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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, 8/22/22

Guests: Grace Segers, Marc Elias, Eric Swalwell, Ken Vogel


Donald Trump has finally issued a legal response in an attempt to stall the investigation into the allegedly classified material the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago by asking the court to appoint what`s called a special master. According to a brand new NBC News poll, the number one issue for Americans heading into the Midterms is not inflation, or the economy, but threats to democracy. Leonard Leo has now been handed $1.6 billion dollars in one of the largest single political donations in recorded history to further his right-wing vision. Herschel Walker is the Republican Trump-anointed candidate running for Senate in Georgia against incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Well, Elise Stafanik or someone else take it from them.

GRACE SEGERS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Well, I think that`s very dependent on whether he is endorsed by Donald Trump. But if he is not endorsed by Donald Trump, if Trump stays out of the race altogether, or God forbid, doesn`t endorse him someone else, then yes, I think that we could be seeing someone else.

REID: It could be Marjorie Taylor-Greene for all we know, Grace Segers, Kurt Bardella, thank you both very much. That`s tonight`s "REIDOUT". ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts now.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voiceover): Tonight on ALL IN.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Our democracy remains in danger. The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.

HAYES: As anti-democratic forces win elections and take power in state houses, tonight, new evidence that America is waking up to the reality.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We`re facing a moment where our democracy really is under attack and under threat.

HAYES: Then, Donald Trump files a new lawsuit, as he literally threatens the FBI in court documents and his supporters work up new excuses.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Every former president has access to their documents. That`s how they write their memoirs.

HAYES: Plus, new reporting on the most powerful man in American politics that you`ve never heard of, and his plans to spend $1.6 billion from a single conservative donor. And 78 days in the midterms, why Mitch McConnell`s concerns about candidate quality are rearing their head in Georgia.

HERSCHEL WALKER (R-GA), SENATE CANDIDATE: Our good air decided to float over to China`s bad air. So, when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. Two weeks after the FBI executed that search warrant on his Florida property, Donald Trump has finally issued a legal response, if you can call it that. Now, not surprisingly, the attempt here is to stall the investigation into the allegedly classified material the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago by asking the court to appoint what`s called a special master. That`s someone who would go through the seized documents to check if any are covered by executive privilege, although that in and of itself doesn`t make a ton of sense given the way that executive privilege works.

Nevertheless, lots of legal observers say this all may be too little too late. The case will be heard by Judge Aileen Cannon who was appointed by Trump supported by far-right Florida Senator Rick Scott before being confirmed by the Senate in the lame-duck period after Trump lost the 2020 election, during that period of time in which he was plotting to undo American democracy.

We don`t know how the challenge will shake out. But again, we see this time and time again. Trump is attempting to use the courts to use whatever he has at his disposal to wriggle out of accountability. And this case, particularly the ex-president being searched, right, it may be why the acute threat to our democracy seems to be really starting to sink in for the American people.

According to a brand new NBC News poll, the number one issue for Americans heading into the Midterms is not inflation, or the economy, it is threats to democracy. That right now ranking ahead of things like cost of living, jobs, and the economy. And I have to be totally honest, as someone who has been on the democracy beat now for years who covers it night and night on the show, I found that polling genuinely surprising. I mean, pleasantly surprising, but surprising.

And best I can figure, there`s a number of reasons why I think we`re seeing this issue pop now. A lot of the credit has to go to the excellent work of the January 6 Committee, which has painstakingly, very carefully, and rigorously detailed Trump`s attempted coup, the danger he poses for democracy going forward. Those hearings have been watched by millions upon millions of Americans, including at least 20 million from the very first hearing which to give you a sense of what that mean, that`s in line with major televised events like Sunday Night Football, the Macy`s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

There`s also the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland who was very quiet for a long time, which made a lot of sense given his role, but he has recently started to do his part too by explaining just how important and necessary the Department of Justice`s ongoing investigation into the coup attempt is.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: This is the most wide- ranging investigation and the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into. And we have done so because this represents -- this effort to upend a legitimate election transferring power from one administration to another cuts at the fundamental of American democracy. We have to get this right.


HAYES: Now, that`s an addition to what appears to be another DOJ investigation, of course, into Donald Trump, the one we just referenced a moment ago that of course led the execution of that search warrant on his Florida golf club two weeks ago. While that search was linked to the recovery of allegedly classified documents, the investigation itself and Trump`s public meltdown in response just, again, further reminds everyone what`s at stake here, right? It highlights how dangerous, how just wildly reckless, unacceptable. It would be to let this man this individual, once again, have access to the power of the American state and the levers of American democracy.

Earlier today, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was actually asked about this poll showing threats to Democracy is the number one issue among voters and said, "There were those who are trying to prevent the orderly transfer of power for the first time in American history and that was not good." All right, bold, bold claim. Agreed. "It was thwarted and I guess that`s had some impact on the poll you referred to, but look, I think we have a very solid democracy."

Now, that`s a hell of a thing to say given the number of election deniers running in Mitch McConnell`s party with his party`s backing for positions that would oversee elections in competitive races in swing states. For instance, Kristina Karamo, a 2020 poll watcher who back during 2020, spread baseless allegations about fraud in Michigan election including the untrue conspiracy theory that voting machines were changing the results of the election in favor of Joe Biden flipping votes, right? Totally wrong, wildly reckless, dangerous thing to say. She is now the de facto Republican nominee for Secretary of State in Michigan endorsed by Donald Trump, of course.

In Arizona, two election deniers have clinched the Republican nominations for high-profile positions that would oversee future elections. Kari Lake won the Arizona gubernatorial Republican nomination on the back of Trump`s endorsement again, which she earned by repeatedly spreading nonsense like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`ve called Joe Biden an illegitimate president. What does that mean?

KARI LAKE (R-AZ), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: He lost the election and he shouldn`t be in the White House. We had a corrupt election. The reason we have inflation high sky -- sky-high inflation, we can`t afford our gasoline, we can`t afford our groceries is because we had a rigged, stolen election. The facts are there. The forensic audit proves it.


HAYES: That`s all lies, completely lies. I mean, she has to know at this point they`re lies. Not only that, the forensic audit --remember that weird Republican thing where they were counting the ballots in that stadium and they were searching for bamboo -- came out to show that Joe Biden won the state of Arizona. Anyway, that sounds a lot like what makes fellow Arizona Republican, again, another Trump-endorsed nominee for Secretary of State Mark Finchem is also saying.


MARK FINCHEM (R-AZ), SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: I did not know that a little over a year ago, the act of standing up for you about a suspicious election that has since been proven to be irredeemably compromised would ignite a nation-wide populist movement to regain control over our government and to trigger my pursuit to be your next Secretary of State. Ladies and gentlemen, we know it and they know it. Donald Trump won.


HAYES: We do not, in fact, know it because it`s not true because Donald Trump lost by millions and millions of votes. And then there`s Doug Mastriano. That`s the Trump-endorsed Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania. He was in Washington during the insurrection on the steps of the Capitol. He was one of the plotters of the attempted coup, including the so-called now criminally-investigated fake electors scheme.


DOUG MASTRIANO (R-PA), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: When you have something that says the Dominie Voting System is intentionally and purposely designed with inherent errors to create systematic fraud and influence election results. And when you have 28 states that use that, including all the battleground states, we got a problem.

Governor Wolf didn`t look into any allegations and blew them off. Secretary of State Boockvar all the allegations of shenanigans. Our Attorney General, you know, declaring 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.


HAYES: Barrage of lies and lies and more lies. And again, none of that is true. The voting machines were not rigged. That guy spreading that executable nonsense, that dangerous nonsense, that nonsense that led people to storm, the capitol that led to people dying, to cops getting their heads bashed in on national television, that guy spreading that nonsense has a very real shot at being the next Governor of Pennsylvania.

Midterms historically favor the opposition party. All those candidates that we`ve just highlighted are running in close swing states that Donald Trump won once, that have elected statewide Republicans. They`re all just a stone`s throw away from overseeing elections, from being the person that signs the paper that says yes, this election was conducted fairly, yes, this is the final numbers.

And we`ve just given you the blow lights here. I mean, they`re not the only ones. According to Washington Post, "Across the battleground states that decided the 2020 vote, candidates who deny the legitimacy of that election have claimed nearly two-thirds of Republican nominations for state and federal offices with authority over elections."

Again, that`s just in the swing states, right, which are of particular concern for obvious reasons. But if you just look at swing states, you`re missing the whole story here because it doesn`t end there. Wyoming, right, Wyoming`s nominee for Secretary of State, the Republican nominee who will appear on the ballot in the fall is a guy named Chuck Gray who said this in a recent debate.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Representative Gray, yes or no, do you believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen?

CHUCK GRAY (R-WY), SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: There`s way more fraud in the margin of the election and that`s very clear. I think it was clear that it was rigged and that there was way more fraud in the margin of the election.


HAYES: That guy, way more fraud in the margin election, again, obviously false, completely false. He has essentially already won. He`s running unopposed. He`s the Republican nominee in the state, which means that guy saying that lie, that dangerous lie, that deadly lie, who spread those lies, will be overseeing Wyoming`s elections.

So, with candidates like this, it`s no wonder that Americans are worried about the safety of our democracy. And that is before we even get into the threats from Republicans both implicit, sometimes explicit, that the only thing that matters is power, that there`s no actual reality about who won the election or whether someone committed a crime or not. That all that matters is who wields power, that they are willing to wield that power, if elected against their enemies without mercy or remorse. Now, the people on the receiving end of that threat are rightfully waking up to just how serious it is.

Joining me now, Marc Elias, an expert on voting rights litigation, the founder of Democracy Docket where he recently wrote about the anti-voting groups threatening our democracy. Marc, let me first start on the on the polling as someone who obviously cares a lot about this, has devoted your career at this point to this. Are you, like I was, pleasantly surprised by this polling result?

MARC ELIAS, VOTING RIGHTS LAWYER: I am Chris. I`m pleasantly surprised but it`s not enough, you know. I`m glad that as we are getting closer to Election Day, Americans are waking up and realizing that the threat to democracy is real. And if we don`t fight it now, and we don`t defeat it now, we could lose our democracy for a generation or more.

So, while it`s great to see the numbers have jumped dramatically, there`s still a lot more to do. And the job you do on this show is essential.

HAYES: You -- one of the offices that we were talking about there, we talking about gubernatorial races, and some secretary of state races, of course, in other statewide election office that`s very important are attorneys general, and Democracy Docket has been looking at those. And there we find basically the same thing with Secretaries of State and gubernatorial nominees in Republican Party, which is a number of Republican nominees who are out and out, you know, essentially coup supporters, big lie spreaders, who are poised to be attorney general. How much does -- how important is that?

ELIAS: Oh, it`s critically important. And, you know, in some ways, we understated when we say, well, here are the Secretaries of State and here are the governors, and here are the members of Congress in our the state legislatures. It`s a party-wide problem among Republicans from the most local level to the -- to the highest level, they don`t support free and fair elections. They don`t support the person who got the most votes being certified the winner, so it`s an enormous problem.

With attorneys general, you know, remember, before the insurrection on January 6, 17 Republican attorneys general signed on to a brief to -- that was originally filed by Texas to throw out the election results in four states. That was the moment that I knew that the problem we had was not just about Donald Trump and some of his supplicants in Washington D.C., because the 17 attorneys general, they knew better and yet they went to the Supreme Court to disenfranchise four entire states.

And in that case, right, there`s a case where they`re filing something, right? So, they have to file and they went through the court, and it got up to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, that was rejected. But now, imagine them having the administrative function of certifying an election. I mean, one of the things we learned in 2020 is there`s an assumption of good faith amongst these officials, right? The numbers come in, and the person overseeing is the -- you know, the secretary state often says, yes, this is the tally. You know, it`s going to be hard to have faith or trust in that person dispatching that duty in good faith if they`ve gone around saying the 2020 election was rigged.

ELIAS: Yes, that`s really, really important part of the story here. I mean, after 2020, you know, my team and I beat Donald Trump and his allies in court more than 60 times. And the reaction from Republicans looking forward to 2022 is to do exactly as you said, is not necessarily just to engage in the courtroom but in the places where ballots are counted, the places where votes are certified. And you need to look no further than the situation in Pennsylvania where we have had a near-constitutional crisis, because several counties controlled by Republicans have simply refused to certify accurate primary election results.


And they didn`t simply not certify any results, right, you`d catch it if they didn`t certify any results. Instead, they certified incomplete results. And as you say, the system assumes good faith on the part of local election officials. And when they are instead of acting in good faith, they are acting to subvert the election results, it becomes very, very difficult to detect and to undo.

HAYES: Wait, say more about the Pennsylvania story.

ELIAS: Yes. So, what happened in Pennsylvania is people who had cast ballots by mail and had signed their ballots, these were eligible voters, they had done everything right except they had failed to put a date, handwritten date next to their signature. Now everyone in the state of Pennsylvania acknowledges that the date doesn`t matter. You could put a date in the past, you could put a date in the future, you could put your birth date, you could pick your anniversary date. But a federal court said, therefore, a undated ballot needed to count. It would violate the federal law not to count that. A state court said those ballots have to count. But yet --

HAYES: Right, because they`re postmarks. We know what date it was sent, right.

ELIAS: Oh, we know what day they`re received, because they`re postmarked and they`re logged by the county.

HAYES: Right, right, exactly.

ELIAS: So, the date literally plays no function in the -- in this process. And despite the fact that a federal court and a state court said these ballots have to be counted, several Republican-controlled counties simply didn`t count them in the results they certified to the state. Now, these are not rural red counties, these are counties with more than a million people. They just happen to be run by majority Republican election boards.

HAYES: Wow. And this is a great -- this point is really important too, because there`s no partisan advantage here, right? I mean, this is a primary within the Republican Party. It`s literally about like, the principle of the thing, right? Should you count the actual amount of legitimate votes or not, right? There`s not -- it`s not like some Democrats can make get into power. This is -- this is purely on the grounds of like, do you believe in democracy, do you believe in counting votes, do you believe on counting votes under the order of a court or not? And that`s a real warning system coming out of Pennsylvania.

Marc Elias who is on this full time, I appreciate you coming on tonight.

ELIAS: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: Coming up, two weeks after the FBI searched his retirement home, Donald Trump finally filed a motion in court threatening the people investigating. Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California joins me next.



HAYES: Today, exactly two weeks after the FBI search Donald Trump`s Mar-a- Lago residence, the ex-president is suing to temporarily block the FBI from reviewing documents seized from his home. The motion filed today asked a federal judge to appoint an independent special master to review materials seized by the government. The motion is 27 pages long. It asks the DOJ provide an inventory of property seized at Mar-a-Lago and that any material sees that were not within the scope of the search be returned.

It also contains the same openly threatening message that Trump had his lawyer apparently relayed to Justice Department lawyer on August 11 that reads, "President Trump wants the Attorney General to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid. If there was one word to describe their mood, it is angry. The heat is building up, the pressure is building up. Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know."

Congressman Eric Swalwell is a Democrat of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and he joins me now. Congressman, this sort of threat was reported I believe in the New York Times earlier, and now the president committing it to print in a court filing. What`s your reaction to that?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Merrick Garland Chris is not going to be threatened. That`s clearly the case here. This is a position it`s also clear he does not want to be in. But you know, the days of Donald Trump, you know, throwing his weight around or threatening the Department of Justice clearly are over. He doesn`t have Bill Barr or Whitaker or Jeff Sessions, you know, to do his bidding anymore.

But we Do you need a full accounting of one, most importantly, what documents did Donald Trump have that were top secret compartmentalized. Two, you know, were these documents given to other individuals? Who else had access where they digitized? I`m afraid that they also could have been, you know, uploaded into an online format. Three, we know Donald Trump interacts often with foreign nationals, you know, were they given or passed around or did foreign nationals have access to them? And then why, Chris, why did he have these documents?

They say that -- my colleagues on the Intel Committee on the Republican side say it`s for his memoir. Donald Trump just published a picture book. He`s not writing a memoir, so the why is also very important here.

HAYES: Yes. I`ll play Mike Turner who who has been going around sort of defending the president and making that point. Take a listen.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What use could a former president have four classified or top secret information once he`s left office? Why bring it home with him to Florida?

TURNER: Well, I don`t know. I mean, you have to ask him, but certainly we all know that every former president has access to their document. That`s how they write their memoirs. They don`t have access -- you know, great recall of everything that`s occurred in the administration.


HAYES: I should note, that`s, again, Mike Turner on the House Committee, your colleague on the committee. The New York Times, apparently, just reporting just now to your point about the number of the scope of this. There were 300 classified documents apparently at Mar-a-Lago which again, I think --


HAYES: Yes, what do you make of that number?

SWALWELL: I mean, that`s a lot. And just for your viewers sake, the reason that they`re marked Top Secret means that it often relates to force protection for our troops. So, information about where our troops are that we would not want anyone to know because it could put them in harm`s way. It could relate to our nuclear posture or the nuclear posture of our adversaries. It could relate to the technical means that we use to collect information to protect our troops and to protect Americans, or the work that we`re doing to combat terrorism.

And so, 300 pages, you know, just, you know, a basement, stairway away in an open, you know, beach house is not where you would want that information, especially in the hands of somebody who President Biden deemed should not even be able to receive classified information.

HAYES: There were some reporting earlier today, that the Gang of Eight, which is a group of people that have special intelligence oversight duties under statute wanted to be briefed essentially on the Mar-a-Lago documents. And your colleague, Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the chair of that Intel Committee seemed to knock that down today. I want to play what he said and get your reaction.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There was a report that the Gang of Eight requested a briefing on the affidavit or the other materials. There`s no request that I`m aware of that has come from us individual members of the Gang of Eight have expressed interest in learning more.


HAYES: Are you confident that folks can be trusted, your colleagues can be trusted with a briefing such as this, given some evidence that, for instance, in the past, I believe Richard Burr is said to have, you know, filled the White House in after a confidential FBI briefing?

SWALWELL: No, I`m very concerned that my Republican colleagues have showed themselves that if they`re given classified information, they will use it to protect -- they`ll manipulate what it is or they`ll pervert the information to protect Donald Trump. And so, I think what Mr. Schiff was probably alluding to was, you know, if this is an active ongoing investigation, of course, as custodians of classified information and an individual branch of government, we want to know what the battlefield assessment is of where it went. We also don`t want to jeopardize an independent investigation.

And by the way, Chris, all of the moves that have taken place as it relates to this investigation have been at the request of Donald Trump. The FBI didn`t publicize the search. Donald Trump was the one that acknowledged the search. The FBI was not the one that said let`s make all this public. Donald Trump said, this should all be public, and so, Merrick Garland and the DOJ said fine. And now it`s Donald Trump who wants the affidavit to be out there. So, every damaging piece of information that hurts Donald Trump is that his own request.

HAYES: Congressman Eric Swalwell who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you very much.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Still ahead, there`s a reason South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem did most of the talking in her endorsement of Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker.


GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): I`ll tell you what, the guy he`s running against is one of the biggest instigators. We need to take him out. Herschel is the guy. He knows how to win.

WALKER: He votes with Biden, I vote with by voters.

NOEM: Herschel is for you. Vote for Herschel.


HAYES: How this uniquely unqualified candidate could hinder Republican`s ability to retake the Senate next.



HAYES: Leonard Leo, he`s possibly the most powerful person in America who almost no one knows about. If I were to draw a Venn diagram of who`s the most powerful person with the least name recognition, the person in the middle of those circles is Leonard Leo. Now, maybe you`ve heard of him. He is the longtime vice president of the conservative legal organization, the Federalist Society, whose mission he once described as creating a kind of conservative pipeline to take over the courts.

Leo has referred to himself as a quote leader of the conservative legal movement and he is not wrong. He`s played a key role in putting all six of the current conservative justices on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

In 1990, Leo began his career as a clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. where he met and became close friends with then appellate judge Clarence Thomas. The following year, Leo was hired as one of the first paid employees the Federalist Society, although he delayed his start there to help Thomas through his Supreme Court confirmation.

As the Washington Post puts it in a 2019 investigative piece, "At the Federalist Society, Leo took a leading role in the conservative legal movement, part of the burgeoning effort to counter the influence of the 1960s and liberals on education, law, and politics." That effort ramped up when George W. Bush was elected. Leo became an outside adviser to the Bush White House on judicial nominations.

He organized the campaigns around John Roberts and Samuel Alito`s nominations to the court, both of which of course, were successful. They landed up on the court. During the Bush years, Leonard Leo also developed a reputation, a well-earned one, as a conservative money man as the Post reports. And he expanded that role even after President Obama took office, especially in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United ruling which opened the door for unlimited corporate spending and politics.


Of course, the irony being that Leonard Leo himself helped bring about that awful ruling by putting several conservatives who voted for it on the court itself. He was in a position to reap the rewards by doing a lot of fundraising through these new channels that the court had just signed on to. He`s ultimately a big part of why we are now seeing enormous unprecedented sons of nearly untraceable money sloshing through our politics.

But that`s not his only. He wants the court to roll back all sorts of key rights. He is largely responsible, for instance, for the destruction of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County versus holder ruling. And if there`s one single man, I really mean this, sort of aside I would say from Donald Trump, one single man most responsible for Roe v. Wade being overturned, it`s him. It is Leonard Leo.

It was his six justices whose vetting and nominations and confirmations he all shepherded, who all voted to gut reproductive rights. When you see the news about a 10-year-old, forced to flee her state terminate a pregnancy from her rapist, think about Leonard Leo as the man who brought that state of affairs about. He is the guy pulling the strings in the background, and yet, no one really even knows his name.

Months before Donald Trump was elected, Leo was already shaping Trump`s Supreme Court nominations. Listen to how he describes this meeting with Trump in March of 2016.


LEONARD LEO, CO-CHAIRMAN, THE FEDERALIST SOCIETY: He had an idea he wanted to float which was what do you think of having me put out a list of people who I would pick from for the U.S. Supreme Court? Now, this was a little bit of a radical idea. No candidate ever tried it before. I set about to suggest to him names of people who would be appropriate for that kind of a list.


HAYES: Right? You think about how all this works, right? Scalia is dead, the vacancy is not being filled by Mitch McConnell who says under no circumstances they fill it. So, there`s this opening and everyone knows if Donald Trump becomes the president, conservatives will get a nominee on the court. And he says to Leonard Leo, I should do a list and Leo says I`ll give you the list.

He then went on to become President Trump`s judicial advisor. He got lifetime Supreme Court nominations for three people on his list Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. They have already eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion. They have tried to kneecap the EPA`s climate regulation, radically expanded gun access and on and on. We can only imagine what they may do in the years to come. This last term was the most consequential right-wing term many say in 70 or 80 years perhaps ever.

Again, I know it sounds a little weird to ascribe this one basically anonymous dude all this power but it really is true. And don`t take it for me. Two of Leonard Leo`s longtime close friends, Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni Thomas have spoken publicly about his vast influence.


GINNI THOMAS, WIFE OF CLARENCE THOMAS: Leonard Leo has single handedly changed the face of the judiciary under the auspices of Ed Meese and many of the people who started the Federalist Society. He has many hats. That isn`t even all he does. He doesn`t really tell all that he does, but I know enough to know the man is a force of nature.

LEO: It`s great to have you here today.

CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Well, thank you. You know, Leonard, since you`re the number three most powerful person in the world, we have --

LEO: Right. God help us. God help us.


HAYES: Now in context, that`s a tongue-in-cheek joke, but only a half joke. Now, get this. This same guy, Leonard Leo, who is one of the most powerful people in the world, who operates largely out of the spotlight, he has now been handed $1.6 billion dollars in one of the largest single political donations in recorded history to further his right-wing vision. The details of this story just under today are shocking. We`ll talk to one of the reporters who dug it up next.



HAYES: It`s sometimes been hard to tell if the amount of danger our democracy has gotten through to the public at large. We`re seeing new evidence Americans understand that they are and they are rightly concerned. As we mentioned, that new NBC News poll released over the weekend found that voters ranked threats to democracy is the number one most important issue facing the country. And while all this attention now focused on safeguarding American democracy, perhaps more important than ever to know who is working to while undermining.

Leonard Leo is one of those people, I think it`s fair to say. He`s the most powerful person in the country you have likely never heard of.



LEO: The idea was really to create a pipeline, to create a pipeline that started in law school and then collided into the legal profession by building a network or infrastructure of people around the country who could influence the major power centers have our legal culture.


HAYES: And they`ve been very successful. And the world we have today is partly born of their success, largely born of his success. As the New York Times reports, that guy who`s creating that pipeline now has $1.6 billion at his disposal to use however he likes.

Ken Vogel is reporter for the New York Times, one of the reporters who broke that story, and he joins me now. Ken, I read the story two or three times when it was published this morning, because I just never encountered anything like it. So, just describe to us who donated this money and how.

KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it was a very unusual transaction, Chris, the likes of which I have not seen in my years of covering money in politics where in this donor, his name is Barry Side, he was the owner, complete owner of an electrical device manufacturing company. He donated 100 percent of the shares of that company to a new nonprofit, a dark money nonprofit that Leonard Leo set up, which then took custody of the company essentially and sold the company to another company. The proceeds of which were about $1.6 billion dollars.

And so, the nonprofit was able to get -- essentially reap the proceeds of that without paying capital gains taxes which he would have had to have paid if he would have sold the company directly and then tried to donate the money to this new nonprofit. So, it gave them this really huge unprecedented kitty to an unknown nonprofit group that is part of a network, a larger network of groups that Leonard Leo has formed and cultivated in the last few years to try to influence not just the judiciary, but politics in a broader way, pushing for conservative issues on things -- pushing for the conservative stance on issues like voting rules, abortion rights, you know fighting efforts to combat climate change. So, it really puts them at the center, a kingmaker as we termed it in our story.

HAYES: Just to be clear, this -- so this -- have you -- have you ever encountered a transaction of this nature before?

VOGEL: So, we have seen instances where major donors have given shares of companies, not usually companies they own but companies where they have a lot of money worth of shares, and then the nonprofit can do with it what it wants. And some of the same tax implications are in play there. But never a company, a full company, large company being donated to a nonprofit, no.

HAYES: And this happened in March of 2021, right? Like, how did you -- would this had been public if you and other reporters didn`t sniff this out? Like, how do we -- how did you find out about it? How do we know about it?

VOGEL: No, it would not have been public. These groups, you know, they`re dark money groups. They`re called that for a reason. They don`t have to report a lot of money -- a lot of information about their donors or any information about their donors. They don`t have to report much information about their finances, including how they spend the money.

And so, what this group did report on its mandatory tax filings, all nonprofits have to release public tax filings. It reported that it received 100 percent of the shares of a company. It didn`t identify what the company was, and then that it reaps $1.6 billion from selling the shares of the company. And so, we through our reporting, we`re able to determine what that company was and who the owner was, and a little bit more about Leonard Leo`s relationship with this donor, the owner of the company.

HAYES: And just to be clear, again, now this money is sitting there presumably and can be used, again, thanks to basically the jurisprudence that came Out of Citizens United and subsequent holdings by this court to do whatever you want in any kind of political campaign or essentially entirely unregulated fashion?

VOGEL: Yes, I mean, there are some rules that say that these nonprofit groups have to be engaged primarily in social welfare activities. But what that means, but what social welfare activities means, and what primarily means are very much open to interpretation. And smart political lawyers, including those that are paid by this group who Leonard Leo works with closely, these lawyers have found ways to spend a lot of money on, you know, one things that looked, you know, from the lay perspective like they`re just political advertising or political advocacy.

HAYES: And it is all, we should say, essentially tax-subsidized, right? I mean, there`s an enormous tax savings here, but these are essentially subsidized by the federal government which does not tax them. They are tax- exempt organizations.

VOGEL: Yes, that`s right. And they`re certainly criticisms of which we include in our story of transactions like this as allowing wealthy folks to save money on taxes and spend more money influencing the political process. I should also say that that is one of the real strengths of Leonard Leo is that it`s not just that he has been so sophisticated in shaping the federal judiciary and other aspects of the conservative movement. It`s that he over the years because of his effect in this has cultivated this network of donors like this battery side guy who are willing to give him huge sums of money as we see in this transaction that further enhances power.

HAYES: Well, I would just say from a small D democratic perspective, $1.6 billion should buy a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Ken Vogel, thank you very much.

VOGEL: Pleasure.

HAYES: Still to come, in a year with plenty of questionable candidates, how one man can undermine the Republican Party`s ability to retake the Senate? That`s next.



HAYES: Herschel Walker is the Republican Trump-anointed candidate running for Senate in Georgia against incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. And Walker is running one of the most bizarre campaigns in recent memory. I got to say, he`s staying away from most of the press instead appearing on far right outlets or exclusively a private events, often close the press. And when you see it, somebody has say, it just becomes very clear why.


WALKER: So, you hold these companies that many go to hire someone, they hire the right person, not what did the president did,-I want a vice president to get that`s going to be a black woman. You know what, like, why don`t you get the best person for the job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why don`t you get the best person?

WALKER: Because if you get someone that`s not ready, he`s going to make the whole everybody look bad. But now she may say that she`s not a Black now. She may be somebody else today. That`s the problem we have is we don`t know what people are doing today. And her job was the border.

People in Atlanta, they have nothing to run out. Right now, they can stand behind the policies that they`re -- that they voted for. And my message is, I want to bring this the economy down. I want to bring the gas price down, bring the grocery prices down, try to solve some of the crime out on the street.

I promise you this, Russia and China isn`t worried on how you identify. And I can promise you this, Russia and China is not thinking about choice in a tank out in the desert.


HAYES: That guy is running against one of the most unique and thoughtful individuals with a fascinating and complex background ever to occupy a desk in the U.S. Senate. Senator Raphael Warnock. Yet the race is basically a dead heat. Warnock ahead in the average of polls by less than two points, which is well within the typical margin of error. So, how is this playing with Georgia voters?

Charles Blow is an opinion columnist for the New York Times where he has written about Herschel Walker being the worst Trump-approved candidate. He`s also a resident of Atlanta, Georgia. So, all this hits close to home. Charles, it`s great to have you. I`ve seen you`ve written about this race. I am curious through the lens of folks in Georgia what this race looks like as we head towards the crunch time in the fall.

CHARLES BLOW, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you`re exactly right. It is neck and neck. But the parameters are the reasons why it is neck and neck is very clear to the people who I know in Georgia, right? So, a coalition led by black people elected not only a Black senator but also a Jewish one. And that coalition delivered the Georgia to Democrats on the presidential level for the first time in 30 years.

It was a seismic event in Georgia. Georgia was one of the first country -- was the first states to rush into their state house to try to suppress the vote and change that as best they can. All you need to shave off is a few percentage points. And then Donald Trump being as the basis that he is basically said if they elected a Black man, I have a Black man.

Any Black man will do. He chose Herschel Walker. He endorsed them. The Republican Party and the cultist around Donald Trump refused to block him, so they knew that Herschel Walker was a bit of a problem, but they wouldn`t run ads against it. They wouldn`t say much of anything. So, Herschel Walker basically cruises to the nomination to become the Republican candidate who would go up against Raphael Warnock.

Now, the other thing that`s important to remember is that it gives people a shield. Herschel Walker is a blank slate in every way that those words can apply to anyone. He will say and do whatever they want him to do. But what it allows voters in Georgia to do who have advanced these very racist policies of voting disenfranchisement, drawing away Black representative seats and making them compete against other people, it allows him to say, yes, but I`d vote for the other Black guy, so I cannot be supporting a racist policy. I cannot be racist myself.

We saw this before. You know, do not forget that Herman Cain led for a while in a race to replace Barack Obama. And we had a second Black candidate who led in 2022 -- the 2020 -- I`m sorry, 2016 election. So, people do this, they respond -- they reflexively go to the candidate who looks like the people that they`re trying to oppress, because it gives them a shield against -- the against the accusation that they`re trying to a press. So that is what`s playing out.

Everybody knows, Herschel Walker is not a smart guy. Everybody knows Herschel Walker cannot do this job. But what you see is ultimate tribalism and ultimate shield making out of Herschel Walker by people who want to replace by all means Raphael Warnock.

HAYES: Yes, we should know that to your point that to the extent that we have data on this Black voters among a fairly recent July survey, are favoring Raphael Warnock 86 to five which I would imagine is around where we`re going to end up on election day when all is said and done, but it really is. It is a strange spectacle to watch I got to say. It really is.

Charles Blow, thank you as always for joining us. I appreciate it.

BLOW: Absolutely.

HAYES: That is ALL IN on this Monday night. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.