Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 21, 2017 Guest: Chris Coons, Xeni Jardin
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We`re following a number of developing stories tonight, including news that the House Ethics Committee is launching an investigation into the longest serving member of Congress in Washington, 88-year-old John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.
After reporting from "BuzzFeed News" yesterday about settlements paid to former staffers in Conyers` office, John Conyers said today that he vehemently denied that he had sexually harassed anyone. He said, quote: I expressly a vehemently denied the allegations made against me and continue to do so. My office resolved the allegations with an express denial of liability to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That shouldn`t be lost in the narrative.
That was his statement this morning. But then this afternoon, "BuzzFeed" published another allegation from another former staffer. And now, the House Ethics Committee says it will be investigating.
Congressman Conyers is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the House. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had called for the Ethics Committee to evaluate the evaluations against John Conyers. She may now have a decision to make as to whether he keeps that prime seat on that prime committee, judiciary, while the accusations against him are investigated.
So, that happened today.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, today, where serious allegations have been lodged against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, his Democratic opponent Doug Jones is now overtly trying to capitalize on Roy Moore`s troubles in this race, including a stepped up campaign schedule for Jones. Jones is also put out this blunt new ad.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AD ANNOUNCER: On Roy Moore`s disturbing actions, Ivanka Trump says there is a special place in hell for people who prey on children and I have no reason to doubt the victims` accounts.
Jeff Sessions says, I have no reason to doubt these young women.
And Richard Shelby says he will absolutely not vote for Roy Moore.
Conservative voices putting children and women over party, doing what`s right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After that ad was released today and got lots and lots of national attention, President Trump decided to speak about Roy Moore for the first time. The president`s comments on the matter today were that Roy Moore denies the allegations against him. And besides, the president said, quote, we don`t need a liberal person in there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can tell you one thing for sure. We don`t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Which is the too afraid to say it way. To say, I want you to vote for Roy Moore.
Those are the president`s first remarks on Roy Moore since the allegations against him first surfaced two weeks ago. The president himself, of course, faced allegations during the campaign from 16 different women who is a say he groped, sexually harassed or sexual assaulted them. One of those by a former contestant on "The Apprentice" has led to a lawsuit in New York in which lawyers for the women who is accusing Trump, they demanded documents from the Trump campaign which they say detail how the campaign discussed and reacted to the multiple women who made those allegations against Mr. Trump, in real time.
There`s also a new report tonight in the "Wall Street Journal" that witnesses interviewed by the prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller have been asking extensive -- have been asked extensive and detailed questions about White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law. According to "The Wall Street Journal" tonight, Mueller`s investigators have been trying to nail down details with other witnesses about Jared Kushner`s involvement with foreign leaders during the transition, and what role Jared Kushner may or may not have played in the White House decision to fire the FBI Director James Comey.
Those lines of inquiry about Jared Kushner and are separate and apart from the multiple instances where Jared Kushner had reported contacts or communications with Russian officials or Russian actors during the campaign, during the transition, and then he did not report those contacts publicly or on his security clearance application, or even reportedly while he was under oath and being questioned about those matters before Congress.
In light of this Mueller investigation, and those congressional investigations -- I mean, those repeatedly non-disclosed contacts would be difficult things for anybody to explain who had had any role on the Trump campaign. The fact that Jared Kushner wasn`t just involved with the campaign - he`s still employed at the White House and at a high level, it makes this detailed questioning about him a particularly risky endeavor for the White House and for people who still work -- discuss me still working alongside him now.
And speaking of which, we`re also still awaiting word about the current White House communications director, Hope Hicks. Hope Hicks is reportedly set to be interviewed by Mueller`s investigators. It`s also been reported she maybe testifying to the grand jury in the Mueller investigation as well. Hope Hicks, of course, was in a front row seat at the Trump Organization, and on the Trump campaign, and in the Trump White House where she remains a senior official.
So, it`s expected that her testimony could potentially be a big deal depending how it goes. We await word on when that`s going to happen if fact it hasn`t happened already.
So, we`ve got a bunch more on a bunch of those stories ahead tonight. We`ve got Xeni Jardin here tonight on the Trump administration`s decision to let Internet companies control what you can and can`t look at online and what Internet-based tools you can and can`t use. We`re talking to Xeni tonight about the fight, the political fight that the Trump administration has picked for itself with this decision. I think all indications are that they have underestimated the fight they`ve got on their hands on this one.
We`ve also got a senator here tonight raising an alarm about a senior career law enforcement official who has just fired without explanation by the Trump administration. That story and that interview are both ahead tonight.
But we`re going to start tonight in Michigan. In the Flint water crisis in Michigan, criminal charges have been brought now against 15 current and former government officials. Flint`s water -- you probably remember -- Flint`s water didn`t get poisoned by lead because of some degradation in the infrastructure or some sort of poor local planning by Flint`s, you know, city government, no. Flint`s water got lead poisons and kids in Flint therefore got lead poisoned because of the state government in Michigan.
Rick Snyder is the Republican governor of Michigan. The lead poisoning in Flint happened after Governor Snyder and the state declared that there was a financial emergency in Flint, and because of that financial emergency, they declared they would install their own emergency manager, who is appointed by the governor and who overrode local democracy. Essentially voided local election results in Flint.
Local elections where people picked their elected officials were null and void because this governor appointed emergency manager would get to make unilateral decisions on his own about Flint. And one of those unilateral decisions made by the governor`s appointee while he was running the city was to switch the water supply in Flint. And they made that switch improperly. They did it in a way that wrecked all the pipes in town. And that`s how Flint got lead poisoned.
That`s how their water got lead poisoned. That`s how the kids of Flint got poisoned as well. Incidentally, that`s also apparently the reason why Flint had a gigantic of outbreak of something called Legionnaires disease at the time of the water switch. And Legionnaires disease did damage beyond just poisoning thousands in the city. That part of the Flint water disaster killed people directly, at least 12 people died from Legionnaires.
The disaster in Flint wasn`t some slow moving, inevitable breakdown where lots of things went wrong and combined to create this crisis. No, the Flint water crisis was caused by a bad government decision, bad state government decision. The state government took over the town and then poisoned it with the flick of a switch.
Now, the head of the state government in Michigan, Governor Snyder is still governor. By the time people figured out what his administration had done in Flint, he had already been re-elected to his second term. And he can`t run for a third term. So, Michigan voters never got a chance to tell Rick Snyder what they thought about him, at least at the ballot box after the Flint catastrophe became known.
But over the course of the past year, 15 current and former government officials have been criminally indicted for their role in the Flint water crisis. And some of them are low level, but some aren`t.
The man who Rick Snyder appointed to be the director of the Michigan department of health for example, the head of that agency, prosecutors say his reaction to the Legionnaires deaths was, quote, everyone has to die of something. He was charged this summer in a multiple felony count indictment. Criminal charges also brought against at least two other members of his department, the state department of health.
Criminal charges were also brought against at least five officials from the state department of environmental quality. The state epidemiologist was charge. Rick Snyder`s hand-picked chief medical executive for the state of Michigan was also charged. She was charged in a multiple count indictment and last month prosecutors went back to her and said they`d seek to upgrade the charges against her, adding new felony counts of misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter.
Today, that official was back in court for proceedings in indictment and last month prosecutors went back to her and said they`d seek to upgrade the charges against her adding new felony counts of misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter. Today, that official was back in court for pretrial proceedings in the criminal case against her.
And that`s a -- you know, that`s a big deal for the people of Flint, for the families of people who may have died because of the Flint water crisis, for the families whose kids were irreparably hurt by that crisis. These criminal proceedings today, they`re a big deal for the Flint. They`re a big deal for the defendant obviously.
Turns out they are also a big deal for the Snyder administration and for state government in Michigan, because this woman who is under a multi-count felony indictment in the Flint crisis, she is still serving as the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder kept her in that position after she was indicted. Also, the "everybody has to die of something" guy, who is running the state department of health, he kept him as well, after his felony indictment.
And when it comes to this one, the chief medical executive, the one who`s facing the new manslaughter charges, the one who was in court today, she`s actually got a lot on her plate right now when it comes to state government because Governor Rick Snyder just yesterday appointed her to run, to head up a new public health advisory council for the state of Michigan -- in between her responsibilities to the court pertaining to the felony charges against her presumably.
So, that`s how well your state government is working right now in Michigan. You can play duck, duck goose at after cabinet meeting to figure out who is under felony indictment and who`s not.
"The Associated Press" just profiled a volunteer effort that sprung up in Michigan after the 2016 election last year to try to fix part of governance in that state. Obviously, around the country, there have been a ton of protests, a ton of new organizations founded, lots of new organizing efforts of all kind since the 2016 election. But one very, very successful one has happened over the course of the past year in Michigan, and it`s been way below the radar certainly on a national level.
But in Michigan, it has been very successful and it has been flummoxing the political powers that be. It`s a very simple campaign in Michigan. They want districts in Michigan to be drawn in a nonpartisan way -- congressional districts and legislative districts, nonpartisan districts. Oh, the horror.
The Republican Party bragged nationwide in 2012 about how well they rigged the districts in Michigan for the Republican Party. This is from the Republican Party`s own national self-assessment after their effort to use the census year in 2010 as their parties` leverage to change districts in their favor all over the country.
Michigan was one of the places where they felt like they did the best work. In 2012, the Republican Party was actually super-psyched in a way they got a lot fewer votes than Democrats did for congressional races, because that proved any had guaranteed a way for themselves to win more seats in Congress for Republicans, even when Republicans got fewer votes.
In Michigan, in 2012, in congressional races in Michigan, people in that state cast nearly a quarter million more votes for Democratic candidates than they did for Republican candidates. And the results of those votes where Democrats got a quarter million more votes, the results was that Republicans got nine seats and Democrats got five, which shows their system worked very well. That was in 2012. The Republicans were super-excited to brag about that.
In the 2016 election last year, it worked the same way in the state legislature. People in Michigan in 2016, they cast their votes for state legislature basically 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans. And the result of that 50/50 vote was that Republicans took 16 more seats in the legislature than the Democrats did, which made the Republicans very happy. And it showed how well, they had done their work, when they rigged the districts to their own benefit after 2010, after the 2010 census.
And that same dynamic, that`s the same reason why we still don`t know tonight who is in charge in the state of Virginia. Two weeks after Democrats just absolutely shellacked Republicans in Virginia, winning not just the governorship but running the table against incumbent Republicans in the state legislature. You add up the votes for the Virginia legislature two weeks ago and it`s a stunning disparity. Democrats beat Republicans by nearly 10 points in terms of votes cast for state legislature.
But even tonight, we still don`t know who is going to be in charge of that state legislature, because apparently, it takes Democrats winning by at least 10 points for them to have a shot at winning the majority of seats. That`s because Republicans were really, really, really aggressive and smart and strategic about using state legislatures to rig districts in their favor so they could win the most seats, in congressional elections, in state elections, even when they don`t win the most votes. They did it all over the country.
And that`s why Republicans right now are freaking out about in wildly successful effort in broken, broken Michigan to put a measure on the ballot so districts won`t be drawn in a partisan way anymore. So, they`ll be drawn in a fair, competitive, nonpartisan way. An all-volunteer group of activists has defied the odds by collecting hundreds of thousands of voter signatures for 2018 initiative to overhaul redistricting in Michigan without having to pay a dime for a signature. It`s a rarity in state politics. Voters not politicians, a ballot committee opposed to the partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts is poised to turn in roughly 400,000 signatures by year`s end, an astounding 350,000 signatures have been gathered in just three months, thanks to a legion at least -- of at least 3,000 volunteers.
A local Republican strategist telling "The A.P." that a petition circulated was recently spotted with a table at a rest stop along Interstate 96 in Howell, Michigan. Quote: Wherever two or more are gathered, they`ve been there. Their grassroots effort has been remarkable.
I mean, I don`t know what you`ve done since the election last year. But somebody has been setting up a card table alongside the interstate in Michigan in a town you have never heard of to get signatures to make the districts in that state not so partisan anymore. And it`s working what they`re doing in Michigan. They`re blowing everybody away with the number of signatures they have been able to get in a very short period of time with no paid signature gatherers, and that thing is going to be on the ballot next year. And you know what? If it`s on the ballot, it`s going to pass.
And again, I don`t know what you`ve been doing since the election, but in Virginia, a whole bunch of people turned their own lives upside-down to do everything they could to try to bring about a Democratic landslide in that state in this off-year election in 2017. And in Virginia, that worked as far as it goes, but the districts are so partisan there, even that Democratic landslide two weeks ago might not be enough to give the Democrats control.
It all goes back to the Republicans using the occasion of the 2010 census to us change all of the districts so much in their favor. They did it through something called the Red Map Project, which was an act of political genius on their part. And they had almost no competition when they did it.
Well, now, the 2020 census is just around the corner. And this time, the Democrats are very aware that it`s coming.
That`s why the political effort that President Obama and Eric Holder are working on together after the Obama administration what they`re working on is districts. How the districts will be drawn after the 2020 census. They want Democrats to make up what they lost when Republicans ran the table and changed all the districts in their favor in 2010.
That`s the same effort that`s going on with that massive effort in Michigan right now not to make the districts more Democratic but to make them nonpartisan, to make them competitive. That`s what`s going on with all the focus in Democratic politics on winning state level elections. You keep hearing Democrats and Democratic Party, partisan fighting about the stuff talking about the need to win at state level, to win state legislature seats? That`s what that`s about.
It`s a renewed focus for Democratic activism in every single state in the country. That`s what`s driving it. The fact that every state in the country is about to redraw their districts again based on the results of the 2020 census which is right around the corner.
Today, we learned who President Trump wants to put in charge of the 2020 census.
I did not make this up. It`s the author this book. See that -- the title is in large letters you might have to look close to see the sub-heading.
He`s the author of this book. It`s titled, "Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America".
He is a professor from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has never worked in government before. He has never managed a large agency. He`s never worked with federal government statistics.
But he is the leading the proponent of the theory that competitive elections are bad. Literally, he wrote that title for his book. And he has been a Republican activist for years representing Republicans` most controversial efforts to use the Census to create intensely partisan districts, including the North Carolina effort they tried to get away with a few years ago that was struck down as profoundly racist even for this everything-goes era in this part of our politics.
I mean, for perspective here, the last person who held this job in the Obama administration left the job to become the chief statistician for the United States government, because this is a job for which you are expected to be a massive statistics brain. President Trump`s nominee for the job has no background in statistics, at all.
According to reporting in politico.com today, President Trump initially wanted this guy to be census bureau director, but then apparently the White House got shy when they realized that means he`d have to be Senate confirmed. Instead, now, the Trump administration plan, according to politico.com, appears to be to nominate no one to be the census bureau director since that`s a job that needs Senate confirmation, and instead they`re going to install Mr. Competitive Elections are Bad for America as the number two in the agency, as the deputy director, which is the job where you actually hands on run the census and very importantly, that`s a job for which you do not need to be Senate confirmed. Trump just said says, I pick you, and you`re in.
We are a big complicated country with big complicated politics. There are very few disparity multi-state problems in American politics that all trace back to a single cause. But making a partisan sledgehammer out of the Census last time around, that really is one of those things that has been ringing like a bell loudly across the country ever since. And that will be nothing compared to this, if the Trump administration is now going to turn the census officially into a tool designed to destroy competitive elections in America. That would be such a radical move, it is almost hard to overstate.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Currently, the top -- currently, the top prosecutor -- I don`t think they like to be called persecutors. Currently, the top prosecutor at the national security division in the Justice Department in this man, his name is Dana Boente. Dana Boente has been serving in that position running the national security division in an acting capacity since May of this year. Dana Boente is a career prosecutor. He has worn many hats in the Justice Department, including recently in the Trump administration.
And the jobs that he had recently have landed him smack-dab in the center of the ongoing Russia investigation. Dana Boente briefly served as acting attorney general after the president fired Sally Yates. Dana Boente also served for a time as acting deputy attorney general, meaning he was the direct supervisor of James Comey during the time that FBI Director James Comey says he was being pressured by President Trump to let go of the investigation into Michael Flynn. James Comey testified that he reported those interactions with the president up the chain of command to his boss at the time. His boss at the time was Dana Boente.
Incidentally, that`s also reportedly the time that the FBI started its investigation into whether or not the firing of Comey was an attempt to obstruct justice by the president. That investigation reportedly started before Robert Mueller was ever appointed as special counsel. Dane Boente himself may well end up being a witness in at least that part of the Mueller investigation.
But Dana Boente`s real day job, the one he was appointed to in the first instance by President Obama was being the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia, which is a really important federal jurisdiction. As the top prosecutor in the eastern district of Virginia, among other things, it was Dana Boente who oversaw the issuing of grand jury subpoenas related to the Mike Flynn investigation and the Paul Manafort investigation. In that role in the eastern district of Virginia, Dana Boente has also been overseeing the continuous and ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks and their role in the Russian operation targeting our election last year.
I mean, there is a case to be made that if anybody outside of special counsel Robert Mueller`s office knows what`s going on from the very beginnings of the Trump Russia investigation, it`s probably Dana Boente, given his role in the eastern district of Virginia, acting AG, acting deputy AG, national security division.
So, it was really something when last month, on the same day we learned about the first criminal indictments from Robert Mueller, last month, Dana Boente we learned would be quitting. Dana Boente announced his resignation as U.S. attorney for eastern district of Virginia.
Those initial reports proved misleading because NBC soon reported that Dana Boente wasn`t voluntarily stepping aside. He wasn`t jumping. He was pushed.
The Trump administration demanded his resignation. For some reason and as a surprise, Dana Boente reportedly did not see it coming. Just days before the Trump administration told him to resign, Boente reportedly was telling people how excited he was to continue his work as U.S. attorney in Virginia. Again, there has been no explanation for why Dana Boente was pushed out at the national security division and out of the eastern district of Virginia, just as the first indictments were announced in the Mueller investigation. And despite the fact that the Trump administration had previously told him that he could keep his job.
Well, there is one key senator who has been trying to figure this out, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to the deputy attorney general, demanding an explanation for the abrupt termination of Dana Boente. The deadline the senator gave to get those answers was November 21st, which is, I`m not wearing a watch but I remember it`s today.
That senator is pushing hard on this. I have a feeling he is ultimately going to figure it out. And he joins us live next.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) attorney for the eastern district of Virginia was told to resign last month right as the first indictments were coming down in the Robert Mueller investigation. The Trump administration gave no explanation for why they wanted him gone. They had previously told him he could stay. Dana Boente`s abrupt dismissal immediately raised concerns for one Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
He sent a letter to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general demanding an explanation for the abrupt termination of Dana Boente. He gave the Justice Department a deadline of November 21st to provide those answers. Today is November 21st. And tonight, we can report that there`s been no response from the attorney general or the deputy AG.
Senator Coons is not taking no for an answer. He`s drafted another letter to the attorney general demanding information about, quote, the reason the president asked for Mr. Boente`s resignation. The senator has also opened a new front here. He`s now asking the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, to hold a hearing to examine potential presidential interference with U.S. attorney`s offices.
Quote, Trump`s reported demand for Boente`s resignation, the sudden nature of its timing, its proximity to the indictments issued by special counsel Mueller and reported connections between the U.S. attorney office for the eastern district of Virginia and the investigations of Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. They all led me concerned that this resignation was not business as usual. Quote, I cannot take on faith that this dismissal was normal or justified.
Joining us now is Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.
Senator, really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being here.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be on with you. Thanks for drawing attention to this important matter.
MADDOW: Well, I have been -- I`ve been really interested in this because I felt like this potential seriousness of this firing, the surprise nature of his resignation is very much out of proportion to the a explanation we`ve had for why he went. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this, senator, is that sometimes senators push like this publicly because secretly, you actually know what happened to the guy and you`re trying to get people to admit it.
Is this one of those cases? Do you actually have a sense of what happened to Dana Boente?
COONS: Well, I`ve got real questions, Rachel, but I don`t have a firm answer as to why Dana Boente was pushed. As I laid out in the letter that I sent to the attorney general which has gone without a response so far, and as I laid out in my letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking for hearing. This fits within a broader troubling pattern of interference with U.S. attorney`s offices.
And while the president does have the right to act for U.S. attorney`s resignations, he can`t do it for an improper purpose, to interfere with an ongoing investigation. And as you pointed out in the run-up to the segment, there are some troubling intersections between the ongoing investigation, the announcement of indictments and in the case of Papadopoulos, a guilty plea, and the timing of Dana Boente`s now revealed forced resignation.
MADDOW: We have had some reporting about the role of the prosecutors office in the eastern district of Virginia. Obviously, grand jury proceedings are secret and we only know what`s made its way into the press. I don`t want you to talk about anything that we`re not suppose to talk about, that you may know about.
But I`ve also wondered whether or not these questions about Dana Boente should be both about his role as the acting director of national security division at Justice Department and also his role in that key jurisdiction in the eastern district. Again, that district has been named quite a few times in reports about elements of what is now the Mueller investigation. I don`t know what the national security division does in terms of whether it might also overlap with this investigation.
Is that part of way you`re also concerned?
COONS: It is part of why I`m also concerned. The national security division lass a central role in law enforcement matters that relate to actions by our adversaries or actions that implicate our intelligence community. And I think it would be easy to conclude why that might be specifically relevant to Russian attempts at interference in our last election or any counterintelligence matters that might be a part of that ongoing investigation.
I also want to raise the matter that Dana Boente, the eastern district of Virginia U.S. attorney is fourth in line of succession. So, if there would happen to be a set of circumstances where the attorney general was recused, the deputy attorney general was ordered by the president to do something improper, refused to do so and resigned, Dana Boente would be the third in that line of succession.
Those of us who know our Watergate history and the Saturday night massacre know it`s possible that there will be a fact pattern where the president ordered folks in the senior levels at headquarters of the Department of Justice to do things which they refuse to do, the first person in that line of succession outside of DOJ headquarters is the eastern district of Virginia U.S. attorney.
MADDOW: Wow, that`s an ominous prospect.
Senator, one last question for you. I know the deputy attorney and the attorney general did not respond to your initial letter about this. You gave them this deadline of today.
Do you have any options in terms of compelling them to respond? Do you anticipate in the future being able to question them about this or potentially being able to question Mr. Boente himself about the circumstances of this firing?
COONS: Well, it`s my hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue to work in a bipartisan way. It is my expectation we`ll have a chance to continue to seek the production of both documents and witnesses in the coming weeks. There are folks who I think should be appearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee because of their incomplete or misleading previous answers. And it`s my hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman will agree that these are folks who ought to be in front of us and that getting to the bottom of what`s happened with Dana Boente is an appropriate use of committee resources and protection of the independence of the Department of Justice.
MADDOW: Serious matters.
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you very much for joining us tonight, sir. It`s really nice to have you here.
COONS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up, why Thanksgiving may be way more politically busy than it might typically be this year? That`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Started with a million sheets of paper. January 2014, the FCC got a special delivery right on their doorstep, a million letters from people all over the country. The courts had just put at risk something called net neutrality. And there were a million people who wrote letters to the FCC to tell them to do something about it.
They boxed the letters, piled them into cars and dragged them to the headquarters of the FCC in Washington, asking the FCC to write up regulations that would keep internet companies from being able to decide which Website run fast and which Website run slow -- basically what you can see and what you can`t.
Those file boxes full of letters were just the beginning of what turned out to be a full on grassroots assault on the FCC, lobbying the Obama administration to get tough to protect the neutrality of the Internet, access to information on the Internet. Hundreds of people protested outside FCC headquarters day in and day out. They camped outside of FCC headquarters for weeks.
Eventually, the head of the FCC himself, Tom Wheeler, the guy on the left there, he came down from his office to hear people out. They still kept the pressure on him, though. He made a big paper mache Tom Wheeler and paraded him through the streets. When the FCC held public hearing, protesters were there too. They stood up and said their piece and get dragged out one by one by security.
The grassroots fight to restore the neutrality of the Internet, to restore net neutrality regulations, basically took over every crevice of the country in 2014. It was a really big, loud effort. It was heated. It was sustained. And eventually it worked.
President Obama sided with the neutrality activists. The administration put in place rules that kept Internet companies from giving preferential treatment to certain Website, making some stuff run fast and some stuff run slow. All information on the Internet has to be treated equally regardless what`s on the Website or what the Internet service providers want to do with it.
But then today, the Trump administration wiped all that away. The FCC today under new Trump-appointed leadership announced they plan to do away with virtually all of the existing rules that protect net neutrality, including the Obama era regulation that followed that tidal wave of public outcry.
Now is the part that I should tell that you that NBC, MSNBC is owned by Comcast, which has an interest in this fight. They say they support net neutrality but they would like to get rid of the regulations that currently guarantee it.
Before the Trump administration`s net neutrality proposal gets put in the box, the FCC has to put it to a vote on that commission. That could come as early as next month. That`s expected to easily pass the commission because it`s controlled by Republicans.
But for the people who track this stuff, for the people who are in the streets in 2014, none of this came as a surprise. They have been getting ready for this moment. Protests already started even before today`s announcement. The pressure is already on.
There`s been some speculation today that they might have announced this before Thanksgiving because they thought it would die away into the news cycle and people won`t notice. I don`t think they realize that people are now going to spend their Thanksgiving break being activists about this. We have -- we have seen this before.
Joining now is Xeni Jardin. She`s the editor of "Boing Boing".
Xeni, it`s really great to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.
XENI JARDIN, EDITOR, BOING BOING: It`s a pleasure Rachel. Thank you for focusing on this issue. This really matters.
MADDOW: It does really matter, and I think it`s hard for a lot of people to grasp. You above everybody else I know in the world is better at putting issues like this in terms that regular people can understand even if they don`t usually follow it.
What is so important about this?
JARDIN: What`s important is that we the people have a right to communicate. We have a right to access information and to share information. And the Internet is an important part of all of our lives. Even those of us who don`t like to spend all day on Facebook or Twitter or playing "Minecraft" or what-have-you. We know that it`s an important part of the national discourse leading up to the elections like -- leading up to elections like the one we had last year.
Basically, what`s at stake with net neutrality is this, the changes that are being proposed would give Internet service providers -- that`s like Comcast or AT&T or Verizon -- it would give the large companies the option to charge you more for fastest service or to block certain kinds of content that might be -- not aligned with their business interests. So, you can imagine for instance if you wanted to watch a sporting event, and the -- let`s say ESPN is broadcasting a sporting event live and you happen to have an ISP that doesn`t have the sweetheart deal with ESPN, well, maybe you`re going to miss the best plays or maybe it`s going to be kind of junky and buffering. And you`re going to miss the experience.
Or more importantly, in my opinion, think about -- so I`m here in Nevada today. And Nevada, in Utah, where I spend time, and California and every state in the country, there are communities that are rural that have been kind of left behind, the digital divide. Remember we talked about that a lot. Not everybody has affordable access to 21st century Internet.
And I think there is great concern that this is going -- that this change - - these changes -- we don`t know all the fine print yet, but this could make the infrastructure that is so sorely needed around the country that could make that harder. I got to say the only people who are really excited about this news announced by the Trump`s FCC and Ajit Pai, the only ones really happy about it are the ISPs, everybody from Mozilla to Alphabet, that`s the parent company of Google, small independent publishes like Boing Boing, like the blog that I`ve run with my friends for -- it`s been around for a long time.
But independent publishers like us are also very concerned. I mean, look, bottom line, do you want Donald Trump changing the Internet right now?
JARDIN: I mean, seriously?
MADDOW: Xeni, what do you make of the political prospect for stopping this? The reason I highlighted that activism in 2014 is because even if it was -- it was sort of Greek, some people who didn`t necessarily understand what fast versus slow Internet meant in terms of free speech and the ability to protect our First Amendment rights as you describe. There was a huge and very energized movement to get done what got done, in that fight with the Obama administration.
What do you think about the prospect for stopping this now given the Trump administration`s position and the fact that that political organizing is now recent American history that we can learn from?
JARDIN: We know that whether we are talking about offline civil rights or the rights that each of us reinforce by being connected to each other, being connected to the country as a whole, these rights have to be continually reaffirmed and fought for. You don`t just fight for things once. So, to all of you fellow nerds at home fixing mom or grandpa`s computer or thinking about your wish lists for the holiday, this is the time to talk to your families, to talk to people who maybe don`t understand the very weird bland word net neutrality.
What does that mean? Well, this is a really good time to like hold teach- ins around the Thanksgiving table with people.
But most importantly, I think it`s important to affirm that this is not a political -- this is not a bipartisan issue. This is -- let me say that more clearly -- this is not a Republican versus Democrat issue. This is an issue of inclusion. So many of the challenges we are dealing with right now are we didn`t care about health care policy until they started mucking with their health care. We didn`t care much about changing taxes until everybody started getting really worried that that might be abruptly changing in a way that harms a lot of people.
It`s time to start getting really worried about the Internet, and to inform yourself and to inform people around you. But when the only people in the room that are loudly cheering this are the largest ISPs in the country -- look when they opened this up right before the Thanksgiving holiday and the vote is of course slated to happen in mid-December -- I think to look at the timing of that and wonder, if we aren`t being invited into the conversation, we`re going to need to start the conversation, because the Internet is really important for America. It`s really important that we keep -- that we include more of America in the conversation.
MADDOW: Xeni Jardin, editor at "Boing Boing" -- it`s always great to have you on the show. It`s great to hear you on this, Xeni, my friend. It`s great to see you. Thank you.
JARDIN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) keeps happening. Around 1:00 Eastern Time this morning, "Reuters" published a tiny little blurb, literally three sentences long, that was sort of a major piece of news. President Trump would be talking on the phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin sometime today.
Boy, these guys get together a lot. Wasn`t it last week on the Asia trip when he met with Putin three times? Yes. But, apparently, they had more to talk about. So, that`s one thing Putin and Trump getting together again.
But then there is the news about then getting together, how we learned about it. "Reuters" was the first English language media outlet to have this news about the new Putin-Trump meeting today. But it wasn`t "Reuters" exclusive. In fact, it was third hand.
They got what they got from something called "Interfax", which is a Russian -- a Russia-based news agency. And where "Interfax" got this news was from the Kremlin. So, we learned about Trump and Putin having this next meeting, yet another meeting today, we learned about it from the Kremlin.
And it`s not the first time the Kremlin has scooped all American media and the White House with big news on the behavior of our own president. Less than two weeks ago, it was a Putin staffer who informed all of America that his president would be meeting with our president on the sidelines of that Asia trip, the Asian Economic Summit in Vietnam. And that wasn`t the first time either.
In May, President Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, also known as that guy who everybody in the Trump campaign can`t remember meeting. They met right in the White House. They met in the Oval Office. We found out about it because a Russian state media outlet uploaded pictures of the meeting to the Getty News Service. And they were all credited to the Russian foreign ministry.
I mean, the White House does have an entire department with people whose salaries we pay that`s devoted to communicating the president`s whereabouts and his actions to the public. But when it involves Russian government officials, the White House consistently is silent and not just silent. They`re ceding control of the narrative to the Kremlin.
The Kremlin tells us what Trump does with Putin. We don`t get it from our side. Why does that keep happening?
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I`m late. Sorry!
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Lawrence, I`m sorry. I jumped into your first segment.
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