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California wildfire traps dozens and Cohen calls Trump a racist 'cult leader'

"Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community," one California resident said about the wildfires.
Image: A firetruck drives along state Highway 168 while battling the Creek Fire in the Shaver Lake community of Fresno County, Calif
A firetruck drives along state Highway 168 while battling the Creek Fire in Fresno County, Calif., on Monday.Noah Berger / AP

Good morning, NBC News readers.

President Donald Trump is doubling down on his "law and order" message, despite questionable results. California's wildfires devastate mountain communities. And Michael Cohen’s damning new book hits bookstores today.

Here's what we're watching this Tuesday morning.

Trump doubles down on crime message as polls suggest it's a risky gamble

The crime-heavy focus during the Republican National Convention appears to have fallen flat, a new wave of surveys has suggested — even as President Donald Trump appears increasingly reliant on the issue as a core element of his re-election strategy.

Following a carefully choreographed convention focused on playing up fears of violent crime, lauding law enforcement and portraying Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a tool of violent anarchists, Trump stayed mostly on his law-and-order message last week, NBC News White House reporter Shannon Pettypiece writes.

But even though worries about crime have ticked up in the past month, according to polls released last week, there have been no surveys pointing to public safety as a top issue for voters.

More troubling for Trump, the latest surveys suggest that even if crime were to become a driving issue, the president does not appear to have a striking advantage over Biden.

California wildfire burns at least two dozen homes in small mountain town

Firefighters tried unsuccessfully to airlift some 50 people trapped by a blaze in California's Sierra National Forest early overnight as wildfires continued to sweep the tinder-dry state.

Heavy smoke made it impossible for helicopters to land and remove the dozens trapped by the Creek Fire, the Fresno Fire Department said in a tweet late Monday. Another attempt to reach the people at Lake Edison and China Peak would launch once conditions improve, they said.

Fires have already burned through at least two dozen homes in the small mountain town of Big Creek, officials said.

"Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community," one resident said.

Michael Cohen's new book hits shelves today. What's in it?

President Trump is an authoritarian, racist sexual predator, according to a new book by his former lawyer and confidant, who says Trump openly mocks the working-class Americans he has duped into supporting him.

In "Disloyal: A Memoir," the lawyer, Michael Cohen, writes that he believes his longtime client won't leave office willingly if he is defeated in the November election.

While Cohen's book is filled with similar stark warnings, he doesn't offer any major new revelations about alleged Russia ties, sexual assaults or racism, writes Ken Dilanian, a reporter who covers intelligence and national security for NBC News.

Instead, Cohen, who served prison time for lying to Congress and doesn't expect readers to like him, paints a more subtle portrait of moral decay.

The White House has dismissed Cohen's book as "fan fiction."

"He readily admits to lying routinely but expects people to believe him now so that he can make money from book sales," White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said in a statement.

Cohen spoke exclusively with NBC News' Lester Holt ahead of the book's release today and called his former boss a racist "cult leader."

He said the purpose of the book is really to be a clarion call to "from one former cult member to the current ones," saying: "Open your eyes as I have. And I want you to appreciate that Donald Trump cares for no one or anything other than himself."

Tune in for more of the interview on "TODAY" and "Nightly News with Lester Holt" at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Biden, Trump duel over the prospect of a safe COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump agreed Monday on the need for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

But the two presidential contenders clashed during dueling Labor Day events over just how much Trump can be trusted to deliver.

Reporters asked Biden at a campaign stop whether he would take a COVID-19 vaccine if the Trump administration offered one before Election Day. On Sunday, his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had said she would not solely trust Trump's word about the safety of any vaccine that was rolled out to the public before the election — comments Biden echoed.

"I would want to see what the scientists said," Biden said, insisting that he would want "full transparency" from the administration about any potential vaccine.

Trump reprimanded Biden and Harris on Monday and said that they "should immediately apologize for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric that they are talking right now."

We apologize, this video has expired.

Welcoming voters, not fans: Sports teams push for their stadiums to become polling sites

Professional sports teams and voting advocates want to make casting ballots this fall a slam dunk by turning stadiums and arenas across the country into polling places.

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, the facilities allow for physical distancing that may not be possible at traditional polling places.

And with many of the venues located within inner cities where polling places are often plagued by long lines, their availability may draw in voters who otherwise would not or could not spend hours waiting to cast their ballots.

"I want to get between 50 and 100 arenas open across the country," said Eugene Jarecki, co-chair of the Election Super Centers Project, the nonpartisan group spearheading the project. "I think each one of them can process about 40,000 people. So do the math on how huge that could be."

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  • A top Belarusian opposition figure was detained while trying to cross into neighboring Ukraine.
  • Prince Harry and Meghan have repaid the approximately $3 million in public funds used to renovate their residence on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
  • Summer's not over yet: Some remote workers are extending their vacations — to the delight of resort owners.
  • Listen to our Into America podcast. In the latest episode, host Trymaine Lee talks to jazz legend Wynton Marsalis about his writing process, how politics influences his music, and the magic of New Orleans.

THINK about it

Flu is on a collision course with COVID-19 — which could be terrible news for America, Dr. Lipi Roy and Dr. L. Brett Jaggers write in an opinion piece.

One interesting thing

Teens + rookie cops = New future?

A community group in Chicago’s North Lawndale area is trying out a new deescalating strategy.

They are introducing new cops to the neighborhood and the people who live in it through walking tours given by local teens.

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Thanks, Petra