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Remembering ex-Maine Governor Lepage. TRANSCRIPT: 1/4/2019, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Chris Murphy, Chris Lu

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 4, 2019 Guest: Chris Murphy, Chris Lu

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Don`t worry. And I was just enjoying you talking about my show from last night. That was very nice of you.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: It was so good. I watched it -- I listened in the car on the way home that thing you did on public puppet and sort of the president`s esoteric views on Montenegro national character. And I listened to it and I got home last night and watched it, and I`ve just been thinking about it all day, because I`m now sort of like obsessed with the question who put that in the president`s brain.


HAYES: It`s a very important, interesting question.

MADDOW: Well, thank you. A, thank you for listening to it. That`s above and beyond. When you do cable news all day, you don`t have to consume any of it.

HAYES: Sometimes you don`t want anymore. That`s true.

MADDOW: But also, I mean, the -- I mean, the contrary -- the non-worrying interpretation of this series of facts is that the president has come up with all of these things, all of these, as you put it, esoteric ideas about Afghanistan and about Montenegro and about Belarus and Poland and all these things on his own, without any input from the Kremlin. And that just seems so unbelievably improbable.

HAYES: I don`t think that`s true.

MADDOW: Anyway.

HAYES: Someone. Someone is talking to him.

MADDOW: Someone. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here this fine Friday night.

CNN`s excellent legal reporter Katelyn Polantz was first to report today that the grand jury that has been impaneled in Washington, D.C. to hear evidence and issue indictments in conjunction with the special counsel`s investigation under Robert Mueller, that grand jury has just had its term extended. Remember when the president`s lawyers kept insisting to reporters that they were totally sure the whole Mueller thing was going to be over by Thanksgiving, by last Thanksgiving in 2017? Yes, it turns out it is not over.

We think of a jury as, you know, the kind of jury that sits in a courtroom during a trial, hearing from witnesses, maybe hearing from the defendant, in front of a judge, and there is members of the public or even reporters sitting back there in the back of the courtroom. That`s what we think of when we think of jury.

A grand jury is not like that. A grand jury is not the same as the 12- person jury that sits in on a public trial. For one thing, a grand jury holds its proceedings in secret.

They also don`t sit every day. They meet behind closed doors, often one day a week. There are up to 23 people on a grand jury. Prosecutors bring witnesses before the grand jury.

Again, behind closed doors. Those witnesses give the grand jury sworn testimony. Prosecutors also bring them documentary evidence they have obtained as part of an investigation.

The role of the grand jurors is to look at all that evidence, weigh all that testimony, weigh all of these things that prosecutors bring them to consider, and then the grand jury has to decide if, considering all this evidence prosecutors have assembled enough of a case to justify bringing charges against a defendant. So, the whole point of a grand jury is that they need to sign off if prosecutors want to bring an indictment against somebody.

Once a grand jury signs off on an indictment, that`s when a person can be charged. That`s when the person gets put on trial. That`s when a regular jury is convened to sit there in the courtroom and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of those charges.

But it is the secretive and I think sort of hard to imagine role of the grand jury that allows people to get charged, to get indicted in the first place. And the special counsel Robert Mueller has charged a lot of people in the Russia investigation thus far, and he has been working with a grand jury that was impaneled, that came into being in the summer of 2017, specifically on July 5th, 2017. Under court rules, a grand jury can serve for up to 18 months, but then if a judge believes it`s in the public interest to keep that grand jury on the job for even longer than 18 months, a judge does have the opportunity to approve an extension for that grand jury of up to six more months.

So, that is what has just happened today with Robert Mueller`s grand jury. It was due to expire 18 months after it was first impaneled, which I think means it was due to expire this weekend. The chief judge of the federal court in D.C. has now as of today granted an extension to that grand jury. That grand jury extension can be up to six months. It doesn`t necessarily have to be for that long. But we shall see.

There are 23 presumably grand jurors out there among our fellow citizens who have been following along for 18 months now with the special counsel every step of the way as he has put together all of these indictments, seen all of this evidence, heard all of this testimony. Those 23 Americans on that grand jury have had a really fascinating last 18 months, but they`re going to be doing this work for a little longer yet.

I will say presumably, if the special counsel continues to need more work from a grand jury, even after six more months have gone by, at that point I don`t think this existing grand jury could be extended any further. At that point, I think a whole new grand jury would need to be impaneled in D.C., then that new grand jury, of course, would need to be brought up to speed by Mueller`s prosecutors so they could then start weighing more evidence and more potential indictments.

So, whatever this means for the overall polite of the Trump administration and the president and his campaign and everybody else who`s adjacent to the Mueller investigation, the only definite thing we can say based on this news is that it`s not over. And everybody who has told you that it is over, everybody whose been selling this horse hockey for the past year and a half that oh, this whole thing is definitely about to be over, you should not believe those people. You should not believe those people when they try to sell you the next line item in their bill of goods.

That said, a spokesman for the administrative office of U.S. courts, spokesman basically for the U.S. federal judiciary gave word today that the American federal judiciary is about to run out of money to keep operating as of one week from today. The federal government is in its 14th day of a shutdown, as of today the longest federal shutdown on record is 21 days, which means we`re closing in on the record. The court system says they can piece together enough money from here and there to keep things running for about 21 days for about the length of the longest shutdown on record. That means they`ve got enough money to piece things together in the court system until next Friday, until January 11th. But after that, individual courts and individual judges will have to figure out what they`re going to do without money to try to keep the U.S. federal judicial system running.

As its first order of business, the new Democratic majority in the house of representatives last night passed two bills that would end the federal government shutdown, would open up the agencies that have been shut down now for the past two weeks. Those two bills that the Democrats passed last night, they cover -- those bills cover absolutely no new ground. They make no new policy. They make no new prioritizing decisions about funding some stuff and not funding some other stuff.

Those two bills that the new House of representatives passed last night under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, those were very simple technocratic bills that punted all of these important decisions about priorities and things you might want to fund and might not want to fund, they punted all those decisions. All those bills would do is reopen the government at the funding levels all the agencies were operating at before the shutdown started. That`s all they will do.

And those bills, incidentally, the ones that Nancy Pelosi and her new majority in the House passed last night, those bills were exactly the same bills that were passed unanimously by the Republican-controlled Senate to keep the government funded before President Trump insisted that he wanted everything shut down because he no longer wants Mexico to pay for the wall, he wants U.S. taxpayers to pay for it, and he wants Democrats to vote for it because he thinks this is awesome politics somehow to keep the government shut down. He said today it could be for years, and he seemed delighted by that prospect.

That said, some Republicans in Congress are already peeling off from this White House strategy. Republicans can afford to lose some Republican votes on this in the house. So a handful of Republicans voted with Democrats last night in the house to reopen the government and deal with the whole wall stunt some other way. The bigger problem for Republicans and the White House is that Republicans only have a teeny tiny little majority in the U.S. Senate, and they`re starting to lose Republican senators on this issue as well. And if enough Republican senators peel off on this, then, well, we will see.

But at this point, I think everybody in the country is having sort of the same feeling, that the president fantasizing out loud today about a federal government shutdown that goes on for years, maybe that had a little something to do with his personal fantasy that that would end the federal law enforcement and counterintelligence investigations into him and his business and his campaign. But law enforcement does not work that way. That`s no way to end this thing.

Even if the courts have to triage, you cannot just dissolve law enforcement this way. They`re not going away, and that includes the special counsel.

But you know who is going away? You know the big other thing that is happening right now in U.S. politics? Well, the Democrats take over in Congress and the Republicans start to freak out about the shutdown that the president is so happy and gleeful about, the other thing going on right now in U.S. politics, which is going to mean big change for Americans all across the country, potential life-saving changes for Americans in some parts of the country, the other big thing going on right this second in American politics right now, the big changeover that`s happening this week is that guys like this are also hitting the bricks.


GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: I got a bill in to the legislature right now to take the traffickers. Now the traffickers, these aren`t people that take drugs. These are guys that are named D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, these type of guys come from Connecticut, New York. They come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time, they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is the real sad thing because then we have another issue that we got to deal with down the road.


MADDOW: Maine`s Republican Governor Paul LePage lamenting the impregnation of white girls by drug traffickers named D-Money and Smoothie. It`s a real sad thing, see, because it`s the white girls.

After making those public remarks, the governor decided to clarify what he meant by that. He was sorry. Well, to be clear, he was not sorry, but he did have more to say on the subject.


LEPAGE: I was going impromptu and my brain didn`t catch up to my mouth. Instead saying Maine women, I said white women. And I`m not going to apologize to the Maine women for that, because if you go to Maine, you will see that we`re essentially 95 percent white.


MADDOW: We`re white people. So, like, whose offended, right? Maine? Maine is white, all right? What?

He also said anybody implying there was anything creepy or remotely racist about those remarks was fake news making it up.


LEPAGE: If you want to make it racist, go right ahead. Do whatever you want. I didn`t say anything about black.

REPORTER: Didn`t you say, D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty? Aren`t those --

LEPAGE: Yes, what are they, black? I don`t know who they are. I just read the names. I don`t see them because I read your newspapers.

I get a report and his name is street name D-Money, street name Smoothie. I don`t know where they`re come. I don`t know if they`re black, Asian, I don`t know. It wasn`t intended to be race.


MADDOW: I didn`t say anyone was -- where did you get that terrible report? This is why I don`t read your newspapers. The governor then put out an official statement saying, quote, the governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant.

Now, this is the governor of the state. Maybe this was kind of a mix-up. Maybe he had been up all night. Maybe it was -- I don`t know.

Actually, yes, we do know. Everybody knows because he couldn`t stop himself. Couldn`t leave it there.


LEPAGE: We got a few more drug agents, but what do I have to do? I had to go screaming the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing the things that they`re doing to our state.


MADDOW: Had to start screaming about the black dealers. Remember, I thought you didn`t say "black."


LEPAGE: Let me tell you something. Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that.

REPORTER: Governor, we`re not trying to get into a battle. We just --

LEPAGE: You are a sick bunch of people. You make me so sick.

When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red, don`t you?

Ken? You`ve been in uniform. You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy.

And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.


MADDOW: It`s the people of color, the people of Hispanic origin. That`s how you can identify the enemy. I mean, they come in here, you shoot them. I also suggested cutting off their heads. Bring back the guillotine. Cut off their heads before they impregnate a white girl.

This is the governor of the state of Maine. This has been the governor of the state of Maine, until a couple of nights ago.

And Paul LePage has been a number of things during his tenure as that state`s Republican governor. For one thing, he was the occasion for the state`s largest newspaper to issue a remarkable apology basically for his existence to the rest of America. Message to America, sorry, we gave you LePage.

"Portland Press Herald" published this editorial after Paul LePage could not stop himself from talking about wanting to shoot black and Hispanic people since that`s who he was sure needed to be shot, because they`re the enemy and can be recognized that way as if they were wearing a uniform. They needed to be shot or beheaded in his state.

But it`s interesting. That ongoing very racially specific eruption from that Republican governor, that was all supposedly about his vitriolic, almost uncontrollable rage about drug trafficking, right? That`s what all of this stuff was about, wanting to kill drug traffickers, these black dealers, these Hispanic dealers and drug traffickers that come to Maine and impregnate white girls, because we`re all white up here.

He wanted the death penalty for drug traffickers. No, he said actually the death penalty was too good for them. He specifically wanted them beheaded. He said he wanted people in Maine taking bets on which hole their heads would roll into after he cut their heads off. Because he was so wound up, so upset, so determined to stop drug trafficking in his state.

Nothing could be spared to stop drug trafficking in his state. If he had to spout off like an unbelievable racist in order to get this point across, he was willing to do it. At least wasn`t willing to stop himself because he was so passionate about drugs.

As one of Paul LePage`s last acts of governor this week, as governor, as he left this week, one of the last things he did as governor was that he issued a pardon to a man convicted of felony drug trafficking, a Republican state representative who had been a Paul LePage loyalist throughout his time in the legislature. For some reason, Paul LePage looks at him and does not want to behead him.

The state rep not only had had the drug trafficking, since that conviction he has admitted to using firearms multiple times which in his case as a felon was additional felony. He has had multiple misdemeanor criminal offenses since his felony, but Paul LePage on his way out of office pardoned him. Today, we learned that Paul LePage pardoned him despite the direct recommendation from the state`s clemency board that this guy should not get a pardon. We learned that today from "The Portland Press Herald".

For context sake, in one of the most high profile pardon issues never the state of Maine, this mom in Waterville, Maine, lost her husband and her kids lost her father after a man who had lived in Maine for 25 years, who had been married here, had a beautiful family here, had kids here, had run a very successful business here, he got deported away from his family by the Trump administration because of an old felony drug conviction for which he served time more than a decade ago, and he has never been in trouble since.

Here`s his family and his neighbors and his business partners begging for help in his case. Paul LePage refused to pardon him or to commute his sentence, and so his wife and kids are in Maine now without him because he`s been shipped off to Haiti.

This guy, though, with the active investigation for also being a gun felon and his other misdemeanors and the overt recommendation from the clemency board that he should not be pardoned, hmm, it`s weird, he got cleared, as Paul LePage`s last act on his way out the door.

But Paul LePage is gone now. He has been replaced by a new Democratic woman governor, Janet Mills. She is the first woman governor Maine has ever had. Because of the slick that Paul LePage left behind him as he slithered out the door and announced literally that he was immediately moving to Florida, see you, suckers!

Because of what Paul LePage left in his wake in Maine, the new Democratic Governor Janet Mills as one of the first thing she has to think about, she may need to change the pardon laws in that state given what Paul LePage decided to do with him for one of his buddies on his way out the door. But Governor Mills has been pretty busy without that, as her very first order of business, as executive order number one with the stroke of a pen, she restored health insurance to 70,000 people in Maine -- 70,000 people in Maine who currently don`t have health insurance who now will get it.

More than a year ago, Maine voters, clearly by 18 points, in a landslide vote more than a year ago, Maine declared at the ballot box that they wanted to expand Medicaid. So tens of thousands of people in that state could get health insurance who don`t otherwise have it. Maine voters passed it. It became law.

But Republican Governor Paul LePage blocked it anyway for more than a year. He just would not let it happen. But Wednesday night, he left office, and Thursday morning bright and early, first thing, she uncapped her pen, there was Janet Mills, new Democratic woman governor, finally making it happen.

Quote: Mainers who think they`re eligible for coverage can begin applying immediately. Just visit the Maine Department of Health and Human Services website. About 4,500 Mainers had tried to sign up under the expansion last year which, again was signed into law by voters, but they were rebuffed by the LePage administration. Quote, the coverage is retroactive to July 2nd. So Mainers who applied in 2018 but were denied expenses and incurred expenses that should have been covered by Medicaid will now be reimbursed.

Just like that. Done. First order of business. Very first thing she did.

And for 70,000 people in that state, their lives will now change this week because Paul LePage, poof, is gone. And this Democrat, Janet Mills, has replaced him.

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder is also being replaced by a Democratic woman governor, Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She made it her first order of business in Michigan, her first executive order on day one this week was about the Flint water disaster, with multiple Rick Snyder officials facing criminal -- excuse me, Rick Snyder administration officials facing criminal charges, including manslaughter charges for their role in causing and covering up and lying about the Flint disaster, the first thing the new Democratic governor of Michigan did this week was sign an executive order requiring state officials to immediately report health and safety threats the way that Snyder officials did not when the city of Flint was being poisoned and people were dying because of it.

There is -- there is a national impact. There is a big American impact to these things, right? Paul LePage is gone in a puff of smoke now. Rick Snyder is gone, Democratic governors replacing both of them and immediately moving to try to fix the worst damage that those governors inflicted on their states.

In Washington, D.C., Democrats, led by a Democratic woman speaker, they only get to take over part of the government, and we are therefore still stuck. For example, in this shutdown, as long as the Republican Senate decides they want to hold out and not vote on the exact same bills they voted for before that would open things up.

But today, after passing those bills that would reopen the government if Republicans in the Senate agree, Democrats moved on to start declaring their own priorities now that they control the House of Representatives.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What a difference an election makes!

We are introducing H.R. 1 to hold legislation to clean up corruption and restore integrity to government.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Over the last two years, President Trump set the tone from the top in his administration that behaving ethically and complying with the law is optional. Ladies and gentlemen, I`ve stopped by here to simply say we`re better than that. We`re better than that. It cannot be optional.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I truly believe deep in my heart, in my soul the way votes were not counted and purged in Georgia, in Florida.

CUMMINGS: Tell them, John.

LEWIS: And other states, with the last election, that must never happen again in our country.


LEWIS: Never again.

CUMMINGS: Never again.


CUMMINGS: Never again, John. Never again.

LEWIS: We will make it illegal with this bill. It is in keeping with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 where some of us gave a little blood on the bridge. We don`t want to give any more blood, but we have our votes, and we must use our votes as a powerful instrument to change things. With this bill, we demonstrate that this house is for the people, and we will choose the side of fairness, equality and justice over special interests every time. That`s the right thing to do, and we will do it.


CUMMINGS: Amen, amen.



MADDOW: Democrats gathering today to announce what amounts to their first substantive bill. Their voting as of last night to keep the government open, that`s now in the Senate`s court. They can decide what to do about it.

But when it comes to what Democrats want to do, substantively, overtly in terms of what their agenda is, they`re proposing H.R. 1. It`s a huge reform measure. I mean, imagine if it became law, right? This isn`t all of it, but it`s like nationwide automatic voter registration, an end to partisan gerrymandering. Independent commissions have to make nonpartisan congressional districts.

Two weeks of early voting in every state in the Union. Ex-felons get their voting rights reinstated. Funding for states to use paper ballots for election integrity. Georgia is a state where they don`t have that.

Election Day is a federal holiday. Prohibitions on states using aggressive voter purges to throw people off the rolls. Candidates for president and vice president and sitting presidents and vice presidents have to disclose ten years of their tax returns.

Dark money groups have to disclose their donors. No more gigantic anonymous campaign contribution. How about a small donor matching seasonal so congressional candidates can get public financing instead of having to rely on PACs and giant donors. That would change everything about who could afford to run for Congress. Restoring the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court.

I mean, imagine if that kind of a reform bill passed. Ari Berman, who is the best reporter in the country on national voting rights issues, he called this today, quote, the most far-reaching democracy reform plan introduced in Congress since the Watergate era. Democrats have been getting ready to take control and thinking about what is most important to them in governance.

And, you know, they will be able to pass this in the House. In all likelihood, they`ll be able to pass it as a big omnibus reform package, including all the things I just described and more. They will also be able to break it up and pass it in little chunks if they want to. Some of those little chunks may be able to attract Republican support. They will pass it.

If we`ve learned anything from seeing Nancy Pelosi as speaker before, we know that if Nancy Pelosi wants that bill to move in any way, shape, or form, it will move. And of course it will not come up in the Senate because Republicans run the Senate. And it certainly won`t become law, because this president would never sign something like this.

But this is an important moment, right? When Trump and the Republicans won full control of government in 2016, almost the first thing that they sent to Trump`s desk, do you remember? The first stand-alone substantive bill they sent to Trump once they got control, remember what it was?

It was literally a bill specifically and only designed to make it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms. That was the first thing they thought was the most important thing they should do once they got power. Make it easier for people adjudicated to have mental illness serious enough that they are not legally allowed to manage their own affairs, make it easier for those people specifically to obtain firearms and ammunition, first priority, first stand alone bill.

Democrats` first priority, first stand-alone bill? Restore the Voting Rights Act.

So game on. I mean, goodbye, Paul LePage. Goodbye, Rick Snyder. Goodbye all those guys. Goodbye Republican Congress. It`s a new day.


MADDOW: President Obama described it as the worst day of his eight years in office as president. It was December 14th, 2012, the day a gunman shot and killed 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut. Newtown`s representative in Congress at the time had just been elected to become the new junior senator from the state of Connecticut, Congressman Chris Murphy, soon to be Senator Chris Murphy, made it his mission as an elected official from that day on to do something about gun violence, to pass legislation that would at least try to prevent another tragedy, another massacre like the one in Newtown.

Chris Murphy has since been called the Democratic Party`s conscience on gun control. In 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, Murphy staged the ninth longest filibuster in U.S. history. He spoke about gun policy reform for nearly 15 hours on the floor of the Senate.

In 2017, after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history happened in Las Vegas, Senator Murphy introduced legislation requiring universal background checks for anybody who wants to buy a gun. That`s something that`s supported by a vast majority of Americans, a vast majority of American gun owners, a vast majority even of members of the NRA. But Congress still won`t do it.

Senator Murphy has gone to the president personally, directly, face-to-face on this on what to do about gun violence. He has called his fellow lawmakers complicit. He has repeatedly faulted them for their failure to act.

This was Senator Murphy last year when reports of a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida started to stream in.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Turn on your television right now, you`re going to see scenes of children running for their lives. Let me just note once again for my colleagues that this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America. It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible. As a parent, it scares me to death that this body doesn`t take seriously the safety of my children.


MADDOW: Ahead of last year`s midterm elections, the senator tried something new. Senator Murphy launched what was called the NR8 campaign. It`s supposed to kind of sound like NRA. It was an effort to raise money for eight specific Democratic candidates. Seven in the house, one in the senate, and all eight of these candidates were taking on Republican incumbents who had A ratings from the NRA. It was a campaign specifically for those eight Democratic candidates. All eight of those candidates won, all eight of them. The seven lawmakers on the house side who won are now part of the new Democratic majority.

Next week that new Democratic majority will introduce a bill for, you guessed it, universal background checks to buy a gun. But it will do so with the help of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The bill will be named H.R. 8 because it will be introduced on the eight-year anniversary of the shooting that almost took the life of Congresswoman Giffords and a shooting that killed six of her constituents.

The Democratic majority will introduce that in the House this upcoming week, and on his side of the Capitol, Senator Chris Murphy will also try again.

Joining us now is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut whose own bill on background checks he is ready to reintroduce.

Sir, I appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you for being here.

MURPHY: Yes, thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So, I want to ask you, we`ve talked about this issue broadly. We`ve talked about the background checks issue specifically a number of times over the years. I wonder if you feel like the window is shifting at all, the window of what`s possible and what can be reasonably discussed with an eye towards actually getting somewhere with the Democrats taking control of the House.

MURPHY: I got sworn in to Congress for my second term to the Senate this week, and I`m furious that six years after I got sworn in right after the shooting in Sandy Hook, we still haven`t made any meaningful progress. But that belies the transformation that has happened in the American electorate over that time, this is now an issue that you have to run on, background checks, bans on assault weapons if you want to win seats in the United States Congress.

And so, you see this new wave of Democratic freshmen who unapologetically enthusiastically went out there and ran on these issues and won. You see a race like Georgia`s sixth which was the epicenter of the political world right after Trump`s election. John Ossoff lost, having frankly stayed away from the gun issue. Two years later, Lucy McBath, whose son was killed in gun violence, ran on the issue and won, a swing district. As you mentioned the eight races we targeted won as well.

It used to be that guns turned out Republicans in general elections. That`s not how it works any longer. Exit polls show from last November that of the voters who said guns was their number one issue, 70 percent of those voters were Democrats, not Republicans.

And so, if Republicans want to win back the House of Representatives, they`ve got to start voting for things like background checks that have a 97 percent approval rating. And I would argue to my colleagues in the Senate that if they don`t get right on this issue right now, this year when they have the chance, that they`re not going to control the Senate for long either.

MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about that, the strategic dynamics at work here. I noted that the NR8, as that effort was titled, was essentially a reference to the NRA. I noted in my introduction that even NRA members are among the vast majority of Americans who support universal background checks.

The NRA has been such an important part of how we understand who the adversary is on this policy issue that otherwise is so popular with the American people. The NRA today, however, is in a very different position than they were even a year ago. I mean, most troublingly, they have been implicated in certain ways in Russian government efforts to influence our elections.

There are important questions I think about whether NRA financing potentially has been used as some sort of Trojan horse for foreign government financing, making its way into U.S. elections. The NRA financially as an organization is crying poverty and saying that they don`t have the resources that they used to, and indeed, in these elections, we saw their spending fall off a cliff.

Do you think they are significantly weakened as an organization? And do you think that`s going to make a difference in this fight?

MURPHY: So their power was always reputational. It wasn`t actually practical, right? The NRA has always been a bit of a paper tiger. Everybody sort of has this mythology about the 1994 Republican sweep. They attribute Democratic losses to the vote on the background checks bill and the assault weapons bill, and the NRA spending lots of money to get those Democrats out of office.

That`s not actually how the `94 election played out. In fact, if you look at the NRA`s endorsements, they lose a lot more race than they win. And so, Republicans have always had outsized fear of the NRA than reality would have it.

But you are right. The NRA is a shell of themselves. Today, they are financially in deep trouble, maybe because one of their primary sponsors and funders was a foreign government, but also because they simply are hemorrhaging dues and members.

But they are also upside down in the approval rating polls for the first time. It used to be by and large people thought better of the NRA. Their approval ratings outstripped their disapproval ratings. Not so any longer. If you are an NRA-backed candidate in a swing congressional district, you are in trouble in a way that you weren`t before.

So, again, NRA has always been trumped up a bit in their political power, but they are simply much, much weaker today, and we are much, much stronger today.

MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, I really appreciate you making time to be here on a Friday night, sir. Thank you for joining us. Much appreciated.

MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Again, both the House, newly controlled by the Democrats and Senator Murphy in the Senate will be introducing background check bills next week, and the politics on that issue are very, very different than they were even quite recently. And expect that to be a wild card issue.

Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Hey, we`ve got more to come the tonight, including a story I was sure would result in somebody being arrested, but instead, that person is still working in the White House as of tonight. So we`ve got that story coming up.

Before we get to that story, you need to know what`s going to happen after this show tonight here on MSNBC so you can plan accordingly. It is not going to be Lawrence O`Donnell here after me tonight. It is going to be Nancy Pelosi and Joy Reid.

Joy Reid`s town hall with Nancy Pelosi, which is called "The Speaker." That is right after this show tonight here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. You are going to want to see this. Please plan accordingly.

Meanwhile, I will be right back.


MADDOW: A couple of weeks ago here on the show, we brought you a simple, very straight forward sort of textbook example of self-dealing 101. It involved a deputy White House chief of staff named Zachary Fuentes. He was brought into that job by the now departed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

But instead of leaving with Kelly at New Year`s, Zach Fuentes reportedly told his White House colleagues he had a plan, as "The New York Times" put it, a plan to hide out at the Eisenhower Office Executive Building adjacent to the White House for six months, remaining on the payroll in a nebulous role.

Why does he need to hide out for six months? Because in six months, Zach Fuentes, who has been an active duty member of the Coast Guard all this time serving in the White House, in six months, he would qualify for the Coast Guard`s early retirement program, which could mean he could retire at the age of 37. Whoo!

The problem for Mr. Fuentes is that the Coast Guard early retirement program has lapsed as a matter of policy. And so, allegedly, according to "The New York Times" reporting, Mr. Fuentes went about using his lofty government position in the White House to get the Homeland Security Department, of which the coast guard is a part, to get the Homeland Security Department to pressure Congress into reinstating that early retirement program immediately. So, he specifically could benefit from it.

So, we did that story here on the show the Friday before Christmas. It was like a present. It was like a Christmas present in terms of having an example to work from in like how to explain what corruption is.

Since then, two things have happened. One, even though Zach Fuentes` plan for early retirement was outed in "The New York Times," it still seems to be his plan to hang out aimlessly in the Trump administration for a few months. We learned that today because the new White House chief of staff is keeping him in his job. The acting chief of staff, which is what we`re supposed to call him, Mick Mulvaney, told ABC News, quote, Zach`s a good man. We`ll find something for him to do productive.

Oh, good. Our top concern was definitely that Mr. Fuentes might not be productive while he hides in the woodwork for six months. But the other thing that`s happened now is of course, as of this week Democrats are in charge of Congress. So the committee that he tried to get to reinstate the early retirement program for himself, that committee is no longer run by Republicans. It`s now run, as of today, by Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio.

We contacted Congressman DeFazio`s office today if he expects to investigate the issue of the serving deputy White House chief of staff possibly using a federal agency to pressure his committee into getting himself an extra special good retirement deal. The congressman told us, quote: Because of Republican neglect, there is a backlog of deferred oversight of the issues under the jurisdiction of this committee. This most certainly is on that list.

So, this straightforward simple textbook government corruption story may be about to get some simple congressional oversight. Still doesn`t explain how this situation got to this point inside the White House. After something like this gets exposed, the guy gets to keep his job and you think nobody`s going to look into it? Hold onto that thought.


MADDOW: When a high ranking White House official is accused of blatant corruption, for instance the deputy White House chief of staff in the Trump administration who reportedly was using his position to pressure homeland security and Congress into extending an early retirement program specifically to benefit himself, when something like that happens, one, does the White House have the option of not caring about it? And two, doesn`t somebody investigate? How would this sort of thing work in a normal White House?

Joining us now is Chris Lu who was White House cabinet secretary in the Obama administration. He`s now a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Lu, thank you for your time.


MADDOW: If the deputy White House chief of staff faced credible allegations of corruption and self-dealing, who is supposed to look into that in a normal White House?

LU: Well, in a normal White House that person would have been out on the street so quickly. Literally, every single day of this White House, I thought to myself, if I did something like this, I would have gotten fired. I mean, this stinks on so many levels. You have somebody who`s staying on government payroll without working, which is offensive even if we weren`t in the middle of a government shutdown.

You have somebody who abuses their authority to try to get a legislative fix to help only themselves. You have a 36, 37-year-old who wants to claim early retirement after 15 years. I mean, this is the definition of a swamp. And in a normal White House, you`d have a chief of staff and president who would set high standards to ensure that this kind of misconduct doesn`t happen.

MADDOW: Is there an oversight mechanism within the way White Houses are structured that should address problems like this? I mean, I know there`s a lot of things you can`t do with a White House that you could do with a government agency, like you can`t FOIA the White House for example the same way. But is there some sort of mechanism in place that`s supposed to handle this?

LU: Absolutely. Look, here`s the thing, when you work in the White House, you have an enormous amount of power. When you pick up the phone and call an agency and you say jump, they jump. And that`s the reason why you make sure there are good people at the White House who don`t abuse that authority, and that you put processes in place, to get check on them.

So, in this instance, you would have an deputy chief of staff asking for a legislative fix. That would go through the legislative affairs office. You would have that person saying hey, I`m going to go sit in an office and not do anything. That would be cleared through the chief of staff, through the president. And, finally, if there were any question about the legality or the optics or something, it would be cleared by the White House counsel`s office and in this case going through also at the general counsel`s office at DHS.

But what we`ve learned over the last two years that this is White House that doesn`t care about process or legality or optics, and this is what we have.

MADDOW: Giving us some places to start there in terms of the White House counsel`s office, general counsel`s office at DHS. It does seem at least from that comment we got from Congressman DeFazio tonight, there may be some congressional oversight interest here even if the White House does not care.

Chris Lu, former White House cabinet secretary for President Obama, now senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center, Chris, thank you so much tonight. Much appreciated.

LU: Thank you.

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


MADDOW: There`s a 1962 yearbook entry from Trinity College in Washington, D.C. Nancy Patricia D`Alesandro, a senior with the yearbook, quote, solemn she is rarely seen yet thoughts and deep are there.

That woman is now very much seen and is definitely full of thoughts. She`s now speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. She returns tonight to her alma mater, to Trinity, for a town hall interview with the great and good Joy Reid.

"The Speaker" with Nancy Pelosi and Joy Reid starts right now. Have a great night.