Trump-backed 2020 election denier Doug Mastriano wins GOP primary for Pennsylvania governor. Former White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer joined Hayes to talk about why Donald Trump`s endorsement is no longer enough. The DOJ has asked the bipartisan committee investigating insurrection for transcripts of interviews they have conducted as part of their investigation. The disinformation agency of the Department of Homeland Security is facing disinformation crisis.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Great reporting. Roberto Ferdman, thank you very much. You can see more of this terrific reporting on this two part investigation tonight and tomorrow on VICE News, please check it out on VICE T.V.
That`s tonight`s "REIDOUT", ALL IN with Chris Hayes starts now.
CHRIS HAYES, NBC NEWS HOST (voice over): Tonight on ALL IN, the danger for American democracy that hasn`t fully sunk in yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any freedom loving Americans in the house here?
HAYES: Tonight, the threat the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania could pose and why Democrats may be under estimating his chances of winning.
Then, as Madison Cawthorn exits Congress and Dr. Oz claims to hope how Trumpism not Trump is winning elections.
Plus, Congressman Jamie Raskin on the escalation of the DOJ investigation into January 6th. And how the right-wing frenzy killed the White House plan to combat online misinformation. The woman who was tasked to lead that effort, Nina Jankowicz joins me exclusively when ALL IN starts right now.
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HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. The biggest story from last night`s primary elections is that a full out insurrectionist coup plotter is now a stone throw away from wanting one of the most important swing states in the country, Pennsylvania. His name is Doug Mastriano. And he has essentially pledged that if the opportunity arises once again to actually successfully pull off a coup, he will be the first in line to do it.
Right now, he`s won the Republican gubernatorial primary pretty handily, with about 44 percent of the vote, more than 20 points ahead of his closest competitor in a very crowded field.
And so, when an avowed ally of Trump`s plot to overturn the 2020 election and wins that kind of margin of the Republican primary, we should all take notice. Because let`s keep in mind, again, Trump almost got away with it. The only reason the coup did not work is that there were enough people in key positions of power that wouldn`t go along with it. There were just a handful of instances where things could have turned out very differently.
If Georgia`s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for example, had done what Trump asked and somehow found the votes he needed to flip the election. Or if Georgia`s Governor Brian Kemp called the special legislative session to send an alternate slate of Trump electors, or if the Wayne County Board of Elections whose members Trump had not -- had called personally had not certified the results of the election, or if the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona did not defend Biden`s victory in his state.
If any of those circumstances broke differently, say because a coup sympathizer was in the key position of power, we would have been almost certainly in a full blown constitutional crisis or worse, the end of American democracy as we know it, a person who loses the election retaining power against the will of the people.
And I just want to be really clear here because we`re in cable news. Sometimes you hear hyperbole, just to what we`re talking about. It`s not just that Doug Mastriano is a radical conservative, whatever, he`s a coup sympathizer. He was actively involved in plotting the coup in 2020.
Intimately, one of the most prominent figures in it, not only did he spend thousands of his own campaign funds to organize bus trips to D.C. for the insurrection. He also went himself. You can see him there marching to the Capitol on January 6th.
He says he didn`t go in the building but came pretty close. He says he spoke with Trump at least 15 times between the election in the insurrection about plans to overturn the results of the election.
Mastriano introduced legislation to undo the certification of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, which he called compromised and corrupt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG MASTRIANO (R), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE OF PENNSYLVANIA: Governor Wolf didn`t look into any allegations and blew him off. Secretary of State (INAUDIBLE) blew off all the allegations and shenanigans. Our Attorney General, you know, declared a winner before one vote was counted.
And so, the whole process has been corrupted. Nobody cares to see if there was shenanigans cheating, fraud and disenfranchisement. And so, we`re going to rise up and say look, constitution that we have the final say and who the electors are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: OK, to be clear here, that`s all nonsense. The election was not compromised. There were no shenanigans in Pennsylvania.
But Mastriano saying we meaning us in the state legislature are going to throw out the votes of Pennsylvanians. We get to say, we the rulers, we the politicians tell the people who will rule them, and they can suck it up and take it.
And in doing so, Mastriano was saying what Trump wanted to hear. In fact, Trump even promoted that clip you just saw on his official YouTube channel.
But the legislation to decertify the election failed. And so, Mastriano moved on to a new plant auditing the election. He visited that bogus election audit in Arizona. He said it was something he wanted to emulate in his State of Pennsylvania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASTRIANO: If we`re able to do an audit in Pennsylvania, that`s the model I have. I think we just need to put everything to rest here by having one last look, we`ll see what comes out of Arizona.
You know, maybe as my governor and as my attorney general say, it was a perfect election. I mean, I doubt it. But with so many people raising questions, I don`t know how you can press on without addressing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Of course, they did come out with their ridiculous audit, which said the election was free and fair and that Joe Biden won the state.
Now, Mastriano was even subpoenaed by the January 6th committee for his role in helping Trump plan the coup. subpoena reads "We would like to better understand, events that you witnessed or in which you participated, and the communications we believe you may have had with national, state and local officials about the outcome of November 2020 election".
So, this state representative -- state senator Doug Mastriano tried to decertify the election who traveled to Arizona to tour that bogus election audit, who says he spoke to Trump more than a dozen times about the coup, who the January 6th committee says has information relevant to its investigation, and who didn`t just go to the ellipse rally, but then marched to the Capitol during the insurrection.
He is now one of the two candidates in what is essentially a toss-up race to the governor of the state of Pennsylvania. He`ll be facing off against the Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
And Mark my words, Mastriano can win. Pennsylvania is a swing state. November is shaping up to be very tough sledding for Democrats, this guy could be in charge of the next election.
And if a Democratic candidate for president wins Pennsylvania in 2024, well, what do you think is going to happen? Like no one is hiding the ball here, right? Certainly seems likely that Governor Doug Mastriano would work to undermine that victory.
And get this, it gets even worse because Pennsylvania is one of the states that allows the governor to appoint the Secretary of State, which means the person overseeing the election will be handpicked by the guy who tried to steal the last one. Who says that the Democrats stole the 2020 election.
In fact, Mastriano has already said, whomever he picks the job will be ordered to erase the state`s voter rolls, requiring every Pennsylvanian who wants to vote in 2024 to re-register with the state.
Again, no one`s being subtle about this, certainly not Mastriano and his allies. I want to play one exchange between Mastriano`s supporter from his victory party last night, a little hard to hear because of the music but listen carefully to the end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVAN E. RAIKLIN, MASTRIANO`S SUPPORTER: What do you want to tell us tonight as you`re about to clinch victory?
MASTRIANO: We`re going to send a message to the United States of America that things are changing in Pennsylvania, When Pennsylvania changes, things will change. It will be fantastic.
RAIKLIN: 20 electoral votes as well.
MASTRIANO: Oh, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: 20 electoral votes as well. Now, Pennsylvania only have 19 electoral wards in 2024 but you get the point.
I mean, charitably we`ll win Pennsylvania but also less charitably, but more plausibly the way they see it, he controls the governor`s mansion, controls Pennsylvania electoral votes. They`re already claiming victory.
Again, by all appearances, they seem to be saying that with Mastriano on the governor`s mansion, Republicans are guaranteed to win the state.
Because again, go back to what his record was in 2020, right? He thinks they have it in their power to not allow any other outcome. So, the stakes are really high for this race in November.
But also, I want to take a moment here to say, setting all this aside that Doug Mastriano is still unfit to be governor. He is a hard right extremist. He`s got ties on so-called Christian nationalist movement. He appeared at a fringe conspiracy conference with ties to QAnon where "Organizer played a video claiming the world`s experiencing a great awakening that will expose ritual child sacrifice in the global satanic blood cult".
An investigation found on his personal Facebook page was, surprise, full of bigoted Islamophobic posts and memes.
In 2018, he shared an article titled "A dangerous trend: Muslims running for office".
In his victory speech last night, Mastriano even vowed to pass a so called bathroom bill which would ban trans individuals from using the bathroom that corresponds with a gender identity.
So, again, even if they weren`t plotting a coup, this is a guy with very extreme views. I would hazard to say too extreme for a purple state. But he`s basically a coin flip away from becoming the next governor of Pennsylvania.
Eliza Griswold is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Last year she wrote a piece about Doug Mastriano, his politics and his ties to Christian nationalism and she joins me now.
Eliza, you wrote a great profile of Mastriano last year, you`ve done a lot of reporting in Pennsylvania, wrote a book about the politics in Pennsylvania. Are you surprised that he won last night or was that what you were expecting?
ELIZA GRISWOLD, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: I`m not surprised he won, Chris. And I`m not surprised I think we have to be just as you`ve been saying a lot more sanguine about his chances in November.
There`s a groundswell of support for Mastriano. And his ideas here, and we have to be serious about it.
HAYES: You -- I want to write -- I sort of got to see how genuinely zealous militant extreme he is in his views. I don`t think this is an act. I think this is who he is. And I want to quote from your piece and have you sort of explain it just in context.
This is in December 2020 protests that he attends, this is after the election. Mastriano exhorted his followers to do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to heaven, pray to God, we need an intervention. The phrase appeal to heaven comes from John Locke`s argument in support of the right to violent revolution in the face of tyranny.
Mastriano has hung a sign reading an appeal to heaven on his office door, and the flag sometimes appears behind him during his fireside chats.
Give us a sense of what this man`s worldview is, how extreme he is.
GRISWOLD: I mean, it`s difficult to say to use too much hyperbole, just as you said about him. He is -- his beyond -- he`s not a cynic. He is actually believes he`s a prophet for this movement. He began -- he believes he`s leading an army. He has more than 70 Facebook pages devoted to him and to his message, and he calls his followers an army.
So, this is a man who deeply deeply believes that he is sent by God, that he is sent by God to overthrow a democratically elected government. That`s why -- the capital was a symbol of evil to him and it continues to be to this day.
And an appeal to heaven is basically saying that God`s on our side, God`s on our side, let us attack secular democracy, which has been taken over by multiculturalism and is no longer legitimate and therefore, we are sent by God to destroy it.
So, he couldn`t be more serious and his sense of his mandate is that blatant.
HAYES: Yes, he`ll be facing off against the current Attorney General of the State Josh Shapiro, we had him as a guest in the program, I believe on Monday night. I would characterize him as essentially kind of a mainstream Democrat. He`s not particularly like a super lefty dude.
He last night though, Mastriano talked about him and compared Shapiro`s vision of Pennsylvania to a dictatorial regime like East Germany, take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASTRIANO: The future for Pennsylvania to Josh Shapiro is an oppressive regime, not unlike East Germany, where your freedoms will be snatched away. So, let`s walk in freedom. Let`s choose this day. Let`s choose this state and serve the Lord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I mean, that`s, again, if what you`re facing is something on that order, a lots of stuff is justified in resistance to that level of tyranny.
GRISWOLD: Yes, and Mastriano isn`t using this language by accident. You know, he`s a military intelligence analyst who was stationed in East Germany, right? He knows what he`s doing. He knows the language that he`s using.
And moreover, I mean, when he was serving in the military, he carried a Bible under his arm. He believes that God sent a dust storm to help his unit win against Saddam Hussein`s army during desert storm, because his wife was waging spiritual warfare in prayer at home.
Now, these ideas, I think one of the dangers, Chris, is they sound so outlandish to us, you know, secular people who think OK, you know, how serious could this be? And so, we don`t take them seriously.
These ideas could not be more real to Mastriano. And his support last night is an indication of how seriously we better take them.
HAYES: Eliza Griswold who wrote that fantastic and deeply reported piece in The New Yorker about Mastriano last year, thanks so much for making time for us tonight, really appreciate it.
GRISWOLD: Thanks for having me, Chris.
HAYES: Next, what my next guest says the media is getting wrong about the big story of the 2022 midterms thus far and how the retired blogger of Mar- a-Lago is now getting lapped by the movement he began.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Trump`s endorsement mean anything or?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little bit. A little bit, but that wasn`t my -- that wasn`t my overall decision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it did. It did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess it would probably be the sole purpose of why I went with him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love Donald Trump. But I mean, he doesn`t rule my life. You know, I have my own -- my own mind, make up my own mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I`m not a Trumper. I mean, I like Trump. I voted for him but I`m not a Trumper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You`ve been paying attention to politics over the past few months, you`ve more than likely seen your fair share of surprising stunning headlines on freshman Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina.
I`m not sure if any of those headlines are as stunning as what we saw last night. "Madison Cawthorn loses primary, concedes to Chuck Edwards in North Carolina".
Not even a last minute plea from Donald Trump earlier this week after he already endorsed him and back in March, could save Cawthorn once the Republican Party turned on him.
Nor could a Trump endorsement propel T.V.`s Dr. Oz to any kind of decisive win in the Pennsylvania Republican senator primary. Despite the best efforts from the ex-president and Fox News`s Sean Hannity to carry him over the finish line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MEHMET OZ (R) SENATORIAL CANDIDATE OF PENNSYLVANIA: I want to thank Sean Hannity. Sean is like a brother to me. When Sean punches through something, he really punches through it. He understands exactly how to make a difference. And he`s been doing that this entire campaign, much of it behind the scenes, giving me advice on late night conversations. Again, the kinds of things that true friends do for each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: It`s touching really when you think about it, we`ll see how that race turns out. But with nearly all the votes counted, Oz is leading by less than a percent and there will likely be a recount.
Whoever wins it`s clear that Trump himself cannot just anoint who he wants, and that`s because as my next guest points out, Trumpism not Trump is the key to success in the Republican Party.
Former Obama White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer writes "Trump didn`t turn the Republicans into a party of ethno nationalist conspiracy theory-believing authoritarians. He just figured out Republicans were a party of ethno nationalist conspiracy theory believing authoritarians before anyone else." And Dan Pfeiffer joins me now.
Dan, I like the piece you wrote over The Message Box, which is your sub stack. I like it because I agree with it. Tell me -- tell me the basic -- the basic argument.
DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Sure, I think if you watch any of the coverage last night, any of the lead up to any of these primaries, it`s through -- everything`s covered through the prism of Donald Trump. Is it -- what does it say about strength? Is it good for him? Is he going to be the nominee?
But I think that misses the story, which is whether Trump`s candidates win or lose. Trump`s movement has already succeeded. All of the candidates last night in Pennsylvania wore MAGA extreme candidates, right? There is no -- no one is running against Trumpism, they`re all just trying to be the most authentic or persuasive MAGA karaoke singer out there.
And I think there is a tendency in politics who cover it through people, when we really should be studying his movements, because that`s what the long term consequences are. The real danger is about Trump.
HAYES: Yes. And I actually think there`s a dynamic relationship between us because if you look at his like endorsement record, he`s like five and three or something like that, and fine.
But I actually think to the degree -- to degree, it`s adopted by everyone and actually reduces his personal power a little bit because it makes him less novel, less like less unique, right?
Like, if everyone sort of saying the same things, sounding the same notes, hitting on the same themes. It`s like, do you really need Trump to do it? Or can you just get someone else to do it? Who`s like, maybe a little less annoying on Twitter?
PFEIFFER: Yes, I think that`s exactly right, as they`ve already like, Trump, Trumpism, MAGA, whatever you call this, it has already won. Everyone is saying that.
And so, whether it has Trump`s actual stamp of approval doesn`t really matter, because everyone is saying something that Trump would say maybe less, maybe more eloquent, less clumsy, not on Twitter, or whatever it is, but they`re saying Trump`s message which was the -- what the Republican party wanted, before Trump showed up.
So, I think that that is the -- you know, that Trump has sort of won the war here. And he`s still fighting some battles. And it doesn`t really matter that much.
HAYES: The one place where I think there`s some complexity on this and which -- and I actually think it`s very high stakes complexity. So, I`m curious to hear what you think, is on the big line 2020.
Because I do think that that message has more -- Trump cares about that more than the average primary voter than I think the Republican Party and I think to the extent, he`s tried to make that a litmus test. There`s been some pretty big failures on that, like, you know that he endorsed the lieutenant governor in Idaho who`s like a full out insurrectionist against the sitting governor. She got her clock clean last night, (INAUDIBLE) she lost pretty badly.
Brian Kemp who he bears a grudge over 2020 is getting primaried by David Perdue solely on the big lie, solely on 2020. New poll has Kemp up 40 points.
So, I do think like, in terms of the future of American democracy, Trump`s obsession with that I do think actually isn`t quite as shared by the Republican base. What do you think?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think it is, it has become an issue of identity politics. If you say that Joe Biden won legitimately, if you say the election was not stolen, then you are not an authentic MAGA Republican, and that has very real political consequences.
You know, whether some of these candidates, you know, I saw your piece on DockMaster (PH), at the beginning of the show, he may truly believe some of them may be just saying it because it`s the price of admission in Republican primaries.
But once you say it, when push comes to shove, you`re probably going to have to do it. And that is what is so dangerous about having some of these Republicans win in these battleground states. So, they`re going to be decided in very close ways in 2024, Trump is on the ballot.
HAYES: Do you think -- I mean, what do you think about the overall political environment with someone like Doug Mastriano?
I mean, I asked Josh Shapiro on the show the other night like, aren`t you playing with fire? You spend all this money to like, let the primary voters know that he`s like the real Trump choice, like wink, wink, nudge nudge, like Claire McCaskill famously did in that primary with Todd Akin, who she then went on to defeat. I think it`s dangerous to do that.
What -- I mean, what is your feeling about like, the political conditions and like someone being too extreme in the conditions that we`re in?
PFEIFFER: I don`t know that you can be too extreme for the conditions that we already in. Doug Mastriano absolutely could win that race. Does he have a slightly smaller chance of doing that than some of the other candidates? I think that`s probably the case. But we are playing with live fire here. Absolutely. With everyone (INAUDIBLE), one of the people in 2016, who thought it would be better to run against Trump than someone else because he would be easier to beat. And we ended up with Donald Trump as president instead of Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or someone else.
And so, I agree that Doug Mastriano will be easy -- would be easier to beat to some of the other candidates, but he certainly can win this race in this state in this environment and that should scare all of us.
HAYES: Yes, Dan`s new book Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook and the MAGA Media are Destroying America comes out next month. Dan Pfeiffer, thanks so much.
PFEIFFER: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Next, the January 6 Select Committee has interviewed over 1,000 people in this investigation and now the Department of Justice wants to see the transcripts as part of a criminal investigation. Congressman Jamie Raskin is here next.
HAYES: So the winner of yesterday`s Republican primary for the Pennsylvania governor`s office is Doug Mastriano, and insurrectionist who marched on the Capitol on January 6. This has, as I said, broad implications for democracy with an avowed coup plotter, now running for head of a major swing state.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is trying to get to the bottom of who is responsible for the violence that day. We`re learning the DOJ has asked the bipartisan committee investigating insurrection for transcripts of interviews they have conducted as part of their investigation.
It`s unclear exactly what the committee will be sending over the DOJ. But according to a letter from the department, some of the committee interviews, "may contain information relevant to a criminal investigation we are conducting."
There are a lot of big questions about what is happening here. Maybe no one better to answer them than Congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland who serves on the January 6 Select Committee. Congressman, it`s good to have you on the program.
How should we -- how should we understand this DOJ request from the committee and its implications?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, we`ve conducted nearly 1000 interviews and have voluminous materials about what took place on January 6 and in the weeks leading up to it. And so, it suggests to me that there are witnesses who have spoken to us that they have not spoken to yet who have some information that may be relevant to crimes that they`re investigating.
And the evidence that is within our possession belongs to the committee, and so we can release it in our discretion.
HAYES: Are you going to release it?
RASKIN: Well, you know, ultimately, it`s going to be the call of the chair, Chairman Thompson. Obviously, we have an interest like every other American does in effective investigation by the Department of Justice and prosecution of people who were behind the criminal events of that day.
So, I`m certain that the chairman will, in his wisdom, you know, arrive at the right solution about particular pieces of evidence. There may be things that they have that we`re interested in seeing that they might be able to share with us.
HAYES: There`s been multiple reports from multiple outlets sourced in various different ways that there is some brewing tension or conflict between your committee and the Department of Justice that -- and I it`s unclear a little bit about what that is. Is there a turf battle? Is it that, you know, there`s worries about conflict between the two? Are -- is that true? Is there like beef with DOJ over this? What -- how should I interpret that?
RASKIN: No, I don`t detect that. You know, I mean, people always impute some kind of antagonism to an investigative committee on the Hill, acting in the same domain that a Department of Justice investigation is proceeding. And you know, I suppose there`s just like, the natural tension that arises from two groups working on a similar project.
But the truth is, we`re deeply invested in the success of the criminal investigation and the prosecution, just as I would hope they`re invested in our truth telling project that we`ve been assigned by the House of Representatives. So, I don`t think there`s anything serious there.
You know, we`ve been very careful not to do anything that would interfere with the criminal investigation. If people invoke the Fifth Amendment, we generally accept that. And, you know, we`ve not been in a situation where we`re getting into, you know, complicated offers of immunity and so on at this point, because we`ve been able to get the information we need from the witnesses to come forward.
HAYES: Yes, there`s a little bit of precedent there in the Iran Contra, right, where there were some grants of immunity by congressional committees and inquiry that then ended up kind of coming back to bite on the question of criminal prosecution.
Since I have you here and it is the day after this primary, one of the people that the committee I believe subpoena didn`t just request is State Senator Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania who`s now going to be, it appears, the nominee for governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I just wonder your thoughts about given what you know about the plot for the coup, given what`s the public record about his avowed support for it and the things he did in public to do it, the meaning of having someone like this possibly be the head of the state of Pennsylvania.
RASKIN: Well, I mean, it`s an astonishing nominee, even from just the standpoint of public statements he`s made. He`s an absolute enthusiast and cheerleader for the insurrection. He opposes abortion in all cases across the board, including rape and incest. I mean, he`s basically ingested the entire right wing extremist agenda. And even Republicans are struggling to distance themselves from him right now.
But it demonstrates the corrosive effect that Donald Trump has had on the Republican electorate. It`s just remarkable that there was even a plurality of Republicans who are willing to go with such an extremist and fanatic as the nominee of their party. But you know, this underscores one of the themes I hope America will get from our hearings in June, which is, this is not ancient history and it`s not even history. This is living history. This is a struggle that we`re still in today.
The coup plotters in the insurrectionists are still out there. And the GOP under Donald Trump`s thumb has positioned itself outside of the constitutional order. They don`t accept the validity of elections that don`t go in their direction. They`re tight -- they`re trying to trample the constitutional rights of the people, and they accepted violence as a legitimate element of what they call political discourse.
And that`s a terrifying breach of the general pact that political parties have had for a long time, which is that we operate within the bounds of non-violence and the rule of law.
HAYES: Congressman Jamie Raskin, as always, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
RASKIN: Thanks for having me, Chris.
HAYES: Still ahead, the DHS launches an effort to, what they say, fight disinformation. It`s announced and suspended all within three weeks. My exclusive interview with the expert tapped to lead that board and the online campaign that shut it down after this.
HAYES: So, we`ve been covering a lot of key elections this week, including the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania where we are still waiting to see if the Trump endorsed celebrity TV doctor will be declared the winner. There`s a wild story coming out of a smaller race in western Pennsylvania around Pittsburgh you probably have not heard about. It`s in the 12th congressional district where one lobbying group dumped millions of dollars to try to take down a Democratic candidate in that primary names Summer Lee.
Now with 99 percent of the vote in, the State Representative Lee is ahead by less than 500 votes. Last night, she all but declared victory although the race has not yet been called, as we wait for a small number of outstanding votes to be tallied.
Now, in October, Lee launched her campaign to fill the seat that was being vacated by retiring Congressman named Mike Doyle. And she do it with the support of the Justice Democrats. That`s the group that supported New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez first campaign among others.
And Lee maintained a significant lead in the polling all the way through April when the pro-choice group Emily`s List released a survey showing her head by 25 points. But then, a torrent of outside money started pouring in. and a huge amount of it came from the political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC called the United Democracy Project.
Now, the Intercept reports that in less than a month, the United Democracy Project poured more than $1 million into ads in Pennsylvania`s 12th district. The bulk of the messaging attacked Lee, though just over $100,000, meant to materials supporting her main challenger attorney Steve Irwin.
In total, listen to this number, United Democracy Project has spent more than $2.3 million in the race so far. $2.3 million in a random congressional primary in a race where the top two candidates spent under 1.4 million combined. And that`s as of last filing at the end of April.
And the United Democracy Project, which is a sort of anonymous sounding name, has been dumping enormous amounts of cash in other races too. The Washington Post reports that in Texas` 28th congressional district, "it is spent $1.2 million to help Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar defeat challenger Jessica Cisneros.
Last week, and the final weeks of a special election in Ohio`s 11th district, United democracy combined with other pro-Israel group, spent another half million on ads against progressive Democratic candidate Nina Turner.
Now, to be totally clear, there`s nothing illegal about this. In the -- in the 12 years, since the Supreme Court`s decision in the case called Citizens United, outside groups and corporations have been allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections.
Of course, the concern of those who oppose that Citizens United decision is that there`s just something fundamentally corrupting about a single entity spending at this scale and essentially becoming the dominant player in arrays. And it doesn`t matter who they are. It could be any group from the ethanol lobby to teachers unions.
If the candidate is elected where a group pours in $3 million or $2.5 million in a raise, right, it`s pretty clear that person who`s elected is pretty beholden, right? They`re incentivized to orient their public life around the fact that this particular interest group put them in office. And that`s precisely the kind of tacit quid pro quo issue that made Citizens United such terrible ruling and has wreaked so much havoc in our election system.
But there`s also something else I find insidious about this particular use of big money. Because you see, the United Democracy Project exists to bolster the United States relationship with the State of Israel. It`s the issue they care about is whether the U.S. is strong and unflinching in its supportive Israel.
And of course, there`s an active debate in Democratic policy circles about how staunchly supportive or critical we should be, depending on the actions of the Israeli government, particularly in Gaza on the occupied West Bank. But here`s the thing, crucially, that is not the issue that this PAC is engaging in when it gets involved in these races.
I mean, it`s the United Democracy Project, right, wants to spend millions of dollars running ads saying Summer Lee is critical of Israel, and we don`t think she should be, support Steve Irwin because he will stand by Israel. Well, then, you know, have at it. That`s democracy, at least in the Citizens United version. That`s sort of how it works now.
But the thing is, they recognize Israel is not the top issue for the voters in Pennsylvania`s 12th district. And so, what they did instead was launched an almost comically disingenuous attack claiming Lee is not a real Democrat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She calls herself a Democrat, but Summer Lee said she wanted to dismantle the Democratic Party, dismantle it, and she`s done everything in her power to do just that. When Joe Biden was running against Trump, Summer Lee attacked Biden`s character said he`d take us backwards.
And Lee refused to support Biden`s infrastructure plan that`s now rebuilding bridges and roads in western Pennsylvania. Summer Lee, more interested in fighting Democrats than getting results. UDP is responsible for the content of this ad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I mean, wild, right? So, here`s this group, UDP, you`ve never heard of. They`re saying like Summer Lee is bad because she`s not a real Democrat. We want authentic Democrats. But they don`t care who a real Democrat is. They care about whether Summer Lee is sufficiently supportive of Israel or not.
I mean, on the homepage of their own website, the United Democracy Project calls themselves "an organization comprised of American citizens, Democrats, Republicans and independents, united in belief that America`s partnership with our democratic ally, Israel, benefits both countries."
The spokesperson was exceedingly clear about their motivations in a recent statement of the Washington Post saying, "our goal is to build the biggest bipartisan coalition in Congress for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Again, that`s their stated goal. That`s what they care about. They care about that over everything else, the point where they have endorsed over 100 Republican candidates who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the insurrection.
And again, it`s a free country. That`s their right. They can support whoever they want, OK. But no one should be taking any lectures from them about who and who is not a real Democrat. We should all be really clear about what this is really about because it`s going to keep happening.
HAYES: In April, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a disinformation governance board. It would be an entity to work to combat the very real dangerous issue of disinformation online and elsewhere with a stated goal to "coordinate countering misinformation related to Homeland Security."
The woman appointed to lead that effort is a woman named Nina Jankowicz. She`s a former Disinformation Fellow at the Wilson Center, and the author of the book How to Lose the Information War, which is about international relations and disinformation.
But almost immediately after the announcement, a right-wing frenzy ensued helped along I think by the vaguely ominous title of the office, and she found herself on the receiving end of a concerted campaign by the very same forces disinformation her office would face now attacking her and undermining her credibility with wild conspiracy theories and lies.
It was so much that yesterday, DHS announced the formation of the office had been put on hold. And this morning Nina Jankowicz resubmitted her resignation. Tonight, she joins me for her first television interview.
Thanks for joining us. First, just to start at ground level, like, what was this thing that was announced and what was it going to do?
NINA JANKOWICZ, AUTHOR, HOW TO LOSE THE INFORMATION WAR: Well, Chris, it was going to do exactly what you said it. All these sensationalist narratives about what the board was -- what people thought the board was going to do are completely wrong. It was a coordinating mechanism. It was meant to, you know, make sure that the very large agency that is the Department of Homeland Security, that people were talking to each other within it.
So, let me give you an example. FEMA, the agency that handles disasters and environmental issues, would often counter misinformation about natural disasters. And let`s say, a foreign adversary like Iran or China, perhaps, would put out a narrative that says, oh, you know, here`s how you get out of this city, or here`s where you can find disaster aid.
And that could put people really into danger, their lives into danger. That`s the sort of disinformation and misinformation that we were looking to support the department in addressing to make sure that they had best practices, and most importantly, to protect Americans freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties and privacy while we were doing all of that work.
So, every characterization of the board that you`ve heard up until now has been incorrect. And frankly, it`s kind of ironic that the board itself was taken over by disinformation when it was meant to fight it.
HAYES: So, just to sort of give the argument on the other side, I mean, when I was watching this play out and I was watching the frenzy developed, right, I sort of was running this thought experiment of like, well, how would I feel back in, you know, 2005 under the Bush administration. The Bush administration had announced this thing with this title, right?
And they had appointed someone that I thought was, you know, a Republican or conservative and, you know, it felt like OK, well, here`s the use of the state, right, state power to patrol speech, were to claim things or disinformation that they don`t like. Like, what do you say to people that say, look, even if your intentions were good, or this was just bureaucratic, that even stepping into the zone poses some non-crazy alarms for folks that are concerned about that kind of thing?
JANKOWICZ: Well, I fully understand Americans concerns that they don`t want government involved in policing speech. And good news, this initiative wasn`t involved in policing speech, and neither was I. I think, you know, it is important that our government get involved when we have real threats to our national security.
So, it`s not just things like election interference, which we`ve seen in which DHS has combated also, but threats at the border, disinformation that is driving people to migrate here, disinformation that could affect critical infrastructure, like our financial systems and gas pipelines. All of that has very real effects for the safety of Americans.
And frankly, I think DHS and other federal agencies need to be involved because this problem isn`t going away. It`s only getting worse.
HAYES: Well, here`s -- so, let`s talk about combat because I think that word is interesting, right? Like, what does that mean, tangibly, right, if -- when you say combat disinformation, because obviously we`re having an incredibly intense meta debate about speech and platforms, regulation and moderation there, you know, of them. So, what is -- what is your vision or what would the board`s vision or anyone`s vision from a government perspective be to combat disinformation?
JANKOWICZ: A lot of the work that DHS has been doing for over a decade now is just about putting good information out there. Again, information about where Americans can seek disaster aid, information about where Americans can vote, information about the border not being open, for instance. So, that`s one thing that I had hoped that we would do.
And I`m also -- I`ve spent a lot of my career, you know, testifying both before Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle advising foreign governments about how to build resilience in populations. People need the tools to navigate today`s information environment. It`s incredibly overwhelming.
And so, I had hoped that we would do some creative programs to equip people with the tools they need to find that information in today`s information environment, not to say what was true or false. That was never the intention.
HAYES: One more question on this, and then I want to ask about your personal experience. But what`s -- how is disinformation -- I`m sorry. How is disinformation as a category different than just stuff that`s wrong, right? Because sometimes I think that term itself, like, it`s a little bit of a fuzzy boundary, right?
Like, people are wrong about lots of things. There`s lots of wrong stuff online. There`s wrong stuff said by people that I love. But why is it what is the category of disinformation that makes that distinct from wrong stuff?
JANKOWICZ: Yes, that`s a great question and something that often is mischaracterized as well. Disinformation is false or misleading information spread with malign intent. So, that`s when we have those bad actors, our foreign adversaries like China, Iran, maybe Russia spreading that stuff.
Misinformation is also harmful, but it`s when you know, Aunt Sally or Uncle John are spreading those rumors or conspiracy theories at the dinner table. It can have effects on people`s livelihoods and safety as well. But again, we were focused on disinformation, that disinformation spread with malign intent.
And that wasn`t anything to do with politics. It was again where disinformation crossed Homeland Security and the safety of the American people.
HAYES: That`s -- I think, it`s actually a really useful definitional distinction precisely to sort of put those at odds. Finally, we have about 90 seconds left. Like, I have watched this happen multiple times in my public life career. Van Jones when he was at the position of the White House, he was run out of office because he`d signed some petition and Shirley Sherrod who was an officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who said something wildly taken out of context.
Like, what was the experience of being the focal point of this sort of like, massive frenzy like over the last few weeks?
JANKOWICZ: Well, it was really overwhelming, Chris. I mean, frankly, you know, I have prided myself over my career of being a really nuanced, reasonable person. Again, as I said, I`ve briefed and advised both Republicans and Democrats. I admire some of the staffs that the Trump administration even took to combat disinformation, including Senator Rob Portman and his bill against deep fakes and, you know, funding the Global Engagement Center at the State Department.
So, to say that I`m just a part as an actor was wildly out of context. And then beyond that, it wasn`t just, you know, these mischaracterizations of my work, but it was death threats against my family. Over the last three weeks, I have had maybe had one or two days I didn`t report a violent threat, something like we`re coming for you and your family, you and your family should be sent to Russia to be killed, encouraged me -- of me to commit suicide.
All of those have been forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security`s security services. And you know that`s not something that is American. That is not how we should be acting when we have disagreements about policy in this country. I think we need to learn how to be adults in the room. And I don`t have time for that childishness. I`m not going to let it silence me. I`m going to go forward and continue building awareness about this threat in the future.
HAYES: All right, Nina Jankowicz, I`m very sorry that happened to you, really. And thank you for taking some time tonight. I really appreciate it.
JANKOWICZ: Thanks for having me.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. "MSNBC PRIME" starts now with Mehdi Hasan. Good evening, Mehdi.