The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 8/16/17 Nazi update

Guests: Sherrilyn Ifill, William Bell

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 16, 2017 Guest: Sherrilyn Ifill, William Bell

FERNAND AMANDI, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: -- prominent, never Trump Republicans would get crushed in a primary. Unfortunately, this is the Republican Party, or the Republic Klan party I said early that exists today. And until we see patriots --

GIANNO CALDWELL: So similar to the Democrats with institution --

(CROSSTALK)

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Hold on, one at a time.

AMANDI: -- and denounce this president. Not his words, denounce him by name. The president is the purveyor of hate. The president is the nation`s number one national security threat because his words have opened a Pandora`s Box that will hurt Americans.

REID: I wish we had more time. We have to end it here. We`ll try to do this again. Gianno Caldwell, Fernand Amandi, thank you both for being here tonight. I appreciate it.

That is all we have for "ALL IN" this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: There is smoke coming down the hall!

REID: Whoo! Fire!

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Is that a fire alarm? Or is that Joy`s show?

REID: If it`s a fire alarm, it`s going to ruin my hair with the sprinklers. Getting out of here. Have a great show.

MADDOW: Thank you, Joy. I appreciate it, man.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It is a weird time in the news right now. It`s a weird time in American life honestly. We`re keeping an eye on a few different stories that have been cooking today and stories that are still continuing to develop tonight. There is a story that has just broken in the last few minutes that I need to tell you about.

Just moments ago, we learned from "The New York Times" that the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia investigation has just done something you would not expect from a person who has that particular job. I mean, mostly you would expect somebody in that job to be busy, right?

Even if one of the things that had maybe hurt you, or been a distraction in your professional life, was that you were like a controversy magnet, you were known for sticking your foot in your mouth whenever you had the opportunity to, you`d think being the president`s lead lawyer on a scandal as big and threatening as the Russia investigation, would actually cure that problem for you, right?

You would be protected from getting involved in other unrelated controversies, just because you`d be buried in work. You`re leading the president`s defense on the biggest national security scandal to ever afflict any American president. You`d be too busy to get in trouble, right? You`d think.

The president`s lead lawyer on the Russia scandal today apparently had some extra time on his hands, and he decided to use that extra time to forward this information to a number of journalists.

Quote: you cannot be against General Robert E. Lee and be for General George Washington. There literally is no difference between the two men.

John Dowd`s e-mail also said that the group Black Lives Matter, quote: has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups. Again, this was sent out today by the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia investigation.

Now, he`s not to be confused with the guy who started out as the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia investigation. Marc Kasowitz started off as the lead guy for the president. He ended up making national news for threatening random strangers over e-mails saying things like, watch your back, b -- the thing that rhymes with ditch.

Marc Kasowitz since his all-night, late night e-mail storm threatening random strangers has since basically disappeared. Although nobody will just come out and say he`s no longer part of the president`s Russia legal team.

The president also put a well-known Christian rights lawyer on his Russia legal team. And although we don`t know exactly what his role is on the Russia team, he spent much time on the FOX News Channel talking about everything from North Korea to Hillary Clinton, that it`s also hard to believe that he`s spending a ton of hard working hours actually crafting the president`s Russia defense. And in fact, when he has actually talked about the president`s Russia defense, it has not gone very well.

So, you know, if you were the only president of the United States to ever face a serious special counsel-led, FBI counterintelligence investigation while you were in office, you would want to make sure that you have the best lawyers on earth, right? Working harder than any lawyers have ever worked on anything, right? You would think.

This president`s legal team on the Russia issue is this guy, Jay Sekulow, who argues like Ten Commandments cases, and spends all day, every day on FOX News. Also, the incredible disappearing Mr. Watch-your-back. Also, there`s John Dowd, who is apparently now as of today spending his time e- mailing out pro-Confederacy musings to journalists and friends. That`s according to Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo in this "New York Times" story that just posted tonight.

Reporters apparently called John Dowd for comment after they got his pro- secessionist email. Here`s how they described that quest for comment. Quote, in a brief telephone interview, Mr. Dowd told "The Times", you`re sticking your nose in my personal e-mail? People send me things. I forward them. He then hung up. End quote.

Now, to be fair, we do not know why the president picked John Dowd to run his legal team on the Russia investigation. But from our perspective as Americans, just watching the scandal unfold and wondering about the president`s legal representation here, from our perspective, knowing he picked John Dowd to lead that team, no matter what the president sees in him, we probably should have seen this coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: CNBC caught up with Mr. Dowd just a short time ago.

REPORTER: Do you have a comment for CNBC, though?

JOHN DOWD, ATTORNEY: Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here.

REPORTER: OK.

DOWD: That`s what I`ve got for CNBC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was Mr. Dowd`s previous, most high-profile case, when his client was not only convicted, but given the longest sentence ever in an insider trading case. He`s now leading the president`s legal team and he`s now sending secessionist e-mails to reporters.

So that happened. We`re going to post a link to this new "New York Times" story that just posted. If you`re ever going to be a United States president who`s under FBI investigation, maybe this should be something to study in terms of putting together your legal team.

At a time of intense anxiety about this presidency, one of the things we`re going to be reporting on tonight is some unusual movements by the vice president. I don`t think anybody`s expecting President Trump to resign imminently, or to, you know, try to flee the country or do anything dramatic, but things are weird enough right now for this presidency that the vice president making dramatic and unexplained changes in his schedule, that has people a little bit on edge. We`re going to have more on that ahead coming up in just a moment.

The president, of course, lost his manufacturing advisory council today. He also lost his strategic and policy forum, whatever that was. Neither of these groups appear to have ever done anything substantive. The manufacturing council, for example, never once met.

But as of today, those groups of CEOs and business leaders who are supposedly advising the president, those groups are gone now, after CEOs started to peel off and leave. And the president then scrambled to disband the groups before they could further embarrass him by continuing to drop out one by one. So, we`ve been watching that drama unfold today, as this president who very much wants to be seen as a business leader, loses the highest profile business leader window dressing that the White House had set up for him.

I will tell you, though, that pursuant to that story about the CEOs all quitting those advisory groups, the prevailing feeling right now in many newsrooms across this country is a feeling that we`re all waiting for the other shoe to drop. This piece led Politico.com all day today. And I actually think it`s pretty emblematic of what a lot of people in the news business are watching right now and wondering right now.

I mean, all these White House sources are professing to reporters anonymously that they feel uneasy about being associated with this president after his remarks this week. People keep telling reporters they are wrestling with the president`s remarks praising white supremacists. White House staffers are telling reporters that they were startled by the president`s remarks.

What the president is doing now, and how he`s behaving on this issue, it`s being described as an intensely awkward thing, even for the most senior people at the White House. OK. Therefore, naturally, everybody`s been expecting that people will start to resign, right? Either they`ll resign explicitly in protest to the president aligning himself with nationalists, or at least people will resign in a less brave way and just say they want to spend more time with their cat or whatever. I mean, that`s the expectation.

But so far, there have been no resignations from the administration, from people who have actual jobs there at least. This make work window dressing advisory board is hollowed out, but that`s it. In terms of people actually working in the administration, apparently everybody is fine, nobody is leaving. They`re all OK with it.

I mean, so honestly, like everybody else, we are watching and wondering about whether there are going to be any White House or administration resignations. There`s a lot of noise out there in the administration of people in the White House saying how bad they feel about how the president`s behaving. But anybody stepping up and resigning because of it, honestly, I think people thought that would happen today, and it did not happen today.

We`re monitoring some very interesting signs of dissent against the president, though, from the top brass of the military. That`s an interesting thing. We`re going to have more on that ahead tonight. And that is a thorny constitutional issue.

We`re also keeping an eye on an increasingly high-profile bid by Democrats to convince their Republican colleagues to at least censure the president for the remarks that he made on white nationalism this week. We`re going to have more on that ahead tonight as well.

But I want to -- I want a foreground tonight a different type of personnel change. One that is an actual surprise, and is potentially an important signal on the team of prosecutors and investigators who are working on the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller. You`ll remember that Robert Mueller got the job of being special counsel, running the special counsel investigation in May of this year.

But we also know from congressional testimony from former CIA chief John Brennan and fired FBI Director James Comey, that the Bob Mueller special investigation didn`t just start this May when Robert Mueller got named special counsel. The nut of that investigation, the core of it started last year. The FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Russian attack on our election and whether or not the Trump campaign helped with that attack, or was involved in that attack. They opened that investigation all the way back last year, last summer.

The CIA director said his agency had seen enough information about unexplained contacts and communication between Trump associates and representatives of the Russian government, that they convened a task force last summer to look into it, and the result was the FBI opening their counterintelligence investigation. Last year. Last July.

Well, when the FBI set up that investigation last year, last July, they reportedly put in charge of it, put as the supervisor of that investigation, the chief of the FBI`s counterespionage section. He was in charge of supervising the investigation. His name is Peter Strzok, I think that`s the way you say his last name, Strzok.

According to previous reporting in "The New York Times," he`s an experienced FBI supervisor. He worked on some of the FBI`s most secret investigations involving Chinese spying, and Russian spying in the United States. So, he`s not only a high-ranking FBI official, he has the FBI job that you would most like to have if you`re a fan of that TV show, the Americans. This is like the really sexy counterespionage part of the FBI.

Counterespionage means that you work to thwart other countries in their efforts to spy here in the United States. So, you try to find foreign agents operating here. You try to find Americans who have wittingly or unwittingly been turned, or are being used by foreign governments who are operating espionage operations here in the U.S. and this senior FBI officer, he had reportedly risen in the ranks of the FBI to become the lead guy at the FBI section that tries to find and uproot all foreign spying operations here in the United States.

So, he`s got the job that they make movies about, right? Obviously it`s a very important job, sensitive job. Everything that happens in that part of the FBI is very secret, for obvious reasons. And I think because of that, we don`t actually know a lot about him.

Even with the last name as Google-able as this -- his last name is S-T-R-Z- O-K. I think it`s pronounce Strzok. I don`t know exactly. Forgive me if I`m getting that wrong.

But even a name that Google-able, there`s very little you can find out about Peter Strzok in the public record. I mean, there is that "New York Times" reporting that says he ran sensitive, secretive operations against Russian and Chinese espionage. We know from some of the deep journalistic dives into what happened with the FBI in last year`s election, that he was involved in the high level of the FBI`s investigation into Hillary Clinton, using a private e-mail server when she was secretary of state.

After that Clinton investigation got wrapped up, Mr. Strzok got put in charge of the FBI`s investigation into the Russian attack on the election. And that crucial question of whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in it. He was the FBI supervisor coordinating Russia investigation, that started last summer. That ran through the fall, that ran through the election, that ran into the New Year, and was finally disclosed to the public in the spring.

The FBI first publicly confirmed that open counterintelligence investigation in March. When James Comey testified about it to Congress. And we all know what happened next, right? Within a matter of weeks after that testimony, James Comey himself was fired.

The FBI reportedly opened yet another investigation into whether Comey`s firing might have been an effort to obstruct justice on the part of the president. Very quickly thereafter, Robert Mueller was named special counsel and he was put in charge of all of it. Bob Mueller quickly rolled up all these different ongoing investigations that were related to the Russia matter or the Trump campaign. He put them all under the purview of his special investigation.

He rolled up the investigation of Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, which had already produced grand jury subpoenas for financial and business information related to Flynn and his company. Mueller took that investigation over. Mueller also took over the ongoing investigation into Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, an investigation that also had already produced subpoenas from a federal grand jury.

Robert Mueller also absorbed that relatively new obstruction of justice inquiry that the FBI started after James Comey was fired. And, of course, Robert Mueller absorbed the big one, the big Russia inquiry that the FBI started last summer into the Russian attack, and the Trump campaign`s possible collusion with that attack. Well, that inquiry, that Russia part, right, the nut of the investigation, that was reportedly being run by Peter Strzok, head of the counterespionage section at the FBI.

Or at least he was the head of the counterespionage section at the FBI. Today, ABC News reports today that Peter Strzok not only isn`t running the Russia part of the investigation anymore, ABC is reporting that he is no longer part of the Mueller inquiry at all. And according to ABC, while Mr. Strzok might have previously run the counterespionage section at the FBI, now they report he`s working in human resources.

And nothing against human resources, but what happened there? I mean, that was like you were the principal, and now all of a sudden, you`re working in the cafeteria. What happened there?

I mean, this is a -- this is a single report from ABC news. Other news outlets today have echoed this reporting. But nobody`s independently confirmed it.

We contacted the special counsel`s office today to see if they would either confirm or deny this reporting from ABC or give us any comment on it, tell us anything about Peter Strzok`s role in the investigation and whether it continues. Why it might have changed this dramatically, as ABC is reporting that it did. Special counsel`s office would not talk to us about it at all.

If this is true, though, this should be -- I guess this could be the first indication of trouble, or at least bumps in the road when it comes to the Robert Mueller inquiry. And I would love to tell you more about what this means. I would love to tell you whether or not this really indicates that there`s something wrong inside the Mueller investigation. I`d love to give you any further information about this strange new piece of news that I could. But I can`t, because the one thing I can confirm is that the Mueller investigation is not very leaky, at least not to us, or to anybody that we know, or work with.

We squeeze, we cajole, we needle, we really can`t get anything out of them at all, even when a competing news organization has put out a very provocative report. So, we will wait to find out more.

"The New York Times" this morning did report that the FBI investigation being led by Robert Mueller, it might have its first actual human witness for the Russian side of the Russian attack on the election. It`s a Ukrainian hacker. He`s a guy who produces code and malware and hacking tools and sells them online.

He does not appear to have wittingly worked with the Russian government in their attack on the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign last year. But apparently, some of his code is what the Russian military intelligence unit that carried out the attack, it`s what they used as their weapon to attack the DNC. Well, the guy who created that weapon, the guy who created that code, he`s now reportedly working with Ukrainian officials, and more or less cooperating with the FBI in their investigation.

And that`s important, because that`s apparently the first time they`ve had a human material witness for the technical part of the Russian government`s hacking attack. Their effort to hack into and steal information from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and turn it back to the American public, in a way that was designed to help Donald Trump.

And while that news about that cooperating witness is interesting, in terms of how that Mueller investigation is unfolding, what they`ve got to work with, it turns out it also comes with a stark and somewhat stomach-churning reminder of why there`s a real sense of urgency to this investigation. Not just to make sure justice is done, and people are brought to account for that Russian attack, and we all come to know if there are American Confederates in our midst or in our government who knowingly helped with that Russian attack, that all gives it some urgency.

But the other reason there`s a real sense of urgency to getting this thing done, to getting this investigation followed to the end, is because it does not appear, it really doesn`t appear that the Russian attack is over.

And we`ve got some disturbing new information about that today, and that story`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The Russian military intelligence unit that carried out the DNC hack? That group is nicknamed Fancy Bear. And they`re apparently still working now, this summer, still against us, the American public, still on behalf of Donald Trump`s interests.

Right after we learned last month about the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump`s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his campaign chair Paul Manafort and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, along with all those various Russians who are promising Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton, right after we learned about that Trump Tower meeting, you might remember that the Trump White House launched kind of a PR counteroffensive to try to blunt the impact of that news.

And a little bit of it was defense. They tried to excuse the meeting, dismiss it as no big deal. Remember, they kind of argued that, oh, anybody would have taken that meeting. It`s common political practice. Everybody always takes oppo research on their political enemies like Putin.

Who among us doesn`t tap the Russian government whenever we need dirt on a fellow American, right? They did a little bit of a defense. But the Trump White House hates playing defense as much as anybody in politics.

And so, alongside that kind of sad defense, they also simultaneously launched a counteroffensive, in which they claimed actually, that the real scandal, the real foreign collusion was done by Hillary Clinton. It was the Hillary Clinton campaign that colluded with a foreign power. I`m rubber, you`re glue.

White House officials, the president`s Russian legal team, multiple shows on the FOX News Channel, the White House spokesperson speaking from the briefing room, they all started echoing this same counterclaim that there was no collusion scandal involving the Trump campaign in Russia, the real scandal was Hillary Clinton colluding with the whole different country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House on offense against what the president calls a, quote, disgraceful double standard. Team Trump pointing out the Democrats own alleged coordination happening with foreign governments. Watch this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do know for a fact the Democratic Party operatives went to the Ukrainian embassy to coordinate oppositional research and attacks against our campaign. So, that`s a story.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: The double standard is upsetting. I mean, you see it every day. I would love to rant and rave about it, but candidly right now with everything that`s going on, I think that people see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does anybody saying by the way, why didn`t the DNC, why did the DNC have their operatives meeting with the Ukrainians and actually getting information? Why is that not one standard and this is another?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kristin Fisher live in Washington tonight with the back story on the DNC`s alleged ties to the Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Live in Washington. That was FOX News Channel on July 12th. And that on July 12th, that started like five straight days on the FOX News Channel of them hyping this story, that the real collusion was Hillary Clinton`s collusion.

But, you know, that day, July 12th, a Website called Cyber Berkut, started posting what they said were stolen Hillary Clinton e-mails that proved this story, that bolstered this story, that the Clinton campaign and the Ukraine secretly colluded and worked together during the election. Cyber Berkut posted that stuff, those supposed stolen e-mails from the Clinton campaign on July 12th, which is when FOX News started going nuts on this stuff.

Cyber Berkut is believed by experts to be the Russian government. They are believed to be the latest online alter-ego of Fancy Bear, the Russian military defense unit that hacked the DNC in the first place, that took all those Democratic Party stolen documents, they obtained by hacking, and then fed them back into the U.S. political system, into the U.S. media, in a way that was designed to help Donald Trump and hurt Democrats.

That`s what they did during the election. They apparently are still at it. This summer, they`re still feeding anti-Democratic, anti-Hillary Clinton story lines culled from materials that they hacked from the Clinton campaign and the DNC. They`re feeding them back into what isn`t a campaign anymore, but it is still a U.S. political system and a U.S. conservative media universe that will do all they can to help the Trump administration apparently no matter the source of their information.

Now, it`s interesting, FOX News really started pushing this stuff on July 12th, the day that this front for Russian military intelligence started putting out its own data to support this story. The White House actually started pushing it two days before that. Out of the blue, the White House resurrected these old claims that hadn`t been circulating anywhere for months, about Hillary Clinton being the real colluder, the real collusion being Clinton and Ukraine.

The White House started that on the 10th of July. They were like the on- ramp. And within two days, this Russian military intelligence unit was feeding that stream of information with stolen e-mail. Then FOX News and other conservative media outlets picked it up and ran with it.

And now, your conservative uncle, who types with a caps lock key on and forages stuff from "Breitbart" and watches FOX News all day, he believes that there are two collusion scandals, if there are any. And the moment we got the real proof is the one of Hillary Clinton.

This presidency right now is in a rocky period, for a lot of reasons, most of them self -- all of them self-imposed. But nobody`s quitting the administration, nobody`s resigning, nobody in active Republican politics is calling on the president to resign or anything that dramatic.

The continuing existential threat to this presidency remains the special counsel investigation into the Russia issue led by Robert Mueller. And today, there are both intriguing and strange signs that there may be stuff going on inside that inquiry that we don`t understand, and that may not be a good sign for that inquiry.

And, we`ve got a fresh look at how the Russian attack that started this whole crisis, and that started this whole investigation, it continues to operate on Donald Trump`s behalf, and with crucial implication from the White House itself, and from the conservative media universe that supports it. It`s not over.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: A trio of Democrats in Congress, Democrats in the House, on Friday, the day after tomorrow, they`ll introduce this new piece of legislation. It`s a proposed censure of the president, for what they call his inadequate response to the white supremacist neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The Democrats say they want to reprimand him for not, quote, immediately naming and condemning the white supremacist groups.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, in terms of the ways we`ve got as a country to hold a president accountable, a censure is like kind of a biggie stuff. Like the first rung on the ladder. It`s basically a strongly worded letter from Congress. The major consequence of a censure is that historians will make a mental note that it happened. It`s literally the least lawmakers could do if they wanted to respond negatively to show displeasure with the president`s defense of white supremacist yesterday.

Actually, I guess I should correct that, we sort of found out last night that this is the least lawmakers can do to denounce what the president did. They can send out some strongly worded tweets that don`t actually mention the president by name, but make it very clear that they themselves aren`t cool with Nazis, OK? Nothing else to say about it, or the president or whatever he might have said. But just a heads-up, don`t like Nazis, all right? That`s the least you can do.

On a scale of congressional responses to a thing like this, a censure is like a fraction of a percent stronger than one of those pointless tweets. I mean, it would be a thing that happened, it would have no real consequence. But if Congress wants to do it, they would have to actually pass this censure like an actual bill.

Assuming every Democrat in the House would vote to pass this thing, assuming Paul Ryan would agree to put it on the floor, Democrats would have to scrounge up 24 Republican yes votes in order for it to pass.

And so, this is a test. It ought to be a pretty easy test in reasonable times. Republicans will have to decide now how much they want to be associated with what the president did yesterday, and what he said yesterday. Voting for censure would be one easy, uncomplicated, practically non-consequential way they could do that, to say that they did something, anything, however insignificant it might turn out to be in practical terms.

It is almost the least they could do. I don`t think anybody believes they could manage to pull it off.

Joining us is Sherrilyn Ifill. She`s president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

I`m so glad you`re here in person, Sherrilyn.

SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT & DIRECTOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Thank you.

MADDOW: It`s really nice to see you.

IFILL: Thanks.

MADDOW: We haven`t spoken since the events of this weekend. So, I want to first get your top line reaction and how you`re feeling these days after.

IFILL: Well, I`m pretty -- I`m pretty enraged, actually. I`m pretty furious, because I think, you know, anybody who was paying attention could have seen that what was going to happen this weekend was going to be something violent, was going to be something ugly. And not just what happened in Charlottesville, but the atmosphere that has been created by this president, even when he was a candidate, and that really has been allowed by those in Congress and other leaders where he has essentially unleashed something that we have all known exists in the United States. You can`t be, as I am a civil rights lawyer, without knowing that there is this element in this country and has been for a very long time.

But what we have usually seen is a sense of responsibility by national leaders, a sense of responsibility by members of Congress, a sense of responsibility by the president that even if they are on the right, there`s a line that doesn`t get crossed. And what you just described, you know, the unwillingness of members of Congress to do more than tweet, to do more than make oblique references, you know, to hate, disembodied hate without actually identifying who`s doing the hating, talking about all sides as the president did, or many sides, or both sides.

This is a complete abdication of responsibility for leading this country, because this country is stitched together of many pieces. And it`s a patchwork, and it`s been difficult. There`s been bloodshed to bring us to the point that we`re at today, which is not Shangri-la, but it certainly is not 1860, and it`s certainly not 1954.

That took blood, that took sweat, that took lawsuits, that took sit-ins, that took sacrifice to bring us to that point. And what we`re seeing is the willingness of leaders to kind of cavalierly allow it to be dissipated. And that makes me very angry. What I also am is very resolute that we will not be palmed off by tweets, by expressions of outrage, by expressions of condemnation. That`s the least you can do.

As you said, I have to say, yesterday the president`s remarks pretty much jumped the shark. I mean, I had been part of the group that was saying, get the white nationalists out of the cabinet, fire Bannon, fire Gorka. At this point, it`s the president. It`s the president.

So, now, we have three branches of government. We have a Congress that has to take responsibility for what they can do, not what they can say. And there actually are things they can do if they`re willing to do it, if they mean what they say. If Paul Ryan really says he`s repulsed by white supremacy, if members of Congress, you know, Republicans and Democrats, have tweeted about, you know, white supremacy, and we don`t stand with this, then let`s talk about what white supremacy actually is.

Let`s talk about federal governments finding that the state legislature of Texas, and the state legislature of North Carolina created voter suppression laws for the purpose of discriminating against black and Latino voters. That is white supremacy.

MADDOW: In action.

IFILL: In action.

MADDOW: Yes.

IFILL: So where have they been on that? What has Paul Ryan said?

We can`t even get Representative Bob Goodlatte from Virginia who issued a statement condemning the Charlottesville rally to give us a hearing on the amending the Voting Rights Act to deal with the voter suppression that has arisen since the Shelby County decision. Where`s the oversight of the justice department? Do we really trust Jeff Sessions to prioritize hate crimes and to prioritize the investigation of these white supremacist groups?

No, we need Congress to now schedule oversight hearings of the Department of Justice, of the Department of Homeland Security, specifically to find out from them what resources are they allocating to this. We know that Jeff Sessions is allocating resources to ending affirmative action, to challenging sanctuary cities, I mean, to MS-13. He`s identified his priorities.

I haven`t heard hate crimes and white supremacy as part of that prioritization. That`s Congress` job to make sure that the department of justice is properly prioritizing those things.

So these are the actual tangible things that Congress can do. We`ve been putting them up on our Website. We put it on our Twitter time line because I`m afraid that the window`s going to close. This is not a situation that can be resolved with platitudes.

You know, Heather Heyer is dead. She was killed. People were injured. Our children, members of this country, have seen swastikas on flags and Nazi flags. We`ve heard homophobic slurs. We`ve heard racial slurs. We`ve heard anti-Semitic slurs in Charlottesville, Virginia.

And if they think we`re going to move past this, as though this is just a political moment, this is an American moment. And if people really care about this democracy, and if leaders have been elected to lead this country, then we have the right to expect of them that they will use the powers that they have. I understand that their powers are limited. But they do have power, and they must use that power in this moment to get America back on track.

MADDOW: Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, may I ask you to stay for just one moment. I want to talk to you. I have one question for you about what this behavior by the president does to the far right in terms of whether it makes them more capable of achieving their aims.

We`ll be right back with Sherrilyn Ifill after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Joining us once again is Sherrilyn Ifill. She is the president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Sherrilyn, thank you for staying here.

I have a question for you that I`m really struggling with. I`ve asked it a number of times on the air this week, and it`s not a rhetorical question. I don`t know how to get at the answer, though, because I feel it`s uncharted territory for this century.

IFILL: OK.

MADDOW: Which is the president made these remarks that bolstered a movement that waxes and wanes in our country but never goes away, these white supremacists, white nationalists, white separatists neo-Nazi movement. I think it`s deliberate. I think he`s doing it on purpose, I don`t think he`s screwing up.

And my question, the thing that I can`t foresee, and I`m worried about, is how it changes those groups and their power and their ability to achieve their designs that he has done this. How do you think we can try to either imagine that, or foresee that?

IFILL: Well, I think that the isolation of the president and keeping him small to the extent that he is trying to engage in these actions, you know, is really important. And I think it`s already happening. Remember when the president tweeted out his attempt to create a transgender ban in the military. And the general said the next day, no, don`t listen to him, we`re studying this thing, right?

MADDOW: Yes.

IFILL: There are these ways in which he steps out and he tries to make a move, when there`s pushback, it contains him. I think people have to be ready to stand up and contain him. This is -- you know, the Election Integrity Commission where the commission asked for information from 50 states, right, about every voter in this country. Initially 40 of those states said, no, we`re not going to do it. This goes back to what Congress can do, what governors can do.

That`s the kind of thing you do to push back and say, is this the guy you want to give all of that information? And you do bring these lawsuits. It is the Muslim ban. Look what`s happened with that.

So, I think one of the things we have to be very careful about is he`s got the bully pulpit, no question about that. We can`t stop him from saying what he`s saying, activating these groups, making them feel powerful, making them feel like they have a home in the White House.

But what we can use is the principle tool we have when we don`t have norms and we don`t have ethics, we use law, that`s number one.

MADDOW: Yes.

IFILL: So, you`ve got to litigate the heck out of this. I think groups like my organization, and the ACLU and attorney generals who are doing it, are doing that, are trying to hold that line. When you see the military saying, no, no, you`re not going to tweet out some new thing that we haven`t figured out, you`re seeing some of that resistance.

And then I think the last part is just mobilization on the ground. I think that, you know, as we get to the end of August, we heard the president was planning to have a big rally in Phoenix, which could it be more irresponsible for him to have a rally at this point? The mayor of Phoenix has asked the president not to hold a rally.

There will be a big rally August 28th, the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" Speech, the march on Washington, when people who believe in justice and equality will be in this country showing themselves. So, I think putting all of those pieces together is about containment. And then we have to remember that there`s still an ongoing investigation by Robert Mueller.

MADDOW: Yes.

IFILL: And we don`t know what`s going to happen there. And there are other ways in which this president can be constrained. But it begins with Congress doing its job, to stand up to this president, to exercise their authority, to protect this republic. And it`s not with words, it`s with deeds.

MADDOW: Sherrilyn Ifill is the president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Funds. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is a national treasure, obviously, so are you.

IFILL: Thank you so much, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you. Thanks.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In a park across the street from city hall in Birmingham, Alabama, there is a Confederate monument. It`s 52 feet tall, dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors. It was dedicated to them 40 years after the end of the civil war.

Earlier this year, after some Confederate monuments were removed in other states, Alabama passed a law called the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act which legally bans, quote, the relocation, removal, alternation, or renaming or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street or monument located on public property which has been in place for 40 or more years.

In other words, hey, Birmingham, don`t even think about moving that Confederate monument that got put up in 1905.

Well, yesterday, on order from Birmingham`s mayor, William Bell, that Confederate monument across from city hall, it wasn`t removed. It was covered up in tarps and plywood. Forty-five minutes later, voila, that plaque dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors was out of sight, at least at eye height (ph).

Today, the Alabama attorney general`s office filed a lawsuit against Birmingham and against their mayor, William Bell, for violating the state law, saying that the attorney general has determined that defendants have altered or otherwise disturbed the Linn Park Memorial.

Joining us now is William Bell. He`s the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

Mayor Bell, it`s really good to have you with us tonight, sir. Thank you for your time.

MAYOR WILLIAM BELL (D), BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: Well, thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Let me ask if you expected this lawsuit from the Alabama attorney general or if you thought your actions with that monument might have been outside the scope of that Alabama law?

BELL: No, we knew that we would be -- some action would be taken against the city and me as the mayor of the city by the state attorney general.

MADDOW: Why was it important to you to cover it up, to take this action?

BELL: Well, I think what we saw over the weekend in Charlottesville was an indication of the direction that this country was going in, as related to monuments of this nature. By the emboldenment of the president of these hate groups, we felt that it was just a matter of time that statues and monuments in Alabama would also become the focal point.

When you realize what that represents, the subjugation of human beings, the sedition of a section of our country and treasonous acts, you realize that such a monument doesn`t have a place in our society in this day and time.

MADDOW: I spent some time in Birmingham. I know that it`s a cosmopolitan city. It`s a youthful city.

BELL: Yes.

MADDOW: It`s a good place to spend time. It`s got a great night life.

I`m wondering what is the discussion like in your city, and are there factions of people who feel strongly about this? Are there going to be demonstrations? Is there a lot of dissent over this decision?

BELL: I have not seen that. In fact, as I made my way through the city today, I`ve heard nothing but positive comments about it. And let me emphasize, we`re not in the process of moving the monument. We`re looking at how we can tell the true story of what it represents. Right now, it`s a stand-alone item that touts the participation in the civil war.

But what people have to understand about Birmingham is that Birmingham is not a civil war city. We did not exist until after the civil war. Now, we are a civil rights city that was the center of the human and civil rights movement of the `50s and `60s. In fact, Birmingham was the epicenter of the civil rights movement.

And as such, we don`t really have an attachment to the Civil War from that perspective. So, we felt that it was an anathema to our city, to have such a monument on exhibition.

MADDOW: William Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, now being sued by the state`s attorney general over the decision to cover that monument. Please keep in touch with us over the next few days, sir, and as this fight unfold, we`d love to stay in touch with you as this continues to unspool in your city and your state. Thank you.

BELL: We`ll do. Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here is a weird one. Today, Vice President Mike Pence announced he is cutting short his foreign trip to Central and South America. He is cutting short his trip he`s on now. He`s coming home early because he says he wants to go to a meeting at Camp David about Afghanistan. That`s a meeting the White House only announced today.

Why can`t Mike Pence just call in to the meeting? I don`t know. But he`s cutting short his trip and rushing home.

He was due to be in South America and Central America all week. But now, he is going to skip out on a planned dinner with the president of Panama. He`s going to leave early. He`s leaving tomorrow night.

And once he is back in the United States, he is cancelling the things he was going to do in the United States as well. His office announcing that he`s also going to cancel two political appearances he was going to make in Virginia on Saturday.

Now, we don`t know what is happening. It`s possible, of course, that the vice president is homesick or maybe he caught a bug, I don`t know. It`s also possible he wants to escape the press pool traveling with him in Central and South America, which keeps asking him about white supremacy and neo-Nazis every time he stops anywhere.

But as to why the vice president needs to end his foreign trip early and clear out two to three days on his schedule? We just don`t know. It`s not all for that one meeting.

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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell.

Good evening, Lawrence.

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