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Transcript: The ReidOut, September 9, 2020

Guests: Philip Rucker, Ben Rhodes, Sherrod Brown, Tara Dowdell, David Jolly, Cynthia Alksne, Joan Walsh, Valerie Thomas, Yoruba Richen


President Trump admits he misled America about COVID risk. Trump admits COVID-19 is airborne and deadly stuff. President Trump says he lied about virus risk to reduce panic. New book says, NSA warned virus would be threat to national security. New book says, Dr. Fauci found Trump's leadership on pandemic unfocused and rudderless. Unemployment is at 8.4 percent six months into pandemic. Late yesterday, in an unprecedented move, the Department of Justice announced that it will take over and replace Trump's personal defense team in a defamation lawsuit brought on by columnist E. Jean Carroll. She accused Trump of sexually assaulting her back in the 1990s. Trump has denied the allegation.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You just go on your remote, press your cable homepage, search, Melber, and press DVR for this show. You won't miss any episodes of THE BEAT. We even made this graphic to remind you.

I'll see you back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Joy Reid is up next.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Trump supporters, I know, I know, I know you don't want to hear this from me, but if you can stand it, just take a minute to listen, please. Your president, the man to whom you have given your absolute devotion over the last four years, lied to you. In fact, Trump has been lying to all of us for practically this entire year about this virus that has killed nearly 200,000 of us, and it's still killing Americans. He lied and a lot of people died

Now, many of us who closely followed Trump's campaign and have taken a deep look at his history have figured out long ago that Trump is a liar and a fraud. We don't believe the stuff he says If he tells us it's raining, we triple check before grabbing an umbrella, but you, you hang on to his every word. So let's just be clear it was you that he lied to. And he didn't just lie he acted on that lie. He's had you out there at his rallies without masks. He's had you demanding that kids go back to school, play high school and college football when he knew since January the coronavirus could and in nearly 200,000 cases has killed people.

Oh, and there are tapes, not tapes of anonymous sources or disgruntled former staffers, nope, tapes of Donald Trump. Because Donald Trump not only knew that he was lying about the virus, he bragged about it in a series of interviews with Washington Post Journalist Bob Woodward.

According to The Washington Post reporting on Woodward's new book, Trump was warned on January 28th by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, quote, this will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency. And ten days later, Trump called Bob Woodward on February 7th and admitted it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very tricky situation. It's --


TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch you don't have to touch thing, but the air, you just breathe the air. 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 flu. This is deadly stuff.


REID: Oh, really? Well, and then over the next several weeks, Trump argued exactly the opposite, that coronavirus wasn't worse than the flu. Oh, no way All that risk talk was just another Democrat hoax. He minimized how dangerous this global pandemic would be in America.


TRUMP: But we have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.

It's a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for, and we'll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.

This is a flu. This is like a flu.

It's going to disappear one day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear.

Almost everybody that we see is getting better, and it could be everybody soon.

You have to be calm. It will go away.

We're prepared, and we're doing a great job with it, and it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.

And everybody has to be vigilant and has to be careful, but be calm.


REID: He knew that wasn't true. And then later in March, Trump spoke to Woodward again and said the one true thing that he's managed to spit out about the virus in nine months, that he was deliberately playing it down, that he deliberately minimized the dangers of COVID.


TRUMP: Now, it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, but just today and yesterday some startling facts came out it's not just old -- older --

WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people.

WOODWARD: You went through a pivot on this to, oh, my God, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable.

TRUMP: Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD: Sure, I want you to be.

TRUMP: -- I wanted to -- 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.


REID: Wow. Now, of course, I must know that we don't know what came before or after each of these recordings. And, of course, today did the usual, called the book a political hit job, saying he didn't want to create panic.

But to reiterate, under that, quote, unquote, leadership, people's lives have been ruined all over this country. Many of them, who voted for Donald Trump, more than 191,000 Americans are dead due to the virus, more than 6.3 million Americans have been infected, and more than 13 million Americans are unemployed. eight months after he knew this virus was airborne and could kill a lot of people, Trump is still actively gathering people at rallies.

And let's just be clear, these are solely for his own need to feel adulation. And he's putting his own super fan's lives at risk, including at the White House.

Honestly, why would anyone do that? Why would any president, and why should anyone believe anything that he says now?

I'm joined now by Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, and Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama.

Philip, I'm going to start with you because the only thing that's shocking about this -- we've known that Donald Trump has been under playing the coronavirus, you know, for most of this year. What we didn't know is that he was -- I don't want to use a cruel word -- you know, unseasoned enough at being a public person, that he would call Bob Woodward, call a reporter and say, you know, yes, I minimized it. What's the White House excuse for his own words saying that he's been lying to his own base about this deadly virus for nine months?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Joy, the White House is trying to defend the president by saying, as the president said to Woodward, that he didn't want to create a panic for the American people and that that is responsible leadership. But, you know, a lot of other experts in leadership say that it's the definition of irresponsible leadership Joe Biden today called it a dereliction of the president's duty to the people to not warn them of the gravity of this threat.

And one thing that we learned in Bob Woodward's reporting for this book is not only was Trump briefed by his national security adviser as early as January 28th that this coronavirus would be the biggest national security threat of his entire presidency, but on February 7th, when the president called Woodward, he related to Woodward this intimate knowledge of the gravity of the threat, how deadly this virus was, how it just is airborne and people can catch it so easily.

Think back to early February. Most of us had no idea what this coronavirus was all about. We didn't know how serious it was. It wasn't until early to mid-March when states started shutting down and businesses started to close. And so Trump understood very early on what a threat this was, and he didn't do anything to try to contain it and, in fact, misled the public.

REID: I mean, Ben, exactly, you've worked in the national security sphere for President Obama. can you imagine -- first of all, what an excuse that they're trying not to create a panic, really? In February we were covering impeachment. We were covering Donald Trump selling out these nation's national security in order to try to beat Joe Biden before Joe Biden even had the nomination. We were covering the primaries. I was doing a weekend show we barely talked about coronavirus. Why? Because there was literally nothing coming out of the White House.

I don't listen to Donald Trump. I don't take advice from him. I'm not one of the people who thinks the sun shines because of Donald Trump. But if the CDC, let's say, if the federal government, at some level, had said, whoa, everybody warning, there's something serious here, everybody, every news station would have talked about it. We all would have been talking about it. The first time I did a special on it or a segment on it was in March, where we talked to some people in Italy. And they were saying, hey, you guys are two weeks away from being Italy, and we were already Italy, right?

So, I mean, what is your response to this and to the excuse that's been laid out?

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Joy, I think two things jump out at me. One is there's always been a bit of a question with the Trump administration as to how much of this is incompetence and how much of this is kind of malevolence?

And what we see here is that Trump knew the threat. We'd already had reports that he was briefed in his presidential daily briefing about the threat from COVID in January. There were questions about whether he reads those briefings.

Well, clearly, he read some briefings or somebody got to him, because he knew in February just how dangerous this is and he made the deliberate decision to play it down. He may have had the reasons for it, he wanted to not panic the stock market, for instance, or he didn't want to create negative news in an election year.

But the second and more important point, Joy, in my mind is it's not just Trump. Trump's whole government played it down. The way in which the government acted at his direction was to not take this seriously, and as you said, even without Trump, if the government was sounding the alarm bells in February, many, many lives would have been saved. Tens of thousands of lives would have been saved if we moved into lockdown with the same swift speed that we saw in European countries and certainly in places like South Korea.

So, here, what you see is that mindset play it down, don't take it seriously. That mindset had very real world consequences for how the U.S. government led by the White House operated in those key months of February and March, and that is why we're sitting here today with nearly 200,000 Americans dead instead of the kinds of numbers we've seen in other countries that are far, far lower.

REID: And, you know, Philip, to come back to you just a moment, we knew some stuff in March. I mean, we knew there were a couple of senators who got in quite a bit of trouble, Senators Loeffler and Richard Burr, who they found out, because after these briefings that took place, some Republicans got some briefings and then they turned around and briefed their donors. They made sure the rich people who gave them money were safe. They didn't do anything to tell their own constituents.

So this isn't just Donald Trump behaving this way. This was a lot of other people too. And I think, as Ben said, the government, other people had to have known, Donald Trump, he's not exactly reading his intelligence briefings. Other people knew. One of those other people was Bob Woodward. And I wonder what you make of it, and I know that he is Bob Woodward and he has this great reputation, but at some point, what do you make of the fact that he didn't come forward with this story earlier if he had these conversations with Donald Trump in February? And by March it was a public story including I'm sure in The Washington Post that senators were getting in trouble for downplaying the virus?

RUCKER: Yes, well, Joy, you know, Bob Woodward is a colleague and a friend at The Post, but I don't speak for him, and I can't explain his decision-making and his reporting process. That's really a question for him. I do know that the way he documents in his book, this was a lengthy reporting process to really try to figure it out.

Clearly, he had that conversation on February 7th with President Trump, but I don't think he learned until several weeks after that, for example, about the January 28th briefing from Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser. Other elements of his reporting didn't come into full view until later in the spring. But, again, I don't speak for him, and I don't have full visibility into that process.

REID: Yes, that is perfectly fair. We love having you on Phil Rucker. Thank you very much. It was very clear.

RUCKER: I love being on with you, Joy.

REID: I appreciate you, thank you. Ben Rhodes is going to be back a little bit later.

But joining me now is Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. And, Senator, I wonder -- I want to give you an opportunity to answer that same question. I mean, Donald Trump obviously knew in January, there were senators who knew and who got in some trouble, Senators Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Richard Burr, who were actually letting their rich folks know that there was a problem. Is it good enough for you the Trump administration saying no, no, no he just didn't want to create a panic?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Of course not. I like what you said about it. I like what Ben said, is it incompetence or is it malevolence? I don't know which it is. It's obviously both.

But I want to go back to that March date. In the middle of March, that is when we closed our office down, when all those things started happening in the United States and in the country of South Korea. About 95 people in each country had died of coronavirus at that point. South Korea went to work, their leaders did what they needed to do. In the five months since then or so, about 200 South Koreans have died, about 190,000 Americans have died. It's not because their doctors are better. It's because their leaders were better.

And on top of that, South Korea has an unemployment rate of, I believe, still under about 4 percent, and ours is, depending on how you measure it, two or three times that. So it was a question of there is no good answer for the president in this. It's not -- it's not unexpected. He was -- as you suggest, he was probably scared of spooking the stock market he hoped that he could cover up through the whole presidency. He has no experience in running a government.

And what you said about the CDC, if this had been any other time -- and I've talked to people like Tom Frieden who ran the CDC and others. The CDC should have been in charge of this. If the CDC had been in charge and done the briefings and based on science and then the president of the United States, imagine if he'd worn a mask back in March and talked to the public as adults, tens and tens and tens of thousands of people who have since died would still be alive, there is no question. Our economy, our schools would probably be able to open safely, all the things that could have been if this president had shown any leadership and any candor.

REID: And, you know -- and by the way, if Dr. Fauci had been in charge. Dr. Fauci says, and this is The Washington Post reporting on the book, Fauci, at one point, tells others, the president is on a separate channel and unfocused in meetings with rudderless leadership, according Woodward. His attention span is like a minus number, Fauci said. His sole purpose is to get reelected.

Let me let you listen to what Joe Biden has said about this whole mess.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat imposed to the country for months. He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. Now 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.


REID: Senator, there have been 132,965 cases of COVID in your state in Ohio. There have been 4,324 people who have died. That's more than died in 9/11 nationally, all over. If you look at the number of people who were unemployed in this country, 13.6 million people are without their jobs, meaning they're at risk of losing their housing, and 5.8 million were already unemployed by February.

Is there anyone else that the country -- that Donald Trump's own supporters should blame besides him at this point? He didn't cause coronavirus, but a lot of those people would be alive had he been honest with the American people, no?

BROWN: Go back and make the contrast. We're 4 percent of the world's population. As you said on this show, we're 22 percent of the world's deaths. In my state, you put those numbers up about people who have gotten sick and died, we also had 600,000 Ohioans whose unemployment insurance just disappeared like that the 1st of August. And what are they to do?

I talked to a gentleman today that he is on the verge of perhaps eviction. He doesn't know what to do. His savings have run out. He was making about 40,000 a year before. The $600 meant everything to him. And then I hear my millionaire colleagues on the Senate floor say that $600 a week, we shouldn't be giving them that much money. The billionaires in the Trump cabinet, we shouldn't be giving that $600 a week. That $600 a week kept literally millions of people out of poverty.

And Mitch McConnell should be doing his job by bringing us together so we can do our jobs and meet the challenge of this virus and get this economy in a place that people can prosper again, and they have simply dropped their efforts since March in doing any of that.

REID: An oligarchy is when the well off get advance knowledge and the opportunity to save themselves from the kind of disaster that COVID is, and everybody else just gets the shaft, and we are in a bad state of affairs. Senator Sherrod Brown, I really appreciate you talking --

BROWN: If I can say a few more seconds, the senators that continue to do Trump's bidding and McConnell's bidding is just the spineless members of the Senate, how history will look at them for never standing up to this president, thousands of people dying, millions of people losing their jobs. I'll never understand their spinelessness. Thanks, Joy.

REID: Senator Sherrod Brown, of course, you and me both, sir, you and me both. Thank you so much for being here.

And up next on THE REIDOUT, more of Bob Woodward's explosive reporting, including the top official who thought Putin had compromised Donald Trump.

And Trump's thoughts on whether he had a responsibility to feel the pain of black Americans.


TRUMP: No, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you, wow. No, I don't feel that at all.


REID: Plus, Bill Barr now wants to use your tax dollars to defend Trump in a lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed Trump raped her.

Back with more of THE REIDOUT after this.


REID: The bombshells from Bob Woodward's new book extend far beyond his downplaying of the coronavirus crisis, to concern from the so-called adults in the room over Trump's national security -- or the country's national security with Trump in charge.

According to the excerpts "The Washington Post" obtained, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that -- quote -- "There may come a time when we have to take collective action, since Trump is dangerous, he's unfit."

And according to excerpts that CNN obtained, Woodward writes that Coats harbored the "secret belief, one that had grown, rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that put Putin had something on Trump. How else to explain the president's behavior? Coats could see no other explanation."

And back with me is Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama.

There's so much in this book, Ben. You have got Mattis telling Coats the president has no moral compass. You just heard that quote, that they may have to do something to remove him, or to do something, because he's a danger.

You now have a whistle-blower who said that the top Department of Homeland Security officials distorted intelligence to match Trump's statements and lie to Congress. They're saying the Trump administration's Homeland Security officials violated laws and policies by lying to Congress, manipulating intelligence reports to conform to Trump's political agenda.

Brian Murphy, who was a top Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst -- he served from March 2018 to 2020 -- is saying it.

These are things like Chad Wolf, who is the acting secretary, telling Mr. Murphy to stop providing any intel on Russian interference. Chad Wolf, DHS secretary, telling -- or having Ken Cuccinelli, his deputy, to modify intelligence to make it look like Antifa was a threat.

Your thoughts on that?

RHODES: Well, it should be chilling to every American, Joy.

I mean, the role of the Department of Homeland Security is to secure our election infrastructure, to work with the 50 states to make sure that our elections are not subject to foreign attack.

And, in 2016, DHS worked with every one of those states to see if there were ways to fill gaps. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported out that Russia was actually probing the voter rolls in some states.

So, this is not an exercise, Joy. Russia is probably doing this again. If you have DHS changing intelligence assessments to meet the president's phony version of reality, that puts the security of our elections at risk.

And listening to that report and also the book, Joy, look, it's all well and good to read about this in a book, but if Jim Mattis or Dan Coats or any of these people know things that the American people need to know, they need to tell us.

If not now, when? If not you, then who? We have got two months left to save our democracy. And my hope is, a lot of people do what this whistle-blower's done at DHS and come forward and tell us what they know about the danger that this president poses, not just to our democracy, but, as we have talked about, to our health and safety in this country.

REID: Well, I mean, yes, Mattis resigned from his position like a month after Donald Trump dissed our war dead, but still had time for Putin, right, while he was in France. He was gone a month later.

He wrote a book, didn't put any of this in it. It is interesting that these guys are coming forward to Bob Woodward, but not publicly -- as publicly.

We also have a whistle-blower complaint saying that Kirstjen Nielsen, who you will remember from the story of children being snatched from their parents at the border, that she lied to Congress, gave false testimony in December of 2018, about the numbers of suspected terrorists crossing the Southern border.

So, they're inventing sort of cooked-books intelligence to try to make it look like terrorists are crossing the Southern border to justify what they were doing to children and migrants on the Southern border, but downplaying the threat of Russia.

Isn't that exactly what Donald Trump was demanding when he came into office, and he wanted the intel community to subordinate itself to him? That does not sound like a democracy.

RHODES: No, it's a government that is utilized to serve the political interests of the president of the United States, even if those interests fly in the face of reality or real threats to the American people.

They have consistently downplayed the threat of Russia. Also, Joy, they have downplayed, in some cases, there are reports that they have suppressed information in DHS about the threat from white extremist, white supremacist terrorism in this country, as early as the beginning days of the Trump administration.

And now we see what a danger that can pose in some of our communities as well. So, they have consistently taken information that doesn't comport with Donald Trump's political agenda, whether it's about Russia, whether it's about the violence that could emanate from some of his own supporters, while hyping nonexistent threats, like terrorists in caravans trying to come across our Southern border.

We need to get back to a government that is focused on reality. And, again, this is connected to COVID, because, if you listen to reality, you listen to experts, you listen to scientists who tell American people the facts, it leads you to very different outcomes than the ones that Donald Trump is pursuing as president.

REID: Yes.

I don't know about you, Ben, but I would have liked to have know if senior officials inside the administration were worried that Trump was compromised by Russia. That would have been good information for the American people to have. Just saying.

Ben Rhodes, thank you always, as always. Appreciate your time tonight.

And still ahead: more bombshells from Bob Woodward, including Trump mocking the very idea that white privilege exists in America.

Stay with us.


REID: You know, there's something, I can't put my finger on it, but about Barack Obama that just gets under Trump's skin and stays there. I can't quite put my finger on it.

So, it comes as no surprise that Trump bashed his Democratic predecessor in Bob Woodward's new book -- quote -- "I don't think Obama's smart," Trump told Woodward. "He's highly overrated. And I don't think he's a great speaker."


REID: Trump added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un thought Obama was an A-hole.


Trump also complained about his lack of support among black voters, telling Woodward: "I'm not feeling any love."

Well, perhaps that's because Trump has a way of dismissing any problem he isn't equipped to handle, be it coronavirus or racial strife, further revealed in this recorded exchange between Woodward and Trump on race.


BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave, to a certain extent, as it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave, and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain particularly black people feel in this country?

Do you...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. You -- you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you. Wow.

No, I don't feel that at all.


REID: Joining me now is Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell and former Republican Congressman David Jolly.

Tara, you know Trump. He also decided that he wanted to refer to President Obama as Barack Hussein, as if there's something wrong with the former president's middle name. But he did it. And he's like: Oh, but I wouldn't do it his face to be nice. Hah-hah-hah.

What do you make of this little revelation from the book?


But, with respect to white privilege, Trump is the very definition of white privilege. He is a living, breathing example of the full embodiment of white privilege.

And then, when it comes to all the stereotypes that he tries to foist on black people, every single one of them is applicable to him, the laziness, watching TV all day, the criminality, not just him, but all those people around him who have engaged in criminality, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon. And we could go on and on and on.

So I think part of it is that Trump resents in so many ways President Obama, and he resents him because he knows that he's superior to him, and he just can't -- can't get past it.

So, this is no surprise, and as to be expected. And, worse off, his policies are reflective of these views.

REID: Yes.

I mean, you know, President Obama didn't need somebody to, like, you know, nudge the Nobel Committee to give him a Nobel Peace Prize. And he didn't need anybody to take his college exams for him. He just got into Harvard by himself. We're just going to leave it there.

David Jolly, there's more in this book. It just goes on and on and on.

On North Korea, from the Woodward book: "Trump was taken with Kim Jong-un. He really loved him, and they exchanged wonderful letters," Woodward writes, "telling the author pridefully that Kim had addressed him as 'Excellency.' Trump remembers that he was awestruck meeting Kim for the first time. And he boasted that, 'Kim tells me everything,' including a graphic account of Kim having his uncle killed."

This fascination and fetish for dictators is on full display here, But it is -- isn't that -- it sort of also goes with it, right? Like, Donald Trump respects people who earned power by inheriting it, Kim Jong-un, who flashes his power around the country violently and never leaves office.

Like, he doesn't inherit -- the people who have earned the glory. So, it does kind of all go together.


And, look, part of the -- the most damning parts of this book are actually what his senior advisers have said about him. And in the case of North Korea, you look at what Jim Mattis said, that the president is dangerous and unfit.

And I think what story will live on from this is exactly that, that this is a president who is dangerous on matters of national security.

But, Joy, if I could, I want to revisit the race issue, because there's something that should be deeply concerning about that entire exchange, and it's subtle, but it's important.

When Donald Trump is presented with that question from Bob Woodward, his response indicates that he approaches the issue of race along the lines of we vs. them, that white people couldn't -- shouldn't fall for the narrative of black America.

It's a we-vs.-them paradigm, as opposed to approaching the paradigm as one of injustice that deserves to be cured, not just the historic injustices, but the fact that we have a manifestation of injustice today that's represented in socioeconomic disparity, along the lines of education and employment and health care and profiling and sentencing, housing, ladders of opportunity.

That is what we should expect of a politician, regardless of what their policy response would be to that. The recognition of the disparity is where he misses this entire conversation on race. And I think it's deeply revealing.

The Woodward book shows us a president unable to lead on domestic policy and of deeply troubling concern to national security leaders for how he handles matters on the global stage as well.

REID: I mean, when you combine the Cohen book with the Woodward book, I mean, Cohen writes that Donald Trump has said that black people and Hispanics are too stupid to vote for him. Here, he's like: Well, they're not -- I'm not feeling the love.

He feels entitled, in a paternalistic way, to respect and admiration from people of color that he can't stand. So, it's an interesting dynamic.

Now, who he can stand is autocrats. He does love them.

Here is a little blip. And this is from Michael Cohen, because I think these books actually go together in an interesting way.

Here he is talking to Rachel Maddow. This was on Tuesday.



He wants to be the president of this country for life. He wants to be just like Putin, just like Kim Jong-un, just like Maduro. He wants to be just like Mohammed bin Salman.

He craves this. He doesn't want to run for president. And that's why he says, well, what about 12 more years, 12 more years? He's not joking. Understand, Donald Trump doesn't have a sense of humor.


REID: Tara, in the Woodward book, you have Trump reflecting on his relationships with authoritarian leaders generally, including Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

"It's funny," he says, "the relationships I have. The tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know? Explain that to me someday, OK?"

Listen, you know Donald Trump. Is he -- talk about the Donald Trump that you dealt with on "The Apprentice" vs. the Donald Trump now. At that time, would you have pegged him for a wannabe dictator, or has he diminished or been changed in some way, in your view?

DOWDELL: I think his worst instincts have been indulged. They have been indulged by the Republican Party that's refused to hold him accountable for anything.

They have been indulged by his base, who refuses to hold him accountable, and, in fact, cheers on his worst pathologies. And so I think that you take Donald Trump, who, on "The Apprentice," was the king. On "The Apprentice," he was the king of the show. It was his show. Everything was around him -- was created to cater to him around him.

And then you also add to that, as a real estate developer in New York, he got away with a lot of stuff. He should have been in prison before any of the criminality that he's engaged in as -- presidency.

But then you give a personality like that, a man like that, you give him all of this power and no accountability, and this is the result. And, of course, Donald Trump is someone, as we have said over and over again, who only cares about himself.

And what haunts me, Joy, is that you hear people say things like, look at these atrocities that happened around the world. How did these things happen?

Well, we're watching right now, we're witnessing right now how those things happen. That's the moment we're in right now.

REID: Yes, indeed. Amen.

Tara Dowdell, David Jolly, friends, thank you both very much.

JOLLY: Thanks, Joy.

REID: And Tara has set up our next segment, because, up next on THE REIDOUT: Attorney General William Barr's latest outrageous assault on the integrity of the Justice Department, because he's Trump's Roy Cohn.


REID: Over the past three and a half years, Donald Trump has tried to use almost every facet of the federal government for his own personal benefit, and now he's looking for you, the American taxpayer to cover the cost for his legal defense over his sexual assault allegation from before he was even president.

Think of it as you being Trump's personal GoFundMe. You're welcome.

Late yesterday, in an unprecedented move, the Department of Justice announced that it will take over and replace Trump's personal defense team in a defamation lawsuit brought on by columnist E. Jean Carroll. She accused Trump of sexually assaulting her back in the 1990s. Trump has denied the allegation.

And if it wasn't already clear, Attorney General William Barr has taken on the mantle of Trump's Roy Cohn.

And joining me now is Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor.

And, Cynthia, simple question, in any universe, is this proper or legal what William Barr is doing?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he can legally do it. It doesn't mean it's going to work, but he can legally do it. What happens in these types of cases is classically, let's say you're an agent investigating something for the federal government. You go to Houston, and you get in a car accident, and the federal government will take that over if you got in a car accident in the course and scope of your employment, your duty, when you're going to your investigation.

If, on the other hand, you went to a bar and got drunk and killed somebody, they don't take it over. So, that's really what we're battling about here. This defamation, when this woman accused him of rape and he came back and said, not only do I not know you, you're doing this for money. You've accused other people, and you're ugly, when he made those defamatory statements, was he acting in the course and scope of his employment.

And you know, any reasonable person would say that's not what the president of the United States does in the course and scope of his employment.

REID: Right.

ALKSNE: But Barr has done something that he's used the law in sort of an evil genius way, to put this off after the election and that's what he's done. It's wrong, it's unethical in my opinion it's an abuse of the process and a torturing of the Department of Justice once again, but he is going to get away with it -- at least until the election.


REID: This is the problem I have with it, at least until the election. I mean, in the Clinton -- in the Bill Clinton administration, Paula Jones sued him. It was a civil suit based on her allegation that he'd made sexual advances to her unwanted before he was president, when he was governor of Arkansas


REID: Her civil suit, it went all the way to the Supreme Court on whether or not she was allowed to continue suing the president of the United States because he was doing his official duty as president at the time.

All the way through, 9-0 case at the Supreme Court saying, yes, she could sue him.

How can possibly this case be set aside when that case was not?

ALKSNE: Well, I don't think it ultimately will be set aside because I do not believe when you defame somebody in the course -- defame somebody just because you happen to be in the office, but when you defame somebody about a rape that occurred many, many years before you were president, that's not going to be a way to get away with it.

But it is -- this statute, that's the evil genius of Barr, this statute is allowing him to postpone it, not forever. I don't think the federal judge is going to in the end say, oh, yes, that was in the course and scope of your employment, but it does allow for the postponement, and there is an argument.

The frustrating thing about it is, for example, the attorney general today made this big announcement, oh, yeah, there's a case right on point in D.C. Well, the D.C. law doesn't control this. New York law does, and he knows that.

REID: Right.

ALKSNE: But it's enough to give him the hook to be the evil genius to postpone this after the election. It's not right, but it is working to do the postponing.

REID: Is there a chance that when this administration is over and one day, it will be over in, one way or another, that William Barr will face something, some sanction on his law license, lawsuits against him or maybe even prosecution. I don't know, one wonders whether he's just going to get away with it himself.

ALKSNE: Well, there is a bar complaint that was filed by some very prestigious people in the D.C. Bar -- I'm not sure where that's going, but there is, in fact, a complaint that's been filed.

REID: Well, we shall see.

Cynthia Alksne, thank you very much. Really appreciate you being here tonight.

All right, and coming up next, the historic week in 1968 when Harry Belafonte sat in for Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show." It's the subject of a documentary I'm proud to be a part of.

And stay with us. We'll talk about it when we come back.


REID: For one week, in February 1968, Johnny Carson handed over his hugely important "Tonight Show" platform to legendary singer, actor, and activist, Harry Belafonte.

A documentary on that historic week, which I co-executive produced, called "The Sit-In" premiers tomorrow on Peacock and right here on MSNBC this Saturday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From New York, "The Tonight Show" starring Johnny Carson.

And now, here's Harry Belafonte.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait a minute, Harry Belafonte hosted a week of "The Tonight Show"? What -- how did I not know this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry Belafonte takes in an existing white institution and he turns it into something that represents his world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many sides to Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, activist.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, TV HOST: Harry had an agenda, and he had the people to back it up

HARRY BELAFONTE, SINGER/ACTOR/SINGER: What do you have in store for us this summer?

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: I feel that we are in the midst of a most critical period in our nation


REID: We will be right back with "The Sit-In" director, Yoruba Richen, as well as producers Joan Walsh and Valerie Thomas.


REID: I am joined now by Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation" and producer for the documentary "The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show," which I helped co-executive produce.

And I'm also joined by Yoruba Richen, who directed the documentary, as well as producer Valerie Thomas.

So, it's a friends segment here.

So I want to start with you, Ms. Joan. Tell us the story. I already know the story but tell everybody the story of how this happened. It happened with a column.

JOAN WALSH, "THE SIT-IN" PRODUCER: It happened with a column because I was really thinking it was going to be a documentary, except I had no idea how to do that because that's not my thing, Joy. And so, I -- I wrote a piece in "The Nation", and you had me on "A.M. JOY", your old show.

And at the end of it, you turned to me and you said, sis, this is a documentary. And I was like, I think so, too. And, so, we were on our way after that.

REID: And then it was a -- who (ph) are you going to call Ghostbusters moment?

But who are you going to call when it's a doc? Valerie.

So, Val, tell us about this process. I mean, do we know just because we were in this process, but the hardest thing was actually finding any footage, you know, of this, which is crazy to think that there isn't footage of it, of all this, like somewhere in the archive.

But let me play a little bit of a clip because this is some of the footage that did exist


KING: Well, I'm delighted to be here, Harry.

BELAFONTE: What do you have in store for us this summer?

KING: I feel that we are in the midst of a most critical period in our nation, and the economic problem is probably the most serious problem confronting the Negro community and poor people generally.


REID: So, Val, talk about the prospect of making a documentary of something -- people don't know this story -- but without a lot of footage to fill in the blanks.

VALERIE THOMAS, "THE SIT-IN" PRODUCER: Yeah. That was our biggest challenge. Joan had learned when she wrote her article that, in fact, only two of the interviews, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and five minutes of the lovely folk singer who sang "Suzanne" still existed because NBC had the practice of taping over their tapes.

So we knew this was a story absolutely worth telling, but we had to figure out how to tell it without that footage throughout the rest of the week. So, what we did is we went deep diving for amazing archival, which we found. And we -- I think we successfully brought the week to life, all the various guests, the incredibly rich, you know, life of Harry Belafonte, all that stuff we were able to build with other footage.

But it was -- we were in a little bit of a pickle there for a while, but I think we pulled it off.

REID: It's a challenge.

So, Yoruba, talk about this. Talk about what you learned in doing this project

YORUBA RICHEN, "THE SIT-IN" DIRECTOR: Well, I learned -- you know, I had always known, obviously who Harry Belafonte was and his importance in the civil rights movement and his significance as an entertainer. But I didn't know how deep his involvement was in bringing the civil rights movement to mainstream America, and that's part of what he did on the show that week.

Also, he as a -- really one of the first multimedia entertainers, a huge star in television, in film, in -- in music.

So, really being able to dig in to the tentacles, all the tentacles that Harry had was such a pleasure, and was such an amazing experience to be able to direct this film.

REID: Yeah. Absolutely.

And, Joan, very quickly, tell us some of the people who were interviewed during that amazing week

WALSH: Oh, so, you know, we know about Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. But, you know, Paul Newman had never been on a talk show before.

We had Diahann Carroll. We had Freda Payne, Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark -- you know, we actually got to interview Petula Clark -- as well as Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was, you know, blacklisted at the time.

You know, there was this -- the combination of people and also the number of women that he had. I mean, I don't know that we make enough of this in the film, but, you know, it's an amazing number of brave men and women.

And so, you know, it's just --


REID: Absolutely.

And, Yoruba, I'm going to give you the final word on this. What will people learn that's new about the civil rights era from this film?

RICHEN: I actually think they'll learn a lot. They'll learn about the -- in 1968, a few months before Dr. King was killed, what a pickle we were in in terms of the different clashing between the traditional civil rights movement and the more militant -- the more militant parts of it, and how Harry was a go-between them.

We'll also learn about his -- his -- about how Harry helped Robert Kennedy evolve on issues of race.

I think those are the two most, you know, poignant pieces that you will get in terms of the civil rights movement and Harry's role in it from -- in the film.

REID: Yeah.

Absolutely. Well, Joan Walsh, Yoruba Richen, Valerie Thomas, congratulations, ladies.

"The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show" premiers tomorrow on Peacock and right here on MSNBC this Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Everybody, please check it out.

And that is tonight's REIDOUT.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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