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Florida Senate Race still too close to call. TRANSCRIPT: 11/12/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Patricia Mazzei, Barry Richard, Jerrold Nadler, Harley Rouda, Brian Rice

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 12, 2018 Guest: Patricia Mazzei, Barry Richard, Jerrold Nadler, Harley Rouda, Brian Rice

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: We need to spend more time. Thank you, Chris. Have a great evening.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off. She`s going to be back tomorrow.

And happy Veterans Day. This is a long weekend for some people. If you`re one of them, congratulations.

You may have noticed that the news really did not slow down this weekend, like not even for a second. Not even for a two-day, let alone a three-day weekend. These absolutely terrifying and terrifyingly destructive fires have continued to ravage California. The death toll from those fires rose precipitously through the weekend. We`re going to have more on that ongoing disaster in the president`s ill-considered response to it in just a few momentums.

But, of course, the midterm elections that happened almost a week ago have continued happening. Not just through the weekend, but right up to this very moment. NBC News is calling Democrat Kyrsten Sinema the apparent winner in the Arizona Senate race. That`s the seat currently held by retiring Republican Jeff Flake which makes this a Democratic gain.

The Republican candidate Martha McSally conceded not long ago in a video tweeted out by her campaign. There she is accompanied by her dog.

National Republicans, including the White House have reportedly been urging her not to concede and to join them in pushing conspiracy theories about the vote count in Arizona. But she has declined. Now, there is speculation that that could be because she expects to be appointed Arizona`s other senator. In the seat that Jon Kyl is holding only on a temporary basis following the death of John McCain.

All right. Let`s begin the night in Florida. This was the scene over the weekend as captured by a producer of this show outside the Broward County supervisor of elections office, where votes are being counted in Florida Senate and governors races. As you can see, the protests outside the elections office in Broward County look a little more relaxed today, almost more of a tailgating feel to them if your tailgating parties resembled a Donald Trump party.

Beyond the parking lot, the legal battle over these Florida races is really only getting started. As of tonight, in Florida governor`s race, Republican Ron DeSantis remains the apparent winner, according to NBC News. But his lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum has shrunk considerably since Tuesday night as more votes have been counted in Democratic strongholds like Broward County.

DeSantis is ahead of Gillum now by fewer than 34,000 votes out of over 8 million cast. That makes the margin less than half a percentage point which in Florida triggers an automatic machine recount of the votes. So, that`s ongoing across the state as we speak, though at last check, Broward County still had not started its recount, and the deadline for counties to complete the recount is Thursday afternoon.

The same goes for the Florida Senate race. But that race is much closer. As you can see, NBC News still has this race too close to call. Just 12,500 votes separate Republican Governor Rick Scott and the Democratic senator he`s trying to unseat, Bill Nelson.

Scott`s lead in this race has dwindled over the last week, and on Thursday at noon, when the machine recount is over, if it`s over by then, and if the margin is still this close or closer, there will be a hand recount of all the votes.

I spoke with NBC News national political correspondent Steve Kornacki earlier today. He told me earlier the hand recount is where things may get really interesting.


STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLIITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In the issue in Broward County is you had this extraordinary number of what they call undervotes, votes that were cast -- whoa -- votes that were cast for governor but were not cast for Senate. There were about 26,000 ballots that left that Senate contest blank. And the question is why in a county that Bill Nelson is getting 70 percent of the vote. In the Nelson campaign says it`s a machine issue. They were feeding them into machines. It was for some reason missing all these voters for the Senate.

Well, if there is a manual recount. That will find that and they will find tens of thousands of ballots with names checked off in Senate race. They`ll add them, potentially just looking at how the vote is going in this county, potentially you could be talking about a net there begin of 10,000 votes for Bill Nelson. Again, keep that margin in mind.

But the other possibility here is the ballot design. We`ve been talking about this. The Broward ballot design, long column on the left here of instructions. There is the U.S. Senate race.

Look, the governor`s race meanwhile. There were more votes prominently top of the center column, wide spacing there. You say a lot easier to miss this than that.

And U.S. election assistance commission, they give advice to states and cities on how to run elections. They have a report that specifically advised never to do what Broward did. They said when you have a column of instructions, their counties found that when you put a race underneath a column of instructions, they concluded that voters were likely to miss that race and not vote on it.

So, that`s why that ballot design issue looms so large. If the Nelson campaign is right, that 12,000 could come awfully close to zero because of this. If not, I`ll not sure where Nelson gets the vote.


VELSHI: All right. That was Steve Kornacki earlier today laying out where the Nelson campaign thinks it can find the votes to possibly win that race in Florida.

It`s possible. Nelson lost a lot of votes in a heavily Democratic County because of how poorly designed that ballot is. But the Nelson campaign`s attorney who`s litigated a lot of recounts in his time says he is confident that when all of the votes are counted, Nelson will be the winner. Well, the vote counting continues. Meanwhile in Florida`s courtrooms, there are a number of battles brewing.

I`m not going to detail every single lawsuit that has been filed thus far in Florida. The show is only an hour-long, after all. But I am going to tell you the Nelson campaign and outside Democratic groups are asking judges to make county elections officials, counties election officials stop tossing out mailed in ballots because the signature doesn`t match the one on file.

They want officials to take a second look and reconsider those ballots. They want county officials to accept ballots that were mailed by Election Day but didn`t reach elections officials by the mandated deadline.

Another lawsuit seeks to have Rick Scott as the governor of Florida recuse himself from involvement with the recount process, and that is because -- this one makes sense -- Rick Scott, as his lead in the race has dwindled, has not only accused the Broward County supervisor of elections of rampant fraud, he has not only alleged that, quote, unethical liberals are trying to steal the election from him, he has also asked the state law enforcement agency, which he controls to investigate and potentially intervene in vote counting in Broward County.

Yesterday, Rick Scott secured a motion, he filed a motion in court asking a judge to let his state law enforcement agency impound all the vote counting machines in Broward County, as in take control of the voting equipment. Now, the Broward County elections department has had its share of problems. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that.

In fact, after the supervisor of elections there got in trouble after the last election in 2016, this governor, Rick Scott, said he was so concerned about Broward County, he would be sending his own state election monitors in there to keep an eye on things this year in 2018. And so, after Rick Scott started saying that there was rampant fraud in Broward County`s vote count this year, reporters, including from this very program, started reaching out to the Scott administration to ask whether those monitors had in fact been sent to Broward County, whether they had found anything suspicious.

Guess what? Scott`s election monitors have not seen anything to support Rick Scott`s claims of fraud. Quote, our staff has seen no evidence of criminal activity at this time, which is also what the state law enforcement agency said. They told the governor they were unable to carry out the investigation into the vote count that he asked for because they couldn`t find any allegations of fraud to investigate. Not evidence, allegations.

And so, Rick Scott went to court today to try to get a judge to force law enforcement to intervene in the recount by impounding, taking control of the voting machines. The judge rejected his motion because he said there was simply no evidence that it was warranted.


JAKE TUTER, JUDGE: If someone in this law enforcement or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor`s office, they should remit it to the local law enforcement officer. If the lawyers are near, they should get the person to swear out an affidavit.

But everything they`re saying in front of the elections office is beamed all over the country. We need to be careful what we say. These words mean things these days, as everybody in the room knows. So I`m urging everybody to wait until these counts are over and there is going to be plenty of time to litigate whatever anybody wants to litigate.


VELSHI: All right. So Rick Scott has not had much luck thus far trying to intervene in vote count, although he has been making almost daily appearances on Fox News to air his evidence-free claims of voter fraud. It`s a popular saw.

But here`s something interesting to keep in mind about the continuing election fight in Florida, and this is something we have heard from, among others, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producers who were in Broward County on Friday and Saturday. A lot of the national attention is on this Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson because that is the closest race, and it`s being most vigorously fought in the courts.

But on the ground in Florida, the strongest feeling among voters appears to be centered on the governor`s race. The protesters crowding the Broward County elections office were mostly to judge by their signs and paraphernalia supporters of Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum.

Last night and tonight, Andrew Gillum has held events at black churches in Florida labeled as faith events to make every vote count. He has another one scheduled for tomorrow. The speeches he has been giving have not just been about his own election prospects, which remain distant even with the recount given the wider margin in the governor`s race, but his speeches have been more broadly about voting rights, about voter disenfranchisement, about the integrity of elections, which may suggest that Andrew Gillum, like his fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams in Georgia, might be focusing not only on his own contest, but on fixing the process for the next election.

Joining us now is Patricia Mazzei, Miami bureau chief for "The New York Times".

Patricia, thank you for being with us.


VELSHI: All right. These lawsuits, there are lots of them out there. They`re hard to keep track of. We haven`t even listed them because there are so many going on. Are there any to you that look like they`ve got the most merit?

MAZZEI: Well, we should note that the governor, one, his first two motions against Broward and Palm Beach, they were not on fraud allegations. They were on access, public records, transparency issues.

There is a federal lawsuit pending filed by Senator Nelson`s campaign that is challenging how Florida counties invalidate mail ballots and provisional ballots based on voters` signatures.

VELSHI: Right.

MAZZEI: We`re going have a hearing on that on Wednesday, and that`s going to be interesting, if nothing else, because this has been an issue in other states and because what they claim is that the criteria for throwing out some of these ballots is so inconsistent that all of these ballots should count.

Now, we`re talking about thousands of ballots, but probably not enough to overturn any result except for maybe the agricultural commissioner`s race on their own. But it just would be a statewide implication as opposed to lawsuits in specific counties.

VELSHI: Right. And the signature issue is more serious than it appears. Cindy McCain has said this. Sometimes she signs her name Cindy McCain and sometimes it`s C. McCain. I might do Ali Velshi somewhere, A. Velshi. So, this issue of not exact matches being thrown out may have some merit.

But you bring up Broward County and Palm Beach County. What`s the problem with Broward County?

Marco Rubio has tweeted about it. Jeb Bush got in on it. Everybody has been talking what a mess Broward County is from the perspective of elections. And Steve Kornacki, when he showed me that ballot today, I was thinking to myself, I might have missed that. I mean, it`s a poorly designed ballot.

MAZZEI: Well, there are national guidelines for how to design ballots. And they specifically say that when you have vertical voter instructions as Broward did, you should not put a contest underneath the instructions because people might miss them. Having said that, there is no standardized state ballot, and these are always the issues that we see when there is a disputed election that come up after the fact.

In Broward in particular, as you noted, they`ve had a history of troubles. And people took a while to really be openly critical of the elected supervisor of elections. But, you know, she has faced criticism even from within her own party at this point, just because people are frustrated with the fact that, for example, Miami-Dade County next door, which is a bigger county, was able to count more votes more quickly.

VELSHI: Patricia, this is supposed to be done by noon, this first machinery recount, by noon on Thursday. We`re already hearing there might be delays. What do you think happens? Do you think on Thursday at noon, the margin is that tight and it goes to a hand recount?

MAZZEI: Well, I think it`s 3:00 p.m. I think we can probably expect hand recounts in the Senate and agriculture commission races.

But, look, if history has taught us anything, it`s that we are going to see more lawsuits, especially if counties are unable to complete their machine recounts. And then we`re going to have to ask the same question about the hand recount, whether they will be able to finish in time for their next deadline on Sunday.

VELSHI: All right, 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. Thank you for noting that.

Patricia Mazzei is the Miami bureau chief for "The New York Times."

Joining us now is Barry Richard, Gillum campaign counsel.

Mr. Richard, thanks for being with us tonight.


VELSHI: What`s going on with Andrew Gillum. Does he -- does he think the recount will bring him closer or is he maybe thinking about future elections?

RICHARD: Well, he is hoping it will bring him closer. And obviously the legislature thought when you were within the margin of a half percent or less, that there was a realistic chance it would become closer, especially when the votes are being counted as they come in late are in a county that favored him significantly. I think what his mind is on base upon the conversations I`ve had with him is the necessity to fix the system that leaves a lot of people without their votes being counted. And I think that`s why you`re seeing him making speeches along that line. I think that`s significant to him.

VELSHI: You represented George Bush in the 2000 thousand recount. How would you compare what`s happening now to what happened then?

RICHARD: Here is how I would compare it. I was a Democrat representing the Republican candidate. I received hundreds of e-mails and mail letters, phone calls. Only a small handful of them were nasty.

My wife and I had an anniversary in the middle of the litigation, and Gore`s legal team toasted us on national television. We had demonstrators for both parties in front of the capitol who would demonstrate all day and then party together that night. Can you imagine that happening today?

VELSHI: Not at all. That said, how do you see the next few days playing out?

RICHARD: Well, Thursday we`ll know what the machine recount results in. So far as the Gillum team is concerned, we`ll evaluate all of the evidence that`s coming in. We`ll advise Mayor Gillum of what his legal rights are, and he`ll make a decision.

VELSHI: All right. And of course that margin is bigger in the governor`s race than it is in the senatorial race when you were representing George Bush in 2000. The margin was much, much smaller. Are you, given your experience, do you think a margin at this point of 30,000 plus votes is something that Andrew Gillum can bridge?

RICHARD: Well, it`s certainly possible when it`s out of 8.5 million votes. Whether or not that will happen, again, remains to be seen. I`m not prescient. None of us can predict what the result can be.

I don`t think, by the way, that there is any fraud here much less massive fraud. There generally is not fraud in American elections.

VELSHI: Right.

RICHARD: The studies that have been done show very little fraud. So, the question is whether there was enough error in the counting, and we just don`t know that.

VELSHI: That`s an important distinction. These are voting practices. These are all sorts of things that we can fix. It`s not the same thing as fraud that the governor is alleging.

Thank you, sir. Barry Richard with the Gillum campaign counsel, thank you.

All right. More news straight ahead. We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: Over the weekend, leading Democrats continue to raise the alarm about the president`s new acting attorney general. Matthew Whitaker comes to the job of chief law enforcement officer of the United States with a long record of criticizing the special counsel investigation, saying there was no collusion and the investigation ought to be starved of financial resources. Now, Whitaker has taken the job of overseeing the investigation, and he is fighting back against accusations that he`s going to try to rein in or undermine the probe.

"Bloomberg News" reports the acting attorney general has told associates that the Justice Department under his new leadership will not cut the budget for Mueller`s investigation, even though the only place that suggestion came from was him in this interview. He specifically put that idea out there as an option last year on TV, available for everyone to see. This is not hard journalistic work for us. He also continued to field questions about whether his ability to be acting attorney general was constitutional.

Today, the city of San Francisco threatened court action over the appointment, noting that the city currently has four cases proceeding against the Department of Justice, that name fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the defendant. San Francisco City attorney is asking the Justice Department to provide the legal justification behind elevating Whitaker to lead the Justice Department. Rod Rosenstein would have been the natural choice, by the way. Otherwise, the city said it may be forced to ask a judge for a legal rationale.

Now, "The Wall Street Journal" reports late tonight that the Justice Department is expected to publish a legal opinion supporting Whitaker`s appointment. That legal opinion is expected to come as early as tomorrow. Meanwhile, reports that Whitaker will not recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation despite his well-documented history of making statements questioning its legitimacy have Democrats pursuing new avenues of inquiry.

Whitaker has declared that he is, quote, committed to leading a fair department with the highest ethical standards. Democrats are not taking that at face value. Today, it emerged that top Democratic leaders, including one with whom I`m to be speak in the House and the Senate have sent a letter to Lee Loftus. This is Lee Loftus. He`s the top ethics official at the Department of Justice demanding to know immediately what if any advice he has given Whitaker regarding recusal.

Quote: We request that you immediately notify us in writing regarding whether you or any other ethics officials at the Justice Department have advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse from supervision of the special counsel investigation and the basis for that recommendation. It continues: We also request that you provide us all ethics guidance the department has provided to Mr. Whitaker to date.

The letter was signed by seven top Democrats, including the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, New York Democrat Jerry Nadler.

Empowered by the majority Democrats won last week, Congressman Nadler says he will summon Whitaker as the very first witness before his committee when Democrats take charge in January.

Joining me now, Congressman Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, good to have you here. Thank you.


VELSHI: You got a response to your letter to Lee Loftus?

NADLER: No, we have not gotten a letter yet and we don`t know when we`ll get one. I mean, it is clear I think that the very reason that he was appointed was to be a hatchet person on the investigation. He ought to recuse himself because he has prejudged the issue. He said there was no Russian involvement.

VELSHI: He has been very specific. He said there is no collusion, he doesn`t think this is a legitimate line of inquiry and had suggested on television in that CNN interview that you just could starve the Mueller investigation.

NADLER: He suggested a number of ways that you could do that, but he`s prejudged the issue, which means he shouldn`t be there, but we know why he was appointed, because the only reason, and the president was very clear about this, the only beef he had with Attorney General Sessions was that he did not recuse himself. He did not act as the president`s personal defense attorney.

So, obviously, when he appointed someone, he appointed someone he expected not to recuse himself. Now, he has, under normal ethical guidelines, he must recuse himself. That`s why we wrote this letter to the chief ethics person. You know, this is just another -- the obvious reason for this appointment was to crack down and control the Mueller investigation. This is part of a pattern of interference by the president with the investigation.

The president thinks he is above the law and can get away with it. And we`re going do have to show him he is not above the law and we have to protect the -- our first priority is to protect the integrity of the investigation because we are dependent on that investigation to protect the integrity of our elections from foreign interference.

VELSHI: So, perhaps in response to the letter that you and seven other legislators sent or perhaps in response to our inquiries, the Department of Justice has given us a statement tonight, and it says Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures a the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal, which is interesting. It`s different than a straight-out denial that there is any issue.

NADLER: Well, I hope that`s true. I have my reasons to doubt it, which I stated a moment ago, but we`ll see. And we`ll be interested in seeing what the Justice Department says.

VELSHI: I mean, given everything that`s happened and given how these Ethics Departments tend to be weakened under this administration, do you have any faith that Matthew Whitaker will, A, meet with these ethics officials and, B, that they`ll tell him anything useful, and C, that he might listen?

NADLER: I`m very skeptical of all of that because of the obvious reason, he is only useful to the president in so far --

VELSHI: He doesn`t recuse himself.

NADLER: He doesn`t recuse himself and acts to squelch the investigation. That`s why he was appointed, it`s part of a pattern of interference by the president with the investigation. You know, the normal process of having an acting attorney general would have been to go to the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the solicitor general, both have been confirmed by the Senate to their positions.

But instead, they went out of the normal line to take this guy who`s got no apparent qualifications, lots of conflicts of interest, and, again, the reason is transparent.

VELSHI: OK. So, you`re going to get in and you`re going to take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and you grog to invite or subpoena Matt Whitaker?

NADLER: We`ll, first, invite him. If he declines the invitation then we`ll subpoena him.

VELSHI: Do you think he`ll respect that subpoena?

NADLER: Well, I would hope so. I would hope that he will respect the subpoena and not fight it. He could delay it somewhat. But ultimately, he has to respect the subpoena.

VELSHI: All right.

NADLER: The House has to enforce the subpoenas.

VELSHI: What do you want to ask him?

NADLER: Well, we`ll ask him the obvious questions. Given your stated views, given the fact that you said that you prejudged the issue, that there was no investigation -- there was Russian interference with the election, which is ridiculous, how can you supervise the investigation? And more to the point, what will you do? Will you, when -- if and when Mueller gives the report, will you make that report public? Will you give it Congress?

VELSHI: Because he could put it in a drawer.

NADLER: He could put it in a drawer. Will you make that report available to Congress? Will you veto or tell Mueller he cannot go down any particular investigation line? Will you say he can`t indict any particular person, or do you think that he should be given the freedom to take the investigation where it leads as he has had that freedom under Rosenstein`s supervision and as any investigation should.

VELSHI: Congressman Nadler, good to see you. Thank you, sir.

NADLER: You`re quite welcome.

VELSHI: Congressman Jerry Nadler is the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Still ahead tonight, we`ve got the latest on the surprisingly long list of races that have not yet been called after last week`s midterm elections. And we are going to talk to one Democrat for Congress who declared victory this weekend in what could be a key Democratic pickup. We`ll have more on that story and others, a little later in the show.

Stay with us. We`re back after the break.


VELSHI: As I said earlier, I hope you`re having a good Veterans Day weekend.

Yesterday, a number of senior administration officials, including the V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie and the Defense Secretary James Mattis honored our nation`s veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

President Trump was not in attendance. He was in France this weekend with other world leaders to mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I. On Saturday, President Trump was scheduled to hold an event at a cemetery east of Paris in which a number of American soldiers are buried, but he didn`t show. He canceled, apparently due to rain.

All the other world leaders managed to attend their events that day, but rain stopped the president of the United States of America, who instead decided to hole up at the residents of the U.S. ambassador to France for the afternoon. Since returning to the United States last night, the president has held no public event here is at home to mark Veterans Day.

These are unusual moves for president, who tends to take every opportunity he can to publicly out the his support for veterans, even as he has taken numerous steps to undermine the government agency in helping the veteran`s administration, the V.A.

Today, we`re seeing how much those efforts to minimize the V.A. have worked. Last year, the president signed a law intended to expand G.I. bill benefits to more veterans. It was supposed to help more veterans cover their education and housing costs. But since signing that bill, the V.A. has struggled to keep up with a backlog created by that G.I. bill.

Today, more than 82,000 veterans in school have yet to receive their G.I. bill payments from the V.A., in large part due to I.T. glitches at the V.A., causing payments to veterans to either be delayed or just never delivered.

Veterans have been waiting on those payment news face taking on loans and credit card debt, getting kicked out of school, or even eviction from their housing as they wait for the V.A. to figure out these I.T. glitches.

A V.A. spokesperson tells NBC News that efforts to find a solution to the I.T. issue are, quote, ongoing. The House Veterans Affairs Committee will in the meantime schedule a hearing on the matter, scheduled for Wednesday, which is weeks left to go in the semester.

Happy Veterans Day weekend.


VELSHI: Look, losing an election is tough. Dogs help, though.


REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: Hey, everybody, I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona`s first female senator after a hard fought battle. I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.


VELSHI: The dog does soften the whole thing, doesn`t it?

Tonight, Republican Martha McSally whom you just saw conceded the race for Arizona senate, putting an end to drawn-out battle for that seat. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is on her way to becoming Arizona`s first female senator and the first Democrat in more than 30 years. But nearly a week later, for a range of other reasons, a number of other important races remain undecided.

Over in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is still battling her Republican opponent Brian Kemp. Right now, she is trailing by about 58,000 votes. And with ballots still left to be counted, Abrams hopes she can close the gap just enough to push Kemp`s lead below 50 percent. That would force the race into a runoff, because that`s how it works in Georgia. You have to get 50 percent who more to win.

I talked to the campaign manager for Stacey Abrams today. She says her team has defined 20,000 votes to make that runoff happen. There`s focused on an as yet uncounted provisional and absentee ballots, as well as early votes that have yet to be reported. The Abrams campaign has filed a lawsuit to make sure every vote in Georgia gets counted.

Why do you have to file a lawsuit for that? Shouldn`t every vote just get counted?

All right. It`s not just marquee races that remain outstanding, by the way. Results are still trickling in, in some pivotal House races. Voting in New Jersey`s third congressional district still do not know who their representative will be in January. Republican Congressman Tom McArthur is trying to cling to his seat there, but Democratic challenger Andrew Kim is currently ahead by more than a point, 3,500 votes.

Ballots are still being counted in Utah today where tens of thousands of votes have yet to be tallied in the fourth congressional district. If Republican incumbent Mia Love loses the race, that would give Democrats another pickup, 5,000 votes separating those two.

By NBC`s count, Democrats have gained 31 seats so far. The last votes to be counted will likely be in California where vote tallying is notoriously slow.

But there is one candidate in California who did not wait for an official call to declare victory. This was the headline over "The Sacramento Bee" on Saturday. Harley Rouda declares victory over 30-year Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Now, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has represented this solid red district in Orange County, California for 15 terms. In the entire existence of this congressional district, voters have never elected a Democrat. Dana Rohrabacher is so Russia-friendly, he is frequently referred to as Vladimir Putin`s favorite congressman. But now, it looks like Mr. Putin may need to find himself a new favorite on Capitol Hill.

Dana Rohrabacher is trailing Harley Rouda by more than 9,000 votes. I should tell you, NBC News has not officially called this race in favor of Harley Rouda, but "The Associated Press" has declared Mr. Rouda the winner, and Mr. Rouda declared victory this weekend. He is a first-time candidate. He is new to the Democratic Party.

For years, he was a registered Republican. Now he is the newest political newcomer to wrestle a solid red seat into Democratic hands.

Joining me now, Harley Rouda, who has declared victory against Dana Rohrabacher in California`s 49th congressional district.

Mr. Rouda, thank you for being here.


VELSHI: Under normal circumstances, I`d congratulate someone who has won a seat. We haven`t determined that you`ve won that seat. How did you determine it?

ROUDA: Part of it is looking at what votes are left to be counted. And for us, those were the mail-in ballots that had been received three days prior to Election Day, those that were dropped off on Election Day, those that are received three days after Election Day and provisional ballots. And based on the trend lines we had seen, those were all going to be headed our direction.

VELSHI: Democrats had flagged this district on as one of their targets early on there was a huge push to flip this seat.

Why do you think you were the candidate to unseat a 15-term congressman, someone who has been in Congress for 30 years?

ROUDA: Yes, 30 years. And it really just started after the women`s march. And me, like many people around the country holding our hand up and saying we need the change that we want the see. So, we`ve had grassroots support since day one. By the time we got to Election Day, we had 5,000 volunteers supporting our campaign.

And I think most people are between the 20-yard lines in America. They believe in socially progressive ideas, but they want fiscal responsibility. They want moderates, and that`s why we won this election.

VELSHI: All right. So, I want to ask you about Congressman Rohrabacher who is known for his affection toward Vladimir Putin. He was one of the only people -- trying to get count in my head -- who voted against the Magnitsky Act, for instance. When you talk to voters in your district, does the support for Russia or the investigation into Russia`s interference into the election, are those issues for your constituents?

ROUDA: You know, it depended on who you talked to and where they were on or are on the political spectrum, but when you brought it down to, OK, what`s all his trips to Russia, all his hard work on Russia doing to create jobs here? How it is helping your family? How is it helping your community? How it helping your schools? How is it helping your kids?

When you put it in that -- in those type of terms, most people quickly concluded yeah, why is he spending so much time on Russia.

VELSHI: What`s the number one priority for you when you take office? How are you going to reconcile the goals you got with the Republican-controlled Senate?

ROUDA: I think this is the best opportunity we have to really work on bipartisan legislation. And I think one of the first areas we have to focus on is infrastructure. We spend about 2.5 percent of our GDP on infrastructure. That`s about half of what the European Union spends, and about a third of what China spends. We see it all around us.

Great opportunity for bipartisan support, and I`m hoping those on both sides of the aisle will work to achieve that outcome.

VELSHI: You would think so. The president has hosted several infrastructure weeks in the last two years, but they haven`t amounted to a hill of beans.

ROUDA: Yes, I think it`s been about 50 infrastructure weeks in a row, but yes, it`s time to make it a reality.

VELSHI: Harley Rouda, tell me about the fact that you were a Republican.

ROUDA: Yes, I was a Republican. I left in 1997. And prior to that time, it was common for Republicans to believe in environmental stewardship, to believe in women`s rights, to believe in voting rights, to believe in civil rights, to believe in reducing the budget. And since then, and especially now, most of those issues have been placed on a backburner at best.

And I think that`s why we`re seeing such a move, at least in my district of moderate Republicans to support our campaign.

VELSHI: Harley Rouda, former Republican, now California Democrat, and according to the "Associated Press", a congressman-elect -- thank you for your time tonight, sir.

ROUDA: Thank you.

VELSHI: All right. Up next, a report from the California fires with a guest who really knows how these things work. We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: It started as a small brushfire a little after 2:00 p.m. in Griffith Park, California. The blaze quickly spread through the park trails where thousands of men were out clearing the brush and maintaining the roads. The men didn`t have access to water, so they tried to fight the fire with their shovels. And within 15 minutes, the smoke was halfway up the canyon.

The fire took the lives of 29 people. That was October 3rd, 1933. It was the deadliest fire in California, until Paradise. In this past hour, we learned that the death toll in and around the California town of Paradise is now 42, making the Camp Fire the deadliest in California state history.

Right now, there are three huge fires raging across California -- the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire. Statewide, 44 people have died, hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate, 8,000 firefighters have been dispatched across the state, risking their lives, battling these wind- driven wildfires, which is what makes what happened this weekend particularly troubling.

The president took to Twitter, claiming that California`s forest mismanagement is to blame for the fires and threatening to withhold federal funds from the state.

In response, the president of California professional firefighters issued a scathing statement, calling the president`s tweet, quote, ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning. He also pointed out that the president did not have his facts straight. Quote: Nearly 60 percent of California`s forests are under federal management, another one third under private control. It`s the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.

He went on, quote: Natural disasters are not red or blue. They destroy regardless of party. Right now, families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, a quarter million Americans have been forced to flee. At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed instead of recrimination and blame.

Joining me now, the guy who authored that statement, Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters.

Mr. Rice, we appreciate your time tonight, and we thank you and your members and all first responders and firefighters, and medical professionals for doing what they`re doing to keep Americans safe right now. What`s the latest?


You know, the news on the fire front up in paradise and then in Woolsey, too, it`s looking better. I`ll go back up to paradise as far as the weather is beginning to cooperate now, you know, they have personnel and equipment on scene. Down at the Woolsey Fire, a lot of the area is down, but the winds are still up. And that -- on either of these when the winds come up that could change everything in a heartbeat.

VELSHI: I know earlier -- a couple of hour ago, the Camp Fire seemed to have been about 25 percent contained, the Woolsey Fire about 20 percent. What do these numbers mean in real life? What is supposed to make people feel safe, what degree of containment?

RICE: I think in California, when you start to see the containment begin to approach 50, 50 percent and there`s a good weather outlook, you can begin to have a little bit of a sigh of relief.

VELSHI: Talk to me in simple terms about what the president said and what it really means. There are a lot of people who have pushed back saying regardless of whether it was ill-timed and ill-conceived, it`s just not actually correct what the president has said about California and why there are these massive wildfires there.

RICE: You know, I`ll absolutely standby what my statement said, and that the forest system in the United States and certainly California is part of that, it`s very complex. And it`s complex between state and federal government. In the case of the Camp Fire, the Camp Fire started in FRA, Federal Responsibility Area. The federal government had responsibility of that land.

They gave the fire suppression piece over the state and Cal Fire, but the overall management of that they retain, which includes vegetation management. The statement or the initial tweet to say that there`s no reason for these fires to have taken place, there`s several reasons and the top three are absolutely weather driven that we can`t have an affect on.

There`s no doubt that forest management can be better across this nation and our national forest lands. But to say there`s no reason, that -- it doesn`t make any sense -- we have red flag conditions that are still here, and everybody needs -- if you`re a citizen, you need to be on your guard. We`re in the seventh year of a drought. Live and dead fuel moistures are at all-time low. We still have low humidities and we still have a wind.

And those things in and of itself that you cannot control the best maintained forests when you have 50, 60, 70 mile an hour winds pushing fires, you`re in trouble.

VELSHI: It`s like hurricane type winds. The president maybe in response to what you said or otherwise did tweet out a more traditional response. He also tweeted out that he had signed an expedited request for a major disaster declaration for California.

What do firefighters need to fight these fires? Does this help you when the president says this?

RICE: Yes. And I do think the president completed his mission and that certainly we owe a nod and an appreciation of thanks, and that`s good. But when you lead men and women on the fire lines or any situation with that, their morale is incredibly important.


RICE: And the initial tweet did nothing to help the morale. I think and I hope that there`s a boost that the firefighters know on the line that not only their local and state officials have their back but also their federal government has their back.

VELSHI: Well, I don`t know make it habit to speak on behalf of our viewers but I think it`s fair to say tonight the country has your back. The country is behind you. The country is very grateful for the work that you do. Firefighters run toward a fire while the rest of us run away for it.

Brian Rice, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

RICE: Thank you.

VELSHI: Brian Rice is the president of the California Professional Firefighters.

We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: Today, we got the newest prediction of an indictment coming in the Russia investigation. Conservative author Jerome Corsi said today on his live stream show that he has been told he will be indicted for giving false information to the Mueller investigation or to the grand jury.

Jerome Corsi is a friend of Trump associate Roger Stone. The special counsel has been looking into whether Stone and Corsi, among others, had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks plans to release e-mails that had been hacked by the Russians. Jerome Corsi today said he tried to cooperate with prosecutors and the FBI, but he says under intensive repeated questioning, his mind became mush.

He cited the perjury trap. He said he anticipates being criminally charged soon that he is the next to be indicted. Also, he invited everyone to please send him money for his legal defense fund, which he said last week he`s been setting up.

And who knows who will be the next to be indicted in the Mueller investigation. Whether it`s Jerome Corsi or someone else, or multiple people, the inter workings of the investigations are a lot to wonder about. From where we sit on the outside, it can be hard to guess where events are leading.

But as Rachel herself likes to say, history is here to help. Her podcast, a great podcast, "Bag Man", has been following the story of Nixon`s vice president, Spiro Agnew, who tried everything he could think of to keep himself out of trouble for his baldly criminal behavior.

Spiro Agnew sought help from the rich and the famous. He started a legal defense fund that raised enough to defend almost no one. And in this next episode, you will hear him trying to use the power of his office to scare prosecutors away and shut the investigation down.

Tonight, more or less, I`m speaking to the latest edition of Rachel`s "Bag Man" podcast is going online. Yours for the listening, free along with really cool exhibits to see at

Rachel seems hesitant to promote this thing. It`s really good. You should download it. She`s not here. Take it from me.

All right. That does it for me tonight. Rachel is going to be back tomorrow. Remember to visit for the latest of the "Bag Man" podcast.

You can watch me tomorrow at MSNBC if you`re so inclined, at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

But now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.


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