The indivisible project. TRANSCRIPT: 11/13/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
Matt Axelrod, Ezra Levin
Transcript:

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

Much appreciated. 

 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  You bet.

 

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy to have you

with us. 

 

Big thanks to Ali Velshi for filling in for me yesterday while I was

fishing.  I did okay.  I was out with my friend who always catches more

fish than me.  I caught two fish before she caught anything, and then she

caught one, but it was way smaller.  It was a really nice day. 

 

Anyway, but it`s really nice to be back at work.  And yes, I put the fish

back. 

 

If we`re going to start anywhere tonight, the poop train seems like as good

a place as any to start.  Last year, train cars filled with human sewage

started turning up unwanted in Alabama towns.  Now, this was not human

sewage of an Alabama origin, which would be bad enough, right?  Somehow it

was worse that this was imported human sewage. 

 

This is human sewage that was – generated is the right word?  Generated in

the first instance by humans in New York and New Jersey, and then got

shipped on a train down to Alabama.  Now, this sewage was treated and on

paper theoretically, it was supposed to be a totally inoffensive thing to

ship by rail and park in your town.  But that turned out to be a load of,

ah – let`s call it claptrap. 

 

This stuff stunk so bad as it passed through town after town after town in

Alabama that town after town after town and county after county, every

place it turned up, the locals realized, whoa, we have no choice.  We have

to fight back.  Well need to get this stuff out of here.  We need to do

something to keep this stuff away. 

 

At one point early last year, the poop train ended up parking in a town

called West Jefferson, Alabama.  And it parked way out at an out-of-the-way

small rail yard.  I think they thought that was going to be sort of out of

sight, out of mind.  It was not out of stink range.  That rail yard was not

enough out of the way given how bad this stuff smelled. 

 

The town of West Jefferson, Alabama, revolted literally.  A judge

ultimately allowed the town to kick the poop train out of that distant rail

yard as a zoning violation, because the people in that town literally could

not stomach it. 

 

That same train then moved on to a town called Parrish, Alabama.  Before

the poop train arrived in Parrish, the town mayor had expressed confidence

that this would be no problem.  She told the local press she didn`t have

any objections.  She didn`t think the train passing through her town or

loading or unloading at the rail yard in her town would pose any particular

problem.  But, oh, man, that was just in theory. 

 

When the train actually showed up full of human sewage, that same mayor of

Parrish, Alabama, her name is Heather Hall, she told AL.com, quote, the

smell really started getting bad here.  I mean, it was terrible.  Quote, it

greatly reduces the quality of life of anybody that this is around.  You

cannot go outside.  You cannot sit on your porch.  And this stuff, it`s

here in our town.  It`s not like it`s an industrial area. 

 

She told the paper, quote: We were hoping things wouldn`t be like they were

in West Jefferson, that maybe the reactions in West Jefferson were

overblown, but we came to realize real quick like that they were not

blowing it out of the water.  This stuff does not need to be in a populated

area, period. 

 

And so, Parrish, Alabama, had thought it would be fine.  It was not fine. 

And the poop train got moved out of West Jefferson.  Then it got moved out

of Parrish.  People in Parrish had thought those West Jefferson people

complaining were big wusses, making a big deal out of nothing.  They were

quickly disabused of that notion. 

 

And so, the poop train was moved out of Parrish, Alabama, as well.  Where

did they move it to?  They moved to it Birmingham, Alabama, which you have

heard of, because Birmingham is a big place in Alabama.  And when the poop

train moved into town there, the reaction was instant and soon became

national. 

 

A councilman for the area in Birmingham where the train had stopped turned

up at the next Birmingham City Council meeting to raise the alarm about

railroad cars in his area of the city, quote, that may be carrying feces

from other states.  Quote, when they get stopped on the train tracks in

your area, the stench is almost unbearable. 

 

In the local press and local social media, the reaction was even stronger. 

Some local businesses reportedly started getting calls that there must be a

dead body nearby somewhere, because nothing else could possibly explain a

smell that awful. 

 

Eventually, Alabama`s poop train troubles made national news all over the

country this past spring, and a lot of that coverage came from the explicit

or implicit angle that somehow New Jersey and New York had done something

wrong here, right?  New Jersey and New York had foisted this train full of

Yankee poop on Alabama without Alabama having any say in the matter or

having any idea that it was coming. 

 

The problem for that angle in the national coverage of this strange story

from earlier this year, the problem for that angle was that the state of

Alabama`s Department of Environmental Management, the state environmental

agency in Alabama had actually approved this whole plan.  They`d approved

this whole idea.  Apparently, they didn`t look into it at all that much

detail when they agreed that Alabama would receive like 10 million pounds

of this stuff, indefinitely, on an ongoing basis from the Northeast.  They

just decided oh, we`ll tuck into it a landfill somewhere.  Nobody will

mind. 

 

The state environmental authorities in Alabama are not known for their

stellar modern track record.  The previous administrator of the state`s

environmental agency had been embarrassed and ultimately forced out of

office after what seemed like a never ending series of ethics scandals,

including accepting baseball tickets and other gifts from a company that

his agency regulated.  He accepted private plane trips for his whole family

to Disneyworld from another company who had business before the state.  He

also as a state official had approved payments to a company that was run by

a guy that he was applying for a job with. 

 

The Alabama State Ethics Commission unanimously referred him for criminal

prosecution on that one, and that really means something in Alabama.  I

mean, Alabama has been really kind of busy recently on ethics issues.  Just

within the past few years, Alabama`s speaker of the house, the serving

speaker of the house was convicted on multiple felonies and sentenced to

multiple years in prison. 

 

That happened roughly the same time that the state`s governor was forced

from office in a sex and ethics scandal.  And that happened around the same

time that the state`s chief Supreme Court judge was kicked off the bench in

an ethics scandal.  You might remember him, actually.  His name is Roy

Moore.  He went on to be the Republican Party`s nominee for the U.S. Senate

seat that opened up when Jeff Sessions moved from the U.S. Senate over to

the Justice Department to become the Trump administration`s first attorney

general. 

 

Roy Moore`s Senate campaign was the point at which pedophilia and its

public defense became part of the Trump era of Republican politics.  It`s

also how we got a Democrat in the United States Senate from the great state

of Alabama.  When Alabama decided they couldn`t stomach Roy Moore in that

capacity.  

 

So Alabama has had a busy few years in general on ethics issues, but on

environmental stuff, Alabama has been even worse than that.  I mean, it has

been a poop train couple of years in Alabama.  That same administrator of

the state`s environmental agency, that one who got referred for

prosecution, the one who left office under this cloud of mushrooming ethics

controversies, after he left office as the top environmental official in

the state, he left to go work in his private business career. 

 

In his private business career, he became a key player in the worst

criminal environmental scandal to hit that state in years.  I mean, even

after losing the top person in the legislature, the top person in the

Supreme Court, and the governor to ethics scandals almost simultaneously,

the state of Alabama has since subsequently had to endure a huge criminal

bribery and money laundering scandal involving top businesses and law firms

in the state, who were trying to stop the EPA cleanup of a radically

polluted, densely populated black neighborhood in north Birmingham. 

 

That scandal is ongoing.  It has resulted in multiple, lengthy prison

sentences.  It has even ensnared Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Remember,

he is from Alabama.  As the senator turns out, he got lots of money from

the people behind the scheme.  As a senator, turns out he lobbied against

that EPA clean up effort which was apparently what they were paying people

for. 

 

Jeff Sessions even turn upped on a witness list in a felony trial that sent

a well-known businessman executive and a top Alabama Republican lawyer to

prison in that environmental scandal.  I should also mention that once Jeff

Sessions stopped being a senator implicated in that scandal and started

being attorney general of the United States, he never once said he was

recused from overseeing that matter as a federal prosecution despite his

personal and direct involvement in it. 

 

But when it came time to staff up the Trump administration, they didn`t

just go to Alabama for an attorney general.  The Trump administration also

went to Alabama for environmental expertise.  That guy from the state

environmental agency in Alabama, the guy who was referred for criminal

prosecution, the one who got in trouble for accepting all those gifts and

private plane rides from his family for companies he was supposed to be

overseeing, the one who left state office in a cloud of scandal and then

got involved in what turned out to be a giant criminal scheme to keep a

poor black neighborhood polluted and not cleaned up, that is who President

Trump named to run the Environmental Protection Agency for the whole

southeastern United States. 

 

Was anybody else on the short list?  His name is Trey Glenn.  President

Trump appointed him to run the biggest region in the country for the EPA. 

It covers eight states in the southeast. 

 

John Archibald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at AL.com wrote a

column at the time when Trey Glenn was pointed in which he John Archibald

basically could not contain himself.  He wrote, quote, ha ha exclamation

point, that guy now heads the Environmental Protection Agency?  It`s like

Roy Moore leading the ACLU. 

 

But then it got better.  After Trump appointed that guy to run the EPA for

the whole quarter of the country, right, for the whole southeastern United

States, that guy now is a high-ranking federal employee eventually had to

make financial disclosures.  Well, when his disclosures came out a few

months ago, Alabama learned for the first time among the folks who had been

paying him since he left his job running the state environmental agency

before he got appointed by Trump to run the EPA for the whole southeastern

United States, among the people who put him on the payroll were the poop

train folks.  Yes, literally the landfill company that brought the poop

train into all of those towns in Alabama.  They had this guy on their

payroll as the former top environmental official in the state. 

 

Here is John Archibald again.  Quote, Trey Glenn, the Trump-appointed EPA

director, has more ties to that poop train and its dumping ground than the

railroad track it ran on.  Quote, all the Charmin in the world can`t wipe

it away.  Quote: Ain`t enough bubbles in the world to clean the stain.  

 

As of tonight, Trey Glenn still serves in the Trump administration as the

head of the EPA for the whole southeastern United States.  It`s hard to

believe that will stay the case, however, because today, Trey Glenn was

indicted for multiple state crimes related to his time so ably

administering environmental issues in his home state of Alabama.  We`ve

been – I got to tell you, we`ve been trying to get ahold of the charging

documents from his indictment in Alabama today.  It`s been a little tricky

to get ahead of them, but it appears he has been basically charged with

corruption charges, akin to bribery and conspiracy. 

 

So, the administrator, the head of the largest region in the country for

the EPA is now under criminal indictment in Alabama.  This comes, of

course, after the head of the whole EPA for the Trump administration Scott

Pruitt was forced out of office, forced out of the Trump cabinet in his own

maelstrom of ethics scandals.  We actually learned after Scott Pruitt was

forced out at least one of the scandals that forced him out of office also

resulted in a referral of Scott Pruitt to the U.S. Justice Department for

criminal prosecution. 

 

We learned that after he was already gone.  We learned that around the same

time this we learned another Trump cabinet official, the current secretary

of the interior, Ryan Zinke, has also been referred to the U.S. Justice

Department for potential criminal prosecution.  So given the Alabama

background of the Trump environmental official who was indicted today, it`s

easy to see that maybe as an Alabama scandal, right?  I mean, there has

been a lot of Alabama ethics scandals there has been a lot of Alabama

ethics scandals related to the environment.  Maybe it`s an Alabama thing. 

 

I will mention that it`s a little bit weird to see a state court indicting

a high-ranking federal official rather than these corruption charges being

brought as federal charges.  Kind of makes you wonder if maybe the stench

of this Alabama case followed Jeff Sessions all the way into the U.S.

Justice Department in one way or another.  How come the feds aren`t in on

this?  This is a high level public corruption case involving a federal

official. 

 

But the latest indictment of someone serving in a high level in the Trump

administration at this point, whatever the fine points are of his alleged

crimes and his culpability, at this point, you also have to see it as just

the latest tilt in a White House and in an administration that appears to

be going quite wobbly at the moment.  I mean, ever since we learned, for

example, that Ryan Zinke has been referred to the Justice Department for

criminal prosecution, there`s been an open question as to how he can still

be in the cabinet, right? 

 

Serious questions about how long he can stay in the job when he`s under

federal criminal investigation.  When will he become the next Trump

administration cabinet official to resign in an ethics scandal and under

the threat of federal corruption prosecution?  The last couple of days have

also been filled with news stories suggesting that Homeland Security

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen might be about to be fired.  The president today

canceled what was supposed to be a trip to the southern U.S. border with

Secretary Nielsen.  Maybe that`s because he is going to fire her.  Maybe

it`s because he was afraid it might rain, I don`t know. 

 

But the White House is sort of gleefully stoking the idea that another

cabinet secretary is about to be fired.  There have also been a new round

of reports, including tonight, that the president is on the verge of firing

his second White House chief of staff, John Kelly, which may or may not be

true.  Who knows?  Right? 

 

But there is more, right?  In the middle of the afternoon today, there was

even a brief flurry of weird stories that the first lady of the United

States, the president`s wife, had somehow arranged the firing of the deputy

national security adviser.  And I know that sounds crazy. 

 

I mean, yes, first ladies in the past have clashed with White House

staffers up to and including famously the White House chief of staff under

president Reagan who was disfavored by and ultimately axed to please First

Lady Nancy Reagan.  Again, White House staff and the first ladies sometimes

clash. 

 

But a national security job?  Melania Trump wants to fire the deputy

national security adviser?  Is that how we do things?  Nobody knows if

that`s how we do things. 

 

I mean, there were these initial reports today, first in “The Wall Street

Journal” that the deputy national security adviser of the United States,

Mira Ricardel, had been frog marched out of the White House and had her

pass revoked at the insistence of the first lady.  Those reports later

turned out to be inaccurate when other people reliably produced information

that, in fact, the deputy national security adviser was still inside the

White House. 

 

None of that conflicting reporting, though, could erase this actual

statement which really was put out by the office of the first lady today. 

Quote: It is the position of the office of the first lady that she, Mira

Ricardel, deputy national security adviser, no longer deserves the honor of

serving in this White House.  It is the position of the first lady. 

 

Apparently, tonight, the deputy national security adviser still enjoys the

honor of serving in this White House, but now, everywhere she goes it`s

under an imaginary banner floats over her head, right, that says the first

lady wants me fired.  Can I still stay? 

 

The White House, the Trump administration more broadly appears to be in a

kind of rattly phase.  They appear to be in an even more chaotic state than

usual.  There have been ethics troubles in this administration from the

very beginning.  Some of today`s wobbles appear to be the inevitable

product of law enforcement and investigatory pressure on ethically

challenged high-ranking individuals including those who are now facing

either criminal investigation or flat-out indictment in the case of this

EPA official. 

 

So, some of it I think is driven by the way ethics scandals tend to end up,

which is not good for the ethically challenged official.  A lot of this,

though, appears to be driven by the political pressure that the White House

is newly under in the wake of last week`s elections results.  Tonight marks

one week since the polls closed in the midterms.  The scale of the

Democratic Party`s victory in last week`s election is still coming into

focus one week later as vote tallies get certified and close elections get

called and recounts get fought over. 

 

The turnout in this year`s midterm election appears to have been the

highest midterm election turnout in more than a century.  The percentage of

the popular vote by which Democrats won congressional seats around the

country appears to be even higher than the popular vote percentage that

gave Republicans their massive landslide win in 2010 which President Obama

famously called a shellacking.  Democrats did better in terms of the

popular vote this year in 2018 than Republicans did in the shellacking year

of 2010. 

 

Democrats appear on track to gain 37, if not 38 seats in the House of

Representatives from these elections, which would be their largest

congressional gains in a midterm election since the immediate aftermath of

Watergate, right after Richard Nixon resigned. 

 

In the Georgia governor`s race and in the Florida governor and Senate

races, what appeared on election night to be Republican wins, those are now

turning into full-blown ballot-to-ballot battles in both states, including

in the courts where today the big development was a federal court judge

ordering the delay of the certification of the vote totals in Georgia,

which is what the Stacey Abrams campaign has been fighting for because they

say not every vote has been counted and what they want is for every vote to

be counted. 

 

So, there is a lot going on right now in the news.  There is a lot of

pressure on this White House in this administration.  And from everything

we have seen thus far, this is a president who does not handle pressure

particularly well, to the extent that his political fortunes and his legal

jeopardy are tied up into one great double helix of a story right now, the

president`s firing of Jeff Sessions in the immediate aftermath of last

week`s elections, his effort to put in charge of federal law enforcement in

the entire U.S. Justice Department, a random loyalist who was never

approved by the Senate.

 

I think ultimately this may be seen when we look back on it some day as the

president`s big Hail Mary pass at this point in his term in office – his

one big, desperate, probably won`t work effort to try to fix all of his

problems all at once by trying to fix law enforcement so that it starts to

help him out instead of continuing to threaten both him and senior members

of his administration. 

 

And Hail Mary passes occasionally do work, right?  That`s why it`s still a

play that people try in football.  There are reasons tonight to think that

this one is probably not going to work.  We`ve got that story for you next. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Maryland is not that big.  Maryland is the ninth smallest state in

terms of square mileage.  It`s about the size of Belgium, if you`re

counting. 

 

But that didn`t stop Maryland today from taking on President Trump`s

administration in a punch above its weight kind of way.  Back in September,

Maryland had filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that

Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional and the Trump

administration should stop trying to sabotage it. 

 

That lawsuit is little old Maryland against several federal government

defendants, from the IRS to the Justice Department, including specifically,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  That ends up being important.  So, stick a

pin in that for a second. 

 

That lawsuit was brought by Maryland in form of the attorney general of

Maryland, a Democrat by the name of Brian Frosh.  Today, Brian Frosh, on

behalf of Maryland, threw another wrench at the Trump administration,

trying to stop their works.  Maryland today challenged the president

installing right after last week`s elections, Matt Whitaker as acting

attorney general. 

 

The Maryland challenge promises to show that Whitaker`s appointment is

unlawful, in part because Matt Whitaker is not Senate confirmed, unlike

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is, which they say would,

quote, make Rosenstein the proper successor to Jeff Sessions.  Maryland is

arguing that because they`re just in the process of suing Jeff Sessions

over the ACA, this whole thing needs to be cleared up fast.  They don`t

want Matt Whitaker sticking his nose in their Affordable Care Act lawsuit

if he`s not lawfully able to hold that job. 

 

Quote, once Whitaker appears as acting attorney general, it will be

difficult to unwind any positions that the attorney general takes. 

 

So this is a federal lawsuit, right?  If the judge rules in Maryland`s

favor here, what would happen to Matt Whitaker?  Could this federal judge

order that he`s not really the acting general and effectively install Rod

Rosenstein in his place?  I mean, if the judge ordered anything like that,

right, the Justice Department would almost certainly appeal that would

ultimately send this case hurtling towards the Supreme Court. 

 

We`re sort of in permanent hearing loss zone now when it comes to alarm

bells being sounded over Matt Whitaker being installed to run the Justice

Department, what that means for the Justice Department, what that means in

particular for the Mueller investigation.  But now, we`ve got a whole bunch

of open questions that need to be answered quickly.  The question of

whether Whitaker will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, given

his history of outspoken public statements against it, including how he

thinks the Justice Department could undermine the Mueller investigation,

all comments that he made before he himself joined the Justice Department. 

 

He`s prejudged the case in the Russia investigation.  Does that mean he can

legally and ethically oversee the investigation of that case?  The Justice

Department keeps just putting out the same statement, saying Whitaker is

fully committed to consulting with ethics officials on whether or not he

needs to recuse, but they won`t say whether that consultation has happened

or whether he will recuse if the ethics officials at the Justice Department

tell him to. 

 

Some time tomorrow, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department

is expected to weigh in.  They`re expected to issue some sort of letter or

ruling explaining why it`s okay for Whitaker to have been appointed to that

job, even though he is not Senate confirmed. 

 

So I have a bunch of questions here.  That judge in the Maryland case, can

that judge effectively remove Matt Whitaker as attorney general?  Could a

federal district court judge essentially insert himself or herself into the

process that the president has gummed up already at the Justice Department

in terms of whose running DOJ?  What about that Office of Legal Counsel

advice that`s due to come out tomorrow?  What if the Office of Legal

Counsel and the judge say two different things about whether Whitaker is

legally allowed to be in that job?

 

Will any of this or any of these things being fought over now pose any real

problems for Whitaker staying employed as acting attorney general?  Will it

make any difference in terms of what he can do while he is there? 

 

I`m hoping my next guest can help us through some of this. 

 

Joining us now is Matt Axelrod.  He is a former senior official at the

Justice Department.  He was deputy at the Justice Department to then Acting

Attorney General Sally Yates. 

 

Matt, thank you for being here. 

 

MATT AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR DOJ OFFICIAL:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  There is a number of things going on, a number of fights on a

number of different levels about the installation of Matt Whitaker as

acting attorney general.  I haven`t had chance to talk to you since the

president put him in this job. 

 

Can I just ask you big picture, sort of top-line level, what is your

reaction to the president installing him in that job? 

 

AXELROD:  It`s really extraordinary.  Never before in our country`s history

have we had an acting attorney general who didn`t come from a Senate

confirmed position. 

 

MADDOW:  It`s such an important job, obviously, it`s top law enforcement

official in the country.  Why it is so important for that job to be a

Senate confirmed person? 

 

AXELROD:  Yes.  So – and that`s part of what the legal fight about is

whether it has to be a Senate confirmed person or not.  But regardless of

that legal fight, the tradition has been that it has always been someone

who has previously been confirmed by the Senate, that the president has

nominated and the Senate has fulfilled their constitutional role of

providing advice and consent.  And there are legal arguments about whether

that`s required or not. 

 

But what I think is so interesting here is that it just so happens that the

first time in our country`s history that we have an acting attorney general

who is not in a Senate confirmed seat is the same time that that person is

going to oversee prosecution investigation being carried out by the special

counsel that involves not only the White House, but the president himself. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of this legal challenge that is unfolding interestingly

with this Maryland case, because Maryland was suing anyway over an

unrelated matter.  One of their named defendants was Attorney General Jeff

Sessions.  That apparently gives Maryland, at least in their view, standing

to sue against this appointment. 

 

What do you this of those kinds of court challenges?  I imagine that the

Maryland case isn`t the only one that we`ll see. 

 

AXELROD:  Yes.  So, it will be interesting to see how they play out.  The

Maryland motion today that you were describing in terms of relief that it

requests, it actually asks for a declaration from that federal judge that

Rod Rosenstein is the proper acting attorney general.  Now, if the judge

were to grant that relief and issue an order saying Rod Rosenstein is the

acting attorney general, I think you can expect an immediate appeal.

 

But for the time being, and unless the judge enters that order, and unless

a court up above on the chain stays that order or reverses it, Rod

Rosenstein would be the lawful acting attorney general.  And really, what

we have is a mess.  And I think the American people deserve to know

unambiguously who their chief federal law enforcement officer is.  And

we`re entering in a period where unfortunately that may not be the case. 

There is going to be some murkiness about it until all this gets

straightened out. 

 

MADDOW:  Since Whitaker was installed in this position, we have learned a

lot about his background, including the kind of things that would come up

if he were being confirmed by the Senate.  His involvement with a company

that appears to be under FBI investigation, according to public reports. 

His involvement today reported in a publicly supported land deal that he

appears to have walked away from, that left a lot of victims and unhappy

people, including government agencies that appointed money for it.  There`s

also his public statements about the Mueller investigation. 

 

All of these things would go into his vetting by the Senate if he were up

for confirmation, which he is not.  On the issue of overseeing the Mueller

investigation, though, the question of potential conflicts of interest, the

question of him prejudging the case, presumably the ethics officials at the

Justice Department would consider those when deciding whether or not he

should be recused from overseeing Mueller. 

 

How does that process work, though?  And how much transparency are we

allowed to see?  How much transparency are we allowed into that process in

terms of seeing whether he has been given that advice? 

 

AXELROD:  Yes.  So the way the process works is that the attorney general

would ask the career ethics folks at DOJ for their view on whether recusal

is required.  Then he`ll receive that advice, but confidentially.  It`s not

made public.  Then he will make a decision based on that advice as to how

to proceed. 

 

So, unlike with a court case where there is a ruling that is public, here

that all happens behind the scenes. 

 

MADDOW:  Can Congress ask to see it? 

 

AXELROD:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  I know that Democrats have written to the top ethics officer at

the Justice Department asking whether these consultations have happened. 

 

AXELROD:  Right.  So, I think that`s the mechanism by which this advice at

the career ethics folks give is likely, although it`s not guaranteed, but

likely to eventually become public, both congressional requests and also

media requests, right?  I think the past precedent here is pretty clear. 

Jeff Sessions recused himself from this same investigation after receiving

advice from the career ethics officials.  If you go back to the last

administration, Loretta Lynch also sought advice from the career ethics

officials about whether she had to recuse from the Clinton e-mail

investigation, was told she did not. 

 

So there is clearly a past pattern of both attorney general asking for that

advice, receiving that advice, and then following that advice.  And so I

think the sort of the forcing mechanism here, if  Matt Whitaker did ask for

that advice, did receive that advice, but then didn`t follow it, there

would be a lot of questions asked by the press, a lot of questions asked by

Congress, and you would think with enough of those questions being asked

with enough force over time, that eventually the truth would come out. 

 

MADDOW:  There you`re talking about the laws of political pressure.  And

sometimes those work and sometimes those don`t, but I`m starting to see how

they all line up here. 

 

Matt Axelrod, former senior official at the Justice Department – I really

appreciate you being here, Matt.  Thank you very much.  I really appreciate

it. 

 

AXELROD:  Thanks for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  Thanks. 

 

All right.  Much more ahead tonight.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Tonight, we`re continuing to watch big high stakes and

increasingly dramatic electoral fights in the two great states of Georgia

and Florida.  In Georgia today, more than a dozen people, including a

sitting state senator were arrested at the state capitol as they urged

authorities to count every vote after a federal judge ordered a review of

all provisional ballots in the state and a delay of the certification of

the vote totals. 

 

In Florida, a statewide machine recount continues in all 67 Florida

counties.  That will end up deciding not only the Florida Senate race but

also ultimately the makeup of the U.S. Senate, what will be the partisan

balance of power in the U.S. Senate.  Even once that U.S. Senate race is

settled in Florida, you also have to remember there is still one more U.S.

Senate race that remains to be decided. 

 

That will be the Mississippi Senate runoff which is scheduled for November

27th between the incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde Smith who is an appointee

to that seat and the Democratic challenger for that race, Mike Espy.  And

you know, honestly, it is hard to imagine a Democrat winning a U.S. Senate

seat in Mississippi.  That said, there is currently a Democratic U.S.

senator from Alabama right next door, which seemed unthinkable less than a

year ago. 

 

You might have heard yesterday about the controversy in this Mississippi

Senate race after Cindy Hyde-Smith talked about a friend she likes, saying,

quote, if he invited me to a public hanging, I`d be on the front row.  What

do you mean by public hanging in Mississippi? 

 

This is Mississippi, a state which has seen more public lynchings than any

other in the United States. 

 

That controversy erupted yesterday for Senator Hyde-Smith.  It got worse

since then because this is now how she is publicly fielding questions about

that remark. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  Put out a statement yesterday, and

we stand by that statement. 

 

REPORTER:  Could you expand on it then, why you said it, what you meant by

it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive? 

 

HYDE-SMITH:  We put out the statement yesterday, and it`s available, and we

stand by that statement. 

 

REPORTER:  Senator, are you familiar with Mississippi`s history of lynches? 

 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday, and that`s all I`m going say

about it. 

 

REPORTER:  You mentioned that it shouldn`t be viewed with a negative

connotation.  Could you at least explain why it could be positive? 

 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by the

statement.  And that`s all I`m going to say about it. 

 

REPORTER:  Is that phrasing in your everyday lingo, in your vocabulary, do

you use that phrase? 

 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Local reporters, as you can see there, apparently interested in

but not about to get more than a two-line statement on that topic from

their sitting United States senator as she heads into election to try to

hold on to that seat two weeks away.  So, I mean, who knows how this race

is going to play out on the ground in Mississippi between now and then, but

one thing seems quite clear, which is that in some important ways, Cindy

Hyde-Smith doesn`t appear ready for prime time in Mississippi, and

Republicans may not be ready for the new wave of Democratic energy that

they are facing all over the country, which has become increasingly clear

in the last week since polls closed in the midterms. 

 

And we`ve got more on that story next.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  It started out as a Google Doc.  Simple answers to basic

questions.  Question, should I bring a sign?  Answer, if you`re holding an

oppositional sign, staffers will almost certainly not give you or the

people with you the chance to get the mike or ask a question.  OK, got it. 

 

Here`s another.  Question, help.  My members of Congress are pretty good. 

Now what?  Answer, do not switch to targeting other members of Congress who

don`t represent you.  They don`t care what you have to say.  Instead,

praise your own member of Congress for doing the right thing.  It will help

ensure that they continue to do the right thing. 

 

Don`t know what to say when you call your member of Congress?  Here.  Use

this script. 

 

Don`t know what to do when you go to your senator`s town hall meeting? 

Here.  Use these step by step instructions.  Get there early.  Spread out. 

Ask good questions.  Record everything. 

 

This Google Doc is just 24 pages long.  It`s called the indivisible guide. 

It was written by former Democratic congressional staffers from a

Democratic congressional staffers right after the 2016 presidential

election. 

 

What they were trying to do with this Google Map, which became this guide

was essentially come up with a road map for Democrats during the Trump

presidency, a guide for people who wanted to push back against the

president`s priorities.  These congressional staffers took what they had

learned working on Capitol Hill to try to teach people what works, to give

people specific clear, granular tactics they could use to break through and

be effective with their member of Congress. 

 

All these people showing up at congressional town halls with prewritten

questions, that was a suggestion from the Indivisible guide.  All those

people going to the home offices of the home district offices of their

members of Congress?  That`s on page 20. 

 

Scheduling a meeting with your representative?  Check the Indivisible

guide.  Organizing as a group?  Check the Indivisible guide.  The reason we

have all of these pictures and videos and tweets, that`s from the

Indivisible guide too.  Take pictures.  Tag your congressman.  Record

everything. 

 

The whole point of this instruction manual right after the Trump and

Republican victory in 2016 was to put power in the hands of Democratic

voters at a time when Democrats held no power at all in Washington.  The

Indivisible guide right after the 2016 elections, it caught on.  Since it

came into existence less than two years ago, it launched more than 5,000

Indivisible groups all across the country. 

 

And honestly, part of the reason Democrats do have a little power in

Washington now, part of the reason they were able to win back the House in

this midterm election is because of some of the tactics and instructions

that were borne out of that tiny little guide, all that organizing and

agitating with people with their home representatives?  It ended up pushing

a bunch of Republican members of Congress to quit.  They didn`t want to

deal with their constituents showing up at their office like this every

Tuesday. 

 

Enough Republicans quit that that really did help Democrats shift the

balance of power in Congress.  So, now that the playing field looks a

little different, now that Democrats do have some power in Washington, now

that they are poised to take control of the House, now Indivisible has done

2.0.  They`ve put out new instructions. 

 

This is the Indivisible guide 2.0.  It has just been released this hour. 

It`s brand-new.  Just like the first Indivisible guide, this one is super

granular and specific.  A lot of the tactics are the same.  Visit district

offices for your representative. 

 

Go to town halls with your representative and your senator, spread the word

on social media, tag your representative, record everything.  But there is

a whole new genre of instructions that weren`t in the original guide,

because now that Democrats have power, their constituents get to tell them

how to use it.  This is from the offense through oversight and

investigations section. 

 

If you`re concerned for example that HUD Secretary Ben Carson spent $31,000

of taxpayer money on a dining room set for his office, you can tell your

member of Congress to investigate this misuse of public funds.  You can

tell your member of Congress they can bring on a formal congressional

investigation. 

 

Here is a starter list you could pass along.  Tell your member of Congress

to use their vote.  Tell them to sponsor a bill.  Tell them to introduce

new legislation.  Tell them to write letters to the administration. 

 

We are in a new phase of the Trump era in American politics, one where the

power of the White House is no longer unchecked.  So, the objectives have

changed, and now as of this hour, as of tonight, the road map from the

Indivisible folks have changed – has changed too.  One of the former

congressional staffers who wrote this joins us next. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  The Indivisible guide was a influential part of how Democrats and

liberals approached power and Congress in particular after Trump and the

Republicans won power in Washington in the 2016 election.  Well, now that

we`ve had the midterm elections and the Democrats have taken back some of

that power, they`ve taken control of the House. 

 

Indivisible tonight has published version 2.0 of the Indivisible guide. 

It`s called Indivisible on offense, a practical guide to the new Democratic

House. 

 

Joining us now is Ezra Levin.  He`s a coauthor of the Indivisible guide. 

This is his first interview since the new handbook was released tonight.  

 

Mr. Levin, thank you for being here. 

 

EZRA LEVIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDIVISIBLE PROJECT:  Thanks for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  So, the last guide was defense basically.  It was about how

Democrats could stop Republicans and Congress in the Trump administration

from getting everything they want given that they had all the levers of

power.  This one is about offense. 

 

What is the tactical difference? 

 

LEVIN:  We are incredibly excited for this tactical difference because the

first two years, the last two years that we spent had been on defense, like

you`re saying.  We didn`t have the House, the Senate or the presidency. 

 

So when we put out the original Indivisible guide, we started from this

place of weakness.  We knew we didn`t have agenda-setting power.  Democrats

did not have agenda-setting power.  Instead they had the power to respond. 

 

But now that`s different.  Because of the House of Representatives, because

that House is in control of Democrats` hands, they can go on offense in two

key ways.  They can go on legislative offense, means they can pass bills. 

They can introduce bills.  They can get co-sponsors.  They can choose what

gets a vote and they can go into oversight offense. 

 

So, all the stuff that has been going on under this administration in the

dark for two years without any real oversight, that ends.  Now we can shine

a light on it and that`s the big, big difference heading into the next two

years. 

 

MADDOW:  But in terms of legislative offense, I mean, you say explicitly in

the guide that we can safely assume that the vast majority of good

legislation passed in the House will die in the Republican controlled

Senate.  If nothing they pass will become law or policy, then how much

offense is that? 

 

LEVIN:  So, on legislative, there are two types – this gets complicated,

which is why we put out a guide, right?  So, there are two types of

legislative offense.  One is there are must-pass bills that are going to go

through in the next Congress.  Things like a budget. 

 

In order for government to keep on running, they`ve got to pass a budget

and every budget requires both Republican and Democratic votes.  Now, what

we`re seeing now is in the House of Representatives, Democrats are going to

be able to put their stamp on any budget that goes through.  That`s a

chance to actually get real wins.  Not just pass bills that are going to

sit in the Senate.  But actually change law. 

 

Now, the second thing is what you`re pointing to here.  That a Republican

Senate or President Trump is not going to sign a good progressive bill. 

Look, I think that`s right. 

 

But the next two years are going to be when the Democratic Party debates,

what is our policy on the environment?  What is our policy on immigration? 

What is our policy on taxes? 

 

So that when we get control of the House and the Senate and the presidency

in 2021, when we have a unified progressive government, we know what our

first bill is going to be.  The next two years are debating that.  And

that`s why these legislative vehicles that we`re going to see progressives

introduce over the course of the next two years are so important. 

 

MADDOW:  In the first guide I think the thing that made it catch on the way

that it did – we talked about this the time that it came out – was that

it was a little bit counterintuitive.  You`re telling people don`t pick the

worst person in Congress who bugs you the most and then go bug them. 

You`re only allowed to talk to your own member of Congress because other

representatives don`t care what you have to say if you don`t – they don`t

represent you.

 

But it was also very practical in terms of how to most effectively

communicate with and pressure your representative whether they were on your

side or not. 

 

Do you feel like at Indivisible, you guys learned anything that you were

either doing wrong or that you might have rethought over the past couple

years the way that advice was implemented? 

 

LEVIN:  Yes.  So one thing that we saw early on in the Congress last year

is that people were just overwhelmed with a number of folks who were

showing up at these Indivisible meetings.  If you remember the original

guide, we said, you know, if you can get ten people together, that would be

great. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

LEVIN:  We saw some folks with hundreds and then thousands of folks showing

up.  So figuring out how to take folks who were brand-new to this movement,

who had not been engaged in political activism before and teach them how to

do the basics of just organizing, how do you develop a leadership

structure, how do you build for the long haul, I think that`s what a lot of

the first two years were about.  The people who have been out in the

streets marching and getting behind candidates and registering voters and

getting out to vote, they`re not professional political organizers or

professional political folks.  They`re just people in their communities who

are organizing to take back control of their communities.

 

And so, one of the things we`re trying to emphasize in this new guide is

precisely that.  This is not going to be something where we just flip the

switch and suddenly, we accomplish everything we want to do.  We have to

fight on our home turf.  So the thing that does not change is something you

brought up here, which is, look, we`re in a representative democracy and

what that means is like them or hate them –

 

MADDOW:  Talk to your own representative. 

 

LEVIN:  Talk to your own representative, because your representative is

your voice in the House.  Your two senators, your voice in the Senate.  And

that`s where we`re going to have power. 

 

And one of the really exciting things about our moment right now is it

doesn`t matter if your member has been there for years, if they were just

elected.  They sit on subcommittees, they sit on committees that have power

over oversight.  They can actually launch investigations.  They can use

hearings in order to really shine a light and that`s what the opportunity

is for the next two years. 

 

MADDOW:  Indivisible 2.0, Indivisible on offense – Ezra Levin, thank you. 

Much appreciated. 

 

LEVIN:  Thank you, Rachel.

 

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

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow. 

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”. 

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                                               

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