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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 3, 2020

Guests: James LaPorta, MJ Hager


"The Atlantic" published a piece by reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that says Trump said that Americans who die in war are losers and suckers. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": I think Mike Pence is going to be visiting New York. And, obviously, you know, we have this national mourning for the 3,000 Americans that we lost on that day and still 20 years later appropriately and properly so.

And maybe it's because it's still happening around us so we don't have that, but basically, faces of COVID is the closest there is right now to anything being done and memorialize in a systematic way of the people that we're losing.

So, I really appreciate the work you are doing, Alex Goldstein, who runs that Faces of COVID Twitter page. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

ALEX GOLDSTEIN, FACES OF COVID: Thank you so much for the work that you do on your show as you commemorate these lives as well. It means a lot to us.

HAYES: Thank you.

That is "ALL IN" on this Thursday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I am really glad that you highlighted that and did that segment, Chris. That was fantastic. Thank you, my friend.

HAYES: Thank you, they're doing great work as well.

MADDOW: Yeah, seriously.

All right. Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here.

When Mary Trump came out about her uncle about the president a few weeks ago, you remember that book, it became number one best seller, it sold like a gazillion copies before it came out. And the book is a fairly terrifying up close look at the president from the perspective of someone in his family who has known him since she was still a kid. And there is a lot in the book that honestly sort of more flushed on the bones of stuff that we already have a feeling of when it comes to this president.

Mary Trump provided new detail, for example, about alleged financial crimes by the president and tax fraud by the president. New detail about racist and sexist stuff from him. New detail about displays of cruelty from him over the course of his life. The book was full of alarming information. That's why it sold so widely.

But I'll tell you, reading it, what I felt reading is that a lot of the worst stuff in the book, frankly it did sort of fit the general contours of what we'd already come to learn about the president over his time in public life. It gave us more detail. It gave us further anecdotes that bolstered what we might have already known for a lot of the big stuff.

That said, there were a few things in Mary Trump's book that stood out as absolutely new, and at least when I read the book for the first time, just disconnected from anything I had previously known about him, including this passage I want to share with you, a short passage from chapter 11 of Mary Trump's book. It's a scene where Mary and her brother, Fritz, are talking with their Uncle Robert. Their Uncle Robert is the president's brother who just recently died.

And in this scene in the book, Mary and Fritz are talking with their Uncle Robert about money, about the money in the family. The president's father, the profoundly rich Fred Trump Sr., Mary and Fritz's grandfather, had just died, and Mary and her brother had learned that they were being basically cut out of the will, and they're having a conversation about it.

And this is how Mary Trump relays that conversation. Quote: At our first meeting, when we asked our Uncle Robert to explain why my grandfather had done what he had. He said, listen, your grandfather didn't give a bleep about you. And not just you, he didn't give a bleep about any of his grandchildren.

We're being treated worse because our father died, I said. This is in Mary's voice. That's Mary talking.

She says, quote, when we pointed out that our cousins, who were also grandchildren of Fred, they would still benefit from the money their parents were getting, Uncle Robert said, any of them could be disowned at any time.

Donny, meaning Donald Trump Jr., what's going to join the Army or some bull bleep like that, and Donald and Ivana told him if he did, they would disown him in a second. That's from chapter 11 of Mary Trump's recent book about her uncle, the president.

She said there was family discussion on this matter, that President Trump told his son, Don Junior, that he would be disowned from the Trump family if he committed the grave sin of enlisting in the U.S. military. And like I said, a lot of Mary Trump's book fit the contours of what we knew or suspected about this president and what he's like, but that did not. That stood out as a whole new idea.

And I asked Mary Trump about it, and I'm about to show you a portion of my interview with Mary Trump on that subject that has never aired before. Watch.


MADDOW: In terms of what Americans should take from this, I feel like you've defined some things in his upbringing that are psychologically interesting in terms of us figuring out who he is and why he might think the way that he did. But there's also some things that you describe that I think he would see as contrary to the public image that he has created.

For example, there is an anecdote that you share in the book where you say that your cousin Donny, Donald Trump Jr., had apparently at one point planned to or said he might enlist in the army, and it was relayed to you that your uncle, the president, had told him that he would be disinherited if he enlisted.

MARY TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S NIECE: Yeah. My Uncle Robert told me that story.

MADDOW: Do you think it's true, or did you ever have any corroboration of it?

M. TRUMP: I -- I have had no corroboration, but I -- I believe it. There was literally no reason for him to make such a thing up. It's a pretty specific thing to lie about.

MADDOW: It's striking because your father has made a big deal out of the fact that he went to a military-themed boarding school, and you write about that decision within the family that he should go after that school to sort of give him some discipline at some point, and it seems to have not really worked. But he has built that up as a sign of his respect for the military, his purported respect for the military.

So the idea that he would go to a military-themed school and that would be a source of pride, but his son wanting to join the actual military would be a source of shame and would be something that should be punished, that's quite a -- that's just quite a disconnect.

M. TRUMP: Yeah. I mean just to be clear, my uncle, not my dad. Yes.

MADDOW: Sorry.

M. TRUMP: There is a great disconnect. No, no problem. There's a real disconnect there.

And then, you know, Donald's later doing everything in his power and my grandfather is doing everything in his power to make sure that Donald did not have to serve. So I'm not entirely sure I know how to explain it.


MADDOW: I'm not entirely sure I know how to explain it, she says.

What she's referring to there in terms of doing everything in their power to make sure that Donald didn't have to serve, that I think is a reference to the multiple deferments that President Trump got during the Vietnam era for supposedly having bone spurs in his feet even though those didn't seem to bother any other aspect of his life, including his active athletic career.

But Mary Trump, that's her talking about this anecdote that she discloses in her recent book, where she says it was discussed openly in her family that her uncle, President Trump, wouldn't allow his son to join the military upon pain of being disowned.

And that, to me, reading Mary Trump's book, was new, which is why I asked her about it. I did screw up in the way I asked her the question. I described the president's behavior as if that was her father. The president is obviously her uncle, not her father, so she had to correct me there.

But that anecdote has kind of stuck with me because it seems strange. And I have since realized that it tracks with something else that's been reported from the president's life, something reported last summer by Gabriel Sherman at "Vanity Fair." He reported that a source had passed to him what appears to be a copy of the president's prenup, a prenuptial agreement he signed with one of his wives, Marla Maples, before he agreed to marry her.

This was after his first marriage to Ivana Trump, with whom he had Don Junior and Eric and Ivanka, before he married his second wife, Marla Maples, though, she had already given birth to their child, their daughter Tiffany. And I know, who cares? I even hate talking about this stuff.

But what is relevant here is that Baby Tiffany was already on the scene when the president signed this prenuptial agreement with Marla Maples about what the financial settlement would be between them if their marriage didn't work out. And now in retrospect, there is a part of that that stands out as well like the rocket's red glare.

This is from Gabe Sherman's reporting last summer. Quote: More than anything, the prenup shows how fiercely Trump wanted to protect the money he did have. Marla Maples reportedly wanted $25 million if the marriage failed, but Trump agreed to pay her only $1 million if they separated within five years, plus another $1 million to buy a house.

The agreement also states that Trump's $100,000 child support payments for Tiffany would cease if Tiffany got a full-time job or enlisted in the military.

Ms. Maples agreed to these terms with the hope that Trump would renegotiate a better deal in five years.

He reportedly signed a legal document that would end child support payments to his youngest daughter specifically if she joined the military. And per Mary Trump's book that came out this summer, that tracks pretty perfectly with family discussion over him threatening to disown his oldest son if he joined the military as well.

And that history, of course, is, you know, uncomfortable alongside the president's constant efforts to associate himself with the military and wanting military parades held in his honor and all the rest of it. But it's also just -- it's also just a little bit strange, right, just as a human thing to do.

I mean, parents, of course, worry about the safety of their son or daughter if their son or daughter is going to sign up for the military and might end up going off to war. We all understand that. But we all also understand that military families on the whole are immensely proud of their sons and their daughters who serve.

My dad's a vet. I'm hugely proud of them. My cousins are vets. I'm hugely proud of them and thankful for their service.

Threatening your kids that they'll be cut off and no longer your kid if they enlist? It's just not a -- it's not a normal thing, especially for somebody who is so loud now in proclaiming how much he loves the military more than anybody else in the whole country.

Well, now, tonight, the yuck factor here has come into pretty gross focus with a just jaw-dropping new piece by reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that was just published at "The Atlantic". And it's something that's not gory, but it will turn your stomach, and it really does put the focus on something odd and curdled and wrong at the center of this.

You see the headline. Trump says Americans who die in war are losers and suckers.

Quote: When President Trump Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that the helicopter couldn't fly and that the Secret Service wouldn't drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit to that American cemetery and memorial because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.

In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, quote, why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers.

In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 U.S. marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as, quote, suckers for getting killed. Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the U.S. Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918 in World War I.

But Trump, on that same trip, asked staffers, quote, who were the good guys in this war? He also said he didn't understand why the U.S. would intervene on the side of the allies.

So per Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting tonight in "The Atlantic," that's the president telling staffers he doesn't know which side we should retroactively root for from World War I, the side with America on it or the German side. Again, this is the piece just published tonight in "The Atlantic" magazine.

Reporter Jeffrey Goldberg saying he pursued this line of inquiry about the president's statements and feelings about the military in part because the president never really paid a price for disparaging the family of a U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq, the family of Humayun Khan, and also he never really paid a price for saying this about Senator John McCain, who whatever you think of his politics, inarguably is an American war hero for having been held for five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years --

TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.


MADDOW: Jeffrey Goldberg in "The Atlantic" tonight says he's been fascinated with the president's take on this matter because he didn't ever pay a political price for those strange comments and those strange attacks to make on American war hero and the family of an American war hero.

Goldberg says tonight, quote, there was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt. But the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this matter, no did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, and an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004.

But Trump remained fixated on McCain. When McCain died in 2018, Trump told his senior staff according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, quote, we're not going to support that loser's funeral. He became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. What the F are we doing that for? The guy was an F-ing loser, the president told staffers.

Trump's understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president. According to sources with knowledge of the president's views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military.

On at least two occasions since becoming president, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his views, President Trump referred to former President George H.W. Bush as a, quote, loser for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II. The former president bush escaped capture but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers.

President Trump's cynicism about service and heroism extends even to the World War I dead buried outside Paris, people who were killed more than a quarter century before he was born. President Trump finds the notion of military service difficult to understand and the idea of volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible.

On Memorial Day in 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then secretary of homeland security and who a short time later would be named White House chief of staff. The two men, Trump and Kelly, were set to visit section 60, the 14-acre area of Arlington that is the burial ground for those killed in America's most recent wars.

John Kelly's son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29 years old, and President Trump was meant on this visit to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son's grave and to comfort the families of other fallen service members.

But according to sources with knowledge of the visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly's grave, turned directly to Kelly's father and said, quote, I don't get it. What was in it for them?

John Kelly, who declined to comment for this story, initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America's all volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

One of Kelly's friends, a retired four-star general, tells Goldberg, quote, he can't fathom the idea of doing something for other than himself. He just thinks anyone who does anything when there's no direct personal gain is a sucker.

There's no money in serving the nation. Kelly's friend went to say, quote, Trump can't imagine anyone else's pain. That's why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he's buried.

Goldberg says, quote, I've asked numerous general officers over the past year for their analysis of Trump's seeming contempt for military service. They offer a number of explanations. Some of his cynicism is rooted in frustration, they say.

Trump unlike previous presidents tends to believe that the military unlike other departments of the federal government is beholden only to him and not the Constitution. Many have expressed Trump's understanding of the rules governing the use of armed forces.

Another explanation is more quotidian. The president believes that nothing is worth doing without the promise of monetary payback and that talented people who don't pursue riches are losers.

According to eyewitnesses, after one White House briefing given by then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, Trump turned to staffers and said, quote, that guy is smart. Why did he join the military?

Yet another related explanation concerns what appears to be Trump's pathological fear of appearing to look like a sucker himself. His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country as well as those who are taken prisoner or are wounded in battle.

One officer with firsthand knowledge of Trump's views said, quote, he has a lot of fear. Several observers told me that Trump is deeply anxious about dying or being disfigured, and this worry manifests itself as disgust for those who have suffered.

Trump recently claimed that he has received the bodies of slain service members many, many times, but in fact he's traveled to Dover Air Force Base, the transfer point for the remains of fallen service members, only four times since becoming president.

Trump has been for the duration of his presidency fixated on staging military parades but only of a certain sort. In a 2018 White House planning meeting for such an event, Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. Quote: No one wants to see that, he said. That's Jeffrey Goldberg writing in "The Atlantic" tonight.

The White House has responded to the publication of this story by calling the story, quote, false and, quote, a disgrace. They say, quote, just another anonymously sourced story meant to tear down a commander-in-chief who loves our military, which is kind of what you'd expect from the White House for a story this bad.

But Jeffrey Goldberg at "The Atlantic" very quickly got some important backup here on his reporting. Veteran military affairs reporter James LaPorta, who no writes for the "Associated Press", posted this within 90 minutes of Jeffrey Goldberg's article going live. Quote: A senior Defense Department official I just spoke with confirmed this story by Jeffrey Goldberg in its entirety, especially the grafs about the late Senator John McCain and former Marine General John Kelly.

That reporter, James LaPorta, who says he has confirmed all of this reporting tonight, he joins us next, as does a combat veteran, former Air Force helicopter pilot who was shot down while serving in Afghanistan. She has had a blistering response to this from the president tonight.

That's all ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: So tonight we just got this unnerving report from Jeffrey Goldberg at "The Atlantic," revealing that President Trump has described members of the armed forces who have died in battle as losers and suckers. Among the revelations in Goldberg's piece is that upon learning of the passing of the late Senator John McCain, Trump vowed that the White House would not support his funeral, calling him a, quote, F-ing loser.

The story also says that Trump insulted the service of the late son of former White House chief of staff, John Kelly, while literally standing at his grave.

Following the release of that upsetting reporting tonight from "The Atlantic," "A.P." reporter James LaPorta, who is very, very well-sourced as a military affairs reporter, James LaPorta tweeted out this in support of Goldberg's reporting. He says, quote, a senior Defense Department official I just spoke with confirmed this story in its entirety, especially the paragraphs about the late Senator John McCain and former General John Kelly.

Joining us is James LaPorta, investigative reporter for "The Associated Press". I should tell you, he's also himself a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

James, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I appreciate you making time on short notice.


MADDOW: So the White House instantly responded to Jeffrey Goldberg's piece at "The Atlantic" tonight by decrying it as false, saying that it was made up and that these anonymous sources are the giveaway that this is false reporting just meant to smear the president. But to hear you tell it, you've backed up what Goldberg has reported and you've got your own sources who say this is really what happened.

LAPORTA: That's correct. When I initially tweeted out, I had one senior Defense Department official, and I now have a second who is described as a U.S. Marine Corps officer, who is also in a senior position, who was also briefed on some of the same things that are in this story.

They are quite shocking, especially, you know, I got to admit when I first saw it, I actually didn't believe it, which is why I started reaching out to sources, especially the parts about Belleau Wood are quite -- you got to understand something about Marines, is Belleau Wood is one of those things that is sort of hammered into young marines as they're going through boot camp.

I mean, Marine Corps folklore comes out of Belleau Wood. The idea that the German army called Marines (INAUDIBLE), which translates into devil dog, that's where they get that name from. The Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments where a French (INAUDIBLE) to remember that battle more than 1,800 marines that died there.

So that was quite shocking. This was quite surprising to see tonight.

MADDOW: I mean, it's -- to hear the president denigrate the -- I mean 1,800-plus marines lost at Belleau Wood with that incredibly storied and sanctified history in the U.S. military as you describe it, Jim, but also a sort of insight into the president consistently denigrating both service and sacrifice that I think that a lot of Americans who may have mixed feelings about the -- you know, the deployment of U.S. military forces around the world and whether or not we're always fighting the right wars, even people that have a difference of opinion, I feel like it's almost universal that everybody has respect and gratitude for anybody who has served in uniform who has been wounded, who has put their life on the line, who has risked their life for this country and shed blood because of it.

For the president to find that to be an especially distasteful or negative form of service that should be -- that's something that he doesn't want to be around, I've just -- I've never come across that in human life, let alone in a military -- in a commander in chief or any sort of U.S. leader. I just have to ask you in all your reporting, Jim, have you ever heard of anybody ever being described as having those sorts of revulsions?

LAPORTA: To be honest, I haven't. You know, it's sort of telling. You know, if we can go back to the original comments that he made about the late Senator John McCain, you know, at that point in time, one could at least politically sort of brush it off as maybe he made the comments about Senator John McCain and, you know, he's not a real war hero simply for the fact that he didn't like the guy. He disagreed with his politics, right? OK.

And military veterans still voted for him. You know, I saw both at that time frame, I saw both Republican and Democrat both condemn those comments, but OK.

But now we have more examples, more of the same. And it's not -- it's not as simple as, you know, the president doesn't like someone's politics, you know. I don't know what this is going to do within the military veteran culture, but what I can say is I do know that there was a recent "Military Times" poll that just came out a few days ago, and it showed that nearly half of respondents had an unfavorable view of the president.

You know, about 42 percent said they strongly disapproved of President Trump's time in service and are more willing now to vote for former Vice President Biden over President Trump. So what I will be really interested to see is how does this change the dynamic in terms of, you know, veterans who are moderate Republicans, are they going -- is it going to swung a vote over to the Democratic side, or does, you know, the hard-liners sort of stay in place? That's what's going to be interesting for me.

MADDOW: James LaPorta, investigative reporter for the "Associated Press", U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and who has independently validated with his own multiple sources tonight, this reporting tonight by Jeffrey Goldberg in "The Atlantic", about the president denigrating U.S. service members, particularly those who have been wounded. James, thank you for joining us again on short notice.

I really appreciate it. I know you're right in the middle of reporting this out yourself. Thank you.

LAPORTA: Thank you.

MADDOW: This story today, as it broke this evening, also earned a response from a woman named MJ Hager. She's the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Texas.

This is what she had to say in response to Goldberg posting this reporting at "The Atlantic" tonight. She says, quote: I'm one of the pilots that got shot down. Our commander in chief thinks that makes me a loser. He thinks the many friends I lost and soldiers I medevac were suckers. This is disgraceful. Donald Trump is unfit to be commander in chief.

MJ Hager is somebody who has a national profile right now because she is running against incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn in Texas. But as she mentioned, she has been in harder fights than that. As a helicopter pilot, she served three tours in Afghanistan. She flew combat search and rescue and medevac missions.

Her chopper was shot down in Afghanistan, hit by Taliban fire. She was wounded. She received the Purple Heart for her injuries. She's also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor for saving the lives of her crew and patients when she was shot down.

If this reporting tonight bears out, and there are now two reporters that say that it does with multiple sources, MJ Hager is one of the Americans the president is deriding as a sucker and a loser for risking her life for the country.

I'm pleased to welcome to the show tonight, Democratic Senate candidate in Texas, MJ Hager.

Ms. Hager, thanks very much for joining us. I know you're joining us on short notice as well. Really appreciate it.

MJ HAGER, U.S. AIR FORCE COMBAT VET: I -- thank you, Rachel. It's not easy to hear -- you know, to speak on TV after hearing these things frankly. I'm having a very physical and visceral response to the reporting because as a medevac pilot, I medevacced so many wounded and dying and dead patriots that have served this country, both Republicans and Democrats, by the way.

You know, this isn't a political thing for me. This is about when our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line, when we put our lives on the line. We can only do so with a clear mind for the mission because we are trusting the people that have put us there.

And so for me this is not about politics. I would be calling out a Democrat who said the same things. I've never heard anyone, Democrat or Republican, say these types of things. But I think it's especially critical when we're talking about a commander in chief who has employing troops at his fingertips.

It does put into context things like stories about Russian bounties and some of the foreign policy, you know, decisions gutting the State Department, which is the military front line of defense, robbing from the military budget to build a border wall. You know, so it does put some of these things into context.

But it sounds to me like a highly insecure person. Maybe it's because I have toddlers and so I've grown to understand how to recognize a bully and understand the deep level of insecurity that creates a bully. That's what this sounds like to me.

It's somebody who is damn lucky that those of us who have put the uniform on to sacrifice for this country have done so because that puts him in a position to have the freedom to make these types of statements. And the men and women in uniform will fight and die for his right to express his opinions. All we ask is that the people who send us into harm's way are doing so with a clear mind and a true heart and are doing it as a last resort and are doing it with the respect for the sacrifices that we make.

MADDOW: The profound disrespect specifically for the sacrifice is the thing that I can't get over here. And Jeffrey Goldberg is a very good reporter. He says that he has four sources who heard the president say, why should I go to that cemetery? It is filled with losers.

Four sources in a separate conversation on the same trip heard the president refer to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood, refer to them as suckers for getting killed. I know you say this is not political and you would say -- you would be equally critical of any Democrat or Republican who said things like this.

I've just never heard a human being say things like this in any context. The idea that the specific act of, like you, being wounded while serving your country or, God forbid, dying while serving your country, that makes you less. That makes you repulsive. That makes you unworthy of respect.

I've just -- this is completely foreign to any idea of human empathy but also just human -- the range of emotion I can understand. Have you ever heard anything like it before?

HAGER: I feel like we should be asking a psychologist where this comes from frankly. I think that it's projection. I think that he's been so rejected. You know, we've seen him attacking transgender troops who are trying to serve our country and acting like they're not good enough.

And I say that it has to come from a place where he knows he's not good enough. He would never make it as a pilot. He would never make it shot down behind enemy lines. He would -- I won't go into the details of the things I think he would do under duress, but I would say even though it isn't political, you mentioned something critical in your reporting, which is that -- and Goldberg did in his reporting, that he's gotten away with it. He hasn't been held accountable.

Who is there to hold him accountable? It's us, Rachel. This is on us. This is -- this is a call to action for every patriot across the country to answer the call for God's sake and do something about this, not only to vote but to bring five people with you to vote, to volunteer for campaigns, to make your voices heard.

We in the military are trained not to make our politics heard because we have to serve multiple parties, commander-in-chiefs. So it's pretty extraordinary for generals to be speaking out. It's difficult for me to run for office and make my politics known because it's going against years of training to keep my mouth shut about such things.

But the time is now to stand up for the next generation putting on the uniform. And if we don't send a resounds message that this is unacceptable and we send that message at the polls, we're going to see that this is not going to be unique. Right now, I can't think of anyone else that's done this.

But if he gets away with this, we're going to see more examples of this, I believe.

MADDOW: MJ Hegar, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Texas, three tours in Afghanistan as a combat search and rescue and medevac pilot, thank you so much for joining us and giving us your perspective on this tonight. It's absolutely flabbergasting, and I appreciate it when you say it's hard to find the words. You certainly did, but this is just remarkable stuff. Thank you so much.

HEGAR: Thank you so much, Rachel, for the attention to it.

MADDOW: I'll tell you that just while I was speaking with Major Hegar there, we have just had a response from Vice President Joe Biden to this new reporting, which is, it will curl your hair. I will have that for you when we come back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We're getting continued reaction tonight to this reporting in "The Atlantic" tonight from Jeffrey Goldberg. Their piece is titled "Trump: Americans who died in war are losers and suckers." Goldberg reciting several anecdotes with multiple sources for each of them in which the president is said to have derided U.S. service members who have died in combat as losers and suckers, and who expressed -- who expressed even standing over the grave of John Kelly's son, who died in Afghanistan at age 29, that he doesn't get why Americans would choose to serve in the military.

"The Associated Press" has just posted James LaPorta's new piece as well confirming the core reporting for Jeffrey Goldberg's piece tonight in "The Atlantic." LaPorta confirming it, again, with multiple sources just as Goldberg has. We've just had response in from Vice President Joe Biden with a statement in response.

Quote: If the revelations in today's "Atlantic" article are true, they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the president of the United States. I've long said as a nation, we have many obligations but we have only one truly sacred obligation, to prepare and equip those we send into harm's way and to care for them and their families both while they're deployed and after they return home.

That's the foundation of what Jill and I believe. It's why we've always prioritized the health and well-being of our veterans and military families. We have visited troops coming home wounded in Walter Reed. We've hosted veterans in our home to share Thanksgiving meal, and as the proud parents of a son who served in Iraq, we have made supporting military spouses and children a focus of our service.

Generations of American troops have shed blood around the world in defense of our freedoms and to protect U.S. vital interests from the front lines of our own revolution to Belleau Wood, to the Normandy beaches to the mountains of Afghanistan, the sacrifice and bravery of our troops and their willingness to serve our nation should be honored.

Duty, honor, country, those are the values that drive our service members. Those are the values that have formed the core of America's defense for centuries, and if I have the honor of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice always.

Response tonight from Vice President Joe Biden.

We will continue to keep our eyes open for further response tonight as this is causing just uproar across the country.

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: This is the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Laurie Garrett, somebody who has been speaking the hard truths about COVID from the very beginning of the pandemic. In light of this week's double take strange announcement from the Trump administration that they want states to have vaccine distribution centers ready to go by November 1st, two days before the election, even though no vaccines are yet available, Laurie Garrett says, quote, I have no confidence that a safe, effective vaccine will be ready for use by Halloween. Worse, I can no longer recommend that anyone retain faith in any public health pronouncements issued by government agencies.

With the administration's mass vaccination date less than 58 days away, states must scramble to submit their immunization scheme to the CDC for approval by October 1st, covering everything from logistics and personnel, to public education and recruitment. Officials insist no corners are being cut but the timetable is simply too short for full safety analysis of any vaccine. It's hard to comprehend the decision as anything but an election maneuver.

Joining us now is health policy analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist, Laurie Garrett.

Laurie, thank you so much for making time for us this evening. I know you're in the middle of a lot of stuff.

LAURIE GARRETT, HEALTH POLICY ANALYST: Yes, I am. I most definitely am. I'm also noticing that my lights are not bright enough for you. Oh, well. I'm in the dark.

MADDOW: Oh, it's OK -- it's all right. Actually, if we tell everybody to squint a little bit, we kind of look the same.

One of the things that alarmed me in your piece today on "Foreign Policy" is that you describe the status right now of all of the multiple vaccine efforts that are under way around the world, including the most promising ones, and it seems like it's sort of cause for alarm that there's no standard promulgated by the FDA or by anybody for comparing the relative effectiveness and safety of the various vaccines that are all being explored.

GARRETT: This is a huge point, and I'm so glad that you caught it because it's easy to overlook. We don't have any -- we don't have any real standard that any company is required to use to measure the efficacy of their product. So every company has their own tests, their own ways of saying, oh, we raised T-cell response as measured by this, you know, standard.

But no two companies are using exactly the same standards, and so what we have is a hodgepodge of information that is often released in public relations releases, not in sophisticated scientific journals, and it's very hard even for people whose full-time gig is making vaccines, who have years and years of experience. It's still hard for them to understand and compare the various vaccines.

MADDOW: Laurie, you describe even the front-running vaccines, including some products in development in the U.K. and from some American companies, as still signing up volunteers for their clinical trials, which are expected to involve at least 30,000 people per potential vaccine. For somebody who knows these things very well, both in terms of pandemics and in terms of vaccine development, can you explain to our viewers what that means in terms of the expected timing, when a vaccine that's proven both effective and safe might reasonably appear on the scene and be ready to be distributed given where they are in the pipeline right now in terms of development.

GARRETT: Right. So first of all, all the front-running vaccines require two doses, and they have to be separated by at least a week, in some cases two weeks. So the first thing is you've got to get 30,000 people or more and divide them between the placebo group and the vaccine group, and that's all blinded, and that has to be handled very carefully so that no one involved knows who's who.

Then you give them their first vaccine. You wait two weeks. You come back. You give them the second vaccine. And then you wait for their natural exposure event.

Are they or are they not in some location where there's a lot of COVID floating around and they're likely to get exposed?

Then you compare. You bring all of them back. You look at all of their data and you compare and see did the vaccine work? Did it protect people?

And you see that by virtue of comparing the placebo arm and the vaccine arm and saying, you know, the vaccine arm got 10 percent less COVID or 100 percent less COVID. That is what you'd really like.

Now, all of this takes time. And if a company still hasn't even enrolled 30,000 people for their study, they're certainly not going to be ready to start poking people in the arms real soon and wait two weeks for the next round.

So just looking at the math and the timing, it's very, very hard to imagine how you get to Halloween with all your results done. In fact, the big meeting that has been announced for assessing available vaccines at FDA is October 22nd. So it's less time than waiting until November 1st. It's really close.

MADDOW: And, Laurie, I mean given what you have seen from the FDA and from other U.S. health agencies within the Trump administration over the course of this epidemic, do you think it's possible that they really are going to try to roll something out on November 1st for maximum political effect even if it hasn't met the kind of thresholds you would expect in terms of safety and efficacy that the FDA would usually serve as a gatekeeper for?

Do you think that the FDA would allow this to proceed in a way that wouldn't be safe?

GARRETT: Well, at least two top officials working inside the FDA, not the head of it but below, have said they will resign if a vaccine is rolled out prematurely, where there's inadequate information to certify its safety and its efficacy. I just don't see how you can possibly get to November 1st just looking at where all the products are in the pipeline right now and say, yeah, we know it's safe.

For one thing, there are many types of side effects associated with vaccines over the last 40 years that don't turn up right away, that may take some time to be noted. And more importantly, there are ones that statistically are so rare that a sample of 30,000 people would probably not catch -- statistically catch that side effect. For example, this paralyzing Guillain Barre Syndrome which forced cessation of the 1976 swine influenza campaign -- vaccination campaign ordered by President Gerald Ford, that appeared in 1 out of 10 million recipients.

So a sample pool of 30,000 is very unlikely to spot something that rare.

MADDOW: Laurie Garrett, health policy analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist -- Laurie, thank you for helping us understand this this evening. You are -- you are a very good explainer. Thank you for being with us.

GARRETT: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: We're also going to post at Maddow Blog tonight a link to a really good op-ed piece today in "The New York Times" by Rick Perlstein, historian Rick Perlstein, about that experience in 1976 with the swine flu vaccination that seems to have been rolled out prematurely on a political timeline and what went so wrong there. That's what Laurie just referenced there. We'll post that online for you tonight at

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight.

One thing to watch for on tomorrow's news, there's going to be an emergency NATO meeting tomorrow about what appears to be another assassination attempt by Russia. A Russian nerve agent has been identified as the toxin that has put Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny in a coma.

NATO is going to hold an emergency meeting to come up with a response to that tomorrow, which means that there are likely be an expression of NATO criticizing Russia tomorrow, which in our country means what? Trump pulls us out of country me pulls us out of NATO in response? Yeah, brace yourself.

Watch this space.


Good evening, Lawrence.



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