JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff. On the “NewsHour” tonight: California burning. Millions of acres remain on fire, as tens of thousands of people lose power and new evacuations are ordered. With the cost of medical treatment remaining prohibitive for millions of Americans, the possibilities for expansion of coverage are examined. With the cost of medical treatment remaining prohibitive for millions of Americans, we examine possibilities for expansion of coverage. And speaking out: The FBI agent who helped launch the Russia investigation explains how he still sees the president as a counterintelligence risk. PETER STRZOK, Author, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump”: His relationship with Russia, the way that he has exposed himself to being compromised, that is too important an issue for the American public not to understand how we thought about that in the FBI in 2016 up to and through today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.” (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Record wildfires are still marching across vast swathes of California tonight and claiming new victims. Fourteen fire crew members were injured today, with three of them hospitalized. The fires have also destroyed scores of homes and other buildings and left hundreds of people to be rescued. Stephanie Sy has our report.
STEPHANIE SY: The glow of destructive flames is consuming many parts of the Golden State. A record-breaking two million-plus acres have burned, and the fire season is barely under way, proof of climate change, said Governor Gavin Newsom today. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): But I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers. It simply follows — completely inconsistent, that point of view, with the reality on the ground. STEPHANIE SY: The wildfires are sparing no corner of California, with some 20 fire conglomerates blazing. Several of those are almost completely uncontained. In Fresno County, the Creek Fire exploded over the weekend in the Sierra Nevada mountains, destroying many homes and trapping campers who had descended on the area for the Labor Day weekend.
People were rescued in tough conditions by helicopters dispatched by the Navy and California National Guard. Officials monitoring the massive Bobcat Fire near Los Angeles are warning of possible evacuations and urging non-residents to stay away. CHRIS MARKS, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: We do ask the public, if you don’t live in the area, please stay out of the area. If you live along the foothills, in the potentially affected areas, you have time now. Please make preparations for what you want to take with you if you do need to evacuate.
STEPHANIE SY: The wildfires are ignited by both natural forces and human activity. The El Dorado fire system is believed to have sparked when a family used pyrotechnics for a baby’s gender reveal party. Linda Corchran and her husband, who were forced to flee in their motor home, are angered by the negligence. LINDA CORCHRAN, Evacuee: I am upset that people are stupid. I am angry, but not surprised. STEPHANIE SY: For firefighters on the front lines there, the fight is taking a toll. MAN: Three hours of sleep yesterday. It was a good fight last night. STEPHANIE SY: To prevent more fire ignitions, Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest power provider, says it’s had to cut electricity to tens of thousands of customers in 22 counties.
The record-breaking fires, under record-breaking temperatures, are adding stress to communities coping with the pandemic. ELOISA SMITH, California: I get it. I wear the mask, obviously, for the COVID. But then it does help out with the fact that there are ashes everywhere. As you can see, there’s ash all over my car. So, you just got to deal with it. STEPHANIE SY: Multiple crises colliding in California, the most populous state in the country.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Stephanie Sy. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: Technology stocks, which many believe were overvalued, fell hard again, and took the rest of Wall Street with them. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 632 points to close at 27500. The Nasdaq fell 465 points. It’s off 10 percent since it peaked last Wednesday, officially a market correction. And the S&P 500 gave up 95 points. The suffocation death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, has triggered a police shakeup. The chief and the deputy chief announced their retirements today.
Police caught Prude running naked last March. They used a hood to stop him from spitting and held him down for two minutes. He died later. Video did not emerge until last week. President Trump says that he’s willing to spend his own money on his reelection bid, amid reports of a campaign cash crunch. The New York Times reports that the campaign has spent more than $800 million out of $1.1 billion that it raised through July.
Mr. Trump defended the spending, and dismissed the news accounts, before he flew to Florida and North Carolina. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: The press was fake. And we have to spend a lot of money. No, if we did — if did we need — we don’t, because we have much more money than we had last time going into the last two months, I think double and triple. But if we needed any more, I would put it up personally, like I did in the primaries last time. JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, in Florida, the president signed an executive order to expand an offshore drilling ban to Florida’s Atlantic Coast and the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.
There’s pushback from the Pentagon against new criticism from President Trump. He said Monday that military leaders want wars in order to keep arms makers happy. Today, General James McConville, who is the Army chief of staff, said that commanders recommend fighting only when — quote — “It is required in national security and in the last resort.” He did not mention Mr. Trump directly. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are launching a probe of postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. The Washington Post reports that his former company pressured employees for political contributions, and then illegally reimbursed them with bonuses. DeJoy has denied wrongdoing, but top Democrats say that he should be suspended or fired. The Senate returned to work today, and majority Republicans released their COVID economic relief bill. It offers nearly $600 billion for schools, businesses and the unemployed, and offsets about half that cost. But it has little chance of passing, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s appeal to Democrats. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We want to agree, where bipartisan agreement is possible, get more help out the door, and then keep arguing over the rest later.
That’s how you legislate. That’s how you make law. JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic leaders dismissed the Republican bill. They want a $2 trillion measure. In Belarus, a leading opposition activist, Maria Kolesnikova, is being held at the border with Ukraine after refusing to leave. Security footage allegedly shows the car that drove her and two other members of an opposition council to the border. Authorities tried to deport her. It’s part of a crackdown on protests against the authoritarian president. And China and India accused each other today of firing warning shots across their disputed border on Monday. It happened in a Himalayan region, where the two countries have been in a standoff since May. Beijing says that the shooting was the first between the two nuclear powers since 1975. Still to come on the “NewsHour”: we talk with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the state of pandemic response and a possible vaccine; with the cost of health care prohibitive for many Americans, we examine possibilities for expansion of coverage; what lessons can be learned from Sweden’s stay open response to COVID-19?; plus, much more.
The fall season began and millions of children went back to school virtually today. At the same time, some colleges and universities are juggling the consequences of reopening their campuses. Meanwhile, chief executives of nine drug companies pledged not to seek approval of a vaccine before safety and efficacy had been clearly established in clinical trials. All this came in response to concerns over the public trust. This afternoon, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. It was for a special forum for the group Research America. Here’s some of our conversation. And we began with concerns around schooling.
Dr. Fauci, as you know, this is on the mind of so many families, students returning to school. People are worried about their children. And I want to start by asking you about colleges, because there’s been a lot of focus on those. You advised last week that schools not send students back home if they test positive. What are you concerned about with colleges? Why did you make that recommendation? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Well, Judy, I made that recommendation because if — when you bring in college and university students in, if they get infected, you really should try as best as you can have to have a capability, a facility, to sequester them from the rest of the student body, so they don’t infect other students. But you shouldn’t send them home, because, if you send them home, I mean, just the nature of universities and colleges, you’re getting kids from all over the country. If you send them back to their community, you will, in essence, be reseeding with individuals who are capable of transmitting infection many communities throughout the country.
So, it’s much, much better to have the capability to put them in a place where they could comfortably recover. Hopefully, that could be a floor of a dorm, or, as some colleges are doing, an entire dorm that’s dedicated to people who you want to segregate from the rest of the student body. JUDY WOODRUFF: The idea that we’re going to have a vaccine by November 3, how realistic? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I think that’s unlikely. I mean, the only way you can see that scenario come true is if that there are so many infections in the clinical trial sites, that you get an efficacy answer sooner than you would have projected. Like I said, it’s not impossible, Judy, but it’s unlikely that we’ll have a definitive answer at that time, more likely by the end of the year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We know, with regard to the public’s confidence in the vaccine, Dr. Fauci, polls are showing that perhaps a third of Americans are not confident enough, and they’re saying they’re not going to take the vaccine at first. That’s a pretty high percentage. At what point does this become a problem? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I think it already is a looming problem. And one of the ways that we can mitigate against that, Judy, is by being very transparent in our outreach to the community about what the data are, what they show, and what criteria that we’re using in order to make a decision about the vaccine being safe and effective and making it available. We’ve got to regain the trust of the community about, when we say something is safe and effective, they can be confident that it is safe and effective. And that’s the reason why we have to be very transparent with the data, as well as what it is that goes into the decision-making process about approving a vaccine. JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the FDA. But it was the FDA that rolled out original information about the so-called convalescent plasma, where they came back and said later that it had been overstated.
So, when you have something like that happen, isn’t it natural that people may be skeptical? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Oh, you’re right, Judy. I don’t want to deny that. That’s reality. They likely will be skeptical. What we’re trying to do now is correct that, and get them to understand there are going to be multiple layers of checkpoints before this type of decision is made. And there are a lot of people looking at this, Judy, a lot of people in the scientific community, you know, myself included, who are looking at this to try and make sure it gets done in a way that’s scientifically sound.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I should say, not just the FDA, but there have been some back-and-forth, if you will, at the CDC, where there’s been guidance, and then it’s been pulled back, and questions raised. I have to ask the question again. How can the American people be sure they’re getting straight science from these government agencies? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Again, it’s not going to be easy, given what’s gone on before. We just have to keep being quite transparent. I have been, right from the beginning, always quite clear in how I feel about the importance of the integrity of the science and the integrity of the decision-making process. And I and many of my scientific colleagues will continue to be very vigilant about that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Fauci, thank you so much. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you, as always. JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, throughout the past week, William Brangham has been looking at how other countries built toward universal health care coverage and the trade-offs they have made. Those questions have been a part of our presidential campaign season, too. That includes sharply divided views about the Affordable Care Act, which expanded coverage for 20 million Americans, but is still not affordable enough for some citizens. William is going to have a conversation about all of this in a moment. But, first, let’s hear about where the presidential candidates stand with our correspondents Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.
LISA DESJARDINS: It was the signature legislation of the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. When it was signed into law 10 years ago, then Vice President Biden celebrated passage, memorably putting it like this: JOSEPH BIDEN (D), Presidential Candidate: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LISA DESJARDINS: The law has been both incredibly popular with some and controversial with others. Among core aspects, it protects Americans with preexisting conditions, allows parents to keep kids on their plan until age 26, and eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for many preventative services. Since passage of Obamacare, the Democratic Party at large has shifted left on health care, led in large part by Senator Bernie Sanders and his signature Medicare for all proposal. Despite that pressure, Biden largely held center during his primary campaign. His health care plan focuses on a public option, where anyone could buy into a Medicare-like plan. He would automatically enroll some people in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. He’d also increase tax credits to help lower costs for low-income people. Biden’s focus remains building onto the ACA.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, one of the core tenets of President Trump’s 2016 campaign and his first term was to repeal Obamacare. In 2017, Trump came one vote short of passing an Obamacare repeal through the U.S. Senate. The question has often been, what exactly is the GOP plan in their repeal-and-replace pledge? In the past, his administration has taken steps to roll back the ACA. He ended the penalty for the individual mandate, one of the law’s more unpopular requirements.
That change once again puts the fate of the entire law before the Supreme Court. In recent months, Trump has repeatedly said he would unveil a health care proposal in weeks. But those self-imposed timelines have come and gone. The president is also taking some smaller actions. Recently, he signed an executive order to expand telehealth for Medicare recipients. President Trump has also criticized Biden’s plan as moving too far toward Medicare for all, which President Trump sees as radical and too great of a government role in health care. LISA DESJARDINS: Biden responds that Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare would leave millions of Americans without insurance, and his limits on it have already cut access to care, something he says is especially dangerous in the pandemic.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, there are two very different visions meant to address in part the fact that roughly 30 million Americans still have no health insurance today, and the pandemic’s economic toll is only making those numbers worse. So, let’s hear from two people who are intimately involved in the political dynamics around health care reform. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is the chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s the author of a book looking at health care systems around the world. And he was special adviser to President Obama and now advises Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force. And Lanhee Chen is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and teaches public policy at Stanford University.
He’s an informal health policy adviser to congressional Republicans and to the Trump administration. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Can I just lay out the ground terms here? Just for the sake of this conversation, I know you both share these two main goals, which is expanding coverage, so that more Americans have access to good care, and lowering costs, so that it’s — the health care is not so expensive for individuals and not so expensive as a system overall. So, starting with that premise, Lanhee Chen, let’s start with this issue of cost. You have consulted with the GOP and with the Trump administration. Let’s say President Trump wins a second term.
How do you foresee him trying to bring down the cost of health care in this country? LANHEE CHEN, Stanford University: Well, in a few ways. First of all, I do think you’re going to see him continue to push forward in creating more choices on the health care marketplace. That’s something that’s been a focus on his first term in office, trying, for example, to expand access to plans that may suit people better where their needs are. I think you’re also going to see him push forward on price and quality transparency, which, in my mind, is a significant goal that we, as Americans, should all share. Can we get a health care system where we understand more about what we’re paying and what we’re getting with our dollars? And then, finally, I think he’s going to address some specifics around issues like prescription drug pricing, surprise billing. These are issues that continue to plague many Americans. The high cost of prescription drugs continues to be an issue.
And I actually think there can be bipartisan agreement on addressing, for example, the price of prescription drugs or in getting rid of some of these challenges created by surprise billing practices. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, Zeke Emanuel, you heard that menu of things that’s hopeful in a Trump administration. Do you think that those would be enough to manage costs in a meaningful way? Or are there other things you would add to that or tweak that in some way? DR.
EZEKIEL EMANUEL, Former White House Special Adviser: First of all, Lanhee is talking as if the president hasn’t been the president. He’s had four years to lower drug prices, and hasn’t succeeded in lowering drug prices at all. He’s had four years to have more price transparency, and hasn’t done very much on it. And, certainly, the Obama administration did more on price transparency than he did. So, it’s an important question as to what he’s actually going to do, since he’s had four years and done almost nothing, on that.
So, on prices, one of the things that we have argued, and I think is very important, is, we need to change how we actually pay for health care to doctors and hospitals. We need to move off the fee-for-service system, and we need to get to more value-based payment, so doctors don’t get paid for everything they do. They get paid for managing your health problems and keeping you healthy. That’s called value-based payment. We also need to change physician behavior, so they refer you to places that are lower cost, hospitals that charge less, lab facilities that charge less. Those are going to be really important. We also, I do think, need to have serious drug price control. Right now, we let drug prices — drug companies set prices, instead of linking prices to how much of a health impact those drugs actually make.
In many other countries, you release a new drug that has a comparable existing drug on the market, you can’t increase that price. But, in the United States, we have a lot of cases where drugs just the same as some other drug on the market, and that price actually goes up to $200, $300, $400, for no health benefit, no health advantage, compared to what’s already there. So, we definitely need to change how we’re paying for drug prices. And I think the Democrats have been serious about this. But the Republicans haven’t wanted to come to the table. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lanhee Chen, what about that point? I mean, as Zeke Emanuel points out, the president has been the president for a long time and has had substantial support in the Congress and in the Senate.
Why haven’t those things that you hope he would do in a second term been done in the first term? LANHEE CHEN: Well, I think he’s made progress on a few things via executive action, which is what he has sort of had to resort to in some ways, because negotiations have broken down with Democrats over issues like drug pricing, surprise billing, et cetera. So, on the first order, I would say I think using executive action can be a Band-Aid approach. It’s not something I would recommend in the longer run. I think, in the longer run, Democrats and Republicans are going to have to come together, for example, to address the prescription drug pricing issue.
And I do think that there have been situations where the president and the administration have come forward with reasonable proposals that previously, at least, Democrats have supported, like, for example, tying drug pricing more to what drug prices are in other countries that might be comparable. That proposal, it seems to me, has traction with some Republicans and a heck of a lot of Democrats. But, unfortunately, because of the politics of this, Democrats haven’t always wanted to work together with the Trump administration to — quote — “give President Trump a win.” So, I do think that the politics here is not as simple as Zeke suggests. It actually cuts both ways. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Zeke Emanuel, let’s turn to this issue of expanding coverage. You were there at the conception of the Affordable Care Act.
You know and have seen how it’s been chipped away at and it’s been taken to court by the Trump administration. If Biden were to win and become the president, he’s talked a lot about strengthening the ACA and expanding its protections for people. How do you see a Biden administration trying to deal with getting more people more health care? DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Well, I think the first thing you would do is to try to expand what we have, increase the subsidies on the exchanges, increase choice with a public option, so that more people could afford insurance through the exchanges. We’re going to have to do something on Medicaid, because we have these 12 intransigent states, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, that aren’t expanding Medicaid.
And we cannot get to universal coverage without that expansion of Medicaid. And I think that’s going to require some serious action. No incentives seem to be willing to make those states move. And the people who are being excluded typically are people who are working, but their salaries are too low to actually get private insurance or even get good insurance on the exchanges, and yet those states don’t seem to want to give them health coverage. I think, if COVID has made anything clear to all Americans, it’s, we all need health coverage, so we can actually get the care we need. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lanhee Chen, what about this issue of the Affordable Care Act? The president has been vehemently opposed to it, keeps telling us that there will be a new proposed plan to replace it. But he’s currently in court and trying to chip away at it very aggressively. Do you think that there will be a substantive plan eventually, if the president wins a second term? LANHEE CHEN: Well, I think there should be. Republicans need to be absolutely clear — this includes the president, as well as congressional Republicans — about what they intend to do on health policy.
I think the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, is an important part of that. I think the fact that it’s been around for 11 years now suggests that, at this point, the changes that are going to be made are changes that are more incremental in nature. Now, as much as I would like to agree with Zeke, I simply cannot on this, because there are actually areas where the ACA could be improved by focusing on people who need assistance. Zeke is talking about expanding subsidies to people making $200,000, $300,000 a year. Instead of that, why not focus assistance on people who really need it? Why not try and determine who actually really needs help, and then empowering states, for example, to assist those people? Now, beyond that, I would say that Biden’s plan to put in place a public option raises serious concerns with me about the way in which it would erode access to physicians, erode access to hospitals and care that people need, and also create a costly new government entitlement.
So there are all sorts of reasons why, even though Vice President Biden’s plans have been framed as being more moderate in the health care space, there’s a lot of reason to believe that they’re actually quite progressive in nature and would fundamentally alter the U.S. health care system. DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL: The Republicans, as he points out, have had 11 years to come up with a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, and you have never seen them produce a replacement to the Affordable Care Act that will get to expanded coverage. And they simply don’t have a plan, and they have never had a plan. The second point I would note is that, every year under President Trump, including this COVID year, the uninsured rate has gone up and up and up. He has not introduced one policy that has enhanced coverage. Every single policy has ended up cutting back on coverage. You get rid of the mandate, you cut back on coverage.
You create these pseudo-programs that really aren’t health insurance and you call them choice, cuts back on the number of people who have insurance. This is — they haven’t expanded coverage one iota, and they don’t have a plan to expand coverage. And I noticed he began his statement, they should have a plan. Well, they have had 11 years to develop it. Where is the plan? WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Zeke Emanuel, Lanhee Chen, thank you both very much for being here. LANHEE CHEN: Thank you. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: While the presidential candidates disagree on many key issues, their ability to make sure voters know about those disagreements comes down to one main thing: dollars. Amna Nawaz follows the money for us today on the campaign trail. AMNA NAWAZ: By all accounts, the 2020 election will be the most expensive in history. Both presidential campaigns are raising and spending money by the millions, despite the ongoing pandemic and economic recession. It’s part of a trend that sees each election more costly than the last. To track this, I’m joined by Adav Noti of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
He previously worked as a lawyer at the Federal Election Commission. Welcome to you, Adav, and thanks for being here. I want to ask you about these numbers. The president, we should mention, built up a really impressive war chest, nearly a billion dollars, which is why reports that he was in a cash crunch are so striking. But he’s so far spent more than $800 million. It’s such a massive number. How does that happen? Where is that money going? ADAV NOTI, Campaign Legal Center: Well, a lot of it in any campaign, not just presidential, but on any level, goes to fund-raising and it goes to advertising. And the amounts that the Trump campaign has been spending on those, they have been certainly high. But every election cycle gets more expensive.
Advertising gets more expensive. This cycle, fund-raising has been particularly difficult. So it’s not hugely surprising that the campaign is spending more in 2020 than it did, for example, in 2016. AMNA NAWAZ: You say fund-raising has been difficult. We should point out, though, on the Democratic side, they’re breaking records. When you look at the August fund-raising numbers for the Biden campaign, in August alone, they raised $365 million. That is more than double what Hillary Clinton raised in August of 2016. And it broke the previous one-month fund-raising record. That was set in September of 2008 by Barack Obama at $193 million. We should point out, though, Adav, that Biden hasn’t spent so far nearly what the Trump campaign has, somewhere around $414 million through July. So, how do you explain that differential? Are they spending money differently or on different things? ADAV NOTI: They are. The campaigns are spending money differently, although not necessarily on different things. I think both campaigns, like, again, most campaigns, including ones that aren’t at the presidential level, spend most of their money on fund-raising and advertising.
Each campaign makes its own strategic decisions about when and where to engage in that spending. Part of the Trump campaign’s difficulty appears to be that it is not hosting in-person fund-raisers due to the pandemic. And that’s where the big money comes in. That’s where the wealthy donors, who can give tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the presidential campaigns and the parties, that’s where they like to give. And so the absence of those fund-raisers appears to be hurting the president’s reelection campaign. AMNA NAWAZ: Let me ask you about total political ad spending, though, not just from the campaigns, from outside groups, too, because some of these numbers are worth punching home. Last year, there was a study that forecasted, in 2020, total political ad spending would hit $9.9 billion in 2020.
This was a forecast from a multinational communications and advertising firm. That would be up. The total was $8.7 billion. And that was up from the previous year of $6.3 billion. It makes the 2008 total of $1.1 billion look like chump change. But how and why is that amount between each presidential cycle, how is it accelerating so quickly? ADAV NOTI: Well, in the current era, much of the increase is due to the rise of outside groups, like super PACs. Those groups did not exist before the Supreme Court ruled in its Citizens United decision that corporate spending directly on campaigns was legal. So, most of that rise in the last 10 years has been driven — or a big part of it — by outside spending and the need to compete with outside spending. And that not only causes campaigns and parties to need to fund-raise more, but also allows the sellers of advertising to jack up their rates, and, therefore, creates a cycle where the campaigns need to raise even more. AMNA NAWAZ: Got about a minute left, but I need to ask you about some news that Bloomberg reported about President Trump considering bringing in his own money, lending himself about $100 million to his reelection campaign.
The president has said that he’s — he doesn’t need to do it, but he will spend whatever it takes. Is that unprecedented for an incumbent president to take that kind of move with that amount of money? And what does that mean for future campaigns? ADAV NOTI: Well, it’s certainly unprecedented. And prior presidents, even those who had the means, took great care not to commingle their candidacies with their personal funds. So, it is unprecedented for the president to do that, whereas there’s a history going back to the 2016 campaign of then candidate Trump saying he was going to spend a lot of money in support of his campaign, and the reality didn’t always match that.
But the trend more generally of very wealthy candidates sinking large amounts of money into their campaigns is really troubling. It heightens the distinction between elected officeholders, who are increasingly wealthy, and the people they represent. And, as more and more officeholders are in office because wealthy donors have funded their campaigns or they fund them out of their own pockets, it really creates that increased divide between the constituents and their representatives. AMNA NAWAZ: There’s still several weeks to go for them to spend even more money. That is Adav Noti, senior director from the Campaign Legal Center, joining us today. Thank you so much. ADAV NOTI: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: Few people have been as frequent a target of the president’s ire as Peter Strzok. The former FBI official with decades working in counterintelligence, focusing on threats to U.S. national security from Russia and other countries, is often at the center of a Twitter firestorm. The attacks are professional, given his key role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia.
And they are personal, centering on his then extramarital affair with co-worker Lisa Page and the text messages they exchanged disparaging Mr. Trump. Strzok was fired in 2018 after an inspector general exposed their correspondence. He discusses all of this and more in his new book, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump.” And he joins us now. Peter Strzok, welcome to the “NewsHour.” You have been the target of the president’s ire, as we said, for many months now.
He’s called you everything in the book, including accusing you of treason. He’s talked about your personal life. My question is, why not slip quietly away? Why write a book which re-raises all this and subjects you to these questions all over again? PETER STRZOK,®MD-BO¯Author, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump”: Because the president’s relationship to Russia is too important to ignore. I think, when you look at what he has with his relationship with Russia, the way that he has exposed himself to being compromised and is compromised, in opinion — in my opinion, that is too important an issue for the American public to not understand how we thought about that in the FBI in 2016, up to and through today. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the book, you write, Peter Strzok, about what you call the president’s lies about his business dealings with the Russians.
How did that compromise him? PETER STRZOK: Well, I think it’s pretty straightforward. And I will give you an example. If you look during the campaign trail in 2016, at one campaign speech, President Trump makes a comment to the crowd that: I have no financial dealings with Russia, no relationship whatsoever in any financial way. At the exact same moment, his personal attorney Michael Cohen is making a deal or trying to make a deal for Trump Tower Moscow, which continued throughout the campaign and at least later into the summer.
The issue with that is, when he says that, it’s a lie. Vladimir Putin knows that it’s a lie. Certainly, President Trump knew it was a lie. And, at the time, the FBI knew it was a lie. So, what that does, though, is that, in order to maintain that lie, those parties have to be complicit in it. And so President Trump, the moment he says that, knows that Russia can out that lie anytime they want. And that gives them leverage over him and the ability to influence his behavior. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when the president and his allies come after you relentlessly for these text messages that you exchanged where you were — you were criticizing the president, they say this shows personal bias against the president.
At one point, you wrote, “We will stop it,” when — the question of whether the president could be elected or not back in 2016. Why shouldn’t someone look at this and say, this is someone who can’t be trusted, who had a personal view, a personal bias going into this investigation? PETER STRZOK: Sure. So, here’s the bottom- line truth. Throughout 2016, I knew things about Trump and his campaign that absolutely would have killed his electoral chances. All of us working on the team knew things that, had we gone to the media, had we go to — gone to Congress, it would have destroyed, potentially irreparably, his campaign for president. As we stand now, going into 2020, I and others still no material that would be damaging. But the fact of the matter is, none of us have ever disclosed that. So, the idea that somehow we wanted to do that flies in the face of common sense. And, furthermore, there have been exhaustive investigations. There have been two inspector general investigations. There have been multiple looks by various U.S. attorneys.
There have been investigations by both the House and the Senate. And all of these, all of these have universally found that there was no investigative action that was ever taken based on improper political considerations. JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter Strzok, you also write in the book about — you say the Russians are coming at the United States elections in 2020 with a vengeance. Based on what you know, what are the Russians up to right now? PETER STRZOK: Well, so, a lot of that is certainly classified and remains classified and I can’t talk about.
What I can tell you is, we know some of the things that they did in 2016, everything from exploiting schisms in American society on social media, to trying to, and successfully in some cases, infiltrate state electoral boards and voting systems, to all the traditional things that intelligence services do to recruit people. I think it is very safe to say, and what I was able to say in the book, is we thought that the Russians would do some things in 2016 that they didn’t. My belief is that they returned some of those techniques back to their quiver, and spent the last four years honing those sorts of attacks and techniques that they’re using now, and that are only going to pick up steam as we approach the election, and actually continue well past the election, as we sort out what occurs at the beginning of November. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, can you be any more specific? And let me ask it this way. The Trump intelligence community, folks at the top, are saying right now that China and Iran are every bit as big a threat to these 2020 elections as are the Russians. How do you react to that? PETER STRZOK: My experience, again, over two decades is that it’s absolutely false.
When you look at the nature and the depth of what Russia is doing, they are engaging in the American electoral process in a fundamentally greater and more complex and more intrusive way than any other nation on the face of the Earth. Russia is getting into our domestic politics, into our domestic schisms. They’re fomenting tensions between various elements of American society in a way that simply, the Chinese, the Iranians and others are not doing. And for the administration to suggest otherwise is deeply misleading and inaccurate. JUDY WOODRUFF: Different subject, but something you write about in the book at length, and that is the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. And you went on in that connection to write that former FBI Director James Comey made decisions around that investigation that you say ultimately hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in that election, helped President Trump. And you went on. You said: “As much as it pains me to admit it, the Russians weren’t the only ones who pushed the needle toward Trump. The bureau did too.” That’s quite an acknowledgment.
PETER STRZOK: Well, it is. I think there’s been a lot of introspection by all of us who were in that executive team and decision-making team who were advising Director Comey. But hindsight is 20/20. And it’s a really unfair perspective to look back. But when you had an election that FiveThirtyEight said that the number of swing voters between Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania could fit in one football stadium for one game, that’s a razor-thin margin. And it takes just a tiny bit of influence to move that one way or the other. And so I do, looking back, certainly, in retrospect — because what ultimately happened when we were forced and then Director Comey announced the reopening of the investigation in October, that was all set into motion by the decision to make the speech in July. And looking back, I — and I know others have said similar — had similar thoughts — in retrospect, I certainly would have advocated more forcefully not to have made the speech in July. JUDY WOODRUFF: Final question. You had a successful two-decade career at the FBI.
It ended in a way that embarrassed you, left you humiliated. Do you acknowledge, though, that your own actions, in their way, frankly, add up to the American people having less confidence in the FBI because of what they saw here? PETER STRZOK: Yes, look, I deeply regret the way my actions were used to harm the FBI, were certainly used to attack and harm my family, the things, all the things that I love the most in the world. But what I would tell you is this. The American people should understand that all of our work, all of my work was done in an objective, apolitical way. And that is exactly the way that everybody else in the FBI did their work. Those are the standards that we hold ourselves to. Every agent has a political opinion. I have a personal opinion. And each and every one of us, when I was working at the FBI, when you walk in the door, you set that aside, and you do your job objectively.
And the work of partisans to try and undermine that fundamental understanding of how the FBI works has been really damaging. And I regret the entire experience and the way that it’s unfolded and the way people have used that to attack the bureau. JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter Strzok. The book is “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump.” Thank you very much for talking with us. PETER STRZOK: Thank you for having me. JUDY WOODRUFF: We are all looking for answers in this pandemic. Sweden took a different track, not shutting down, trusting citizens to follow social distancing on their own, and putting a priority on so-called herd immunity. The idea is to expose as many as possible to the virus. The results were mixed. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on how the gamble has played out. MALCOLM BRABANT: Sweden was widely criticized for paddling against the worldwide lockdown tide, but now there’s a sense of vindication. Around the world, economies are struggling to stay afloat. The Eurozone has shrunk by 12 percent, but Sweden’s hit is less than 9 percent.
As for COVID, Sweden has gone from being one of the most infectious European nations to one of the safest. ANNA MIA EKSTROM, Karolinska Institute: Right now, we seem to be in a fairly good position. We see a steady decline in the number of critically ill patients and also deaths since the mid-April. MALCOLM BRABANT: Infectious diseases specialist Anna Mia Ekstrom thinks Sweden was right to trust people to socially distance. ANNA MIA EKSTROM: Hard lockdowns are unsustainable over sort of any extended period of time in a free society. So,unless you find sort of an acceptable level of restrictions and recommendations that people can understand and support, I don’t think you can sustain a lockdown. MALCOLM BRABANT: During April, Sweden suffered more than 100 deaths a day.
In all, there have been more than 5,900 Swedish fatalities. Sweden ranks 11th in the world, one place behind the U.S., in terms of deaths per 100,000. Anders Tegnell has run the Swedish operation. His aim has been to create extensive immunity. He calculated that law-abiding Swedes would follow health guidelines and, as a result, there would only be a soft spread of the virus. ANDERS TEGNELL, Chief State Epidemiologist, Sweden (through translator): The most important development right now is that the infections rates have come down and are continuing to go down. A part of the explanation for that is, in my view, that quite a large part of the population has immunity. MALCOLM BRABANT: Along with other countries, Sweden aims to ease pressure on its hospitals.
ANDERS TEGNELL: Swedish health care is one of the best in the world, and it continues to be like that. MALCOLM BRABANT: This local government promotional video paints an idealized portrait of Swedish retirement, but the COVID reality was carnage. Ninety percent of Sweden’s fatalities were aged over 70. Half were in nursing homes. Oxygen wasn’t provided. Instead, seniors were given morphine to ease the pain of respiratory failure. PAUL FRANKS, Epidemiologist: Yes, I really do mourn the loss of thousands of people in Sweden who died who might not have done had we had a more aggressive strategy towards COVID-19. MALCOLM BRABANT: Professor Paul Franks is an epidemiologist in Southern Sweden. PAUL FRANKS: Death from COVID-19 is a miserable way to go out. There’s no last sort of touch of the skin or quiet words in the ear. MALCOLM BRABANT: Another professor, Yngve Gustafson, told a newspaper that nursing home deaths amounted to active euthanasia. General practitioner Jon Tallinger resigned from the Swedish Health Service in protest. DR. JON TALLINGER, Former Health Service Doctor: What I saw in my inner eye, so to speak, was thousands of people suffocating to death with these instructions that came from the very top.
MALCOLM BRABANT: For Tallinger, this video was the smoking gun. It issued instructions to Swedish care staff. There was no suggestion of sending patients to hospital. Instead, it prescribed morphine and a sedative used in end-of-life palliative care. DR. JON TALLINGER: The Swedish health care system wasn’t overwhelmed because they didn’t send anyone to the hospital. They died in their homes and the care homes. MALCOLM BRABANT: What do you think of these claims that the Swedish authorities basically sacrificed people in nursing homes? PAUL FRANKS: In March, people really didn’t know — nobody knew what was happening, right? The world was in disarray.
Even the best experts didn’t know what was happening. So people really were, at the very best, making educated guesses how to proceed. And Sweden made its educated guesses. MALCOLM BRABANT: Across the bridge, Denmark imposed a total lockdown early in the pandemic. Thus far, its death rate per 100,000 is a fifth of Sweden’s. But in the past few days, its infection rate has risen above Sweden’s, possibly because Denmark has now tested a third of its 5.6 million population. In a significant reverse, people in the cities of Copenhagen and Odense are being urged to work from home. JENS LUNDGREN, University of Copenhagen: In the short term, it’s pretty clear that we have been sort of going through the first wave in a better sort of public health sense, compared to Sweden.
But the jury’s still out here. MALCOLM BRABANT: Professor Jens Lundgren is an infectious diseases specialist, and he’s leading a trial of a drug formulated to fight COVID. He has sympathy for Sweden. Danish care homes also suffered. JENS LUNDGREN: You could be infectious without having symptoms. So, therefore, the personnel that comes to a nursing home, they are the potential source of infection and brings, essentially, the infection into the nursing home. And we hadn’t thought about that. But it’s now abundantly clear that can happen.
And, as a consequence, you want to test the personnel before they come in. So, I think we’re in a much better space now. MALCOLM BRABANT: In Denmark, state figures show that 50 percent of all infections occurred amongst ethnic minorities, who comprise just 9 percent of the overall population. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen: METTE FREDERIKSEN, Prime Minister of Denmark: When we look at the numbers in Denmark in a sober manner, there are definitely too many people with a non-Western background who are infected. Of course, we must address this in a decent way, but the numbers have to come out, so we can combat the virus. MALCOLM BRABANT: But social worker Uzma Ahmed, a racial equality activist, is worried that ethnic minorities are being stigmatized. UZMA AHMED, Racial Equality Activist: People who drive the buses, they are actually being blamed for bringing in corona, instead of saying, hey, these the people who are actually working, while others are keeping themselves safe. We have a very turned-around logic that I would say serves the purpose of finding scapegoats. MALCOLM BRABANT: The authorities say prayer sessions like this, breaching bans on mass gatherings, led to a crackdown in Denmark’s second city, Aarhus.
Jyllands-Posten newspaper also showed a number of crowded Muslim funerals where social distancing was ignored. But aren’t there some communities which just aren’t abiding by social distancing rules? UZMA AHMED: Aarhus is not the only place where it has happened and where the same restrictions are applied. But we don’t talk about the restrictions in the other areas as personalized and as something that has got to do with culture. MALCOLM BRABANT: Scandinavia’s summer is nearly over. Some experts fear the cold may invigorate the virus. Yet both Sweden and Denmark are relatively upbeat. Anders Tegnell doesn’t expect a second wave. ANDERS TEGNELL: We will have this kind of rather local, but rather big outbreaks, not the complete wave over the country, like what we’re seeing right now, but, rather, these localized smaller or bigger outbreaks in different places. JENS LUNDGREN: It’s safe to say that, with the ongoing research efforts, in six months’ time from now, things may actually look, what can I say, potentially even better. MALCOLM BRABANT: At the start of the pandemic, Denmark sealed its border with Sweden because of the perceived risk, but, in COVID’s volatile new world, the threat has been reversed.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant. JUDY WOODRUFF: Fascinating reporting. We thank you, Malcolm. On the “NewsHour” online right now: There are many ways to measure health care, but cost often comes to the forefront in the debate about the American health care system. How does the U.S. stack up to other countries? Take our quiz to see for yourself. That’s on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour. And that’s the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thank you, please stay safe, and we’ll see you soon. END.