louis-based hospitals in Missouri are seeing a rise not just in COVID patients from St. Louis. St. Louis hospitals now are seeing a rise in COVID patients transferred from other parts of the state because in rural parts of Missouri, rural hospitals are starting to reach capacity. The associated press also bolstering that with their own reporting today about hospitals outside St. Louis in Missouri approaching capacity as COVID numbers surge very high in that state.

And Missouri isn't alone in seeing its hospitals now reaching capacity and having to start transferring patients around. In the great state of Idaho, chief medical officers from two different hospitals sounded the alarm today that their facilities are, quote, on the razor's edge of being overwhelmed by the virus. Again, that's in Idaho.

This comes as the country overall hit the milestone of 7 million Americans infected. And with 7 million infections and over 204,000 fatalities, that is a bad baseline from which -- for things to get worse from. But things are getting worse, particularly right now in the heartland, in the Midwest and in the Upper Midwest.

Wisconsin is the state that NBC News is now characterizing as the nation's hot spot for COVID. Wisconsin seeing a particularly alarming surge on all fronts. The situation's bad enough that Governor Tony Evers there declared a new public health emergency earlier this week due to the surge in cases. He's warning of quote, unprecedented, near exponential growth.

This is the graph of new cases in Wisconsin. This is not good. That is -- that is not good.

Wisconsin thought they had their first peak, right, back in May. Then they thought they had a much worse peak in late July and late August. Now look where they are.

Today, Wisconsin reported over 2,500 new cases. And it's not just a surge in new cases. Hospitals in Wisconsin have reported the highest number of COVID hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic while reporting a positivity rate of nearly 17 percent. That is terrible.

Wisconsin is just in bad shape right now. We're seeing it get bad in a bunch of states, including a bunch of states that haven't ever really taken any aggressive statewide action to try to make things better and slow the spread. The national numbers look bad right now. They are being driven by worsening situations in more states than not.

And it happens at a time when the leadership on this seems increasingly not just to be failed, but increasingly seems to be a little bit nuts. The president, as I mentioned, seems increasingly gleeful about defying health orders to do these large events with no distancing and very few masks, aggressively mocking Democrats and Joe Biden and anybody else who embraces things like masks or other restrictions to try to slow the spread.

Meanwhile, the few public health experts who still ostensibly still have leadership roles at the White House, coronavirus response are being increasingly described as demoralized, in favor of the non-infectious disease doctor who the president brought in to run the coronavirus response in the White House, the guy who he saw on Fox News and liked the way he talked about it even though he has no expertise in the field.

CNN reporting today, quote, inside the White House, Doctors Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci have struggled to compete with the growing influence of Trump's new favorite coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no public health expertise and no infectious disease expertise, who's views are widely out of step with leading public health experts.

In that same piece, CNN also reporting today on a morale crisis among the experts at the Centers for Disease Control, where the nation's best scientists and public health experts are reportedly demoralized not only by the constant attacks on their work but on the weak leadership at their own agency, particularly Dr. Robert Redfield, frequently and now sort of consistently caving, folding into inappropriate White House and Trump administration pressure that is distorting and in some cases blocking the release of scientific work from the CDC.

In the midst of this, there are continuing revelations from the senior homeland security aide to Vice President Mike Pence. His senior staffer at the White House coronavirus task force from the very beginning of that task force, Olivia Troye, who has now come forward to say after leaving the White House, that she believes that the president is manifestly unfit for office and should be voted out. We're going to be speaking with Olivia Troye later on this hour.

Since she came forward, though, to describe her own experience in the White House and what she describes is the president's shocking unfitness on the issue of COVID particularly, it's interesting. A lot of people have remarked on the fact that she's being brave in doing this, right?

As a Trump White House official, as a lifelong Republican with a strong career in national security under way already and with great things ahead of her by all accounts for that career, she came out the way that she has and has said the things that she has, she has really put it all on the line to try to warn the American public about what she says is the grave danger of reinstalling this president for another term. She herself has called for other people to be brave too, for other more senior officials, people who saw up close what it's like to work with this president and what he's like in office. She's calling on them to come out as well and join her.

Today one of them has. His name is Robert Cardillo. Robert Cardillo began his career as a public servant under Ronald Reagan working as an intelligence analyst. He would go on to be -- to serve in a number of high profile roles in intelligence circles over four decades, working under then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullin. He was deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Robert Cardillo, over the course of his career, spent, by his account, over 300 mornings in the Oval Office briefing the president and his senior staff. He spent four years managing and editing and at times delivering the presidents' daily brief on the nation's most sensitive intelligence. He's logged over 1,000 hours in the White House situation room, providing intelligence assessments critical to U.S. national security policy decisions.

That includes this one. You will recognize a version of this photo. This is the famous White House Situation Room photo as the president and the vice president and senior leadership in the Obama administration watched unfold the Navy SEAL team raid that killed Osama bin Laden. That's Robert Cardillo there right next to Vice President Biden in the Situation Room during that raid.

Well, today, in a blistering op-ed in his hometown paper, "The Denver Post", Robert Cardillo writes that after serving six American presidents, four Republicans and two Democrats, he says he believes that, quote, only one has failed to serve U.S. national security interests as commander-in-chief, President Trump comes up tragically short.

This is the kind of thing that's not something Robert Cardillo has ever done before. He says he's never registered for a political party. He says he's never spoken out for or against any candidate for public office ever before.

But he says, quote, I can be silent no longer. I can personally attest that Americans were very well-served by those they elected to fill critical national security positions. There is one important exception to that statement, he says -- our current president. I have briefed him up close, and I have seen and felt the effect of his faults on our nation's security.

Out of respect for the confidential nature of Oval Office conversations, I will not provide details. But suffice to say the person he sue providing over COVID-19 press conferences is the same one in the privacy of his office. He has little patience for facts or data that do not comport with his personal world view. Thus the conversations are erratic and less than fully thoughtful.

Quote: While it is natural for their to be tension between the intelligence community and senior policymakers, President Trump's decisions to rely upon the word of dictators like Vladimir Putin is an unprecedented betrayal of his oath to the Constitution. He says, quote, our current president bases his decisions on his instincts, and his instincts are based upon a personal value proposition. What's in it for me?

As a nation, we were fortunate that a true crisis didn't occur during his first three years in office. Then 2020 happened. In moments of crisis, the American people demand and deserve a leader who will put the country first, full stop.

Because the reality and the science of COVID-19 conflicted with his personal views, President Trump knowingly downplayed the pandemic and as damaging as his faulty leadership has been, four more years would be devastating. We must elect a thoughtful, moral, responsible, respectful leader on November 3rd. Our current president is not that leader, end quote.

Joining us now is Robert Cardillo, former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, former deputy director of Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Cardillo, thank you very much for joining us. It's an honor to have you here tonight.


MADDOW: For people trying to understand what it means for you to be speaking publicly like this, I characterized it the way that you did in your op-ed so we can see it through your own eyes in terms of how rare this is. But can you -- can you just tell our audience what the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is as a way of giving us an understanding of the kind of background that you're coming from?

CARDILLO: Yeah, I'd be happy to. The nation's very well served by the agency that I was privileged enough to spend much of my career in and then finish as director until last year.

Basically the agency maps the planet in a way that makes it safer, meaning for travel, for navigation, for military deployments, but also for humanitarian rescue and resupply. So everything from the Ebola crisis, the changing nature of our polar regions, but also making sure that our militaries are safely deployed and can employ their services around the planet is the mission of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

MADDOW: And with those kind of capabilities and with your role leading that agency, as you described in your op-ed, that brings you into close contact with the president, with the commander in chief, because the kind of intelligence that you're briefing, the kinds of other intelligence work that you've done in your career goes right to the top in some cases.

Given all of the different presidents you've served under, Republican and Democrat, given all of the time that you've spent in the Oval Office, even in the Situation Room, what is it that's so different about this president seeing him up close that made you feel like you needed to cross into a new place you've never been in in your life and let the public know your assessment of him?

CARDILLO: Yeah, it's a great question, but let me first say what's -- what's -- what I'll call natural, and it's that natural tension because if you're an intelligence professional, your job is to describe the world as you see it and to assess future scenarios. And you do the best you can to lay those out and to be as clear as you can to help decision makers navigate their way through a very dangerous world. That provision of intelligence is going to come in conflict with policymakers. It's very natural to do so.

I spent a lot of time in that conflict zone during the Obama administration, and so that's normal conditions. What is exceptional, though, about this president is that because, again, in my view that he bases so much of his judgments about his view of the reality on his internal guidance, that he takes in very little external input to that guidance, that it becomes more than just attention. It's a disconnect.

And that disconnect is what I worry about because if you disconnect, you know, our most senior leaders from the valued input from the intelligence community, what you risk are making an informed, ill-advised, and ultimately dangerous decisions.

MADDOW: You described him as being unwilling or unable to absorb information that doesn't comport with his world view. Do -- does that cause the president to seek out information that does comport with his world view even if it's not necessarily true?

I feel like we spend a lot of time in the media and as citizens puzzling over things that the president says that seem to come from Earth 2, that seem to come from some other place, particularly when they're on -- when it's on difficult issues like the coronavirus pandemic and whether there are treatments for it or whether there are ways that you can, you know, open up the body to add disinfectant to get rid of these things.

Is it your experience that the president simply can't absorb information that he doesn't like?

CARDILLO: I don't know, Rachel, that I can go that far. I mean what I can tell you is that it was my observation that he has had experience in which his instincts have served him well. And whether that was, you know, in the service of a business deal or real estate agreement or a certain, you know, production for entertainment value, and he obviously had that carried in with him to the White House.

Most of my interaction with him was in his early days, and he was undergoing obviously a great deal of introduction to information that he had not seen before. Obviously, the president is provided our best sources of information.

So I wouldn't say that he blocked it, but I would say in my opinion, he had difficulty aligning that new information with what he brought in, you know, as his initial or, you know, enduring bias.

And, again, that's natural. Humans come with a perspective and their experience, and as an intelligence professional, you have to add to that perspective to give them insight and a new view.

That's where I think, at least in my opinion, the president struggled in that he had difficulty adjusting that bias that he came with. To your point, obviously, he was reinforced by other sources of information, but it was -- it appeared to be difficult for him to pivot off that perspective that he brought to the table.

MADDOW: Let me just ask you, Mr. Mr. Cardillo, knowing what I know of your career and what you've described in terms of your essentially apolitical adult life, that you haven't registered with a political party, that you haven't been somebody who has spoken out for or against individual candidates, do you feel like you are sort of crossing a Rubicon, that you're putting something at risk or that you are sort of doing something that you can't take back by doing this?

It's obviously a big decision for you to tell people that this president shouldn't be re-elected given what you've seen up close.

CARDILLO: I do. But I must say, Rachel, I mean the way I see it is we live in exceptional times. And so, I think it called for exceptional acts. And I feel like what I'm doing is exceptional by definition. I've never done such a thing.

And, Rachel, I would just say to me this is not about party. It's not about left, right, liberal, conservative. It's about service. And, again, I can't speak to the whole of the, you know, president. Obviously I had a very limited view. I'm just giving you my opinion about how I thought the way that the conflict, that disconnect that exists between the national security information stream that was heading to him and given to him does put us at great risk.

And so then because of those exceptional -- that exceptional situation, I did think that I had to take this step. It was with a lot of thought and some concern, but I do think it's the right thing to do.

MADDOW: Robert Cardillo, retired during the Trump administration as the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency -- Mr. Cardillo, thanks for all your decades of service to this country, and thanks for your bravery in making this decision and being here to talk about it. I know this is -- you'd probably rather be anywhere else in the world, but thank you for being here and helping us understand.

CARDILLO: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. It's going to be a bit of a theme this evening. We're going to be speaking in just a moment with the senior staffer to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. She was the top homeland security and counterterrorism aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

She was his senior staff on the coronavirus task force. She essentially administered the task force. She has a lot to say about what happened there, and she'll be here with us next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: For more than two years, Olivia Troye served as a senior homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. When coronavirus crisis hit, she took on additional role.

She became the vice president's lead staffer on COVID-19 response. She served on the White House coronavirus task force from day one. She attended every one of its meetings. She briefed the vice president on COVID.

Ms. Troye held that role until last month when she decided to leave the White House, and then last Thursday, she released this.


OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE MEMBER: It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything's okay when we know that it's not.

The truth is he doesn't actually care about anyone else but himself.

He made a statement once that was very striking. I never forgot it, because it pretty much defined who he was.

When we were in a task force meeting, the president said, maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don't like shaking hands with people. I don't have to shake hands with these disgusting people.

Those disgusting people are the same people that he claims to care about. These are the people still going to his rallies today who have complete faith in who he is.

If the president had taken this virus seriously or if he had actually made an effort to tell how serious it was, he would have slowed the virus spread, he would have saved lives.


MADDOW: He would have lives.

By speaking out publicly in this way, Olivia Troye has become one of the few people to actually detail what's been going on behind closed doors in the White House's disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic. It has caused her to take this remarkable step to warn the country about the president's unfitness for office on this and other issues.

Joining us now is Olivia Troye.

Ms. Troye, I'm really grateful to you for being here. I know -- I know you don't have to be here. I really appreciate you making the time to be here tonight.

TROYE: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here and converse with you. I've been watching your reporting for quite some time.

MADDOW: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. I promise I won't tell anybody.

The one thing that surprised me in putting together questions for you that I want to ask you and thinking about how to introduce you tonight is that it's only been a week or so since you put this video out for the Republican Voters Against Trump group and since we all came to know your story and what you wanted to say.

Does it feel like it has been eight months instead of eight days? I imagine this has been a radical transformation in your life.

TROYE: It has been. I mean, it was a very personal and very, very hard decision for me to do this. You know, I am a career national security professional, that's not exactly what we do and we're also trained not to do that.

But it has definitely been a rollercoaster ride and I was prepared for some of that, and some of that I was not. But I am persevering and just getting through it because it matters to me.

MADDOW: I'd like to ask you about some of the way things work inside the White House just because I feel like you are one of the few people who's made themselves available to actually explain both what you saw and how decisions were made. And if -- with any of this, I don't -- you know, you don't need to speculate on anything that you didn't see, but you're the closest I've been ever to get to find out how things have been working inside the White House.

I wanted to ask you specifically about an antidote that you relayed to the public about the president making a remark at a coronavirus discussion. I believe it was a task force meeting where he essentially said that COVID is a positive thing because it would mean that he didn't have to shake hands anymore with people who he found disgusting.

You've described sitting next to the president while he made those remarks and being taken aback by them.

Was that a roomful of other people? Were there -- were there other senior officials in the -- in the room when the president said that? Was -- did anybody express, sort of balk at that or express to the president that that was wrong or weird?

TROYE: Rachel, I was there when the president made this comment. I was sitting to the right and, you know, the infamous back bench that I sat on for most of these meetings which meant the second row from where the cabinet usually sat at the table. Obviously, they outranked me.

But there were several people in the room. This was actual -- an actual task force meeting that was happening, and there is going to be a full agenda of discussion on things that we needed to get his clearance on and I got checked from him, things that the vice president had discussed with members of the task force that we really needed, you know, an ultimate discussion to come from them.

So, people -- I mean, there was definitely a reaction around the room. I saw facial expressions and I saw people sort of look away. Some people chuckled. I mean, you know, I think some people thought he was joking about it.

But for me, I guess it -- it was egregious for me because even if he was potentially possibly joking about it, I thought making that sort of comment about humans and people and Americans right now are going through one of the hard times, it will continue to be a really hard time for quite some time, that coming out of your mouth as the president of the United States, when there are so many other things that should be going through your head at that time is just -- was just mind blowing to me.

MADDOW: In your role on the task force, and in your role working with the vice president, did you witness political pressure on the CDC to change their scientific advice in there and their recommendations about COVID?

TROYE: I saw a lot of political pressure and dynamics on the doctors, on the task force firsthand. There were certainly a lot of internal pressure from various senior, very senior political figures in the West Wing. I saw the doctors bullied at time. I saw them at times have to really stand their ground and fight. And sometimes when they did that, it meant that most of you probably didn't see them in the press briefing the next day because they had probably said something that was a little bit too forthcoming and very true and it wasn't in line with their message.

So, when it came to, you know, guidelines and documents that were incredibly critical to get out to the American people for, you know, the agency -- health agency, such as the CDC, my heart goes out to these doctors, and my heart actually -- I mean, I was very supportive to the doctors. I work closely with them.

I know Dr. Redfield personally. I know that he is a man of faith. I have seen him struggle with this incredibly hard, challenging dynamic of how do you lead this pandemic response?

You're the leader for an agency. You've got staff and scientists that are working so hard day and night, while you are trying to kind of stand up to these difficult circumstances. And I certainly saw this happened repeatedly firsthand.

MADDOW: Who were the political figures in the White House who would put this kind of pressure on the doctor?

I mean, I just think if I were -- I can't imagine being a scientist, I can't imagine being I guess like a person who works as a staffer or a senior staffer in some sort of administration, I can't imagine the hubris it would take to tell the CDC or to tell Anthony Fauci, to tell NIAID or NHI or any of these agencies that their science had to be changed, their science had to be downplayed or their recommendations had to be altered to fit political considerations.

Who in the White House felt like they had the kind of gravitas, the kind of standing to pressure those doctors?

TROYE: You know, we are talking at the most senior levels of the echelon at the White House. And though I really -- I actually -- I don't want to get into naming names flat out, but I will say that we are talking about people who make decisions for the president and the vice president on a daily basis, at times, and advise them very significantly.

And there were other entities within -- and components within the White House such as OMB and the Regulatory Affairs Office internally who were also involved in some of these, you know, coordination on documents and things that would honestly end up with watered-down guidances, things that the scientists, you know, probably didn't -- not agree with. I mean, they were not as strongly worded or not as specific because they were trying to ensure that whatever message was coming out of the White House, it was either for voting bloc or some other concerns about we're in a hurry to open up the country because we're in denial about what's really happening around us and what the president is saying.

And, you know, we got to fit it to his message. That was a goal in it. From what I can see, from -- it's my opinion but I saw it firsthand.

MADDOW: In -- on that point, in terms of what you saw firsthand, we recently reported there was pressure put on the CDC to specifically water down their recommendations to meatpacking plants, in terms of how to keep workers safe in meatpacking plants when they were emerging as some of the biggest outbreaks in the country, thousands, ultimately tens of thousands of people got COVID at those workplaces.

We reported just a few days ago that CDC scientists in the field in South Dakota were actually called and told they had to rescind their report and reissued it without any languages that would have actually told the meatpacking companies what they need to do to keep their workers safe. That happened in April, which is when you were on the task force and that was when the task force meeting everyday, it was really intense time.

Did you see any of that? Or could you shed any light on that for us?

TROYE: I did see this and this was one of many instances where I saw this sort of interaction and back and forth within the task force meeting and then we would leave the task force meeting and there would be other entities at play externally where there'd be a policy decided upon and that was suddenly change later.

In terms of the meatpacking guidance, I mean, I remember this specific incident because I do know there is a discussion about whether, you know, CDC, they're not a regulatory agency, was this a recommendation, there were conversations about should CDC really be having the strong language there.

But the truth is, CDC has this incredibly, like science -- incredibly knowledgeable scientific experts that are, you know, they deploy to outbreaks. They deploy to these plants, these meatpacking facilities.

And they do this in order to respond to something and contain it. And if they're writing a report and giving these types of recommendations, you know, I can't speak to the regulatory authority of the agency, but I can speak to the fact that those are probably strong guidelines that these factories and these facilities really need to adhere to.

And, you know, I have relatives that have -- that have actually worked in some of these facilities and to watch these kinds of guidances be shifted (ph) in such a way was -- was mortifying to me.

MADDOW: Olivia Troye, I have some other things I'd like to ask you about if you don't mind sticking with us.

We'll be right back with former White House aide Olivia Troye.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Back with us again is Olivia Troye. She served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Pence. She was the vice president's lead staffer on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. She worked on the task force in its first very day.

Ms. Troye, thank you again.

I want -- I want to ask you some puzzling things that the president has said overtime, where I had a hard time and I think a lot of people have a hard time figuring out where he -- where he came up with these things. There was a sort of infamous moment where he talked about trying to get disinfectant inside the body.

There was also a very weird moment that has stuck with me from middle of March, where he talked sort of approvingly about how the virus was going to wash through -- he said it was going to wash through in July and August. In public health terms, that means that the virus was going to be -- it's going to have untrammeled spread through the population. But he appeared to think that would be a (AUDIO GAP) thing.

He's now talking about herd mentality by which I think he meant herd immunity.

All of these are strange things the president has said about coronavirus -- is that stuff that he's heard being discussed at the task force or by people who know what they're talking about in the White House that he just misunderstands it? Is it the sort of thing where he picks up a little piece of it but doesn't get the substance of what he means and then repeats it sort of ignorantly?

TROYE: No, that's not what's going on here. I mean, these doctors in the task force, I've got to tell you, we've all heard Dr. Fauci when he briefs and Dr. Birx, and Dr. Redfield. I mean, they know exactly what they're briefing and what they're telling him.

And they speak very coherently. He's had briefings on exactly what this virus is, what is happening, when it was happening, and what could possibly happen.

And I think it's -- I have no explanation for why these briefings and this scientific evidence just doesn't seem to click.

I have -- you know, I've -- it's -- I have been inside the White House and I've, at times, have been in the press briefing room or right behind the door when he has said some of these very outlandish things. And I just think -- you know, I don't know if he thinks he's just speaking to a comedic audience or -- I -- honestly, I can't figure it out.

But when he does things, unfortunately, he undermines the credibility of when the doctors then get up and speak, because at that point, he has told millions of Americans some false -- basically false lie. I mean, completely -- completely lying to the American people.

And some of these people listen to this. I mean, when -- you know, when you're the president of the United States, people are tuning in. I mean, they're going to believe you. And, this is part of the reason why this pandemic response has been so bad -- how do you counter that when the number one person at the top is saying these things?

MADDOW: One last question for you, Ms. Troye, and I know that you've talked about your respect for former vice president -- or Vice President Mike Pence, and what an honor it was to serve in the White House under him. You have comparatively different feelings about the vice president and the president.

But have you ever seen Vice President Pence object to or push back on anything that the president has said on coronavirus?

TROYE: You know, I'm not privy to private conversations that happened between the vice president and the president, obviously. I have certainly been in the room where the vice president will express, you know, the opinion of what he's heard on the task force or, you know, in meetings where the task force members are there.

I've seen the vice president be very supportive of what the task force members, you know, have recommended and what they've said. I -- I do know that he's gone to bat on a few items directly where I think it did make a difference, and I know that he -- my opinion of him comes from the fact that I saw him firsthand try to do the right thing, especially when it came to talking to governors on both sides of the aisles when, oftentimes, I know members of the president's team were willing to turn their backs on states that weren't necessary -- weren't necessarily, you know, Republican or in line with their voting blocs.

But I -- you know, the terms of the vice president, I think he was in a very, very challenging situation, like the rest of us. You know, it's an impossible situation when your boss has a certain mindset that you're not going to be able to change no matter what you do. And I -- you know, I just wish that the president would have listened to some of those cabinet members who I know were pushing back on things -- on simple things such as, you know, wear a mask.

MADDOW: Olivia Troye, former senior homeland security aid to Vice President Mike Pence, left the White House last year -- excuse me, last month. Ms. Troy, I know it's been a big change in your life to come out and talk about these things in this way.

Thank you for being so brave. Thank you for leading on this. I appreciate it.

TROYE: Thank you. That means a lot to me. This has been very hard.

MADDOW: Yeah. I'm sure it has been. Your country needs you and you rose to the occasion. Thank you.

All right. We'll be right back.


MADDOW: You may remember headlines like these during the primary season about bad shortages of poll workers, which resulted in very long lines in several states. It also led to a crescendo of sort of panicked headlines about the same dynamic potentially screwing things up for the November election.

Well, now here's some nice news for once. "The Washington Post" today reporting on a nationwide surge in young people offering to be poll workers this year. A lot of older poll workers sidelined obviously because of the COVID risk. Millennials are stepping up.

"The post" reporting that over a half million people across the country have signed up for fall election duty in what amounts to sort of a civic responsibility surge. "USA Today" also reporting that election officials in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Houston, they aren't just confident they're going to be able to -- they aren't just confident they're going to be able to keep an expanded number of polling sites open, they're fueled in part by a willingness of people in their 20s and 30s to step up. And some cities say they may have thousands more applications to be poll workers than they will need.

Like I said, nice news for once, a big mobilization of young people stepping up to help staff the polls at exactly the time that older people, who have always held those jobs, are most at risk from COVID for doing so. Of course, many parts of the country still need help, but some encouraging news when that kind of news these days is in short supply.

More ahead.


MADDOW: It's going to be very busy over these next few days. Again we are expecting the president to announce his Supreme Court nominee tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Multiple sources reporting that it's likely to be Judge Amy Coney Barrett who is considered to be an arch conservative and a particular hard-liner on the issue of abortion rights. She's also been very outspoken in her public remarks that the Affordable Care Act should be eliminated. She's excoriated Chief Justice John Roberts for his earlier vote to keep it in law, to keep it in place as law.

Again, that's tomorrow that announcement from the president expected 5:00 p.m. Eastern. And right after the weekend on Tuesday, it's the first presidential debate. No rest for the wicked or for any of us.

That's going to do it for us tonight, though. I will see you again here on Monday.

Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Ali Velshi filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Great to see you, Ali. Thanks for being here.


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