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Transcript: The ReidOut, 8/26/21

Guests: Yamiche Alcindor, Ben Rhodes, Madeleine Dean, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez


12 U.S. service members killed, 15 wounded in Kabul. Biden says we will not forgive. We will not forget. Biden cites growing risk of ISIS attack. 13 U.S. service members killed, 15 wounded in Kabul. Biden says it was time to end a 20-year war.


JOY RIED, MSNBC HOST: These are the first U.S. casualties since the evacuation from Afghanistan began in July. According to the Taliban, at least 60 Afghans, including children were also killed and more than 65 were injured. One of the explosions occurred outside the airport at the southeastern Abbey Gate, where thousands of people had been waiting to gain entry, hoping to get out from under the Taliban`s control following that attack. Gunmen opened fire on civilians and military forces there. The second explosion was at the nearby Baron Hotel, a gathering point for many evacuees, including Americans, before making their way to the airport.

ISIS-K, a break-off ISIS group based in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The splinter group is also an enemy of the Taliban. President Biden addressed the attacks a short time ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this, we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.


REID: And as I note that the State Department has now updated the number of dead to 13 and flags have been lowered outside of the White House. We should note that as well. The State Department had warned Americans yesterday to stay away from the airport because of threats like this. President Biden himself spoke about it earlier this week.


BIDEN: The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS-affiliate in Afghanistan, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban as well, every day we`re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.


REID: Joining me now is Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour and Moderator of Washington Week, and Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent and MSNBC National Security Analyst.

And, Yamiche, let me play another bite from this rather somber and pretty determined news conference that we heard from President Biden earlier. In which he was talking about the security threat environment and doubled down on his commitment to leave -- they have our military leave that country. Take a listen.


BIDEN: So, as I`ve said a hundred times, terrorism has metastasized around the world and we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States. We don`t have military encampments there. We don`t keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us. Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war. Thank you so much.


REID: What I took from that, Yamiche, including in the faces in Fox News attempting to try to get under his skin is that President Biden has not changed his mind at all. And that then if anything, this tragedy that we`ve just seen occur with now 13 dead among our U.S. Marines, he`s more determined than ever to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Is that a right read on it?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That`s right, Joy. And I`ve been talking to White House officials all day. And they really doubled down on this. This is a devastating day for the country, for the military, and also for President Biden. He himself knows the loss of a family member. He talked about the idea of this being a black hole in service member`s hearts.

But he said all the responsibility for this stops with me but at the same time I inherited a deal from the Taliban. What I`ve been hearing from White House officials over and over again is the idea that President Biden had been warning that terrorist attack, that scary things like what we saw today, deadly murders like we saw today, that that was increasingly more likely the longer and longer we stayed in this war in Afghanistan.

And White House officials are also telling me that they really do feel confident in the idea that President Biden made the right decision, that this August 31st deadline needs to stick to it. Now, they`re also saying, of course, as President Biden said that the people that are responsible for killing these U.S. service members as well as dozens and dozens of Afghan civilians, that there`s no deadline on trying to track them down.

So even, I think, as the president is doubling down on the idea that it`s time to end this war, you hear military officials say that America still knows that the responsibility is to go after the people who killed our own.

REID: Yes. And, you know, Clint Watts, I`ve been watching the coverage all day and seen you on a couple of points. And I think that you`ve made the point and I`d love for you to expand on it for our audience, that, you know, that an attack like this, is everyone is shaken by it. But it doesn`t mean that we should slow down the initial goal of getting people out. In a sense, doesn`t it indicate that we need to ramp it up and do whatever it takes to complete getting as many people out of there as possible? It doesn`t mean, okay, stop getting people out and just add more troops.

CLINT WATTS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That`s right, Joy. The day the Americans landed there and started extraction, it became a magnet for terrorist attacks at the Kabul airport. This is different from other places like Bagram, where we operated in the past, where we had a security perimeter, we had air and ground dominance to a degree in terms of our military, we could defend it.


This is not the case of what`s going on today. We`re relying on the Taliban. There are some misnomers out there. The Taliban, they came back into town two weeks ago. They don`t own the town. The town is very porous and they have lots of enemies. At the same point the longer we stay there, the more capability, the more time, the more preparation that ISIS-K can set and execute terrorist attacks against a static target.

We don`t have the intelligence and military we had before. We`re relying on the Taliban, that is not as effective as the U.S. military to defend that airport. The longer we stay there, the more likely more Americans will die on that airfield.

REID: Yes. I mean, Ben, the situation that the White House faces is that the Taliban controls the rings outside, as General Looney described that is going, you know, further out. Those checkpoints that make it so difficult for Afghans and Americans to get through to get to the airport, they control those. Meaning that all of the access and egress to get towards us, then, you know, that makes us more vulnerable, that`s in their hands. It doesn`t seem that there`s a logical argument for adding more troops unless they`re going to fan out throughout the country. That, in a sense, means restarting the war.

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Yes. I mean, the reality is to build on something Clint said, there have been a number of truly catastrophic attacks in Kabul in recent years that have taken the lives of hundreds of Afghans. The difference now is that when those attacks are taking place, our military was hunkered down at bases like Bagram. And now, we`re securing the perimeter of this airport.

And the reality is if you send more troops in to extend the perimeter of that airport, right beyond that perimeter, you would still have the same security situation where the Taliban is controlling checkpoints, where people are vulnerable to these kinds of attacks, and you have a group like ISIS-K, a clear intent to want to be seen to be attacking and shooting at the United States of America on its way out of Afghanistan. That`s very much the narrative that they wanted to see, that they were somehow part of chasing us out of Afghanistan.

I think if you look at what President Biden said today, he`s not deterred from the reality that he wants to evacuate and complete the mission of leaving Afghanistan, but he`s also continuing to have evacuations from that airport. And the very kind of just uniquely tragic circumstance that they find themselves in is that every day that they`re evacuating thousands of people, they`re potentially saving hundreds, if not, thousands of lives. These are people that could be targeted with Taliban reprisals. That could include some American citizens who are there as well.

And so even though there`s a risk to those service members, there`s obviously a risk to the people wanting to get out. And I think the challenge here is how do you get as many of those people out as fast as you can while you`re also beginning to evacuate the military, which kind of creates further risk in the coming days. And that`s a very difficult task and dealing with a complex security environment.

I think part of what you`ve seen in recent days too is less clearing of people at the checkpoints and more trying to find ways to bring people into the airport in convoys so that there`s less exposure of people having to be cleared one after another in a chaotic scene at the gates of the airport.

REID: Yes. Clint, can we get into that a little bit, because you`re right. I mean, even overnight, given all that`s happened, 13,400, according to official figures coming out of the White House, 13,400 people got out since August 4th. They`re talking about 104,000 people. Less than a thousand Americans, at least according to the State Department still remain in the country. But talk about the logistical challenge now of ISIS now knowing what`s vulnerable, now feeling motivated that they have been able to attack and kill Americans and kill Afghans, and for whatever they think their endgame is. How does this become more complicated and difficult in terms of logistically getting more people out, because that seems to be the goal?

WATTS: And, Joy, the big challenge now is that ISIS-K, we know they`re in Kabul. There are reports that there could be dozens or even a hundred of them operating in and around Kabul. And so what is their mission? They`re going to do everything that they can to inflict more pain on the U.S. and the Taliban. For them, this big spectacular attack is a way to draw in radical recruits, try to draw in resources, try and elevate the picture. There`s no reason not to do this.

So as we collapse, there are fewer people on the ground essentially. This would be called a retrograde operation in the military. You are essentially closing in the perimeter. It only takes one RPG strike, a Blackhawk Down kind of scenario, or one surface-to-air missile.

It`s going to be extremely challenging to get those last fighters out. The perimeter will have to collapse. And honestly, I think we`re dependent on the Taliban really to do a lot of that hard work for us in terms of that cooperation.

One wrinkle for all of this that people should know is ISIS-K is really constituted of former members of the Taliban, former members of Al Qaeda and former members of the Islamic movement, Uzbekistan up in the north. These are rivals but there`s also all sorts of overlapping relationships.


It`s super complex. We have less sensors on the ground and a smaller footprint. It`s going to be a dangerous last five days in Afghanistan.

REID: And really quick, just to have with you for a minute, Clint, with what goal, because obviously the Taliban now has control of the country. Are they anti-government in the sense that now they view the Taliban as the government? What is the -- is there any sense of what it is that their end game is and what does it have to do with us?

WATTS: Yes. So, for ISIS-K, they essentially want to establish an Islamic Emirate much like the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria which we talk about three to four years ago. They want to establish that in Afghanistan. They are rivals to the Taliban. They believe the Taliban is too moderate. They believe that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are really the old school. And if anything, I would say this is a generational fight.

Remember, the Al Qaeda emerged from the Mujahideen. ISIS emerged from Al- Qaeda. There are these splinter groups of teen, it would the younger groups are more violent. So it`s violence first, ideas second. And ultimately they want to take turf. So they moved violence very quickly, which you see today with that suicide bombing is indicative of what they will try and do and they don`t control turf. So, part of President Biden`s statement right before we came on air here that they would retaliate against them.

Let`s remember that ISIS-K doesn`t really control territory or very much of it in Afghanistan.

REID: Right.

WATTS: They`re a terrorist group that`s blended cells into the population, even more difficult for us to detect and defend against as we make the last flight out of there.

REID: Yes. I`m reading about, there`s also the northern alliance sort of already resistance to the Taliban. This is essentially -- Yamiche, this is a civil war at this point between all of these radical groups, which again is why President Biden has been so clear that this is not our issue right now. But we do have to deal with the Taliban, which is the de facto government there.

The White House -- I mean, President Biden was pretty clear. This is not a partnership. These are not our friends. These are the people in control of the country. So talk about what the White House is saying on the status of negotiations to ensure that the Taliban are going to, as President Biden said, in their own self-interest clear the way for us to get out and for us to get out not for the loss of life, and for us to get our allies out, and are they confident in that?

ALCINDOR: Well, it`s a delicate balance that they have to play with the Taliban, that they have to strike with the Taliban. Because what you see from White House officials, what I`ve been hearing all day, is feeling that, yes, the Taliban has to be at least -- has to have some responsibility in this, that they also have a real interest in making sure that that airport is still functional and that it`s not completely taken away in the middle of all this chaos and critical events but that they also, in some ways, are the de facto government here and they were able to take over in 11 days, President Biden underscored again today, making the point that the Taliban, whether we like it or not, are the people in charge of Afghanistan right now. And as a result that means that American government is going to have to work with them.

Now, the president was, again, very cautious when he was talking about this idea of giving the Taliban lists of people that need to come in and out of the airport but there is this idea and it`s a fact that there is this outer perimeter that the Taliban is controlling and that, in some ways, the U.S. is a bit dependent on the Taliban for some of that security. It`s a hard thing to wrap your mind around and it`s a hard thing for, I think, U.S. officials to talk about, but it is what the reality is now.

The other thing I think I want to underscore in the middle of talking about the Taliban is just the human crisis that is going to go forward. I think on a day like today when people are now going to be burying their family members, there`s all this talk of how the U.S. will going to deal with it.

But let`s remember the women and children and U.S. service members who are now having to put their lives at risk because of this terrorist group. I think, when I talk to White House officials, they`re also underscoring that and underscoring that idea that, as you said, this is a civil war but there is some American interest in the idea that now America has to really be responsible for trying to go after the people who came after our U.S. service members today.

That`s going to be a hard task and one that President Biden is going to have to have a challenge with, and have a challenge with, especially as there are all sorts of political challenges to that grim, tied to this Afghanistan decision. But he`s sticking by that he feels confident in and he`s taking responsibility for but one that still it`s very much of a challenge.

REID: It`s a challenge, Ben, because I don`t think there is -- other than a few hawks on the Republican side and maybe some in the commentariat, there`s no hunger to restart another war here, to pour thousands of troops into Afghanistan. And so that is indeed a delicate balance, on the one hand, if you could get comment on that, and the fact that the Afghan, you break it, you bought it. You want to be the government, you`re the government. Now, this is their problem and they`re going to have to deal with it. You know, and there`s no sense that they are competent to do that, but that`s what they bought and now they got it.

RHODES: Well, there -- yes, there`s a couple of issues there, Joy. There`s the counterterrorism issue and then there`s a future of Afghanistan with the Taliban. On the counterterrorism issue, if you listen to President Biden, the one thing he has been quite clear about for months in addition to getting out is this idea that you repeated today that if there is a counterterrorism challenge inside of Afghanistan, if there are terrorist safe havens inside of Afghanistan, that we can deal with those -- with, you know, so-called over the horizon capacity, the capacity to take a missile strike, the capacity to take a drone strike, the capacity to conduct a special operation, in the same way that we do in many other countries where there have been counterterrorism operations but we don`t have a base with several thousand American troops.


That`s frankly where a lot of the so-called war on terror has been moving anyway in recent years, where you don`t have large numbers of U.S. ground troops but you instead have this case of the U.S. taking stand-off strikes at individual targets. In a lot of those places, we rely on the partnership of the local governments or local security forces.

I don`t think there are any illusions nor should there be any illusions that the Taliban is a partner. I think, right now, what you have is a circumstance with the Taliban, look, they have been an insurgency and ideological movement. They don`t know how to govern Afghanistan. They don`t even know how to provide security in the situation of Kabul. This is not a city they have been governing for a very long time. They have a lot to work out. They`re in discussions right now with former Afghan officials about what kind of government they can set up, what kind of people they might want to keep in place.

But the reality is as Clint said, the Taliban itself is not totally unified and cohesive in the sense that you may have some people in the Taliban who are focused on getting international recognition, who are focused on getting international assistance and that may give you some leverage to moderate their behavior. But then you have some people who are going to want to engage in reprisal violence. They`re going to want to attack people who worked with the United States and who may have ties to the kinds of extremists who carried out these types of attacks. So this is going to be an evolving situation.

I think what the U.S. is going to have separate outlook. We have our counterterrorism issue. We`re going after who we need to go after. Maybe harder to get intelligence on those targets but we can do it, as we`ve done in other countries. And then we have to explore and test what the Taliban is going to be like going forward.

REID: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we manage, I think, to get Osama bin Laden and, you know, in quite difficult circumstances that when we were determined to do it, we do it, and our enemies ought to know that. Ben Rhodes, thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you. Clint Watts, thank you.

Meanwhile, within hours of today`s deadly bombings in Kabul, there were already calls from the usual war hawks in the Republican Party for an increased military presence in Afghanistan, saber-rattling that not only the war not over, now is the time to ramp it up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we should retake more airfields throughout the country, that will take troops on the ground. It will take a complete reassessment of our strategy. But the military can do it.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): You know, congratulations. The endless war just got fired up again. Because if ISIS and Al Qaeda`s job was just simply to get us out of Afghanistan and then we can all live in our respective corners peacefully, you know there would not have been a suicide attack a couple of days prior to the U.S. leaving.

REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): We are going to expand this operation. I`d put more military in there. I`d get every single American out. And I`d start killing bad guys.


REID: Add to those voices one of the men who is conspicuously silent during and after four years of Donald Trump stomping all over our allies and international reputation, a man who had a front seat for the surrender deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the collapse of the Afghan government, the former president`s second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who seems to have suddenly found his words again.

Like so many other former Trump officials, he tried to distance himself from the failed peace deal with the Taliban last year and also, of course, seemingly absolved his former boss.


H.R. MCMASTER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is actually what happens when you surrender to a terrorist organization like the Taliban. President Trump, I think, put into place the first time, Andrea, we had a reasoned and sustainable approach on Afghanistan in August of 2017. But the neo isolationist far right got in his ear as well as would call the self- loathing far left and told him you need to end this endless war. You know what, we are facing real enemies there, the enemies of all humanity.


REID: McMaster did point a finger at the three most recent administrations, which would include his former boss, but somehow left off George W. Bush.

He also forgot to mention one more architect of our present mess, himself. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that McMaster played a key role in getting Trump to commit more troops to Afghanistan, presenting him with a black and white snapshot from 1972 of Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul to show him that western norms had existed there before and could return.

With me now, former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones and Author of the newsletter, This Land. Thank you for being here.

And I will start with you, Claire McCaskill, because it is not surprising. The same old war hawks are back again wanting more war, war, war. They see an opening here in the tragedy that`s befallen 13 American Marines. Here`s Kevin McCarthy. Horrific. Our enemies have taken advantage of chaotic nature yadda, yadda, yadda, saying that the speaker of the House, who he thinks he wants to be one day, must bring Congress back before August 31st so that we can be briefed thoroughly by the administration and prohibit the withdrawal, prohibit the withdrawal of our troops, until every American is safely out."


Now, this guy is no military strategic genius, because leaving more troops in there that would mean they`d attract more attacks from ISIS. But go on, Kevin.

What do you make of the fact that the speaker of the House is demanding that Congress come back to try to force more troops to stay in Afghanistan, but had no interest investigating the attack on our own Capitol on January 6?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Kevin McCarthy is so fricking hypocritical.

While Donald Trump was moseying up to the Taliban and making a deal with the Taliban and signaling to the Afghan people that America was no longer going to stand behind the Afghan government in a matter of months, when he actually tried to invite the Taliban to Camp David, when he was doing all of that, Kevin McCarthy said nothing.

And, by the way, Kevin McCarthy never spoke up for refugees, ever. Kevin McCarthy was one of the leading voices saying, well, let`s turn our back on refugees. Forget about people escaping poverty and crime and horrific conditions trying to come to America.

Now, all of a sudden, these guys are all about the Taliban being bad guys and all about trying to help refugees.

It is incredibly hypocritical. Now, is this bad, what happened today? Does my heart hurt for these families that lost loved ones over there today, these brave Marines and this Navy medic? Of course. It`s horrific.

But any time you airlift out 100,000 people, you end up being somewhat of a sitting duck. I mean, the bad guys, the crazy extremists, the suicide bombers knew that, whenever this airlift was going to happen, throngs of people would gather wanting to get to the promise of America, and they would have an opportunity to go in and blow themselves up and hurt Americans.

That danger was going to be there, no matter how this withdrawal occurred. And it is certainly not a good reason to stay there. I mean, we have been the GDP of Afghanistan for long enough.

And you know the other thing that`s going to happen, Joy? When America`s gone, when the outsider is no longer a unifying force, people need to remember this. There are 14 different nationalities, ethnicities and religions recognized in the African national anthem. They are a tremendously divided country.

And they`re going to have a huge problem trying to govern without the flow of money from the United States and with all these disparate elements and this very young population. So, trouble is ahead for the Taliban. We won`t need to worry about whether the Taliban is in trouble going forward.

REID: Yes, yes, exactly. They`re -- we will see how good they can figure out how to govern that country.

But, David, one of the things that has bothered me really throughout my career in this business is, there is -- I mean, Dwight David Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, was not wrong when he said there is a machine, there is a war machine that wants to be fed all the time, that sees war and more war and more troops as the answer to everything.

A lot of that war machine are people who themselves don`t have to do the fighting. There is a chicken hawk contingent that loves to send other people`s sons and daughters into war and that sees war as always the answer. Some people are -- have served themselves, but it`s a lot of people who haven`t, who push and push and push.

And as soon as I heard about these explosions this morning, I knew that the next round was going to be an even bigger ramping up of these war hawks.

But even before that happened, Henry Kissinger is back out there thinking we need to hear from him, Henry Kissinger, whose legacy, whose resume includes destroying countries throughout Latin America and Africa. We need to hear from him now?

The war hawks are back, David, and what do you make of it?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well listening to Henry Kissinger is sort of like going to Bernie Madoff for financial advice at this point, in that he barely nods to Vietnam in that piece.

He, of course, was behind the secret bombing of Cambodia that didn`t work in Vietnam and prolonged the war there. And, as you know, he didn`t mention the wars in Central America, Latin America, Chile and other places. So he has a lot of blood on his hands.

I don`t think he really should be part of the debate at this point in time.

But, this week -- and it`s unfortunate that it`s happening during this crisis, this humanitarian crisis -- and my condolences go out to the family members and colleagues of those Americans service people and the Afghans who were killed today.

REID: Indeed.

CORN: But we`re seeing a reckoning.

For 20 years, for 20 years long, longer than we were in Vietnam, we have been telling lies to the American public, the media, but mainly the government, about what was happening in Afghanistan.


And now we have the hawks coming in and saying, we should go back and do this all over again? There was never a good rationale, there was never a good strategy. Kissinger`s piece says, oh, I have come up with a better strategy that should have been applied the last 20 years.

It`s really like a game of "Risk" to him. And there`s no telling that it would have made any difference whatsoever. We have had reports come out from the special inspector general for Afghanistan, saying that we didn`t know what we were doing. We didn`t understand the culture, we didn`t understand the politics, we didn`t understand the military, we didn`t understand the government.

And this is after -- while we`re investing trillions of dollars there, let alone those lives of Americans and the Afghan military who some of them served quite gallantly and lost their lives.

So I think it`s unfortunate that we`re focused -- it`s not unfortunate that we`re focused on the humanitarian crisis, but it`s unfortunate that we can`t have an honest debate about what`s happened in Afghanistan for the last 20 years without being overwhelmed by what`s happening on a day-to-day basis there.

REID: Yes.

CORN: Because if you look at it rationally, it`s been absurd and crazy.

REID: And we can`t keep doing it.

I have to play this sound bite. I don`t really -- well, I don`t have to, but I`m going to go ahead and do it. I don`t like to hear from him. But here`s Donald Trump. It`s just an ironic little statement. Here he is. Let`s just play it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took out the founder of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, and then, of course, Soleimani. Now, just so you understand, Soleimani is bigger by many, many times than Osama bin Laden.

The founder of ISIS is bigger by many, many times, al-Baghdadi, than Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden had one hit. And it was a bad one in New York City, the World Trade Center. But these other two guys were monsters. They were monsters.


REID: Can you imagine a Democratic president coming out and saying, well, Osama bin Laden had one hit, but these other guys, these people are monsters?

That is the person that Kevin and the others are dutifully following and would do anything for, including maybe COVID. Your thoughts, Claire? I will give you the last word.

MCCASKILL: Well, it is -- let me just say again, the hypocrisy of the people who are piling on Joe Biden for trying to end this war is stunning.

And I got to say -- in all the oversight I did in Afghanistan as a member of the Armed Services Committee, one theme emerged over and over and over again. It was greed. It was contractors. It was impractical use of money.

I mean, Joy, we went so far is to build a gas station with natural gas for a country that has very few cars and none that run on natural gas. That`s the kind of money people were pocketing. The corruption was endemic. We trained people for an army that never really was real. It was all on paper.

It was time for this to end, and Joe Biden had the courage to do it.

REID: That`s exactly right.

MCCASKILL: I`m proud that he did.

REID: Absolutely. And war is ugly, and it`s always ugly, meaning we do less of it.

Claire McCaskill, David Corn, thank you both very much.

Up next, Lester Holt`s exclusive interview with the officer who shot insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt on January 6.

THE REIDOUT continues after this.



REID: Since January 6, Donald Trump and the Republican Party have increasingly thrown their support behind the people who attempted to overthrow the government by force.

In doing so, they have exploited the death of insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran and QAnon follower who was fatally shot as she tried to breach the speaker`s lobby, just yards away from the House chamber, while members of Congress were still evacuating.

But by holding Babbitt up as a martyr, the GOP has relentlessly demonized the Capitol Police officer who likely saved the lives of the lawmakers he`s sworn to protect. After right-wing media sites attempted to guess his identity, that officer is now going public and speaking out in an exclusive interview with NBC`s Lester Holt.


LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: Your name has been batted about on the Internet, but you have never been officially publicly identified.

Do you want to tell us who you are?

LT. MICHAEL BYRD, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, my name is Michael Byrd. I`m a lieutenant for the United States Capitol Police.

HOLT (voice-over): For months, he has lived in hiding, he says, over this moment, his decision to use deadly force against a rioter as she climbed through a barricaded door that leads to the House chamber.

In the months since, he`s been the target of threats.

(on camera): Can you give us the nature of some of those threats?

BYRD: They talk about killing me, cutting off my head, you know, very vicious and cruel things.

HOLT: Racist things?

BYRD: There were some racist attacks as well. That`s all disheartening, because I know I was doing my job.

HOLT: Given the nature of the threats that you describe, do you have any concern about showing your face and identifying yourself?

BYRD: Of course I do. That is a very vital point. And it`s something that is frightening.

I believe I showed the utmost courage on January 6, and it`s time for me to do that now.

HOLT (voice-over): Responsible that day for securing the House chambers, Byrd couldn`t see what Americans were witnessing on their TVs. But he could hear it in the pleas from other officers.

(on camera): Were you afraid that day?

BYRD: I was very afraid.

HOLT: What are you hearing on your radio?

BYRD: I`m hearing about the breaches of different barricaded areas, officers being overrun, officers being down.

HOLT: Did you ever hear a call or report of shots fired during any of this?

BYRD: As a matter of fact, I did. There was reports of shots fired through the House main door onto the floor of the chamber.

HOLT (voice-over): Later, those reports would prove to be false.

This video captures Byrd instructing members of Congress to don gas masks.

BYRD: We have had the dispersement of tear gas in the Rotunda. Please be advised there are masks under your seats.

HOLT: He says officers barricaded the door, what he considered the last line of defense.

BYRD: I had been yelling and screaming as loud as I was: "Please stop. Get back. Get back. Stop."

We had our weapons drawn.


HOLT: Byrd, only his hand and gun visible, targeted a figure trying to climb through a window. He fired a single fatal shot hitting Ashli Babbitt. She was 35 years old, an Air Force veteran, Trump supporter and QAnon follower.

(on camera): We see your arm out there for a considerable amount of time.

Were you wavering?

BYRD: I was taking a tactical stance. You`re ultimately hoping that your commands will be complied with. And, unfortunately, they were not.

HOLT: When you fired, what could you see? Where were you aiming?

BYRD: You`re taught to aim for center mass. The subject was sideways, and I could not see her full motion or her hands or anything.

So, I guess her movement caused the discharge to fall where it did.

HOLT: And what did you think this individual was doing at that at that moment?

BYRD: She was posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives.

HOLT (voice-over): But an attorney for Ashli Babbitt`s family disputes that. He did not respond to our request for a comment, but in a previous statement said Babbitt was not brandishing a weapon, not in close proximity to members of Congress, and was not an imminent threat of death or serious injury to anyone.

(on camera): Her family points out that she was not armed.

BYRD: That`s correct.

HOLT: The fact that you weren`t aware whether she was armed or not, did that alter the decision-making?

BYRD: It did not.

HOLT: What should we make of the fact that there were other officers in other potentially life-threatening situations who didn`t use their service weapons that day?

BYRD: I`m sure it was a terrifying situation. I can only control my reaction, my training, my level of expertise. That would be upon them to speak for themselves.

HOLT: Former President Trump has talked about you and this and this incident. He says she was murdered.

What does it feel like to hear that from a former president?

BYRD: Well, it`s disheartening. If he was in a room or anywhere, and I`m responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family.

HOLT: Would you have his back today if you were so assigned?

BYRD: I sure would, because it`s my job.

HOLT (voice-over): Multiple investigations have now upheld Byrd`s actions on January 6.

(on camera): Capitol Police in their press release after exonerating you said your actions potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death.

What was it like to hear those words, to see those words?

BYRD: Those words meant a lot, because that`s exactly what I did on that day. That was my mission. That was what I prepared for. And it`s -- it`s rewarding and refreshing to hear that.


REID: A member of Congress whose life was potentially saved by that brave officer joins me next.



REID: I`m joined now by Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, one of the lawmakers whose life Officer Byrd was protecting that day.

Congresswoman, I just want to give you the opportunity to react to what you`ve just seen and heard.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): First, Joy, thank you for including me on this heartbreaking day for our country.

REID: Yeah.

DEAN: So my sympathies to the service members` families, to the 13 now I guess that we have lost and 15 wounded and, of course, scores of Afghans and others. And I condemn the terrorist attacks. We have to continue our mission.

But, Joy, that interview, I was staggered to learn that it was Lieutenant Byrd who made that announcement on the floor of the House. For the last seven months I have wondered who was it trying to help save our lives? I was up in the gallery that day as they told us first sit down, prepare to lie down, then get your gas masks out from under your seat.

And then that announcement, they have infiltrated the rotunda and tear gas has been deployed. I have wondered for months who did that to save our lives. And what I want people to know is, number one, thank you, Lieutenant Byrd. Thank you.

Number two, I hope people understand the proximity of where he was first on the rostrum and then where Ashli Babbitt was shot. It was feet away after Ashli Babbitt suddenly, with all those other rioters, broke through security gate after security gate after security gate that it takes me a while to go through each day, as it should.

So the proximity was directly to the floor of the House, feet from where he made that announcement saving our lives. The other piece is while he was there protecting our lives at one door, you know that location, it`s called the speaker`s lobby, it`s feet from the House. Out the other side they were taking the vice president, the codes (ph), other members of leadership, other members of Congress.

And this wasn`t just any day. Those rioters came to kill everyone in the line of succession, including the vice president, the speaker and others. So, my reaction is extraordinary thank you to Lieutenant Byrd.

REID: Yeah. There are all of these images of various officers with their guns trained on the doors, protecting you all from what was coming through those doors.


In the case of this officer, Officer Byrd -- the glass smashed. Had Ashli Babbitt and the other people there, who -- the guttural screaming, you can hear them screaming and ramming the door. I don`t want you to speculate on, you know -- and I know this was a traumatic experience. I feel really badly about having you have to relive it.

For those who are trying to say that she posed no threat, in your view, what threat did she and the other people on the other side of that door pose, if they had gotten through?

DEAN: You know, I was speaking to a Capitol police officer who fought valiantly that day. I was speaking to him today in terms of how he is doing and how he is recovering. They posed a threat of what they expressed both physically in their actions and in their words. They wanted to kill us. They wanted to hang the vice president of the United States.

An absurd statement by the so-called attorney for the estate of Ashli Babbitt, that she posed no threat. This group was there with one intention, to stop an election and to kill or hurt or maim anyone in their way.

REID: Can we -- can the producers just put that back up again with the sound?

Because I think the time can cause you to lose the full memory. And I can remember watching this on that day. And this -- the Officer Goodman scene where he`s leading the people the other way, those are the two scenes that never have left my mind.

You can see the officer`s gun trained at them so they knew what was on the other side. They knew he was protecting that door and he was between them and whoever was on the other side, the staffers, sometimes 20-something- year-olds in there working some of their earliest jobs in Washington and members.

The idea -- what do you make of the idea of people like the former president saying to the man who stood there, guarding his own fear, dealt with however he felt, protected all of you from that sound. That looks like a lynch mob to me. To say we know who you are to that officer, to threaten to kill that officer or threaten to get him or get that officer, to put his life in danger.

I have to tell you, I didn`t know that he was African-American. I only found that out watching Lester Holt`s interview. I`m doubly afraid for him with Donald Trump`s past history of attitudes toward people of color.

And I wonder what you would want to say to this officer now that he has revealed his identity and spoken.

DEAN: What courage, what decency, what dignity and integrity. When Lester asked him, if it were Donald Trump you were protecting, would you do that? He said, of course, it`s my job.

This is a man that has a sense of duty that is absolutely in his core. Like you, I didn`t know who he was, I didn`t know who color he was.

And just -- you can see the extraordinary integrity in him and, obviously, the sad continuing lack of integrity, decency, any sense of oath or duty to anyone other than self that the former president has. We need as a country to stop listening to the former president. He represents the worst of us. We need to stop listening to him.

REID: Amen. And it`s not Sunday, but you can get an amen.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, I`m so glad that you are safe that day and I hope that you`re able to process everything you`ve seen. I again apologize for making you live through it again. So thank you so much for being here.

DEAN: And Lieutenant Byrd and all of those who served us and saved our lives -- thank you.

REID: Amen, amen. Thank you so much.

Up next, more on today`s tragic events in Afghanistan. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins me next.



REID: Despite the tragic loss of life in the Kabul airport, the chief of Central Command confirmed the mission so evacuate Americans and our allies continues. Since the end of July, the United States has relocated approximately 105,000 people. Thousands are being processed for resettlement at American bases across the Middle East.

Today`s tragedy underscores how urgent it is to process these allies as quickly as possible, especially given the fact that some of our European allies have often made less than enthusiastic noises about welcoming those refugees into their countries. To that point, nearly 70 congressional Democrats are urging President Biden to increase the U.S. refugee admissions cap to no fewer than 200,000.

And joining me is one of those members, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Thank you so much for being here.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Of course. Thank you for having me.

REID: Before I jump into this, you were sitting here with me as we were watching Officer Byrd, who we know is the person who took that fatal shot in the Ashli Babbitt incident. I want to know if you just had any reaction to it as somebody who also lived through that nightmare.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. You know, I think his decision to come forward is incredibly brave, understanding the degree of targeting that is out there and radicalization that is out there, it`s courageous. And, frankly, one of the things we see, too, is that this idea that to even challenge the fact that his life and that everyone there`s life was in danger is -- it is ludicrous and plays into this very extreme Republican radicalization that what happened and the 6th was not serious.

REID: Yeah.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Folks so far as to call that a tourist event.

Officers died. People died. And it is -- it was run of the most -- it was a domestic terrorist attack that we saw.

REID: Indeed. And it is interesting because Americans I think tend to think of America as sui generis, right? Terrorism happens all over the world, it happened here on January 6th.

We are seeing in Afghanistan right now, a terrorist attack today that killed 13 of our troops, Marines and Navy -- a member of the Navy. But we`re also trying to get as many people out as possible.


REID: Talk about raising the cap, how can it be done? Why should it be done now?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, to speak to today`s attack, what happened is just an absolute and utter travesty. And these marines that have passed away, 13 now, as well as 60 Afghans that died in the explosions, we have -- I mean, this is the human cost of war.


And it -- this is what makes war immoral.

And when it comes to the devastation that we have seen in Afghanistan, the United States plays a role. We have a responsibility. And in order to carry out and in order to make good on the role that we have played in this violence, we have a responsibility to make a home for the people whose lives have been upended by interventionist U.S. foreign policy.

And so, as a result, I`m proud to have co-wrote a letter with Representative Barbara Lee to ask and urge the Biden administration to -- as they set their refugee quotas, to make it no less than 200,000 in the upcoming year.

REID: Absolutely. I mean, we heard it could be 200,000 or 300,000 people that helped us over the course of 20 long years that we were there.

I want to show you the ceiling. We used to have an annual ceiling of 231,000 people under Ronald Reagan. No, you know, moderate figure there. George W. Bush was 70,000. Under President Obama, it was 85,000. Under Trump, it dropped to 15,000.

We have had former members of the administration come forward and talk about Stephen Miller essentially waging rhetorical war against the idea of Afghans being able to come here. We`ve already seen people on another network call them invaders. So, the people who helped us are invaders. They shouldn`t be allowed to come here.

So there is another side of this. There is another side that doesn`t want any of them here.

So, do you think that the politics around bringing more people in are going to be challenged by that xenophobic attitude that we are seeing play out?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, there`s -- it is no secret that the Trump administration carried out extremely xenophobic and racist immigration policies. And, in fact, when we look at the turmoil of what is happening now, one of the questions we have to ask as well is, you know, this -- Afghanistan is a responsibility and that falls upon the shoulders of virtually every president since George W. Bush.

And one of the things we see is, you know, what was the Trump administration doing when they were not pre-evacuating out under the SIV program these Afghan interpreters and nationals and allies. And it is because of Stephen Miller and his rhetoric and the xenophobia of the Trump administration that there were many thousands of Afghans that we could have worked on evacuating much earlier than even this year.

But that being said, you know, the politics of it, I can tell you, September 11th happened when I was about 12 years old, and there is -- was a boy in my class named Kevin and I would not know that when I turned 18 and we all became eligible to enlist in the military, that Kevin was that sixth grader that sat next to me would eventually enlist as a U.S. Marine.

And as the events that unfolded in the last, you know, two weeks, happened, he reached out to me. And I would not know that decades later, I would be the congressman for New York`s 14th congressional district and that he would be a veteran.

And he said: please help get my friends out. I made them promises. These Afghan nationals, they interpreted for us. I asked them to trust me. Please help us get them out, and if we can, get them here.

REID: Yeah.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And so, this should transcend politics. There are veterans across this country that served valiantly and they want to make sure that the words that they gave --

REID: Yeah.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: -- and the promises that they offered, at the very least, can be held and kept. It`s our overall quagmire of what we have done over the last 20 years in Afghanistan.

It raises questions about the efficacy of what we were even doing there. Let`s at least help them keep their personal promises.

And so, for that, I hope that the politics of this does transcend because this is not just, you know, immigration advocates or left or right. These are U.S. military service members. These are diplomats.

These are -- these, I mean, these are also Afghan people who we promised to protect. So the idea that we will now demonize them for helping the United States or at least, you know, assisting and trusting the United States is unconscionable.

REID: Yeah.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And I just unequivocally condemn anybody who says that these people are here to do harm. The reason they must flee is because the Taliban are targeting them.

REID: Yeah, and targeting them for being our friends.


REID: And so, we owe that true friendship.

Thank you so much for being here to advocate. I would add that I think Haiti could use some visas as well.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely.

REID: So, we should do this overall.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thank you.

That is tonight`s REIDOUT.