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Transcript: Alex Wagner Tonight, 9/6/22

Guests: Ryan Goodman, Pramila Jayapal


"The Washington Post" is reporting that material on foreign nation`s nuclear capabilities is seized at Trump`s Mar-a-Lago. Interview with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: The gerrymandering stuff is bonkers, truly like existentially dangerous. Ben Wikler, thank you.

That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night.

ALEX WAGNER TONIGHT starts right now.

Good evening, Alex.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: A lot of bonkers out there in the world, Chris. Thank you as always.

Thank you to -- for being with us this evening, this breaking news evening. It was three weeks ago when and "The Washington Post" published this bombshell piece. It is hard to forget a report with a title like this, quote, FBI searched Trump`s home to look for nuclear documents and other items, sources say.

"The Post" reported that FBI agents were concerned that classified documents relating to nuclear weapons could be found at Trump`s beach club down in Florida. To which the former president quickly and vehemently told the world, quote, nuclear weapons issue is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax, two impeachments were a hoax, the Mueller investigation was a hoax, and much more. Same sleazy people involved.

And in the days after, Trump kept bringing up that "Washington Post" report again and again and again. On August 26, affidavit heavily redacted, nothing mentioned on nuclear. A few days later, again, quote, whatever happened to nuclear? A word that was leaked early on by FBI, DOJ to the fake news media.

Something about that whole nuclear thing really irked Donald Trump. I really got under his skin. But besides Trump`s little outbursts, for days after that reporting, we heard nothing about "The Washington Post" reporting on those nuclear secrets, no other news outlets confirmed "The Post`s" alarming reporting.

But then a week ago, a week ago tonight, the Justice Department revealed in a court filing in an unsealed subpoena from May that the documents and the DOJ was looking for documents at Mar-a-Lago, ones that included a classification called, formerly restricted data. That`s a designation that concerns nuclear weapons.

And now, tonight, the intrepid reporters at "The Washington Post" are at it again. Headline: Material on foreign nation`s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump`s Mar-a-Lago.

Here is the lead, quote, a document describing a foreign government`s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump`s Mar-a-Lago residents a private club last month, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.

Some of the seized documents detail top secret U.S. operations, so closely guarded, that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his cabinet or in a near cabinet level official could authorize other government officials to know details of the special access programs. Records that deal with such programs are kept under lock and key almost always in a secure compartmented information facility, a SCIF, with a designated control officer to keep careful tabs on the location.

But such documents were stored at Mar-a-Lago, with uncertain security, more than 18 months after Donald Trump left the White House. It was in this last batch of government secrets that information about a foreign government`s nuclear defense readiness was found.

What is it that Donald Trump said about nothing mentioning nuclear? Nothing mentioning nuclear?

Joining us now is Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize national investigative reporter for "The Washington Post" and wanted to buy lines on this blockbuster reporting tonight.

You have answered the president`s calls, Carol, definitively. Indeed, it does seem like nuclear secrets were found down at Mar-a-Lago. Can you walk us through this whole process? We knew in May, right, that the Department of Justice maybe was looking for this kind of material in their subpoena to the grand jury. What has happened since?


So, because of my great colleague Devlin Barrett who I co-bylined the story with, the public learned that in May, the Department of Justice was seeking also took classified records at Mar-a-Lago, but they included records that are particularly sensitive that involve nuclear capabilities, or really what you will consider a foreign government or the U.S. government ability to wage nuclear war.

Where are they on that continuum? Are they seeking nuclear ingredients, recipes, equipment? Do they have the capacity that we are worried about? Are they a true nuclear rival? These are all records and materials that are covered by the classification that the Department of Justice sought in its may subpoena for records at the former president`s part-time residence and golf club -- I`m sorry, resort club..


So we know that`s what happened. They were looking for it. But I also have learned, along with my colleague, that when they made this subpoena, they were kind of throwing the kitchen sink, concerned about anything with these kinds of classification records, anything with these markings that was stuff that needed to be under lock and key. And now we know that while they were seeking some of the material, lo and behold, they found some.

We don`t know how much, we don`t know which foreign government is involved. We have some theories. But we published what we can establish with great certainty, and that is that among the records seized, there were details so classified, so concerning, that it was covered by this classification material that relates to a foreign government`s nuclear capacity.

WAGNER: I think it bears mentioning, the degree to which the DOJ really had to have this material down, right? Because Trump had several bites of the apple, if you will, in terms of returning these papers that belong to the government back to the government. He had all of 2021. He had January when he sort of sent over the first couple of boxes. He had a chance in June when the DOJ came down to Mar-a-Lago.

And yet these nuclear secrets, so ultra classified, that you have to look at them in a secure compartmented department facility, he did not return those any of the times previous, and in fact, they were not discovered, it sounds like until the DOJ got that search warrant to go inside Mar-a-Lago.

Is that material to the investigation the fact that this was not ceded willingly back to the government?

LEONNIG: It`s huge. It`s why in the search warrant, which was executed August 8th, when they seized these records and began looking for them, it`s huge that before that happened, two months before that search and that search warrant, the government was asking for these records and was told, we`ve done a search, the Trump team set June 3rd, we looked at everything, after a diligence search, there is no more classified material down here.

Well, who told Trump`s lawyers these are the boxes to look in? Here, you can see all my records, or how diligence was that search because it did not take the government more than about 8 to 9 hours on site to get this trove of hundreds and hundreds of documents.

I will also add one of the things that I think is important, Alex, about what we learned in the last couple of hours that is in the story by Devlin myself, and that is that one of the biggest alarm bells that begins ringing in investigator years after the August 8th search is that some of the records are records that they cannot look at. They don`t have the classification, and that includes some of the senior most national security officials in the country.

There are in some instances for the special access programs, and I am not speaking specifically of records seized at Mar-a-Lago, but the category of special access program, super, super secret, as few as a dozen people can be read into the programs. The president or a cabinet level official, someone near to a cabinet official, has to approve someone being read into review the records.

So, again, keep in mind, the alarm bells that we are hearing about from multiple sources, on August 8th, when they start looking at these records is, oh my goodness, I`m not supposed to look at this. Now, that is bizarro world, when you think about the fact that they were just in a storage room or in the former president`s office or residence -- not only should these things be under lock and key in SCIF, they should not be accessible to anyone who lives, works or briefs at Mar-a-Lago.

There is no one there that has read into the programs that top national security officials are read into.

WAGNER: Yeah, they were effectively being stored in like the basement of an event venue, and the big security was the fact that there was only one key to the closet. It is staggering when you think about and contextualize the level of security afforded this kind of information traditionally, with the information is housed where it`s supposed to be. Do you know, Carol, how the DOJ officials who did not actually have the security clearance to rediscover eventually got that clearance? How did they actually discover all this that they were not supposed to be looking at it?

LEONNIG: I have to tell you, the sources that we have, have not provided that information about the senior most officials, and the process by which they looked at this material. But I would guess, a big guess, that somebody had to be deputize and multiple people had to be authorized and were given the need to know authorization and read into the special access programs so that they could review the documents, as part of an ongoing and increasingly more alarming criminal investigation.


WAGNER: Carol Leonnig, "Washington Post" national investigative reporter, bombshell reporting that will have repercussions I am sure. We will hear from some point about the former president about these nuclear secrets that were reportedly housed at his beaches in Mar-a-Lago. Thank you, Carol, for making the time to be here on this busy evening.

LEONNIG: Of course.

WAGNER: Joining us now is someone uniquely qualified to speak to this latest reporting, former CIA director, John Brennan.

Director Brennan, thank you so much for joining us, particularly on short notice with this breaking news.

Let me just first -- let`s get right into it. What was your reaction when you read the headline that there were nuclear secrets being housed down at Mar-a-Lago, that the former president was loathe to give up and indeed appeared to have lied about even having possession of?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It`s hard to be surprised by anything we learned that Donald Trump my app done. Still, it`s quite shocking. I don`t know about the documents that were found, but based on Carol`s description, it does sound as though these are documents that are part of special access programs, SAPs. These are documents that are the most highly sensitive and highly restrictive within the U.S. government.

And some of these programs still specifically with nuclear capabilities, whether it`s our own, the nuclear capabilities of our allies or our adversaries. These documents usually are kept in safes inside of SCIFs. So, it`s not just that they`re in SCIFs, but they are in safes and there is what`s called a BIGOT list. There are only certain individuals that are authorized to see these documents that we sign in and sign out.

And so, when I worked at the White House with President Obama`s first term, I was deputy national security adviser, I had access to some of those programs, and when I went to CIA, I didn`t have access to them because there is a strict need to know, when you try to keep the number of individuals who have access to them to a strict minimum.

So, to think that they were held at Mar-a-Lago in this very unrestricted, storage facility, it just really I think raises serious, serious questions about whether or not anybody saw them, who shouldn`t have, and whether or not our national security, or maybe the national security of our allies have been compromised.

WAGNER: I would imagine that these documents would figure prominently into Avril Haines, the office of the national intelligence is conducting a parallel review to see if our national security was compromised in this document breach if you will.

How -- how would she go about thinking about these nuclear documents being held down at Mar-a-Lago in a storage facility that is, I mean, calling the story for state facility is probably being generous.

BRENNAN: I`m sure others are gassed about what they have found to have been located at Mar-a-Lago. And they are conducting this risk assessment right now, trying to determine what of our sources methods and systems might be at risk. So if this is a document about foreign countries and capabilities, how did we access that information? How was it that we became familiar and knowing of either an adversary or an ally has in a nuclear realm?

And so, therefore, I think a real and the rest of intelligence community right now is looking at what they might need to do in order to ensure that these, whether human sources or sensitive techno collection systems are going to be protected. And it`s going to be very difficult to determine what exactly who might have had access to these documents. So I think there are going to be some people who are going to say, we have to assume that these documents were accessed by somebody who shouldn`t have seen them and therefore we need to take these steps in order to protect human sources and technical collection systems.

WAGNER: Let me ask you a question as you detailed the level of security for these documents. A safe inside a SCIF, right? How would it come to pass that the president would be able to take one of these documents back home to Mar-a-Lago? I mean, do you have any theories on how he would be able to like sort of exit the facility, dump it in a box, and get down to his beach club? Because that seems -- again, given the safeguards in place, like a very difficult thing to accomplish.

BRENNAN: Well, these documents usually are moved in the White House complex. Inside of envelope, or files, with a cover sheet that clearly says that they are top secret and highly sensitive programs. They might have been some type of briefing and the White House Situation Room or the Oval Office that was dealing with the specific nuclear issue. And that Trump decided to take the documents with him back to the residence, and then just squirrel it away.


The number -- the volume of documents that he had in Mar-a-Lago just indicates that he was taking these documents on a fairly regular basis. But again, something like this, the special access program, it would`ve had to been signed up, would`ve had seven come from a SCIF and a safe, someone would`ve had to deliver to him, and he would`ve had to -- decided to keep it himself probably despite the protestation of others who were probably quite concerned and worried about his retaining them.

WAGNER: So you are saying there`s a level of intentionality here? Because throughout this reporting, especially the Trump side, are trying to make the picture of a president who would like to keep things and was kind of a paper monger. He would keep a lot of things on his desk. They would get shoved into a box.

Sometimes people don`t know where it was going or how to use it, but this kind of information you are painting a more vivid picture, you can`t just unintentionally shove it off your desk and get into a box. This is something that needs to be -- that is safeguarded, in terms of every hand it is held in. Is that right?

BRENNAN: Absolutely. It was intentional. There`s no classified documents that say in the oval office overnight. Because yet cleaning clues and others that come through. So that office is swept intentionally every day to make sure that there is going to be nothing left in the inadvertently out so that someone can access it that shouldn`t see it.

So therefore, you know, I always raise the question in my mind, why would he select these documents among the thousands upon thousands, that pass his hands, or at least when it went into his office are told him about over his four years? And so, this -- if these documents as described by Carol deal with the nuclear capabilities of a foreign country, it really raises serious, serious concerns about what he was planning to do with a document, or may have already done with these documents and the information in there.

And this is something that I am so concerned with the equipment of the special master`s, the FBI`s investigation could be delayed because they need to find out who might have had access to these documents, as soon as possible, so they can take the appropriate mitigating messages that need to be taken.

WAGNER: Yeah. Let me just follow up on that really quickly. I mean, what rest does this pose? We are talking about information about a foreign government`s nuclear defense readiness. You`re the former director of the CIA, what`s the risk there?

BRENNAN: Well, again, I don`t know what if this is an ally or an adversary. It might identify not just what the capabilities are, but also the vulnerabilities are. What the weaknesses are. What the shortcomings are. And whether you are an ally or an adversary that is something that we certainly don`t want our adversaries to find out about because it could be exploited.

And so, we don`t want our adversaries to know what we know about their nuclear programs because we design our defense strategy in order to address their capabilities. So having the documents like this and maybe other documents as well out there that could be accessed by those who are not authorized to see it, and then share it with folks overseas and as I said before, I am certain that Russian intelligence was targeting Mar-a-Lago over the past 20 months or so, trying to get people in there, whether the guest, caterers, or cleaning staff, or whatever else. I`m sure it was a priority intelligence target for Russian intelligence given Donald Trump`s penchants for being rather careless and reckless with our national security secrets.

And Mar-a-Lago was not a SCIF, is not a SCIF, and the ability that people can get in there and possibly access these documents again, it just makes me shudder at the thought of what the implications, the consequences of his reckless, irresponsibility could be.

WAGNER: Statement of the year. Mar-a-Lago was not a SCIF.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, thanks so much for making time this evening. Really appreciate it.

BRENNAN: Thanks, Alex.

WAGNER: We will have more on this breaking news next. Co-editor in chief of "Just Security", Ryan Goodman, joins me here to react to this latest reporting and also to go over the nuts and bolts of the special master process and what we can expect next from the DOJ.

And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal will join me live to talk about why she thinks Democrats may keep the House -- yes, I said the House -- in November`s midterm elections.

Stay with us.



WAGNER: Now that we know, according to new "Washington Post" reporting that a classified document relating to the nuclear weapons of a foreign nation, now that we know that was among those papers found at Mar-a-Lago last month, how is all of that going to affect the damage of us being conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Also there is still the issue of the special master that needs to be dealt with. After two weeks of will she, or won`t she, Trump appointed Federal Judge Aileen Cannon finally ruled on Labor Day that, yes, Trump will get that special master or third-party arbiters if you will, and in a mysterious case of how over 11,000 government records including over 100, 100, that were classified or had a top secret designations, how all that paper wound up at Trump`s beach club in Florida.

Judge Cannon ruled that Trump will get that request for the special master, to decide which documents are covered under attorney client privilege and also, more surprisingly, which are covered by executive privilege.

That stopped the presses ruling yesterday has left the DOJ with some decisions and now has to make.


First and most essentially, what we do now? Does the department appeal the ruling?

A DOJ spokesperson said yesterday that the government is quote examining the opinion and it will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation. There is also the issue of what is sometimes referred to as the Justice Department`s 60 to 90 day rule. It`s not an actual rule, but rather a department policy that prohibits investigative steps that could potentially influence an upcoming election. And, of course, we are now 63 days from election day. So will that stop the department from taking any further steps in this criminal investigation?

And then there is a director of national intelligence and her ongoing damage assessment at those documents to see if Trump`s on authorized handling of storage of them potentially harm national security. That review, Judge Cannon ruled, is allowed to continue, supposedly. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is part of the executive branch, so what does it mean that that office can continue its work while the DOJ cannot as it considers or concerns these documents from Mar-a-Lago in August.

And, finally, there`s a question of who in the world it`s going to serve as a special master in this case? That person will likely need a top secret clearance. And you cannot find people with those credentials on LinkedIn.

The judge also ruled that the Justice Department and Trump`s team by Friday have to jointly file a list of potential candidates for the job and they need to outline the duties and limits of that person`s role. I mean, where do you find someone like that and who would even want that job? I think it is safe to say that we are long way away of a special master being appointed and who knows?

The government may decide to fight this ruling in the interim.

Joining us now is Ryan Goodman, former special counsel at the Department of Defense and co-editor in chief of Just Security.

Mr. Goodman, great to see you tonight.

So this, the revelation about nuclear secrets to being in the cache of documents seized in August, it seems would add great urgency to all of those questions, right? I mean, how do you think that informs the Justice Department`s decision about what to do here?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: It`s a great question. I think it must mean that they have to act with urgency and has got to put a big thumb on the scale that they appeal their or her decision immediately, and that they ask the Court of Appeals for an urgent cessation of her ruling, and they can do that.

The court of appeals can say, while we review your questions of law, we`re going to stop what she did to you. And you can go ahead and use the materials for your investigation.

WAGNER: Okay and with that to stop the process as it is, or sorry, stopped the special master process as it is, and allowed them to move forward given the sort of implications in terms of national security?

GOODMAN: It depends. They can do it one of two ways. You can still use the material while the special master`s going on, or they can even say stop the special master as well. Because it`s such a bizarre notion of a special master to be reviewing documents for executive privilege. We never had that in this country.


GOODMAN: So they could also say, wait, that`s also hampering a very critical investigation now that we know, nuclear materials are in the mix. That would be a reason for them to act quickly.

WAGNER: If that isn`t granted though, what happens here? Because ODNI, the office of director intelligence, gets a continue her review, but she also, that department needs to work with the rest of the DOJ in tandem, right?

GOODMAN: A hundred percent. In fact, the government has said that the director -- is that the ODNI works with the Department of Justice. They could`ve named other departments and agencies, but they say the Department of Justice, that`s the FBI, et cetera.

It`s intermingled, so I understand the judge was saying you can go ahead with the damage assessments. But how? Is it the same people? They need to refer back to the FBI agents who have been working the case and say, look, what`s a change of custody for the nuclear document? Are there hand -- are there fingerprints other nuclear documents? For the damage assessments, and then this folks have to say, we can`t touch it, the judge has said that the order is we can`t use it, we`re not allowed to look at it, and if we are in a criminal case, we can talk to you.

That`s what she has wreaked. That`s the havoc that she has wreaked. I do think that is why the Justice Department might say to themselves, we just got to appeal this. And the court of appeals might say we`re going to take it.

WAGNER: We`re with you on this.


WAGNER: What about -- I mean, entertain if you well this notion of a special master, given the nuclear secrets we are finding out about, how impossible does it make -- I mean, like, how impossible is it to find the candidate who can review all the staff who was mutually agreed upon by both parties? I mean, that just seems like a fantasy.

GOODMAN: I agree, I think it`s going to be hard to see on Friday if they do go through and they don`t appeal that they will come together on a common agreement of who could be the special master, because it`s a small universal of people in this country that can even have a qualifications, let alone agreement. Because are they someone that just step out of the Trump administration --

WAGNER: Right.

GOODMAN: -- some two years ago and they have an active clearance?

Plus, that person has to have staff as well.


And the Trump lawyers have to be cleared to be able to see nuclear secrets, you know? So this is what she is created for us in part because we`ve never had a special master deal with this kind of sensitive information and executive privilege, to deal with attorney-client privilege, which is something they can easily handle.

WAGNER: So, you`re of the mind because this is so extraordinary that the special master is put aside for the moment the work continues, that`s the best case scenario. It sounds like you think that might be the most likely given the sort of implications for national security, vis-a-vis nuclear secrets. What happened -- let`s assume that happens then what happens next in the DOJ`s investigation if they can move forward?

GOODMAN: If they can move forward, then I do think their 60-day 90-day rule does start to kick in. It shouldn`t necessarily.

So I`ve written about, studied, researched that rule and all the times it`s been applied. It`s really supposed to apply to candidates who might be in the election. So Donald Trump doesn`t actually fit the bill, but you could imagine Garland says, look, at an abundance of caution, we`re not taking any major overt steps in the investigation until after the midterms.

But then after the midterms, it looks like they`ve got a mountain of evidence in which they might then decide, okay, now is the moment that we have to think about indictment or not.

WAGNER: So they could move fairly quickly potentially after November is what you`re saying?

GOODMAN: I think so.

WAGNER: And do you think there`s any recourse for Donald Trump in all of this, someone who has protested loudly and repeatedly there was nothing nuclear there and boom we have reporting this evening says there was in fact nuclear in there and it was very, very serious classified information

GOODMAN: Yeah. I mean, it makes me wonder, was he trying to get out ahead of this because he -- you know, if you have nuclear materials in your storage room or in your office, you probably know that.

WAGNER: Sounds like from Director Brennan, he would have known that.

GOODMAN: Yeah, exactly. I thought what Director Brennan said was totally accurate about that. So it goes to the willfulness and the intentionality that you described as well.

So he needs to say, I had no idea that that was there. He`s been already saying that. In some ways, it`s even more incriminating that he`s been saying it until we now find out that`s exactly what was there.

WAGNER: The opposite of what he said is what is true, something we`ve heard before with Donald Trump. Ryan Goodman, co-editor-in-chief of "Just Security" and a law professor at NYU, thanks so much for your time and expertise tonight.

Okay. Up next here tonight, we will take a look into why the background of the judge who approved Trump`s request for a special master to go over this Mar-a-Lago documents has some people raising their eyebrows.

And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal thinks Democrats may not only hold the Senate in November, she thinks they have a real shot of keeping the House. She will join us live ahead.



WAGNER: The Justice Department has now had its first major setback in its investigation into Donald Trump. Yesterday, Aileen Cannon, the federal judge in Florida who`s overseeing the Mar-a-Lago search, she granted Donald Trump`s request to allow an independent special master to go through all the materials seized from Trump`s home. Here was "The New York Times" headline: Deeply problematic: Experts question judge`s intervention in Trump inquiry. One former Homeland Security official from the George W. Bush administration called it a genuinely unprecedented decision by a judge. A Harvard law school professor called Cannon`s reasoning thin at best and deeply problematic. A New York University law professor told "The Times" that the judge chose a radical path.

So, basically, the entire legal community is shocked by this judge`s call, but you know who isn`t? Donald Trump. And you know why? Judge Aileen Cannon, the judge who made this decision, was appointed by Donald Trump. She was confirmed in the final days of his presidency after Trump lost the 2020 election.

Like many Trump appointees, Judge Cannon is a long-time member of the Federalist Society, a well-financed and highly, highly influential conservative group that aligned itself with Trump well before he was even elected. The Federalist Society is instrumental in championing judges with hard line conservative views and ties to the conservative movement and getting them appointed to the federal bench.

Case in point, should the Justice Department choose to appeal this ruling, they will be doing so in the 11th circuit an appeals court where the majority of judges were also appointed by Donald Trump. Several of those Trump appointees are also members of the Federalist Society.

And above that court, there is the Supreme Court with a six to three conservative majority one where half, half the conservative judges were appointed by Donald Trump, and all three of Trump`s Supreme Court nominees were also hand-picked by the Federalist Society. That is a lot of hard-line conservatives on the bench courtesy of Donald Trump and the Federalist Society, a very successful co-production.

Remember that during his presidency, Trump and Mitch McConnell appointed more than 200 judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench including those three support Supreme Court seats one of which lest we forget Senator McConnell blatantly stole from President Obama. Of all the judges currently on the federal bench, more than a quarter of them a quarter of them were appointed by Donald Trump.

In just four years, Trump and McConnell appointed 54 judges to federal appeals courts, nearly as many as Barack Obama confirmed during his entire eight-year presidency. And most of Trump`s judicial nominees were very young at the time of their nomination and they are all extremely conservative.

Aileen Cannon, for example, the judge in this Mar-a-Lago case is only 41 years old. She was 39 when Trump nominated her as a district judge. Cannon had worked as a clerk for a conservative judge on the eighth circuit court of appeals, but other conservative Trump appointees have not had the most extensive resumes considering that these are lifetime judicial appointments.

Take 35-year-old Catherine Kimball Mizell who had never tried a case before Donald Trump gave her a lifetime appointment to the United States district court for the middle district of Florida. Earlier this year, she was the one who handed down the opinion abruptly ending the federal mass mandate on U.S. airlines.

Or there is 39-year-old judge, Justin Walker, who had also never tried a case in his life when President Trump appointed him to the federal bench in 2019. In 2020, Judge Walker ruled in favor of a Louisville wedding photographer who wanted to deny service to same-sex couples. That decision was appealed.

But just last week, another judge once again sided with the photographer and this time the judge was a guy named Benjamin Beaton, a 40-year-old judge, another appointee of, wait for it, Donald Trump.

As much as legal experts would like to believe that cases like this are decided on the merits of the argument made in court, the rulings of judges like Aileen Cannon and Catherine Mizell and Justin Walker, they all suggest that something else, something particularly partisan may be at play. And for Democrats who currently hold both the White House and the Senate, the only way to fight back may be to remake the federal bench.

Today, the Senate returned to Washington to finish its work for the year which includes confirming a whole lot of President Biden`s judicial nominees. Just last week, President Biden named eight more judges for the Senate to confirm to the federal bench.

But despite confirming judges at a pace unmatched by any president since JKF, there remains a lot to do. There are still 78 district and appeals court vacancies to fill before the end of this year, when Democrats could very well lose control of the Senate. So, tick-tock, right?

Tonight, Democrats confirmed a new circuit court judge in Illinois and tomorrow, Senate Democrats will hold hearings for six more federal judges. If they needed any more evidence about why these things matter, they need look no further than the Florida courtroom where the nation is watching the consequences of Trump`s judicial confirmation spree play out in real time, where a Florida judge single-handedly put the brakes on a criminal investigation into the former president of the United States and could literally change the course of American history.



WAGNER: What I am about to show you was the website for Republican North Carolina congressional candidate Bo Hines way back in the month of June. Right up top, the website led with a quote from Hines saying: I am 100 percent pro-life. When you went down to the issues, a section called life and family was literally front and center. And when you clicked on it, you got this, quote: Bo Hines will always defend the pro-life movement.

The word always is pretty funny there because this is Bo Hines`s website today. Not only is there no mention of abortion or of Bo Hines being pro- life, the site dropped the life and family section all together, just like gone. Keyser Soze style.

Over in Colorado`s new 8th district, Republican candidate Barbara Kirkmeyer removed language saying she would defend the sanctity of life from her website and took down a message of her speaking at an anti-abortion rally earlier this year. That`s all stuff that used to be on the very front page of her website.

Down in Virginia, Yesli Vega, the Republican candidate for Virginia`s seventh district, made a teeny tiny change to her Twitter bio. Here is her Twitter profile back in July, side by side with her Twitter profile today.

Everything is exactly the same except for one sentence which has been cut. Yesli Vega no longer mentions that she was an appointee of President Donald Trump. It sort of seems like she maybe doesn`t want that association anymore.

By now, you have probably heard the stories of Republican Senate candidates scrubbing their public profiles like this and it makes sense that those stories are front front-page news. The Senate this year was always going to be a toss-up.

But the reason I`m cherry-picking these Republican House candidates is because all of their races are turning out to be way closer than anyone predicted, and clearly, some of these Republicans are getting pretty nervous. Just a few months ago, all of the coverage of the midterm elections was about the red wave. The question -- it was not really a question if the Republicans would win the House, but by how much, how colossal would the margin be. Were they going to take the House by 40 seats or were they going to get it by 60 seats?

But now, "The Cook Political Report" sees Republicans retaking the House as no longer a, quote, foregone conclusion. Now, don`t get me wrong, Democrats are still at a disadvantage here. It is a midterm election with a sitting Democratic president and that is the kind of situation where Republicans traditionally should sweep.

But with so many issues energizing the Democratic base and with Republicans literally trying to distance themselves from their own stances, do Democrats have a fighting chance here?


Joining us now is Pramila Jayapal. She is a Democratic congresswoman from the great state of Washington, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and she thinks Democrats could keep the House this November.

Congresswoman Jayapal, thank you for being with us tonight.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Alex, it is great to see you and congratulations by the way on your show. We`re all so excited for you.

WAGNER: Thank you so much.

I want to get to this theory of yours which seems to be you know supported by some anecdotal evidence I will say about Democrats` chances in the House. The first thing I think everybody`s looking at in terms of a seismic shift is the Dobbs decision and the Supreme Court and what that has done to energize women. I want to quote a stat here.

This is data from the firm Target Smart. Women -- after the Dobbs decision, women became nearly 70 percent of all new voters registered in the state of Kansas. We know what happened in Kansas, vis-a-vis abortion.

But do you think this trend line of women being energized, outraged, I`m not sure exactly what the word is, but engaged in a midterm election like never before, have you seen that pattern holding true elsewhere in the country?

JAYAPAL: You know, this is exactly what I predicted after the Dobbs decision. I said Republicans have no idea the fury and the wrath of women across the country, and their families, by the way, who absolutely are going to rebel against the idea that a protected constitutional right to make choices about your own bodies, freedoms that we have taken as our own for the last years, that we would sit back and allow that to be taken away by an extremist Supreme Court -- Republican Supreme Court and these MAGA extremists.

And I think that is what you are seeing. It is going to hold. It is holding across the country, even in some of the special elections that you`re seeing.

Even in the Kansas decision that you saw for the ballot initiative to strip these rights away in the state of Kansas, you saw voters rebel and you saw new voters registering, particularly women voters and young voters. And that, once again, women are going to save the country, Alex, I think and it is -- I think it`s a very, very important piece.

But along with that, of course, the fact that we are protecting our freedoms on every level. This is the same time that Donald Trump and the Mar-a-Lago, you know, scandal, outrageous behavior of Donald Trump with these documents is also happening, and the same time, Alex, that Democrats have delivered over and over and over again -- on climate change, on jobs, on wages going up, on so many different things, chips, manufacturing, the PACT Act, taking care of our veterans.

So we have shown what we can do with tiny, tiny majorities. So it`s really all of that put together in one package that gives me real hope.

WAGNER: I want to talk about the Trump Mar-a-Lago scandal if you would for a moment. I mean, what is that doing -- I would assume that that is going to move independence, right? Do you know who that that news is swaying?

It is a constant drumbeat. We had breaking news this evening regarding the fact that there were nuclear secrets that he had squirreled away at Mar-a- Lago.

I mean who is that most affecting in terms of the midterm voters?

JAYAPAL: Yes, I think it is the independent voters and some Republicans. I mean, Liz Cheney Republicans, let`s put it that way. You know, Adam Kinzinger Republicans, people who understand that the threat to our democracy is very great. This is not about policy. It`s about our Constitution.

And so, I think that it is that category of Republicans who actually believe that we need to protect our democracy from somebody who tried to destroy it, who tried to steal an election, as well as the independence. So those two categories.

Combine that with substantial turnout from our base and engagement from our base, and I think that is you know potentially what can really bring us across the finish line in terms of holding the House.

WAGNER: We talk a lot about what it means to be a Republican in the age of Trump and the way in which -- I mean, it`s kind of a mixed bag. But the endorsement, the direct endorsement of Donald Trump seems to help Republican candidates and he has very much remade the party in his image. But we don`t talk as much about what it means to be a Democrat and I sort of wonder your thoughts I wonder what your thoughts are as far as where the party is at?

We know that there are strong progressive candidates that have done really well in primaries this year. I believe Greg Casar in Texas, Summer Lee in Pennsylvania, Delia Ramirez in Illinois, Max Frost in Florida, Maxwell Frost. Where -- the Progressive Caucus seems to be growing.

And I know you`re the chair of the House Progressive Caucus. But what can you tell us about the size and the shape and the makeup of the Democratic Party right now, which is admittedly a very big tent party?


JAYAPAL: Yes. And I think first of all, the Democratic Party has become more and more progressive and populist. And that is thanks to the progressive movement across the country.

But you see that a lot of progressive ideas have been taken up as the mainstream of the Democratic Party, things like raising wages, you know, making sure people have a decent livable wage. You know things like making sure that we`re taking on climate change.

A lot of the um the things that we have been fighting for, universal child care, universal pre-K, this is the president`s agenda. This is Joe Biden`s agenda. It is the Democratic Party`s agenda, and I think it is an agenda that is about lifting up working people, vulnerable people, giving people a shot at better lives, better opportunity. That is really what Democrats are all about, and I think that`s what we`ve shown from the American Rescue Plan, all the way down to the Inflation Reduction Act and everything in between.

That`s what we`ve shown. We`re going to stand up for regular people, not for the special interests. We are a party that cares about people having opportunity, Alex, opportunity like what I had when I came to this country at 16 by myself, as an immigrant. And I think that is what we`re fighting for. That`s what we`ve shown we can deliver.

WAGNER: You think that the Dems can hold the House. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, we are going to come back to you in November and see about your predictions and prognostications. Good luck with everything.


WAGNER: It`s great to have you and thanks for sharing some time tonight.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Alex.

WAGNER: We will be right back.


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

Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell.

Good evening, Lawrence.