Trump admin denying deportation deferrals. TRANSCRIPT: 8/28/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Mahsa Khanbabai, Kristen Clarke

ALEX SEITZ-WALD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER:  And I`m guessing the names won`t be too surprising --

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Yes.

SEITZ-WALD:  -- if you look at who is up there now. 

HAYES:  All right.  Olivia Nuzzi, Dave Weigel, and Alex Seitz-Wald, thank you all for being with me. 

That is ALL IN for this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciated.

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy to have you with us this fine Wednesday night.

First things first.  We must poof.  One of the record-breaking things about the Democratic presidential field this year is that there are more women running for president in this field than have ever run for president in any one field before.  It`s been a landmark thing.  It`s been kind of inspiring to see six women up on the stage among the Democratic contenders at the first two presidential Democratic debates.  Six women running, and they are a diverse bunch. 

They run the gamut in terms of their places on the ideological number line, their political style, their experience, the platforms they are running on.  Honestly, they run the gamut in terms of their ultimate chances of winning this thing as far as we can predict that at this point. 

But, you know, I mean, from Marianne Williamson to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, to Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, I mean, this has been a history making six-woman tableau in terms of women`s political power and political aspirations in this country.  The last presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, who after all did win the popular vote by several million votes, was a woman named Hillary Clinton. 

The most powerful Democrat in Washington right now, the most powerful woman ever elected in the history of the U.S. government is the current Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  And these six Democratic women all running for president in the same field, similarly, that is a way of melting down the glass ceiling in top tier American politics, but contending at that level also inevitably entails some off ramps. 

And so, now, tonight, for the first time, we have a woman candidate dropping out of the Democratic race for president.  Of the six women who made the first two Democratic debates, only three of the six are going to make it on stage for the next debate, the third debate.  Those three are Senators Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. 

Of the three other female candidates who made the first two debates but they`re not going to meet the criteria to get on the third debate stage -- well, among them it looks like Marianne Williamson and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard are staying in the race.  They are keeping their campaigns going forward.  Presumably, they are hoping to make it on stage in debate four with actually -- it might be easier to get into than three for a variety of reasons that are too boring to discuss right now, but we will get to them in great detail at some point. 

But that leaves the sixth female contender in this pioneering field, Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.  Today, Senator Gillibrand announced that she is taking herself out of the running for the presidential nomination of her party.  She made the announcement with this tweet and this campaign video and also with a missive from her campaign manager summarizing what they saw is the successes of their campaign. 

Kirsten Gillibrand remains a popular U.S. senator from the state of New York.  She was just re-elected by overwhelming margins to the Senate last year.  Among other things, that means she`s not up for re-election again for her Senate seat in New York until 2024, should she choose to run for re-election as a senator again, which presumably she will. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in other words, in her political career, will be absolutely just fine.  But she`s the first female candidate to close her campaign.  And so, we must poof. 

First to go, of course, was Eric Swalwell.  Poof.  And then it was John Hickenlooper.  Poof.  Then it was Jay Inslee, governor of Washington.  Poof. 

Go on.  There you go.  Right after Jay Inslee, it was -- ready?  Ready?  Set go and poof.  And now, three, two, one, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, poof.  Thank you, Senator. 

Unless someone miraculously invents and conducts and releases the results of a brand new qualifying poll basically right now as I speak at this second, we now know the final field of candidates qualifying for the debate that will be hosted by ABC News next month in Texas is these ten folks. 

It`s interesting.  I didn`t think about this in these terms before we got to today`s deadline and got this confirmation about who is in and who is not for that debate.  But the Democrats did end up with this round number of ten candidates qualifying for the Houston debates.  And we know that if more than 10 candidates had qualified, the plan would once again have been to split up the field into two successive nights for debate, like we had in Detroit, like we had in Miami. 

Now that we know though that only ten candidates qualified, that means they are going to do the whole thing on one night.  Apart from the separate and individual consequences for all the individual candidates and their campaigns, what that means for us the public planning to watch that next debate, right, looking forward it that debate, helping us understand the differences between the candidates and who might make the strongest Democratic nominee to go up against Trump, for all of us in the country who are going to watch that third Democratic debate, the fact that a nice round number of ten Democratic candidates has qualified for that night means that once again, just like the first two debates, they`re going to have ten freaking podiums up there all at once. 

I have not been thinking about it in these terms, but yes, there`s going to be ten candidates on stage at once again, all fighting to be heard.  Which means take it from me, no matter how many moderators ABC puts up there to try to handle the 10 candidates, all at once field, all of those moderators will have 20 years added to their non-chronological age by the end of the night.  Trust me. They will have new ailments and new gray hair. 

I mean, numerically, it`s weird and coincidental that the qualifying criteria made the field go from exactly 20 candidates for the first two debates to exactly 10 candidates for the next debate.  By happenstance, that is how it worked out.  And that means, by happenstance, once again, it`s going to be ten freaking podiums up there all at once. 

The ten podium standard for the 2020 Democratic debates, which honestly is just logistically a terrible thing.  I mean, nobody planned it that way.  But, yes.  And that is essentially now settled. 

That debate is in two weeks.  It`s two weeks from tomorrow night in Houston, Texas.  It will be just one night, all ten podiums there all at once. 

So, I wanted to get that out there.  Democratic presidential field saying good-bye to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. 

But the lead story I want to focus on tonight is something different.  It`s something that we started covering here on last night`s show.  This is something that, other than our coverage last night and now tonight, this is not something that`s really had a lot of national press coverage other than what we have done here, as far as I can tell. 

But I do think this is a big deal.  And today, it took a big unexpected turn.  What this is is a new and importantly unannounced program from the Trump administration.  I say unannounced because they never put out some statement saying this is what they were going to do.  The only way we learned about this new thing the Trump administration is doing is because individual families around the country started getting letters from the Trump administration, letters from the federal government. 

And the letters were so shocking in their implication and so surprising and so out of the blue -- again, they did not comport with anything the Trump administration said they were going to.  These letters were so shocking and upsetting that some of these families who got these letters, as best as we can tell, they took the letters to lawyers and advocacy groups, to local public figures to try to get help and understanding what exactly these letters meant and whether the U.S. government could really be trying to do what these letters said to their families, and particularly to their kids. 

The panic and upset of these individual families who got these letters started to come to the attention of local press where these families live.  That is how we became aware of this at all.  This has been particularly focused thus far in Massachusetts.  The public radio station WBUR in Boston and the "Boston Globe" first picked up the story over the last couple of days. 

"The Globe" story, as you can see here, carry this very stark headline.  Quote: I feel like I`m signing my son`s death warrant.  Children at Boston Hospitals face deportation. 

Now, the inset photo there, on that photo is a 5-year-old boy named Samuel Costa who has a rare condition that inhibits his body -- his body`s ability to absorb nutrients from food.  And so, he is a 5-year-old kid.  He has a feeding tube into his torso, because he can`t take food by mouth.  But he gets regular expert, very delicate medical care for this rare and dangerous condition that he`s got.  He gets that care at Boston Children`s Hospital. 

Boston Children`s Hospital by some measures is the number one pediatric hospital in this country.  Here is the lead of "The Globe" story.  Quote: Severely ill immigrants, including children with cancer, cystic fibrosis and other grave conditions are facing deportation under a change in Trump administration policy that immigration advocates are calling cruel and inhumane. 

Beginning last week, Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, started sending out boilerplate letters to these families with sick kids, quote, telling the families that if they didn`t leave the United States in 33 days, they would become undocumented and face deportation. 

So, we covered this story last night.  And the response that we got to our reporting was frankly -- was overwhelming.  To be honest, pretty enraged. 

Up in Boston, "The Boston Globe`s" editorial board was clearly outraged by their own news divisions reporting on this story.  You can see "The Globe`s" editorial on this subject.  There`s this headline.  Can the Trump administration sink any lower than threatening to deport sick kids? 

Here is the lead in that editorial.  Step by malicious step, the Trump administration is turning the immigration system into an apparatus of appalling intentional cruelty.  The latest case in point is a relatively small program known as medical deferred action in which immigrants without legal status who are suffering from serious medical conditions are granted a reprieve from deportation so they can have access to much needed medical treatment in the United States. 

Trump halted the program this month, threatening to deport these patients, including children with leukemia, children with muscular dystrophy, children with cystic fibrosis.  The program`s termination means suspending or interrupting the children`s medical care, which in some cases is virtually a death sentence. 

Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts attended a press conference with a number of these families who have just been told to take their kids out of medical treatment and get out of the country. 

Senator Markey`s take on this last night as we highlighted on last night`s show is this.  Quote: It is unconscionable, it`s just wrong.  We have now reached the most inhumane of all of Donald Trump`s policies.  He said, quote: The Trump administration is literally deporting kids with cancer. 

Now, again, there are few things that are at least at this point unusual or sort of unknown about this story.  Without a lot more reporting on this nationwide, I think it`s going to take us time to get to the bottom of this.  But as we are trying to figure out what`s going on here, it`s particularly interesting that this is a policy change that hasn`t been announced, which I think ultimately starts to become important in terms of how well the Trump administration is coping with what they`re trying to do to these kids. 

I mean, they started sending letters to parents whose kids are receiving life saving medical care that they can`t get anywhere else, they started sending letters to those kids` parents, telling them that they need to get out now, right now.  You`ve got 33 days.  Yes, we know your kid is receiving ongoing, life-saving medical treatment.  We don`t care.  Stop the treatment and leave. 

Now, it`s possible -- as I said, the news that we have been getting this for the first few days has been out of Massachusetts.  And I don`t know why that is.  I mean, it`s conceivable that Massachusetts has been targeted here because they have got Boston Children`s Hospital, right?  They`ve got arguably the best children`s hospital in the country. 

So, Boston Children`s Hospital is a place where a lot of kids who have life-threatening illnesses and super advanced delicate medical needs, a lot of kids are getting treated at that hospital.  So, maybe that`s why this policy is surfacing there in this concentrated way.  We don`t know exactly. 

But these initial reports do come from the Boston area and Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts, there`s organization called the Irish International Immigrant Center that doesn`t just serve Irish immigrants.  It serves everybody.  They happened to have a whole bunch of clients who have sick kids, who have kids who are getting advanced life-saving medical care.  Clients who have received these letters now ordering them out of the country. 

Well, here`s what their legal director told us last night here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY MARINO, IRISH INTERNATIONAL IMMIGRANT CENTER IMMIGRATION LEGAL SERVICES DIRECTOR:  They are saying that they have the power to just eliminate it all together, which is what they`ve done, and that there is no appeal.  I don`t know why they came up with 33 days.  But, yes, they are telling these people they need to leave on their own.  I don`t know how they expect parents to pull their children from hospital beds, disconnect them from lifesaving treatment and go somewhere where they know the child is going to die.  But that`s what they are telling them to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, that was here on this show last night.  This emerging news that the Trump administration has quietly, without announcing it implemented a new policy that specifically targets kids with cancer, and other terminal and life-threatening illnesses, and is now telling their parents they must stop medical treatment for their kids, and get out immediately within 33 days with no right to appeal. 

You can see why, imagine, that this is kind of the story that ultimately will get a lot of national news coverage, even if it hasn`t yet.  As of our coverage here last night, most of what we were able to learn about what`s going on is out of Massachusetts, out of the Boston area, specifically.  But now, today, "The Miami Herald" has the story.  "The Miami Herald" has the story because they say they, too, are seeing some of the same things happening to families in South Florida. 

Quote: The Trump administration is ending a federal program that removed the threat of deportation at least temporarily for immigrant families facing serious illnesses such as cancer.  "The Herald" says they have obtained several of these letters that have been sent to families where somebody in the family is receiving lifesaving medical care.  Quote: "The Herald" reviewed the case of a Miami man whose child was diagnosed with metastatic stage four neuroblastoma, the type of cancer that develops in nerve tissue.  The man received a rejection letter for his application to the medical deferred action program on August 13th.  The man tells "The Miami Herald" he is desperate to stay in the country and to remain with his daughter. 

Now, as I said, we are just seeing these initial news reports that these cases -- news stories are emerging locally, right, where families are telling the local press, they are telling public officials that they have received these letters from the Trump administration, essentially demanding the deaths of their children, right?  Demanding that their children stop receiving medical treatment that`s saving their lives, stop treatment and get out of this country. 

We are seeing these cases emerge so far in Massachusetts over the last couple of days in Florida today.  We have ever reason to believe that this is happening all over the country.  As we have been trying to further report this story today, what emerged over the course of this afternoon was no further clarity on why the Trump administration has decided to prioritize, you know, kids with cancer in terms of who they are going after next. 

To my surprise, we also got no further clarity today on where else in the country this may be happening.  Still, these reports that we have got are from Massachusetts and Florida.  We`re not seeing news reports from other places, at least that we could find today.  We are looking for that local coverage, because I think that`s going to be how we figure out what the scope is of what the Trump administration is trying to do. 

What did emerge today though is that as this new policy targeting sick kids has started to receive just the first little bit of scrutiny, it`s essentially already blowing up what the Trump administration is trying to do.  Honestly, there has not been a lot of national pressure on the story yet.  I think we are the first national outlet to be covering this at all. 

But as the Trump administration has just tried to answer basic questions about what they`re doing there, about why they are sending these letters and what this means and why they have brought about this change in policy that`s going to have such dire and specific humanitarian consequences and potentially fatal consequences for kids in this country, as local radio stations and the first newspapers start to call the administration to figure out what is going on here just to get comment for their stories, the Trump administration is already completely flailing on this. 

They have not idea what to say about it.  And apparently, they didn`t understand what it was they were launching when they started this program attacking these kids and when people finally started to ask them to answer for it.  And I will show you what I mean.

After WBUR, the public radio station in Boston, posted their groundbreaking, terrifying initial story about these kids in Boston being targeted, kids being treated at the children`s hospital in Boston, kids with rare genetic disorders, kids with cystic fibrosis, kids with seizure disorders, after WBUR published their first story, they apparently hours after publication, they received a whoa, whoa, whoa kind of comment from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service that sent out these letters to these families, right, these death sentence letters to these families with sick kids. 

Customs and Immigration told WBUR  after they published their first story that they wanted it to know this medical deferred program that had been allowing the kids to stay alive, despite what you might have seen in these letters, that program isn`t ending, per se.  It`s just being shifted to a different part of the Trump administration. 

Quote: Medical deferred action requests are now submitted to ICE, different agency, for consideration. 

Oh, OK.  That is their first explanation when they get their first hard question.  Yes, family in the Boston area, you have been told you have to get out of the country and stop providing life saving treatment to your ill child.  But what we didn`t mention some other part of the administration might be able to help you out so you can keep staying.  Did nobody mention that? 

That was their first explanation, right?  Now it turns out, the other agency that is supposed by picking up this program, the other agency inside the Trump administration that supposedly is going to process these requests for dying children to stay here in order to receive medical care that`s keeping them alive, now we find out that agency actually is not doing this.  They have no intention of handling these kinds of requests for kids in this kind of circumstance.  They have no program like this. 

And they say today they have no idea why some other agency in the Trump administration has been telling reporters now that they do.  Great. 

Here is how this played today in "Miami Herald."  You can see it play out.  Quote: Three officials with ICE who asked not to be named due to fears of speaking outside official channels tell the "Miami Herald" today that the agency was blindsided by the move. 

Quote: High level sources said that management at the agency had no idea U.S. Customs and Immigration was transferring over deferred action responsibilities, noting that ranking officials were scrambling to respond to the unexpected move.  That`s how it played at "The Herald". 

Here`s how it played at the WBUR, in their follow-up story.  Quote: An ICE official told WBUR that the agency was not informed by U.S. Customs and Immigration, that that agency would stop processing the deferral requests. 

Quote: There`s no program at ICE that`s going to take over that program.  ICE is not going to implement any sort of a program or procedure or policy to take over that function.  We`d like U.S. Customs and Immigration to clarify what they mean.  That`s how it played at WBUR.

Here`s how it played today At NBC News.  Quote: An ICE official speaking on the condition of anonymity said ICE was blindsided by the U.S. Customs and Immigration decision to refer all immigrants applying for deferred action to them.  ICE currently has no plans in place to review these applications.  Quote: ICE does not have a program for this.  Nor do we plan to. 

At "Commonwealth Magazine" in Massachusetts, which has great reporting on this, their reporter got this.  Quote, ICE and U.S. Customs and Immigration Service officials allegedly had a meeting for the first time about this policy this morning.  Meaning this morning, Wednesday morning.  ICE is 100 percent punting this back to Customs and Immigration.

Just take a step back from this for a second.  We`re going to talk to a lawyer in the middle of the fight, who`s trying to represent some of these families and keep some of these kids alive.  We`re going to talk about that in just a second.

But just take a step back from this for a second.  Imagine being in charge of the federal government, of the richest and most powerful nation on earth and deciding what that government ought to work on is figuring out, you know, where are all the really good pediatric hospitals in this country and trying to figure out if there might be kids in those hospitals who are currently receiving ongoing treatment that is saving their lives so you could somehow figure out a way to force a stop to that treatment and kick those kids and their families out of this country so that they can no longer get the care that`s keeping them alive -- kids with cystic fibrosis, kids with cancer, kids with rare diseases. 

Imagine being in charge of the U.S. federal government and choosing to use it for that purpose, to target the power of the U.S. government at children with cancer. 

Then imagine that once you have decided to do this, you what, hoped nobody would care or nobody would notice because, heck, it`s just immigrants?  You are not planning on announcing it.  So, therefore, you figure you are never going to have to answer for it.  So, you come up with no plan for how to explain this.  When local officials, local reporters, local news outlets, local advocacy organizations, people inevitably come to you asking questions about what the heck you are doing in the name of the American people. 

And so, having come up with no way to explain this, your makeshift response is to say it`s no big deal.  Some other agency will take care of it.  Yes, we`re not doing this anymore, but we`re sure somebody else is.  God, it sounds terrible when you say that we`re going to be sending kids with cancer to their deaths.  We`re sure somebody else is taking care of it, right?  Some other agency.  You guys -- they`re doing it. 

And the Trump administration has no idea what it is doing, or how to handle the inevitable reaction to this from the American people.  They have no idea what they are doing here except for the fact that they have decided to tell parents that they must withhold lifesaving ongoing medical treatment from their seriously ill kids on orders from the U.S. government so they can get out of this country because President Trump wants them out. 

Imagine being a U.S. official who has been doing that kind of work.  And now imagine being the parent of a sick kid who is holding on to a letter sent to you by those U.S. officials and realizing that this is what you are up against and this is the exact way your child`s life is being put at stake, in the very short term over the next 30 days by this president, by this president -- by this administration and the people who work for him and their priorities.  Imagine. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Here is local coverage from Massachusetts, from MassLive.com, on how the families of kids receiving life saving medical treatment have been told over the last few days that they would have to pick up and return to their home countries and stop this crucial medical treatment for their kids. 

Quote: Attorneys and doctors started hearing from clients last week that they received the notices in the mail.  There was no announcement other than the letters giving patients 33 days to leave the country.  Many of those letters arrived in patients` mailboxes halfway through that grace period. 

One attorney representing some of the families telling "Mass Live", quote: Our government should focus its limited resources or truly dangerous people, not on most vulnerable. 

Joining us is that attorney I just quoted.  Her name is Mahsa Khanbabai.  She`s the head of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Ms. Khanbabai is representing some families who may be forced out of the country due to this unannounced change in policy from the Trump administration. 

Ms. Khanbabai, thank you very much for giving us some of your time tonight.  Appreciate you being here. 

MAHSA KHANBABAI, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS NEW ENGLAND CHAPTER CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Rachel.  It`s a pleasure to be here. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you if I have explained this right.  I have been trying to piece this together from local news coverage in a couple of locations now.  Have I basically got this right in terms of what your clients are up against right now? 

KHANBABAI:  Absolutely.  Yes, you have described it perfectly. 

MADDOW:  Today, this story got a little bit strange when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration started saying that some other agency in the Trump administration is going to keep running the medical deferral program.  And then that other agency, ICE, said, oh, no, we`re not.  We don`t know what you`re talking about.

Do you have any clarity on this?  Have your clients been able to figure out what that might be about?  The Trump administration seems to not know what it`s talking about on this anymore. 

KHANBABAI:  Yes.  No, sadly, there`s been no explanation of what we can expect as attorneys or what our clients can expect in terms of what they should be doing.  There`s been no guidance.  It`s been totally silent from the government.  And, frankly, like you said, I think they really didn`t care to even put a plan in place to try to help these really desperate and vulnerable people. 

MADDOW:  Or to explain to the public what they`re doing.  I mean, the part of it that is surprising to me is there`s no announcement.  There`s been no plan to explain this.  I mean, obviously, this is such an inflammatory thing.  There are going to be hard questions.  People are going to want an explanation and a justification for what they`re doing.  And it`s just a gaping maw over there from the administration. 

I`m sorry, I don`t mean to put that on you. 

Let me ask you in terms of your clients and what you are learning about this, what can you advise your clients to do at this point? 

KHANBABAI:  Yes.  I mean, sadly, I think we`re really just trying to figure out the best way to move forward for our clients and whether or not applying to ICE is a valid option or not.  I mean, ICE obviously is really not known in being a friendly, humanitarian type of agency that would be willing to take these really sensitive cases seriously.  So I think it`s really frightening for a lot of people. 

And that`s part of what the administration has been trying to do over these last two years is to sow a lot of fear and panic among immigrants and hope they will go away and not apply and not make a fuss about this, because they are scared and really -- I mean, not only worried about their safety here but about their child`s life. 

MADDOW:  Are you, in fact, facing cases in terms of your own clients in which this is a potentially life-threatening situation for children in these families, for family members where they get treatment here they can`t get other places, that if they are forced out of the country, that their lives will be in danger? 

KHANBABAI:  Yes.  I have a couple of clients that just got denial notices over this past one week.  I have one young man, a really nice young man who sadly has mental health issues.  He came here on a visitor visa to get some treatment. 

And sadly, his condition deteriorated significantly.  He has been hospitalized now.  But he is getting the best care that he can get for his condition.  The government has told him, no, sorry, you need to leave in 33 days. 

I mean, there`s no way this young man is going to be able to leave a hospital.  He is committed there because of this seriousness of his condition. 

And my other client is this young girl, 14 years old, who has a very serious heart condition.  She had heart surgery.  She`s recovering now but is going to need follow-up surgery and constant monitoring and care. 

And, again, she came on a visitor visa.  She came here legally, applied for this.  And sadly has been sold, no, sorry, you need to leave in 33 days. 

MADDOW:  She`s literally between heart operations?  She`s had one?  She`s recovering?  She has another ahead of her and they`re trying to force her out of the country? 

KHANBABAI:  That`s right. 

And honestly, Rachel, I`m not shocked.  This administration has tried to dismantle legal immigration over the last two years on a number of different fronts.  When you look at the travel ban, I mean, that`s a perfect example of against inhumanity of the administration and not caring that there are people that need urgent lifesaving care to come here for that or to come here to see a family member that may be dying, to other avenues like the H1B program being targeted, or international students being targeted. 

And the morale at the State Department, for example, is terrible because of the conditions that these political appointees have created in these agencies. 

MADDOW:  Mahsa Khanbabai, who`s chair of the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who is representing some of these families who are up against this unannounced change in policy from the Trump administration, Ms. Khanbabai, thank you for helping us with this.  As I said, there`s not a lot of national coverage on this yet.  Please do stay in touch.  We would love to keep us apprised as this continues to develop.

KHANBABAI:  Thank you.  I`d love to. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to get to tonight.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It was election night in Mississippi last night.  A runoff election to pick the Republican nominee to run in this year`s governor`s race.  The current Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the election last night.  He beat a former state Supreme Court justice named Bill Waller. 

This wasn`t high profile race.  At least not of a national level, not until this happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How would that happen? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t know.  It`s the machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is not letting me vote for who I want to vote for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This was posted to Facebook yesterday, appearing to show someone trying to vote in that Mississippi runoff for Bill Waller.  One of the two Republicans in the runoff.  But the machine will not let him cast that vote.  Every time he pushes the screen to vote for Waller, it ticks the box for the other guy. 

Now, we did not know exactly what caused that one machine in that video to seemingly malfunction.  But what is interesting about this video out of this video out of Mississippi yesterday is that we know for sure this was not a one-off problem.  Local election officials in Mississippi told "The Clarion Ledger" newspaper today that that vote-switching glitch happened on at least three different machines spread across two different counties. 

One official telling "The Clarion Ledger", quote, we are doing what we can to rectify the situation. 

How do you rectify that?  I mean, particularly when the election has just been called.  When the state is admitting this is happening in multiple locations, how do they make voters feel confident the next time they touch their finger to a voting machine?  Well, we don`t know exactly. 

But in Mississippi`s not quite neighboring state of Georgia, in Georgia, they are still trying to figure out what happened in their last statewide election in 2018.  Last year, November 2018, while the country was electing a new House of Representatives and a whole bunch of new U.S. senators, in the great state of Georgia last November, they were electing a new governor. 

This was a marquee national attention race you remember.  The Democrat, Stacey Abrams, ultimately refused to concede to Republican Brian Kemp.  Brian Kemp both ran the election for the state of Georgia and he ran in it himself as the Republican candidate for governor. 

Stacey Abrams didn`t concede.  And a lot of Democrats don`t concede that she lost that race because of widespread reports about voter suppression and anomalies in the election that disproportionally affected minority Democratic voters.  That overall controversy about that Georgia race has been well-documented. 

What generated way fewer headlines though was a truly weird phenomenon that happened one notch down the ballot in Georgia.  And as people are starting to think ahead about the election integrity of 2020, we just got details on what happened one notch down the ballot in Georgia last November, which is an absolutely bonkers story.  And if you have not heard it yet, you will want to.  We`ve got it here, next. 

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MADDOW:  The same night, election night last year when Georgia had its big marquee governor`s race and Stacey Abrams narrowly lost to Brian Kemp and they refused to concede and there`s all that attention on what was going on in Georgia.  That same night in Georgia, there was a lower profile race that hasn`t ever been a matter of national focus the way that Stacey Abram`s governor`s race was. 

But it has turned into a mystery ever since that`s getting weirder and more difficult with each passing month.  It was the lieutenant governor race that night in Georgia last November.  In the lieutenant governor`s race last election night, the Republican candidate won that race, too. 

But when people started sifting through the results from the lieutenant governor`s race, the numbers did paint an odd picture.  This is a sample ballot from Georgia last year.  Typically, in statewide elections, there`s a drop-off in the number of votes that are cast as people make their way down the ticket. 

So, if you`re using this ballot as a guide, in state wide races, what I mean is the most people tend to vote in the governor`s race.  More people vote in the governor`s race than vote in the lieutenant governor`s race.  More people tend to vote for lieutenant governor`s race than vote in the secretary of state race.  More people to tend to vote for the secretary of state than vote for the state attorney general. 

And this trend usually happens all the way down the ballot in statewide elections.  It`s like the opposite of a trickle-down effect, or maybe it`s a trickle-down effect.  A kind of decay in turnout as you make your way down the ticket.  More people vote for top of the ticket stuff than vote down the bottom.  People sort of run out of steam and stop filling out the bubbles as they go down their ballot.

That`s almost always how it goes.  But that`s not what happened in Georgia last year.  Of all the statewide races on the Georgia ticket last year, fewer people voted for lieutenant governor, second race on the ballot than any other race, and by a lot.  What was going on? 

Around 80,000 fewer people voted in the lieutenant governor`s race than in other races even further down the ballot like votes for labor commissioner.  More people voted for labor commissioner than voted for lieutenant governor, the state`s number two elected official?  That`s weird.  That drop-off in the lieutenant governor race vote has been a mystery since November 2018.  It led reporters to try to figure out why and how that happened in Georgia. 

Today, we got this from the "Atlanta Journal Constitution."  The paper took a look at one crucial precinct in Georgia, a precinct that had seven voting machines.  In that precinct, the Democrat won every single race on every single machine except for one machine.  Quote: To find out a clue -- excuse me, to find a clue about what might have gone wrong with Georgia`s election last fall, look no further than voting machine number three at the Winterville train depot outside Athens, Georgia.  On machine number three, Republicans won every race.  But on each of the other six machines in that precinct, Democrats won every race. 

The odds an anomaly that large are less than one in a million.  But there might be a simple explanation for it.  If you took that one outlier machine, machine number three, and you switched the vote tallies, you awarded all its Democratic votes to Republican, and all Republican votes to Democrats, that anomaly would disappear and those results on machine three would statistically fall right in line with the other six machines in that precinct. 

So, one machine had literally exactly opposite results than you would expect in terms of party line voting.  Except the results just got reversed in terms of the parties on that one machine.  It would be like if you took all the votes from that one machine and help them up to a mirror before you counted them.

The scoop from "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" was borne out of documents that were unearthed by a public records request.  The paper says those same documents have been given to the oversight committee in the House of Representatives which is investigating what happened in Georgia`s election last year.  More than 15,000 pages of records have been turned over to that committee. 

If what`s in those 15,000 pages were evidence like from that one precinct with the one phantom voting machine which seems to have taken ever vote backwards, what`s the oversight committee going to about that?  What should they do about it? 

Joining us now is Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Ms. Clarke, thank you very much for being with us tonight. 

KRISTEN CLARKE, LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So, there`s always a low level of -- a sort of low level rumble of worry in this country about whether our elections are running right.  There`s also a well-founded concern that people might be discouraged from turning out to vote at all if they don`t have confidence that it will matter, that their vote will be cast and properly counted. 

Given that sort of -- that balance, that concern on both sides, what is your take on these problems that we saw yesterday in Mississippi and that we saw last year in Georgia? 

CLARKE:  That these are red flags of a democracy that is broken and screaming out for repair.  These are not conspiracy theories that we`re talking about, Rachel.  These are real issues that voters have been facing with intensifying degree over the last several years. 

And Georgia is kind of the -- in the belly of the beast, if you will, when it comes to all things that are broken in our democracy.  We see widespread voter suppression.  But we actually just sued the state of Georgia in federal court over these very issues.  The fact that across the state of Georgia, they are using outdated, vulnerable machines that are hackable. 

And in the course of our trial, we talked about that drop-off that you just highlighted, Rachel.  A federal contractor actually looked at that drop-off and said, there`s a one in 10,000 chance that you would see a drop-off for the lieutenant governor race that spikes back up when you go down to those races at the lower end of the ballot.  In our case, there was evidence presented by the state`s own expert.  When you put this evidence before any reasonable person, they come up with the same conclusion.

Georgia`s own expert, Dr. Seamus (ph), agreed that Georgia`s equipment is outdated and antiquated and hackable.  That they failed to conduct audits, and they actually use a version of Microsoft for their software that hasn`t been updated in ten years.  Microsoft actually no longer updates or creates security patches for this software. 

And so, from Georgia`s expert, this is a broken system.  The judge in our case issued a ruling about two weeks ago declaring Georgia`s system null and void.  Georgia has go back to the drawing board and put a new system in place, at all deliberate speed.  This is the first time a federal court has actually struck down an entire state`s voting system, because they are violating the fundamental right to vote. 

But it`s time for states like Mississippi, and South Carolina and Texas and Florida, that are using these paperless antiquated systems that can`t be audited, it`s time for them to modernize these systems and we`ve got to do it before 2020. 

MADDOW:  Is it feasible logistically to get the systems?  Just folks in Georgia for a second, is it logistically feasible to have that whole system not only installed but tested and audited and running up to snuff in time for an election that`s coming around the bend in November 2020? 

CLARKE:  They don`t have any choice.  I mean, they`ve cried about the expense involved and the time involved, but at the end of the day, we`re talking about the most sacred right in our democracy, the right to vote.  And at every turn in Georgia, for two decades, we`ve seen a system that is broken and we`ve seen problems that are intensifying. 

So, you know, it`s time that they step up.  There are supposed to put a new system in place in 2020.  But what that means is that for voters right now who are going to the polls in Georgia for municipal elections, they have every reason to have grave concerns about the integrity of their ballot. 

So this is a moment that requires vigilance.  We know that these problems are nationwide.  We know that we are up against threats both domestic and foreign when it comes to the hacking of our systems in our country.  So, you know, our plan now is to take this victory in Georgia in federal court and to hold other states accountable that are failing to update and modernize their systems, and give voters the confidence that they deserve when they go to the polls and cast a ballot. 

MADDOW:  Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law -- Ms. Clarke, I really appreciate you being here with us tonight.  Thanks and come back soon. 

CLARKE:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.

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MADDOW:  So, we`ve been following Hurricane Dorian all over the course of today and into tonight.  As you can see from these images, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John and St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands took the brunt already.  Dorian hit the U.S. Virgin Islands as a category 1 hurricane.  As of right now, thousands of people in the U.S. Virgin Islands are without power because of the strength of this storm and what it was able to take out. 

Just two years after the disaster of Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, there was real concern about what this storm might do if it hit Puerto Rico full on.  But Puerto Rico has taken a more glancing blow, avoided a direct hit.  The storm is now on its way toward Florida.  It`s on track to make landfall along the eastern coast of Florida sometime over this weekend. 

The thing to keep an eye on is how quickly Dorian powers up as it closes in on the Florida coast.  Meteorologists say this one has been a hard one to forecast, but Dorian could become a major hurricane.  It could become a category 3 storm by time it`s bearing down on Florida. 

In anticipation of that, a state of emergency has been declared across the state.  But as you`d imagine in Florida tonight, they are bracing for what looks like it could be a super serious hurricane this holiday weekend. 

Stay with us.

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MADDOW:  That is going to do it for me tonight.  I do have one correction to make.  Earlier in the show, for a reason that I don`t understand that is buried somewhere in my deep and aging brain, I kept referring to U.S. Customs and Immigration services, when the correct name for that agency is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  I was just conflating two different things and saying the name of that agency wrong because of what its name used to be back in the day.  I apologize for having said that wrong.  I will try to never do it again. 

I`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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