Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 18, 2018 Guest: Elijah Cummings, Dale Ho
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you with us on a night where we have some big news for your soul -- for your soul, for your conscience, and for your country.
The unexpected news we have to report and discuss tonight is that apparently shame still exists. You thought it was gone. You had good reason to believe that shame was extinct, but we have just tonight stumbled upon evidence of shame, if not accountability -- at least a little bit of shame in American politics.
It`s so unfamiliar, it feels like we are covering something in a foreign language, but I swear this really happened today. Knock me over with a feather. I swear this happened.
All right. You might remember early this year, we learned that Ben Carson, who had been a Republican presidential candidate, he ran against Trump in the primary and then he endorsed Trump for president after he dropped out of the primaries, and then Trump named Ben Carson to his cabinet, named him secretary of HUD, Housing and Urban Development. You might remember early this year that we learned that Ben Carson, upon moving into HUD as the head of that new agency, he decided that he needed a $31,000 table for his office. Remember that?
It was kind of like a dining set. I`m not clear why you`d need a dining set in your office if he dines in his office? I don`t know. I dine in my office, but I do so over the keyboard, unfortunately.
But Ben Carson wanted a $31,000 table to dine. The way that weird little scandal shook out is that a career official at HUD told Ben Carson that he couldn`t do that.
She was like, listen, there is a dollar limit on what you can spend to renovate your office. You`re a public servant. You`re spending taxpayer money. It`s like a $5,000 limit for you doing renovations for your whole office. Under no math could a $31,000 table fit under that threshold for renovating your office.
So this career official at HUD told him no, you can`t do that. You`re a public official now. And so, obviously, they had to get rid of her.
They got that career official right out of there, and they brought in someone more amenable to the ways and desires and furniture tastes of this new administration. They brought in someone who had worked on the Trump campaign. She`s a lawyer. I believe she is from Queens.
She had no relevant experience whatsoever, but she`d worked on the campaign so, they brought her in. And she took a look at that table, and the way she saw it, she actually saw that as quite a legitimate expense. She approved it.
It`s nice to have people like that you can bring in when you need them, right? And trust me, there are many instances when need a person like that in the Trump administration.
Behold Ryan Zinke. Ryan Zinke was a Republican of Congress before Trump named him to run the Department of Interior. The Department of the Interior is not the world`s most high profile agency. One gets the sense, though, from Mr. Zinke that he would like to make that job as high profile as he can.
He --you might remember he`s the Trump cabinet officer who rode a horse to work on his first day on the job. He used taxpayer funds to stop traffic in that entire part of Washington, D.C. so he could show up on a horse, because he thought that could be cool. Once he dismounted and made it inside the building, Secretary Zinke soon made it a new practice at the Department of the Interior that a staff member would be assigned to, I kid you not, to run to the roof of the building, with Secretary Zinke`s personal flag, to run that up the flag pole whenever Ryan Zinke was at his desk. So everybody could tell from a distance or maybe from a passing plane that Ryan Zinke was in the house.
It has been a sort of hallmark of Ryan Zinke`s political career that he has sometimes overdone it a little bit with the visuals. When he was running for Congress, he irked a lot of his fellow Navy veterans by putting the trident symbol for the Navy SEALs on the side of his campaign bus which sort of implied that the Navy SEALs were endorsing him and his candidacy.
That was further complicated by the fact that it only emerged after Trump nominated him to this cabinet job, that what actually derailed Ryan Zinke`s career in the Navy was that he got in trouble during his time in the service. He got in trouble specifically for chiseling the government on his travel expenses, which perhaps should have been a little bit more of a red flag than the Trump administration was prepared to notice when they nominated him for cabinet.
But they nominated him and he got through. And since Ryan Zinke got that job at the interior department, he has had, you know, taxpayers pay for a private jet flight on an aircraft owned by an executive from an oil and gas company in Wyoming. After he gave a motivational speech in Las Vegas to a hockey team owned by one of his biggest campaign donors, he took that private jet ride from Las Vegas back to his house in Montana.
He`s also charged taxpayers to pay for his private jet flights to Republican fundraisers. And then there is the multiple private jet flights he charged to U.S. taxpayers for flights to and around the U.S. Virgin Islands, including for what sounds like a super awesome snorkeling tour. Taxpayers paid to fly him to that on a chartered jet.
Ultimately, Trump Health Secretary Tom Price, who had to resign in disgrace, and then Trump`s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who had to resign in disgrace, they`ve sort of gotten all the glory for being the most flamboyantly, unsustainably corrupt members of the Trump cabinet yet. But, you know, Ryan Zinke has always been a contender. Do not count him out.
His behavior in office led ultimately to the independent inspector general at the Interior Department starting four different simultaneously ethics investigations into Zinke`s behavior since he`s been running that agency. Now if you`re the Trump administration, that just seems like a terrible idea, right? An independent investigation of Ryan Zinke? Why would we allow that? Why are we allowing that? Why would we let that go forward?
Hey, where is the dining set lady? What`s she doing now? Couldn`t we get her to fix this too?
That is literally what they tried to do. Two days ago, "The Hill" newspaper was first to report on an e-mail from HUD dining set secretary Ben Carson congratulating this woman, who had worked on the Trump campaign and who worked in Carson`s office. The e-mail was congratulating her on her graduating from Ben Carson`s office at HUD, which is where she approved the dining set.
He was sending this e-mail to let everybody in the agency know that she was on her way out because she was moving up, because she was getting what is actually a really serious and prestigious job. Ben Carson`s e-mail, again, first reported two days ago announced that this woman from his office would now be leaving HUD, and she would be moving over to the Department of Interior to become the independent inspector general of the Interior Department. Wow. That is a big promotion.
Now, there are obviously a few little problems with the idea of this person becoming the inspector general at Ryan Zinke`s agency.
Number one, she`s the dining set person. She really is the person who was brought in to excuse Ben Carson`s $31,000 table and the corruption and ethics and waste problems therein. That`s not a great background for an inspector general who supposed to ferret that kind of stuff out.
Number two, she has absolutely zero experience in anything related to the Department of Interior. More importantly, number three, she has absolutely zero experience when it comes to investigations of any kind.
So did you say there are four active simultaneous ethics investigations into Ryan Zinke? Well, this person will be perfect. Bring her in.
So, Ben Carson makes this announcement to his staff, we`re so sorry to see you go, you`ll be great at your inspector general job at the Interior Department. Congratulations.
Meanwhile, the actual inspector general at the Interior Department, the one whose doing these four simultaneous investigations of Zinke, she learns about this when a colleague shows her Ben Carson`s e-mail. That`s how she learns the news that somebody new is apparently coming on over to take her job.
Now, to her credit, she basically refused to acknowledge that that was any real indication that she had been fired. She continued on, waiting to actually hear officially that she was out of a job. But for the past couple of days, where it looked like this was going was that the U.S. federal government under this president was going to hit yet another new low, right, when it comes to the tolerance of and even the celebration of just rank corruption, right?
You`ve got a professional, experienced, independent inspector general running four active investigations into a Trump cabinet secretary. She`s going to get fired. She`s going to be replace by someone with no experience whatsoever except for this person has worked for Trump campaign and helped them cover up ethics scandals before.
For the last couple days, that looked like this was where this was definitely heading. But then, but then shame woke up. Democrats on the committee in Congress that oversees the Interior Department, they wrote to one is basically the association of inspectors general in the U.S. government.
The reason an association like that exists is because being inspector general at a cabinet level agency, it`s a big deal. Inspectors general have a lot of power. It`s a very serious job. It`s a job for which independents and professionalism are seen as absolutely paramount.
And because of that, to a certain extent, the inspector general community, they kind of self-police. They have an association. They try to make sure that these important, sensitive inspector general jobs only go to people who are capable of doing that kind of work, who have relevant experience, and who can do that work with unimpeachable integrity.
So the Democrats, it occurs to them, hey, maybe we should write to the Associations of Inspectors General and say hey, the ding room set from Ben Carson`s office, really? She is going to be an inspector general now for a cabinet agency?
That`s not how they put it. They put it this way. Quote: The mere threat of replacing an inspector general when the head of the agency it oversees is under heavy scrutiny will send a signal to current and future I.G.s throughout the federal government that release unfavorable findings may threaten their job.
Quote: It creates a permanent disincentive for the candor required for an effective ig and severs the independence that is the foundation of effective oversight over federal government waste, fraud and abuse.
So, they send that off. And I know at this point, you`re thinking at this point, aw, Democrats. That`s cute, right? You`re in the minority of the House which means you don`t have any real power. Republicans clearly do not care about this when there`s a Republican administration doing it.
The Trump administration gets away with stuff like this and worse on a daily basis, right? Under the Trump administration, they have very quickly completely degraded any ideas or expectations that we have about corruption and abuse and nepotism and conflicts of interest. So, you know, why bother?
Well, you bother because sometimes it works. And in this case, lo and behold, shame makes an appearance in the Trump administration. I mean kind of. They`re not, of course, you know, shame-facedly admitting what they were trying to get away with here.
But they did get caught here. They got confronted about it, and now, they have ended up climbing down. You might have seen this headline in "The Washington Post" today.
Trump administration does about-face on its own announcement that top aide at HUD would be interior`s watchdog. That`s a lot of words, but it means they gave up on this scheme. I mean, the way they have decided to get out of this, to climb down from this is Zinke`s office telling reporters that this was never the plan. We don`t know what you`re talking about. Why do you think that was the plan?
Oh, that Ben Carson e-mail that said this was the plan? That was just Ben Carson screwing up. Zinke`s office put out an e-mail today the e-mail from Ben Carson`s office was, quote, 100 percent false information when he said this woman from HUD was going to become inspector general.
I mean, I think this is what shame actually looks like with these guys, even when you get caught and you have to climb down. Still, pick a fight about it. Blame someone else. Pretend to still be on offense.
But what they were trying to pull off with this inspector general switcheroo, they`re now not doing it. So to the Democrats who pushed on this, this is one of those rare examples that shows that fighting over the stuff sometimes works. You can`t win if you don`t play, right?
I mean, even when it seems futile. I understand why it sometimes seems futile. We are in a new era where the president is retaining his private business interests and keeping all of his finances secret, and he is giving senior jobs to his kids, and he`s hired cabinet officials and senior regulatory advisers who came into government service and immediately started making policy to benefit their own business interests which they then lied about.
I mean, it`s exhausting, right? Just big picture. Imagine any other time in U.S. history when we would be heading into a congressional election while the president`s campaign chair, deputy campaign chair, national security adviser, and long-time personal lawyer are all going to prison. They`re all awaiting sentencing, even before this presidency made it to its first midterm election.
I mean, we`ve never been in this dire a place in terms of ethics and criminality, and I`m including Watergate and Teapot Dome and everything else you can imagine. But what do we as citizens do about it? And what do we want our public officials to do about it?
The solution can`t be to just lower the bar, give up your expectations, throw your hands up and accept, OK, this is how corrupt America is now. I mean, unless we want to go down in history as the generation that said it`s okay for the federal government to become quickly more wildly and flagrantly corrupt than it has ever been in this country since our founding, if we don`t want to be the generation that decided that was cool and we weren`t going to peep about it, that means you do have to fight about it when you find out about corruption, even when you find out about some new element of it every day.
You have to cry foul. You have to denounce it and put up a fight. Not because you`re going win every time. You won`t, but because, A, we all have to answer at some point in our lives. And you are complicit if you say nothing. And B, more practically, if you do choose to fight, every once in a while, you might win.
And so, tonight, the inspector general`s office at the Interior Department, which is still intact, they have started to release some of their findings on Ryan Zinke and his wife and their taxpayer-funded travel arrangements, there are still multiple investigations under way. Apparently, that inspector general will now be allowed to stay there and complete that work.
And now, here is another one. This is the FBI building. It`s about four blocks away from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. It`s a disaster.
I don`t mean that like metaphorically, the FBI is a disaster. I mean, like, literally their building is a catastrophe. For years now, they`ve had nets up on the outside of the building to catch bits of the building as they fall off. So, those bits don`t crumble and crush people on the street below. Those are nets that you can see there.
When president Trump took office, the government plan for dealing with the crumbling FBI building is that they were going to do a swap with a private developer. The government, the General Services Administration, they were going to hire a private developer to build the FBI a brand-new sprawling, high security campus somewhere in the D.C. suburbs. They had a few different sites picked out as possibilities.
And then, essentially, as part of the payment for doing that work, what the private develop worry get is the, forgive me, crappy falling apart FBI building, which nobody wants, but the private developer would be allowed to tear it down and replace it on Pennsylvania Avenue with a big mixed use private development of their choice.
Prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue four blocks away from the White House. It`s a big site. It is a prime location. Everybody involved in this plan knew to expect that an expensive, mixed use high dollar development at the site of the currently FBI building would almost certainly include a fancy, new luxury hotel. So, that`s where they`re going.
The problem with that, now that Donald Trump is president, is that the site of the FBI building is only about a block away from the newest big luxury hotel in that part of Washington, D.C., which is the Trump Hotel in the old post office. You`re going give the president`s brand-new hotel, brand-new primo real estate competition right across the street while Trump is president? Really?
I mean, obviously, he should be completely divorced from any considerations that might affect his bottom line and his business there, but this is the Trump administration. A few months after Trump was sworn in, his administration announced an unexpected change in plans for the FBI building. Turns out -- forget it, forget the thousands of hours, and millions of dollars that have been spent planning for this. We`re changing course. There`s not going to be a new private development and a new hotel on the site of the old FBI building after all.
Everybody involved in the original plan is dumbfounded. All the sites in the suburbs that were being considered for the new FBI campus were like, what? We`ve done all this planning. The General Services Administration, which is the part of the administration that is responsible for making this decision, they`re sort of at pains to explain why the FBI building is going to be rebuilt on-site now, why they`ve changed their minds so abruptly after all this work to go with this totally different plan.
In April of this year, the head of the GSA, a Trump appointee named Emily Murphy, she got called before Congress to explain what happened. She said repeatedly that the dramatic change in plans was because that`s what the FBI asked for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: -- involved with briefing you or to your knowledge, did the president or any of the other officials at the White House consult with any of these other agencies in decision-making process?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, the FBI was the one who came to me.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: Again, to your knowledge, was the president or anyone at the White House involved in those discussions? Either with your predecessors or people you are working with now or yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, to my knowledge -- the direction that we got came from the FBI. It was the FBI that directed GSA as to what its requirements would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The White House took the same line, putting out a statement saying the whole reason this plan changed for FBI building had nothing at all to do with the president trying to line his own pockets and block competition for his new hotel in which he still has a controlling financial interest, no. The White House put out an official statement the president was simply following the direction of the FBI. He had no involvement in this decision otherwise.
We now know, in fact, that the president was directly involved in this decision. In fact, it appears that he ordered this decision, which has the effect of benefitting his hotel and his own financial bottom line. It appears that his appointee to run this agency lied to Congress directly when she told them it was the FBI and definitely not the White House directing this decision.
And we know this because Congressman Elijah Cummings and other Democrats decided that, okay, this is one we`ll fight, and they confronted the White House about it, and they pulled together the evidence. And it appears today that they just secured a smoking gun, including this photograph, which proves what the president did here and what his official lied to Congress about.
Both the proverbial smoking gun and Congressman Cummings here next.
MADDOW: So this is the meeting that the Trump-appointed director of the GSA, the General Services Administration appears to have lied about under oath to Congress. This meeting took place in the oval office. You see the time stamp there, January 24th, 2018.
The woman who runs the General Services Administration is the woman in the middle of this photo. Her name is Emily Murphy. During her congressional testimony, three months after this picture was taken, she was asked specifically if the president or anybody else at the White House had talked to her about her agency`s plans for the FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
That was the specific question. Did you meet with the president about this? Or other people at the White House?
She did. That`s what that meeting was about, we now know. She had taken those meetings. She had had those conversations, including with the president personally.
But that`s not what Emily Murphy said when she was asked about it specifically under oath. She insisted throughout her testimony that it was just the FBI who had directed her office to make any and all changes to the plan for FBI headquarters.
Now, we do seem to have what essentially look likes a smoking gun in terms of what happened at -- well, A, the fact that that meeting happened. But also now what happened at that meeting, and what the president asked for at that meeting. The reason we`ve got the smoking gun now is because as of today, we`ve got the actual e-mails that were sent by her agency and her staff accounting for what happened at that meeting and what was said at that meeting, and putting the decisions made at that meeting into action.
These e-mails include an official from the GSA sending an e-mail a few days after the meeting referring to, quote, what POTUS directed everyone to do. And, quote, POTUS` orders. Another official from the agency talked about delivering, quote, the project that the president wants on the timetable he wants it done.
It`s not what you say about a president who is taking a, you know, taking an issue like this at remove because of his personal financial interests in this matter. I mean, what the president wanted done here was this federal agency to do a 180-degree about-face U-turn so the FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue wouldn`t be redeveloped into a new luxury hotel that would compete with his hotel in D.C., which is basically right across the street.
So, now, we have these e-mails what the president ordered. And it sort of feels like this is a done deal. It sort of feels like you can box this one up and put a bow of it. I mean, in terms of the president having taken financial action to benefit his own finances, to benefit his own business and his bottom line and the White House having lied about it. The White House put out a statement saying oh, this is the FBI`s decision. It had nothing to do with the president.
Plus, the GSA head who the president appointed and then directed what to do about this property, she also appears bluntly to have lied to Congress about whether or not the president told her what to do here.
Well, today the top Democrat on the oversight committee on the House, Congressman Elijah Cummings and other top Democrats sent a letter to that agency, to the GSA saying they`ve obtained these e-mails showing that that Trump appointed head of that agency lied to Congress about this and they`ve now got dead to rights evidence that the president appears to have intervened in the decision to build this building in a way that directly benefits his personal business interests.
Congressman Cummings and his colleagues today asking the head of the GSA essentially, hey, what else are you not telling us about this. Joining us now live is Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee in the House.
Congressman, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It`s good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So I tried to sum this up, even for people who may not have been following this. As we`ve seen it unfold over the last few months, the surprise change in policy from the administration, an inspector general report, this congressional testimony, the revelation of this meeting that was not referred to in the congressional testimony.
Let me ask you if there is anything important here that I`ve left out, or is this pretty much how you see this scandal?
CUMMINGS: No, you did an excellent job of describing it. And we have a situation here, Rachel, where there is a clear conflict of interest that the president and the GSA should have not been involved in. And the president should have been warned off from any negotiations with regard to the FBI building, and the GSA should have stopped him from being involved.
But keep in mind, the head of GSA is an appointee of the president.
MADDOW: What do you anticipate will happen now that you`ve exposed this information that essentially proves those points? And I -- it`s important what you just noted there, that as a matter of procedures, a matter of the way the GSA does its business, it should have recognized the conflict of interest from the president here and not allowed him to become involved in this.
What do you think will happen to the accountability here?
CUMMINGS: I don`t think much will happen with regard -- if things continue the way they`ve been with regard to our committee, as you probably know, Chairman Gowdy has refused to issue any subpoenas and basically the Republicans have acted more or less as defense counsel for this administration.
So, it may be, Rachel, that before we can truly get into this and hold hearings, it may be when the Democrats take over, hopefully in January, that we`ll have hearings and then we`ll get to the bottom line.
But clearly Ms. Murphy was not honest with us. And to be frank with you, I`m very disappointed. And by the way, lying to Congress is a crime.
Here`s the deal. This was a bad deal for the American people, what President Trump did. Keeping that facility there will cost taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars, Rachel. But the other piece is that they will only be able to accommodate -- they`ll be able to accommodate less than -- in other words, 2,000 less employees than they are able to accommodate now. Which makes absolutely no sense, except that President Trump will definitely benefit.
MADDOW: As a matter of self-dealing to the extent that this helps the president`s existing business, the hotel that he has in D.C., that it -- as you describe it, that it may be charging the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, essentially, to provide a benefit to the president for his business, that kind of obvious self-dealing and corruption feels like a criminal matter. It doesn`t feel like just something that presidents and politicians ought to be ashamed about. And you`ve described the potential penalties here for the GSA administrator.
But in what sense does the president have to answer for this? How could he potentially be on the hook here, if at all?
CUMMINGS: Well, he would be on the hook if -- well, several things. One, if we look at it and found that there was some criminal activity, that`s one reason to have hearings. We could refer it to DOJ, but I don`t know exactly what DOJ would do with Mr. Sessions heading DOJ.
The other thing, though, is that, Rachel, to even get this in a hearing, we would have to have the Republicans to cooperate with us and allow a hearing. Right now, they will not touch this administration under no circumstances. Even though -- even with clear evidence like this. And so, our -- the name of our committee is Oversight and Government Reform. Oversight clearly indicates that we have to have information to do our job, and basically the Republicans have been blocking us Democrats from getting that information that we need.
MADDOW: Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. If the House did change hands and became under Democratic control, obviously, be in line to be chairman of that committee, which would change everything on an issue like this.
Congressman, thank you for your time tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: Enough with the scare tactics. In Wisconsin, preexisting conditions are covered. And as long as I`m governor, they always will be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So says the governor who is suing the federal government right now to try to ensure that preexisting conditions won`t be covered any more in Wisconsin, or anywhere. But he says it very earnestly. Thus the tingly music in the background that makes you feel warm.
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is one of a whole bunch much Republicans running for reelection this year by trying to pretend that they are the true champions of Obamacare. In Wisconsin, that has given Scott Walker`s Democratic opponent Tony Evers obvious campaign plank. He has been hammering Scott Walker to drop his freaking lawsuit that would abolish Obamacare, including the parts about covering preexisting conditions.
Since Scott Walker is now literally trying to run for reelection by saying he stands for all the popular parts of Obamacare, all of the parts of Obamacare he has simultaneously actively working to destroy. Polls show governor walker trailing by a little bit behind Tony Evers, his Democratic challenger.
But that poll was actually before today`s latest kick in the teeth for the governor, one of the unusual -- excuse me, one of the unusual hallmarks of Scott Walker`s time as governor in Wisconsin is that people who have worked for him, people who have worked for him even in very senior jobs since he`s been governor, people who Scott Walker appointed to cabinet positions in the state, they keep coming out against Scott Walker in surprising numbers. It keeps happening.
Cabinet secretaries who were appointed by Walker, who worked at Walker`s administration keep coming forward now, ahead of this next election to say, hey, listen, I know Scott Walker. I worked for him. I was a senior member of his administration. We have to get this guy out of there. Vote for the Democrat this time.
I mean, today for the fourth time, a former Scott Walker cabinet secretary came out against Scott Walker`s reelection, formally endorsed Evers instead. Three of these guys signed a letter today warning the public about what they say were pervasive questionable practices within the walker administration. Quote, Governor Walker has consistently skewed sound practice managements in favor of schemes or cover-ups and has routinely put his future ahead of the state.
Again, these are people who work in Scott Walker`s cabinet. Four of them have now come out and said, you`ve got to get rid of this guy and we`ve seen him up close. You can see why there is heat around that Wisconsin election.
I can tell you tonight that with 19 days to go until voting day, close to 111,000 Wisconsin voters have already voted either in person or absentee. That`s not far behind the number who had voted at this point two years ago, which was a presidential election year where Wisconsin was super hard fought.
Now, whether the number of votes cast this year already includes any votes from former members of Scott Walker`s cabinet, we don`t know. But it is starting to look like a surprisingly high turnout year in Wisconsin, and potentially all over the country. We`ve got some new data on that coming up. This is something Republicans cannot be happy about.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Nineteen days, 19 days out from election day. What are you doing to make sure it goes the way you want to?
Nineteen days out and there is already talk among early vote watchers that this year may hit a level of voter turnout not seen in 50 years for a congressional election when there isn`t also a president on the ballot. On day one of early voting in North Carolina this week, voters cast over 133,000 votes that one day. And I know a big number is just a big number, but look at the comparison, 133,000 votes is way more votes than North Carolina cast in the last election like that four years ago.
But the state we`ve been watching with greatest interest this week in terms s of voter numbers and voter suppression and all these issues is the great state of Georgia. Georgia started early voting on Monday. We`ve been tracking how many people have been voting in Georgia each day. And now, we`ve got numbers for the first three days of early voting -- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
The last time we had a congressional election, so four years ago, 2014, on the first day of in-person early voting in Georgia, it was just under 21,000 people who turned out to vote that day. The next day, four years ago was over 18,000 people. The third day was 28,000 people. So, that`s four years ago, the first three days of early voting in Georgia.
Compare that to this year`s election. On day one of early voting this past Monday, over 70,000 people in Georgia cast their ballots in person. The next day, day two, was over 76,000. Wednesday, yesterday, day three, look, nearly 77,000. Look at the year jump in Georgia, and look at how high the numbers are staying days one, two, three in Georgia.
The backdrop to this rather insane level of civic participation in Georgia is this unexpectedly tight race for governor. The Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the polls say he`s barely ahead of the Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. Kemp, of course, says it is perfectly fine for him to be both running for governor as the Republican nominee and running the election as secretary of state.
Except now, it is getting harder for him to answer questions about why that`s so. He is being sued now for essentially holding more than 50,000 voter registrations hostage for things like a dropped hyphen in someone`s last name or an extra space somewhere in someone`s address. He`s also being sued for what`s going on in a majority-minority county in Georgia called Gwinnett County. Not just voter registrations, but of actually mail-in completed ballots.
Lawyers from one of the groups suing Gwinnett County are telling us tonight that they are right now preparing to file for emergency relief, trying to expedite their request to get those ballots reviewed and reinstated in time for the election, which as I mentioned is only 19 days away.
Joining us now is Dale Ho. He`s director of ACLU`s Voting Rights Project.
Mr. Ho, thank you very much for being here.
DALE HO, DIRECTOR, ACLU`S VOTING RIGHTS PROJECT: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: I understand that you are suing Brian Kemp.
HO: We are.
MADDOW: What are you suing him for?
HO: In Georgia, over 1,200 absentee ballots have already been rejected. We know that 40 percent of them are in one county, Gwinnett County. We know that African-American voters who voted by mail have seen their ballots rejected three times the rate of white voters.
Now, what happens in Georgia is absentee ballots get rejected for a number of different reasons. One reason your ballot can be rejected is if an elections official, just an ordinary state employee, looks at your ballot and decides based on that person`s eye that the signature on your ballot doesn`t look like the signature on your voter registration form. And they can reject your ballot without ever telling you, without giving you an opportunity to say, hey, actually, you know what, that`s me. That`s my ballot.
MADDOW: Wait, they can reject your ballot and throw it away without ever telling you it`s not being counted and that`s the reason why?
HO: Well, they`re supposed to notify you promptly under the state statute, but that might not happen after election day in some cases, it might not happen before you`ve had an opportunity to even say, you know what, you`ve made a mistake here. That`s actually my ballot.
And that`s why we`re suing. We`re suing just for the opportunity for voters whose ballots are getting rejected on this basis to say, stop.
MADDOW: We are looking every day. We`ve been covering stories about voter suppressive tactics and the various lawsuits that are springing up in various states. We`ve been focusing on Georgia because it feels like there is a lot going on in Georgia, and Georgia has a lot of history, a lot of voter suppressive history in Georgia is through Brian Kemp who is now the gubernatorial candidate.
I have to ask you as someone who has a perspective on this from a national perspective from the ACLU, is Brian Kemp inventing the wheel here? I mean, is he -- has he come up with a new bag of tricks that nobody else has tried before in terms of trying to winnow down the voter rolls, trying to cut people off the voter rolls, trying to reject ballots, reject ballots, or are they all singing out of the same hymnal?
HO: Well, I wouldn`t say Brian Kemp is an original, right? He`s not coming up with new techniques for suppressing voters. What he is doing that I think is pretty unique is that he`s using all of them all at once in the election that he happens to be running in.
MADDOW: When Stacey Abrams and some other organizations, not necessarily in support of her, but making now the same claim that her campaign is making, when they say that Kemp should step down as secretary of state because it`s just an inherent conflict, there`s no way you can legally, safely and without conflict administer an election in which you yourself are at the top of the ticket, do you have sympathy with that charge?
HO: I think it is a problem in America that we have elections run by partisan actors, particularly when those partisan actors are themselves on the ballot. You know, in other western democracies, elections are run by professional nonpartisan staff. I think that`s probably the best practice.
But, you know, Brian Kemp is not alone. Chris Kobach, the secretary of state for Kansas, he`s running for governor there. And we had to sue him to stop him from preventing about one out of eight new voter registration applicants from getting on the rolls in that state this year.
Other states have seen problems, too. States that are sometimes seen as critical states in the battle for the Senate. Missouri, we had to sue to top them from failing to comply with our obligations under the federal motor voter law. Arizona, same story. North Dakota obviously has problems with its ID law. Indiana wanted to purge voters, again, without providing notice, similar to what Brian Kemp is doing.
So, it just seems like this is not a coincidence, that it`s happening in all of these states that are all closely contested and that are seen as pivotal for control of the Senate.
MADDOW: Do you expect these legal battles to go right through the next 19 days? Are we at a point now where the courts aren`t going to intervene to stop even the worst practices because we`re closer to the election?
HO: The closer you get to the election, the more reluctant courts are to intervene. But we`re hopeful at least in Georgia, you know, we`re not asking for some massive change to the rules. All we`re asking is that voters before their ballots are tossed that they be notified and they have a chance to say, hey, that`s me, don`t throw my ballot away. And we think that`s not a big ask.
MADDOW: Dale Ho is the director of the ACLU`s Voting Rights Project. Thank you for being here. Much appreciated. It`s going to be a tough 19 days. Talk to you again.
HO: Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In the `70s, it was sideburns and wide lapels with Gerald Ford. By the `80s, he had dialed back the lapels a little bit and the side burns for this Reagan/George H.W. Bush club sandwich. By the `90s, Paul Manafort had settled on sort of a signature look. Romney hairdo with a part with Vince Wilfork shoulder pads.
He liked that look so much, he even gave that patented Paul Manafort look to his client at the time, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. He gave him an extreme makeover in his own image. Twinsies.
Even during his federal trial in Virginia this summer, before he was convicted on eight felony charges, Paul Manafort was dressed to the nines every day in court. Really nice suits.
The reason he was allowed to wear those nice suits at his trial is because courts allow defendants to wear street clothes when they`re on trial. So their appearance in Department of Corrections jumpsuit doesn`t end up improperly swaying the jury by making them look guilty. You have the presumption of innocence and you get to look innocent too by looking like a guy on the street. In Paul Manafort`s case, that`s a guy in an ad for an expensive suit.
Hold on to that mental picture of Manafort, though, because it`s sort of the end of an era now. Tomorrow, Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign chairman, will be due back in court. Earlier this week, in anticipation of tomorrow`s hearings, Manafort`s lawyers asked the judge if Manafort could please wear a suit, could he please wear street clothes just like he did during the trial.
Yesterday, the judge, the federal judge who presided over Manafort`s trial who will preside over tomorrow`s hearing, he ruled, no. Quote: defendants who are in custody post-conviction are as a matter of course not entitled to appear for sentencing or any other hearing in street clothing. Quote: this defendant should be treated no differently from other defendants.
So, Judge Ellis denies Paul Manafort`s request to wear a suit tomorrow. He`ll been in his jumpsuit, his green prison jumpsuit. The reason he`s going to be in court tomorrow overall is because the judge wants to know whether the special counsel`s office plans to re-try Manafort on the ten felony counts that the jury had deadlocked on in his earlier trial. The judge wants an answer from the prosecutors soon even though the Mueller team isn`t done getting information out of Paul Manafort now that he has a cooperation deal with them.
So, this week, the special counsel`s office said in a filing that if they do have to make a decision now, quote, the government does not oppose a dismissal of those ten counts without prejudice, which means they don`t want to make a decision now about whether they`re going to try Paul Manafort on those ten counts. They want to wait and see what else they can get out of him as a cooperator. But if the judge is going to force them to make a decision now, OK, they`ll let him off the hook for those 10 felony counts at least for now, but they want the right to bring up those counts again and re-try him again if they decide to down the line.
But, remember, this federal judge we`re talking about is the guy that sort of puts the crank in cranky. He was the one who was really pushy towards the prosecutors all throughout the trial. That`s the judge prosecutors and Manafort will be back in front of tomorrow. So anything could happen. Watch this space.
MADDOW: Last story. Today in one of the big congressional races in Virginia, the Republican incumbent Dave Brat went to a prison. He emerged with his headlines, Brat to inmates: you think you`re having a hard time, I`ve got $5 million in negative ads.
That really appears to be what he said to the prisoners. Quote, you think you`re having a hard time, I`ve got $5 million worth of negative ads going at me, he told the prisoners.
I`m not a politician, I don`t know what makes exactly for good political hay, but we can see how this might be over for Congressman Brat`s formidable Democratic opponent who`s an ex-CIA officer named Abigail Spanberger. She`s about to be on right here live with my colleague, Lawrence O`Donnell.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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