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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 9, 2020

Guests: Jeh Johnson, Carlos del Rio


A senior Department of Homeland Security official alleges that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election in part because it made the president look bad. President Trump told Bob Woodward in February 2020 that the virus was "more deadly than even your strenuous flus".


STACEY ABRAMS, FAIR FIGHT: So, they've asked for more time, the Trump administration realizes more time means more accuracy, artificially cut it off and now, we're fighting in court. We need the census to be right, but we need people to take the power to their own hand, with my census,, and fill up the census or visit us at for more information.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Stacey Abrams, as always, great to talk to you. Thank you for being here.

That is ALL IN for this Wednesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

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

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

You know, I don't mean to make light of it or anything, I don't mean to downplay the gravity any of this, because of what's going down in the news right now, this is some heavy stuff for our country. But I got to tell you, I kept on thinking over and over again as each new unbelievable news story broke the past 24 hours, that if this was or if this actually, if this were a TV series about what's going on in American news in politics right now, tonight would probably be the episode of the TV series where the president of the United States resigns.

I mean, think about where we are right now, right? Labor Day just happened the political common wisdom which I think is actually largely pretty accurate in this case, the common wisdom is that the country starts thinking about the presidential election pretty seriously only once Labor Day is over and the school year begins.

Well, this year the school you're beginning is, of course, a rolling coast-to-coast catastrophe because of the mishandling of the COVID epidemic. And this week, as we get past Labor Day and summer ends and the school year is supposed to begin, I mean, we are waking up to the horror right now of what it means that over the course of this summer, that is wrapping up right now, over the course of this summer, COVID infections in our country nearly quadrupled just during the summer, nearly quadrupled.

Today, we passed 190,000 Americans dead from COVID. And today with that bearing down on us as both a moral and literal American catastrophe, today, he admits it. He admits it, and this is not, you know, an accusation about him from observers who believe it must be true given his behavior.

This isn't reporting about him from witnesses who tell reporters that they've heard him say this or admit it. This is not even the president admitting this to a reporter and we have to believe the reporter that this is what the president said. Now, when I say he admits it, I mean, he admits it on tape himself in a conversation with reporter, he was told was recording him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted to -- I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.


MADDOW: I played it down. I still like playing it down.


TRUMP: It's also more deadly than your, you know, your even your strenuous flus.

It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.

This is going to go away without a vaccine.

Cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless.

Young people are almost immune to --


MADDOW: In this taped interviews with Bob Woodward for his new book, the president admitted on tape that he has always tried to play down the virus even when he knew how deadly it was.


TRUMP: It's also more deadly than your, you know, your -- even your strenuous flus. This is more deadly, you know. So, this is deadly stuff. But it's not just old, older people --


TRUMP: It's plenty of young people.


MADDOW: That's what he knew but still the president admits he liked to play it down, he liked to play it down, even though he knew just how bad it is that it is deadly stuff that young people aren't immune, that this is not like the freaking flu.

I mean, Woodward quotes the president saying to him, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't even believe it. He is on tape admitted he knows how contagious it is and then in public, he's, you know, mocking people for wearing masks, holding indoor rallies without any mask requirement, without any protection for anyone there, talking about how this is no big deal. It's just going to go away on its own.

I mean, like I said, in the well-written TV drama we all wish this was, this is the episode where the president resigns. But in the apocalyptic dystopia we actually live in under this president, instead of the TV show, instead we just keep going on a day like today.

Today, in a vast part of our country, our real country in real life, this morning the sun did not rise at least not in a way that was visible to the naked eye.

This was the view out the window this morning for people living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The blue sky turned a vibrant shade of orange by the wildfires raging up and down the West Coast. The orange got darker over the course of the day. This is smoke that you're seeing.

California is in the middle of the worst wildfire season ever logged into the public record in the last couple of weeks wildfires have burned through 2.3 million acres just in California. That's 20 times what burned in the state in all of last year, and that's just in the last few weeks.

These fires have destroyed homes. They've caused the evacuation of thousands of people. This morning, the sky turned a shade of orange so thick, it blocked the morning sun. How would you know if it was day or night?

And this was the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco around this morning. They left the street lights on all day today in the Bay Area. Drivers told to use their high beams in what should have been broad daylight but instead looked like this.

There are uncontrolled wildfires raging in 13 different Western states tonight. Put together, the wildfires that are burning right this second cover a surface area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. In Washington state yesterday, the fire reportedly wiped out an entire small town, the town of Malden, Washington, not far from the Idaho border.

This was Salem, Oregon, today, more that bright orange haze. The treetops look almost snowy they're covered in ash. Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, said today the fire is ripping across that state could cause, quote, the greatest loss of human life and property in Oregon's history. Hundreds of homes in the state burnt to the ground. In the middle of it, more than a hundred thousand people just in that state with no power tonight.

Even in places that are untouched by the flames, that are not directly right now threatened by actual fire. I mean, the scale of this disaster in the West is inescapable and a breath of fresh air -- fresh air is impossible. And you will recall that the president has blamed the American West and California in particular for its own wildfires, saying that really they should sweep the forests literally his idea is, A, that climate change is a hoax this is all a hoax and b the only places that get wildfires are places that deserve it because they don't do a good enough job sweeping the ground in the forest like with brooms he means. That's what he's got to offer as president of the United States.

I mean, tens of thousands of Americans are under evacuation orders because of this crisis right now. It's a time when the moment, when the needs of the country and the leadership of the country feel like they are roosting on two totally different planets honestly. It's just everything in the news today.

I mean, here's another one much smaller scale but still, right? Here last night on the show, the president's longtime personal lawyer and fixer told us here on the air that as a candidate, the president had personally approved and directed the publication of false stories about almost all of his Republican primary opponents, including one story that said the father of Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had been involved in the JFK assassination.

The president not only arranged for a tabloid to run that story personally approved it, he went so far as to dictate which picture he wanted to run on the front page of that tabloid. That was last night. We learned that about the president and the his treatment of Senator Cruz and Senator Cruz's family, right, Senator Cruz from his own party.

This afternoon at the White House, the president -- I'm sure there's no connection at all, I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but this afternoon, the president announced that he's thinking about putting Senator Cruz on the United States Supreme Court. Last night, we learned that President Trump personally directed a supermarket tabloid to run on its front page an allegation that Ted Cruz's dad killed JFK, today, he's like I'm going to put him on the Supreme Court maybe.

And in this era of the Republican Party under this president, it would appear that, you know, Senator Cruz is going to weigh out the net importance of those two things by deciding like, ooh neat, maybe I get to be on the Supreme Court. No senator you're not going to get to be on the Supreme Court, but enjoy the ride.

Here's another one. This was a little notice development today. Today in a story that was reported at Bloomberg News and not really anywhere else, the foreign bank to which the president owes hundreds of millions of dollars, itself a gigantic scandal that has not been true of any other president in U.S. history, a foreign bank to which the president currently owes hundreds of millions of dollars.

Today, that foreign bank hired as its new council one of the oldest and closest friends of Attorney General William Barr. The bank again is owed hundreds of millions of dollars by the president while he's serving as president. They are also facing multiple ongoing investigations, including for their admitted role as a conduit for large-scale Russian money laundering.

That said, the Justice Department doesn't seem to be moving on that case at the moment and the Justice Department under William Barr appears to be feeling a little nicer about them already, today announcing a slap on the wrist fine to put to rest one serious investigation into Deutsche Bank deliberately violating U.S. sanctions against Russia.

It's just -- it's like one thing after another today. Today, this Senate report found that the Trump administration really has succeeded in screwing up the mail. This is not a thing that's over. The Senate report today showing that the -- for example, the delivery of prescription drugs by mail has been pretty severely slowed down by what the president's postmaster general has done to the postal service's ability to deliver mail anywhere near on time. And, of course, this is just ahead of what's about to be the largest vote by mail election in history.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department under William Barr appears quite disinterested in recent bombshell reporting that the new postmaster general Trump installed apparently to break the post office and screw up its ability to deliver mail, he reportedly for years made massive illegal campaign donations to Republican candidates by having his employees make the donations in their own names followed by him reimbursing them through his company.

I don't know if you ever listened to that podcast that I did called bagman, the one about Nixon's Vice President Spiro Agnew, and the bribery and extortion scheme that he ran in Maryland before he got to the White House and then he ran it out of the White House once he became vice president. That scheme by Spiro Agnew that forced him out as vice president and very nearly put him in jail, that whole scheme hinged on basically the exact same scam that postmaster Louis DeJoy allegedly used with his own employees to make these illegal contributions the reason Spiro Agnew didn't end up president after Nixon resigned in Watergate is because federal prosecutors nailed Agnew for that criminal scheme in 1973 and forced him out of the White House.

Now, though, faced with credible allegations that Louis DeJoy has been doing the exact same thing, federal prosecutors working under Attorney General William Barr don't seem all that interested in what DeJoy did. Of course, not.

I mean, it is possible that North Carolina state prosecutors are interested in this. We shall see. But meanwhile, he's still postmaster general and ballots are already going out for the presidential election. It is 55 days until election day which will, of course, still be election day even if the president does resign -- doesn't seem like he's going to. Although I will say the Trump campaign did cancel their planned rallies in Nevada this weekend and the Trump campaign did today report raising $150 million less than what Biden and Harris raised last month which is almost unbelievable.

But the reporting just today, I mean, Woodward's book and everything else, I mean, any piece of this would be the defining if not determinative terminal scandal of any other previous president, including Nixon, probably including Agnew even if they let him get that close. I mean, on top of all of this, just take the nuke thing.

This is from "The Washington Post" write-up on what's in Bob Woodward's new book. I mean, this alone. Listen to this. Quote: In the midst of reflecting upon how close the U.S.. had come in to war with North Korea, Trump revealed, quote, I have built a nuclear a weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before.

We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There's nobody. What we have is incredible.

Woodward writes that other sources later confirmed that the U.S. military does have a secret new weapon system but they would not provide details. He also reports that the other sources he spoke to were surprised Trump had disclosed it.

Now, I don't know what it is either but if, in fact, we have new nuclear weapons capability that is unlike anything they've got in Russia and anything we've got in China and anything that has been disclosed to the world. If what he said to Bob Woodward is true and Woodward's other sources say it is, I'm quite sure that Donald Trump is not supposed to disclose that to Bob Woodward or to anyone else. I mean, with that comment alone, literally with that appearing in Bob Woodward's book, the president has just today launched this -- he has just launched a new nuclear arms race, right?

That comment, that stray comment for something he wasn't supposed to talk about to a reporter will drive the creation of new classes of previously unknown nuclear weapons development by China and Russia. Great, thanks, cheers.

What did you get for that little frisson of bragging like that to Bob Woodward? Because guess what we got, a new nuclear arms race by China and Russia.

Also at the top of that quote, we almost had a nuclear war with North Korea in 2017. Apparently, we did. CNN, in addition to "The Washington Post", also got a copy of the Woodward book today, and they share this.

Quote: Woodward reports on concerns that the U.S. may have come close to nuclear war with North Korea amid provocations in 2017. It was so serious that Defense Secretary James Mattis slept in his clothes to be ready in case there was a North Korean launch. He repeatedly went to the Washington National Cathedral to pray for the country.

Like I said, in a normal world, this is the episode where the president quits. We were on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea to the point where the defense secretary was sleeping in his clothes because he believed that the nuclear launch from North Korea at us might be imminent? Really?

Also, the director of national intelligence under President Trump, the first one, Dan Coats, before he started putting basically campaign interns into that job. Listen to this about Dan Coats.

Quote: Woodward writes that Dan Coats continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had something on Trump. Woodward says Coats felt, quote, how else to explain the president's behavior? Coats could see no other explanation. Woodward writes that Coates and his top staff members examined the intelligence as carefully as possible and Coats still questions the relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Coats saw how extraordinary it was for the president's top intelligence official to harbor such deep suspicions about the president's relationship with Putin. But still, he could not shake those suspicions.

That's the president's own director of national intelligence. For what it's worth, this lines up directly and exactly with the views of the former top counterintelligence official at the FBI who has a new book on Trump that's just out now that is called "Compromised".


PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI OFFICIAL: Look, I recruited spies for two decades. What that looks like varies. On one end, you can have somebody who fully knows they're working for you, they're taking tasking and they're going to do every single last thing you say. On the other end, there's somebody who doesn't even realize they're working with the United States government.

I think the truth with President Trump lies in the middle. Do I think he's a Manchurian candidate? I don't. Do I think that he is doing things that are not in the interests of the national security of the United States because of the things that Russia holds over him that he does not want known? Absolutely, I believe that.

That if you step back, if you look at that as a patriot, as an American citizen, that's horrifying. But it exists and it's real and it's something that every American should be concerned about.


MADDOW: Do I think that he is doing things that are not in the national security interest of the United States because of the things Russia is holding over him that he does not want known? Absolutely, I believe that.

Former top counterintelligence official in the FBI, Peter Strzok, of course, has been demonized by the White House and Republicans in the conservative media for his role in the Russia investigation. He is going to be here on this show tomorrow night which should be particularly interesting. His book is astonishing.

Given that his take on the president was apparently shared, we now know by the president's own national intelligence director, it seems like a particularly good time to be able to talk with Mr. Strzok. And now on top of all of that, tonight, there is this senior homeland security official alleges in whistleblower complaint that he was told to stop providing intelligence analysis on threat of Russian interference.

Reported today by Shane Harris and company at "The Washington Post", quote: A senior Department of Homeland Security official alleges that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election in part because it, quote, made the president look bad. The official who until recently was in charge of intelligence and analysis at homeland security said in a whistleblower complaint today that on two occasions, he was told to stand down on reporting about the Russian threat.

On July 8th, this year, he says in the complaint, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told him that an intelligence notification regarding Russian disinformation efforts should be, quote, held because it was unflattering to Trump, who has long derided the Kremlin's interference as a hoax. The official alleges an ongoing effort by senior officials to obfuscate the threat from Russia in particular.

He claimed that in May, Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf told him to stop producing intelligence assessments on Russia. He says Wolf told him that these instructions specifically originated from the White House, from White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien.

This is a serving official in the Trump administration. He has filed an official whistleblower complaint which we can read both "The Post" and the House Intelligence Committee have now published his whistleblower complaint, and this is a remarkable thing, right? He's being directed it embarrasses the president stop producing intelligence assessments about Russia interfering in the election to try to re-elect this president.

But I also just want to point out one aspect of this, which I'm not sure has been widely discussed but it strikes me today as quite bad, which is that the kind of intelligence reports that are being described here in this whistleblower complaint.

Homeland Security intelligence reports, they're not necessarily the kind of thing that gets a full public airing, right? They're not necessarily fully declassified and distributed for the public to read. I mean, maybe -- they maybe they sometimes get distributed to the public, maybe they don't.

But as "The Post" notes today and it's reporting on this whistleblower complaint, these reports are what they're really used for, what they are typically used for is that they are shared with the FBI, and with other federal law enforcement agencies and with state and local governments. So those entities can take steps to protect the country from the thing the Homeland Security intelligence report is warning about, right?

This is not just about public statements. This is not just that the Trump administration holds this stuff back so the public doesn't hear things that contradict President Trump and point out what Russia is doing to help him again because he doesn't like to hear about that. They are specifically blocking these intelligence reports to law enforcement and to state and local officials so that those entities don't get notified about what this intelligence agency knows Russia is doing, to mess with our election, to re-elect Trump, right?

And if you don't tell law enforcement what we know about Russia is -- what we know about what Russia is doing, well, that's a great way to keep America a nice soft target for whatever Russia is doing this time to get him elected, right?

Don't say anything about what we know they're doing. Don't alert the cops. Just let it happen.

That's what this whistleblower is blowing the whistle on right now, today, in the middle of all this other stuff.

The former head of homeland security joins us next.


MADDOW: From our current vantage point, it may seem like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But in addition to everything else that has happened in this remarkable year, 2020 also included the impeachment trial of an American president. At the heart of the Trump impeachment was an explosive whistleblower complaint about the president withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to try to get Ukraine to help him with his reelection campaign. It was the House Intelligence Committee that announced a subpoena for that whistleblower complaint on September 13, 2019, about two weeks went by before they actually got the complaint and then publicly released it that was September 26th.

But that complaint or learning of the existence of it and then seeing the substance of it, that was how the impeachment began and the president was impeached in the House. They put him on trial in the Senate, all Republican senators except one voted to keep him in office, instead of removing him, and so now here we are.

But today, almost exactly a year after we learned of that first whistleblower complaint that did lead to the president's impeachment, today, we got word of this new serious whistleblower complaint that seems to be moving even faster. It appeared first as this headline in "The Washington Post", whistleblower accuses Trump appointees of downplaying Russian interference and white and white supremacist threat -- excuse me, I said "Washington Post". That's obviously a CNN headline.

And then the House Intelligence Committee ultimately released the complaint all in the same day. The new whistleblower is the former head of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, a man named Brian Murphy. Among other allegations, Murphy says he was told by higher-ups in mid-May to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the U.S., and to instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.

A few weeks later, on July 8th, he says the head of Homeland Security told him an intelligence notification about Russian interference should be held because it made the president look bad. Both times Murphy says he objected, and then ultimately, he was removed from his job as the head of intelligence at homeland security and he was demoted. That demotion, the alleged retaliation for his righteous objections to the sort of political manipulation of intelligence that he's complaining about in his whistleblower complaint, that's the basis for legal action that will go forward around this complaint now.

Now, I should tell you the Intelligence Committee is going great guns on this, along with the complaint which is dated yesterday and they published today. The committee also has posted a letter formally requesting testimony from Brian Murphy, very quickly, very soon, September 21st at 10:00 a.m.

Joining us now is Jeh Johnson. He served as secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama. He's also the former general counsel the Pentagon.

Secretary Johnson, it's a pleasure to see you, sir. Thanks very much for making time to be here.


MADDOW: The way that I've described this reporting today, I've read the report, I've read the reporting at CNN and "Washington Post" and other major news organizations describing its implications.

I just wanted to ask you if this strikes you as coherent or if there's anything important that you think is being left out or that I might be looking at the wrong way?

JOHNSON: I think it's important, Rachel, that we see this as part of a larger, very disturbing picture. First, as you alluded to in your last block, the intelligence and analysis directorate of DHS is principally responsible for what we refer to as vertical information sharing between the federal government and state and local governments.

When it comes to the election space, that means information and intelligence sharing with state election officials because it's state election officials who run our elections in this country, including specifically our national elections. And what is disturbing to me about this latest report is that it seems to be part of a larger pattern of trying to put the lid on information and intelligence that I believe the American people absolutely need to know as well as their state election officials.

We know from reporting about ODNI, we know publicly that the DNI has directed uh his intelligence community to stop holding hearings, to stop talking to congressional oversight. And why that's so important is because this is an ongoing information operation directed at the American people and the American people have a right to know what is being done to try to get into our heads and influence our votes and how we think about the candidates.

But even more disturbing Rachel is a report from late July from ODNI, this is the one that this is one that got through, that says in addition to the information up, our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections.

JOHNSON: And so, all the lights on the dashboard should be blinking red right now at the same time this administration wants to seem to put a line on getting this valuable information out to the American people.

MADDOW: And let me -- let me get specific about that too because I hear you absolutely and very clearly in terms of the American people knowing this and being aware of it. But are these types of intelligence reports as you say directed towards other law enforcement agencies and local officials and election officials, are they designed to help us harden ourselves as a target against this sort of thing?

I mean, it's one thing for the public to be aware that's obviously important particularly when it's you know disinformation operations targeting us as members of the public, but when it is about targeting infrastructure when it is about you know voter registration setups and voting tabulation setups and those things, presumably, this is the sort of thing that's designed to make us fight against these operations, not just know about them.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. DHS, the FBI should be notifying state election officials about exactly what the nature of this effort is to get into election infrastructure that this one public report is telling us about. It's vital because, Rachel, as you know the way our national elections are decided, they're decided on the head of a pin. they're decided in precious few states by swing voters in those states and so this election is going to be decided in a few crucial precincts.

And you talked about TV, the writers of the TV show "House of Cards" figured this out. So, it wouldn't be that hard for the Russians to figure out.

MADDOW: Oh my God, that is scary.

Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary under President Obama, general counsel the Pentagon -- sir, thank you very much for talking to us. It's -- I feel like we're in this remarkable moment where we've got officials that are filing existing -- existing officials currently in the administration filing whistleblower complaints. We've got former officials such as yourself in a position to know saying all the alarms are blinking red and we the public are just trying to make sense of it all in what just feels like a huge mess.

Thank you for being here and for speaking so clearly.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. One more thing about the whistleblower and the House Intelligence Committee calling for his testimony later this month , we spoke with the attorney for the whistleblower um tonight who told us that whether or not Brian Murphy does end up testifying to Congress will defend on factors beyond his control, including whether the Homeland Security Department where he still works allows him to show up and talk. This is very much a live issue.

Stay tuned. We'll be right back.


MADDOW: Just before the Fourth of July this summer, the Republican governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, went on Fox News to announce sort of excitedly that President Trump's big July Fourth campaign event at Mount Rushmore would not require attendees to wear masks, hooray, and definitely there would be no social distancing, she said. Yay!

And sure enough, a big mostly masculist crowd packed in for President Trump's rally there. Then, South Dakota refused to have a mass requirement or any kind of change in plans actually for the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally last month which attracted upwards of 400,00 people.

The Sturgis motorcycle rally has now been linked to hundreds of new coronavirus cases and at least one death. Cases in South Dakota doubled in the two weeks after that event, there's actually a study out today that projects that the Sturgis rally alone may have led to an almost astonishing number of new COVID infections.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has defended the sort of COVID denialist approach of the state under her leadership, saying that South Dakota will not listen to, quote, an elite class of so-called experts.

Under her leadership, the state also went ahead this past weekend with its state fair no coronavirus rules for that gathering either. Well, now, as a few days ago, South Dakota has the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the whole country. South Dakota's leaders refused to take measures to stop -- to stop the spread of COVID. They rejected the warnings of those pointy-headed so-called experts and now, here we are.

Where does this crazy denialism come from? Obviously, particularly when it comes to Republican politicians, it comes from the top. And that's part of what makes the revelations today from Bob Woodward's new book so stomach-churning. The real world consequences of this stuff.

I mean, these reports today, these recordings of the president in the early months of the pandemic telling Woodward wildly different things about coronavirus than he was telling the public -- I mean, it's not just a political story about a president saying one thing in private and another in public, this is a president saying things publicly that we now know he knew to be untrue, things that have deadly real world public health consequences.

I mean, here's what he was saying with in an interview with Woodward all the way back on February 7th.


TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed and so that's a very tricky one that's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your -- even your strenuous flus.

You know, people don't realize, we lose twenty five thousand, thirty thousand people a year here, who would ever think that, right?


TRUMP: I mean that's pretty amazing and then I say well is that the same thing. This is more deadly. This is five per -- you know this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent, you know? So this is deadly stuff.


MADDOW: This is deadly stuff. President Trump, a recorded interview with Bob Woodward on February 7th, very early explicitly, acknowledging that the coronavirus is way more deadly than the flu, quote, this is deadly stuff.

But that same month in public, he used the example of the flu right to tell the American people the exact opposite story that coronavirus was far less dangerous than the flu.


TRUMP: I want you to understand something that shocked me when I saw it that I spoke with Dr. Fauci on this and I was really amazed and I think most people are amazed to hear it. The flu in our country kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. That was shocking to me and so far if you look at what we have with the 15 people and they're recovering. One is -- one is pretty sick but hopefully we'll recover but the others are in great shape.

But think of that twenty five thousand to sixty nine thousand. Over the last ten years, we've lost three hundred and sixty thousand -- these are people that have died from the flu from what we call the flu, hey, did you get president Trump in February, right? We have only 15 coronavirus cases, this is so much less serious than the flu, right?

Then the very next day it was this.


TRUMP: It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear.


MADDOW: A couple weeks later, he's back on the phone with Bob Woodward, not only talking more about how COVID is super serious, but admitting to Woodward's explicitly that he likes to play down its seriousness in public.


TRUMP: Now what's turning out it's not just all people, Bob. But just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older people --

WOODWARD: Yeah, exactly.

TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people.

I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down --

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: -- because I don't want to create a panic.


MADDOW: I wanted to always play it down I still like playing it down. That was march and, boy, the president sure did keep on playing it down. You know, not that serious, it's going away.

But now we know that in April, he was saying to Bob Woodward, quote, it's a horrible thing. It's unbelievable, quote, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't even believe it.

Well, meanwhile he's going on the attack against efforts to reduce transmission by, among other things, wearing masks. He's deriding that and making fun of people who do that.

I mean, try to imagine learning something worse about a way a world leader dealt with coronavirus. This is kind of the worst thing that you could imagine, right, not being confused, not being too dense to be able to understand the reality of it, but actually getting it and deliberately lying to people not only about how serious it is but how much they are at risk of getting it.

And it's not only right the news here, it's also the tape. It's the tape of him admitting it, oh, boy, did I want to play that down, you wouldn't believe how deadly it is. Do you know how easily you can get this thing? It's way worse than that.

I mean, as I said earlier, right, this is usually the part in the TV series where the president resigns. But he's not resigning, he's running for reelection on the strength of his record, and the final weeks of this campaign will apparently be in part about just how many American lives the president of the United States sacrificed by choosing deliberately to play down a threat that he knew was far, far worse than he led on.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: On the day that we hit dead in the United States because of COVID-19, we just learned from "The Washington Post" columnist Bob Woodward that the president of the United States has admitted on tape in February he knew about COVID-19 that it passed through the air. He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down.

Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months. He had the information, he knew how dangerous it was. While this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.

Experts say that if he had acted just -- just one week sooner, 36,000 people would have been saved. If he acted two weeks sooner back in March, 54,000 lives would have been spared in March and April alone.

MADDOW: He failed to do his job on purpose, a life and death betrayal of the American people. That is what President Trump's opponent for the presidency has to say about President Trump's actions here, thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans dead who didn't have to die had the president just said in public what he admits in private he knew.

Is that what public health experts think as well? Hold that thought.


MADDOW: Joining us now is Dr. Carlos Del Rio. He's an infectious disease expert and the executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Del Rio, it's a real honor to have you with us tonight. Thanks for taking some time to be here happy to be here.


MADDOW: So this audio tape of the president has been released ahead of Bob Woodward's upcoming book and we can hear in that tape the president telling Bob Woodward privately at the very beginning of February, you just breathed the air, that's how it's passed. That's a very delicate one. That's a very tricky one. It's more deadly than even your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff.

Then in the middle of March, he admits I always wanted to play it down. Meanwhile, of course, publicly, he was saying that we would disappear, that, you know, 99 percent of cases are harmless, it's going to fade away.

In your view as somebody who knows these things well, do you believe that lives would have been saved if the president's public rhetoric starting February 7th had matched what he was explaining that he understood in private as of that time, would -- is it fair to say that a lot of lives could potentially have been saved?

DEL RIO: I think there's no doubt about that. Working in a pandemic, working in a crisis, working in a in a war, in a natural disaster is about leadership and leadership in our country has failed at this time and that's why we are number one in the world. We are four percent of the world population and we're about a quarter of the cases globally.

We have a lot of people almost people that have died of this disease. We have not had a national strategy. The president has had outstanding advice with Dr. Fauci, with Dr. Birx, people that know what they're doing he simply chose not to communicate that and has downplayed the crisis. There's not a national strategy and I think we all of us are playing the consequences.

MADDOW: When you hear the president's remarks and again keeping in mind the time frame in which he was speaking -- early February, mid-March, when he is talking about his own understanding through his briefings that this is a very -- a very a very transmissible virus that you can get it through breathing, that it is not just the old it's also younger people who are at risk of these things that this is much more serious than the flu. When you hear him articulate those things and again it's a world away from what he was saying in public do you believe that he understood willing to privately articulate what was actually true and known about the virus at that time.

It sounds to me like that's much more scientifically sound than the things we've heard him say publicly.

DEL RIO: I think without doubt there were regular briefings. Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx were with him regularly. There were briefings of the coronavirus task force.

I am sure he heard the information I am sure he was explained and, you know, he understands the information. What he choose to communicate is a different story.

But I have no doubts that the information conveyed to him by the experts was -- was real and what you're saying is what we all as experts knew back then, and that's why we were in shock when we were here the president get on the press conference and say something that just didn't make any sense. We were wondering is he getting the advice he needs?

But having spoken to Dr. Birx, having spoken to Dr. Fauci pretty regularly, I can tell you he was getting the advice.

MADDOW: Today, broke a sort of disturbing story they got emails from the Department of Health and Human Services that show political appointees without much health expertise essentially trying to muzzle Dr. Fauci in particular. A Trump administration appointee dictating what Dr. Fauci should say during interviews, telling Dr. Fauci that he should stop recommending that kids should ever wear masks -- masks that -- saying that fewer -- there should be fewer tests done of people who don't have COVID symptoms, for example.

And Dr. Fauci's team has definitely pushed back and said that nobody has been able to tell him what he can and cannot say. But clearly, these evidence these emails are evidence that there has been an effort to steer even these effective public health leaders that you're describing away from the public health message that they believe the public needs to hear.

Does it surprise you to hear about that reporting or to know that that's been happening?

DEL RIO: It's not surprising, but on the other hand, I can tell you that nobody silences Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Fauci has been -- if I can think about one person who has spoken the truth throughout this pandemic is him. And he has managed to find a way to speak the truth, whether it's through press conference and when he wasn't able to do press conference, he would do a podcast, he would go to a grand rounds, he would go to a conference.

Dr. Fauci is a national hero. He is somebody who has really worked hard entirely in this pandemic at a very difficult time and he has done all he can and we all should be very, very proud and happy that we have him in that position because he could have easily said I have no time for this but he's doing what he's doing and he's continued to push because he believes in science and he believes in public health and his goal is to save lives and to tell the truth.

MADDOW: Dr. Carlos Del Rio, associate dean -- executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine -- sir, it's an honor to have you here. Thank you for your time tonight.

DEL RIO: Delighted to be with you.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: That's going to do it for us tonight. I will see you tomorrow night when my guest will be former FBI counterintelligence director Peter Strzok. That is an interview I think you are going to want to see. I hope you will be here for that.\


Good evening, Lawrence.


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