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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/15/22

Guests: Philip Breedlove, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Crystal Mason, Tim Higgins

Summary

Russia continues to attack devastated Mariupol. Newly reported texts sent to Trump`s chief of staff in the lead up to January the 6th, and those texts revealed that some of the Republican lawmakers who made a big show of breaking with Trump at the time were actually intimately involved in his scheme to overturn the election. Elon Musk offers to buy Twitter for $43B.

Transcript

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC HOST: Thanks, Elie.

That is "ALL IN" on this Friday night. And don`t forget, you can now find me on my own show every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. We hope you`ll join us.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW with Mehdi Hasan starts now.

Good evening, Mehdi.

MEDHI HASAN, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I for one cannot wait for the Katie Phang/Elie Mystal road trip. Thank you, Katie.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We`ve got a lot to get to tonight, including newly reported texts sent to Trump`s chief of staff in the lead up to January the 6th. Those texts revealed that some of the Republican lawmakers who made a big show of breaking with Trump at the time were actually intimately involved in his scheme to overturn the election.

We`re also going to talk to someone you`ve heard a lot about on this show, Crystal Mason is the Texas woman who now faces five years in prison for accidentally voting when she was not on the voter rolls.

We`ll ask her about the blatant hypocrisy from Republicans like Trump`s own chief of staff who trumpeted the need for voter integrity, turns out we`re now learning he is under investigation by North Carolina state authorities for voter fraud.

We`re also going to deep dive into the latest stunt from the world`s richest man who says he wants to take control of one of America`s biggest social media companies to defend free speech. We`ll talk about Elon Musk`s history of using his power and influence to tell other people what they can and cannot say.

But we start tonight with a word we`ve talked a lot about in the past hours, flagship. Every naval fleet in the world has a flagship. It is typically the biggest ship in the fleet and is also the ship used by the military officer commanding that fleet. The word flagship literally comes from the practice of flying a special flag from the ship which would signify that the commanding officer was on board.

When Russia invaded Ukraine six weeks ago, the flagship of the Ukrainian navy was this vessel that you see here. It`s called the Hetman Sahaidachny. It was a 3,500-ton Krivak class frigate, the biggest ship in the Ukrainian navy at the time. It was named after a 17th century military leader who led a campaign against the Russian czardom all the way back in 1618.

When war broke out across Ukraine, the Ukrainian flagship was in port for repairs. Russia`s much larger navy was just starting to close in, and the Ukrainian flagships captain feared that those repairs would not be finished in time to prevent the crown jewel of Ukraine`s navy from falling into Russian hands.

So just one week into the war with Russia, that Ukrainian captain made the decision that he and his crew would sink it themselves. Ukrainians sunk their own flagship vessel at the time, Ukraine`s defense minister described the situation this way. Quote, it is hard to imagine a more difficult decision for a courageous man and his crew but we will build a new fleet. That was the first flagship to go down in this war.

This week, we saw a second flagship in this war sink under very different circumstances. Ukrainian forces took down the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet. That ship known as the Moskva was nearly four times the size of Ukraine`s old flagship. Russian media tried to claim that the ship sank because of a fire that broke out on board. But today, the Pentagon confirmed that it was actually two Ukrainian Neptune missiles that sunk the Moskva, a decisive victory for Ukrainian forces against their Russian invaders.

The tale of those two flagships it sounds like the kind of David versus Goliath tale we have all gotten used to hearing about as Ukrainian forces continue to mount an improbably strong defense against the Russians. But it`s also a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change during the war. There has been a lot of focus on Ukraine`s victories and Russia`s blunders in recent weeks.

But as Russian forces begin to regroup in eastern Ukraine, I`m sorry to have to report that there are deeply troubling signs on the horizon. The city of Mariupol has been the site of some of Russia`s most brutal attacks since the start of the invasion. Today, the governor of Ukraine`s Donetsk region said that Mariupol, quote, has been wiped off the face of the earth by Russian forces.

Now, Russian forces appear to be on the verge of seizing that historic city. NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez has the latest from the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia is intensifying its assault on Mariupol the battle now entering a critical stage, the Ukrainians defiant. We expect to bury as many Russians as possible, this soldier says.

But the besieged port city could fall to Russian forces within days, triggering Russia`s expected onslaught on Ukraine`s eastern Donbass region.

[21:05:02]

In Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, a massive effort is underway to get humanitarian aid to towns that are cut off. Among those coordinating, Victoria Filatova (ph) who we first spoke with weeks ago as Russian forces closed in. She`s now safe and we met her in person, so she could show us how she survived for weeks in this cellar.

How many people were staying in here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were 20 people.

GUTIERREZ: She was furious at the Russian soldiers but is now grateful the Ukrainian troops held them back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came up to them. I thanked them and I started to cry, because I felt that these people saved us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HASAN: In an interview released by "The Atlantic" magazine today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cautioned the world against presuming Russia will lose this war. Now is not yet the time of victory, he says. Ukraine can win and by win he means continue to exist as a sovereign if permanently besieged state, only if its allies in Washington and across Europe move with alacrity to sufficiently arm the country.

Zelenskyy goes on to say, quote, we have a very small window of opportunity.

The U.S. and Western allies are currently working to provide Ukrainian forces with more weapons and more supplies, and officials in the E.U. are now contemplating a Russian oil embargo, something that seemed impossible just days ago in Europe.

But Russia is also ramping up its threats to try and ward off more Western intervention. The Washington Post was first to report that Russian officials have sent a formal diplomatic message to the United States warning that U.S. and NATO shipments of the most sensitive weapon systems to Ukraine were adding fuel to the conflict there and could bring unpredictable consequences.

Now, that may sound like more bluster from an increasingly isolated world leader, but the threat of unpredictable consequences is sadly not an empty one. Yesterday, the head of the CIA made that point very clear during a public speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they`ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HASAN: In an interview with CNN, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy echoed those sentiments, saying the world should prepare for the possibility of a nuclear strike inside of Ukraine.

There have been differing opinions from experts about the threat of a Russian nuclear strike since this war began, but there is no question that Russia`s nuclear arsenal hangs like a sword of Damocles over every decision Western powers make in this conflict. If Russia were to resort to using a nuclear weapon inside of Ukraine, tactical or not, it would be the first nuclear strike by any nation since the devastating us bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. It would irrevocably change the world in ways we cannot wave off or ignore.

So the big question remains as Russia ratchets up its threats to the West, just in time for its new assault on Eastern Ukraine, what can we in the West do without provoking a nuclear war with Putin?

Joining us now is retired four-star Air Force General Philip Breedlove. General Breedlove served as NATO supreme allied commander from 2013 to 2016. He`s now a distinguished chair of the Frontier Europe Initiative at the Middle East Institute.

General, thank you for being with us tonight.

Let me start by asking you about the situation in Mariupol. I saw a video today from a journalist from the "Kyiv Independent" showing what`s left of the city which is practically nothing, and this reporter rightly points out that if Russia takes control of the city, they will only keep the land because it`s really nothing left there in terms of infrastructure. Explain to our viewers general why Mariupol is so strategically important to the Russians to the point that they`ll destroy it in order to take it.

PHILIP BREEDLOVE, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE: Mariupol is key for several reasons. Thanks for having me on tonight.

It is one of the two remaining large ports in Ukraine that keep Ukraine connected to the rest of the world for commerce and shipment of grain, et cetera. And it is a key spot in that land bridge that has been talked so much about from the Luhansk, Donetsk area in Donbas, down along the coast towards Crimea. So this is a key piece of terrain and it`s very sad to see it fall.

We heard reports today that some of the soldiers there were having to surrender because they ran out of bullets and they ran out of food. And this is a failure of us I think in the West to get all the supplies they needed into them.

HASAN: And the fall of Mariupol would be a huge blow to Ukrainian morale, not to mention a humanitarian crisis, would it not?

BREEDLOVE: It would and sadly what we will probably find in marijuana is the same thing that we found in the north, from where the Russians have left their fingerprints, in terror and in war crimes, in an area.

And so, this is going to be another tough slog to get through what we find in Mariupol.

HASAN: General, you have said in recent interviews that you think the United States has been completely deterred by Russia`s nukes and Putin meanwhile is undeterred. You have called in the past for a no-fly zone, a limited no-fly zone. You have said we shouldn`t exaggerate the threat from Russian nukes to the point where we don`t do anything.

And yet, CIA Director Bill Burns who dealt with Putin, of course, directly as ambassador to Moscow in the past, he said yesterday we can`t take lightly the prospect that Putin would use tactical nukes inside of Ukraine. Do you disagree with Director Burns?

BREEDLOVE: No, I don`t. I think that we have to take serious a lot of these threats. Mr. Putin has written about this. Mr. Gerasimov, a senior general, has written about this. They often say that nuclear weapons are a logical extension of the conventional battlefield, whereas we see that completely differently in the West.

But the fact of the matter is Mr. Putin is extremely good at deterring us and he is doing this to deter us. And as I understand now, he`s declared that our weapons shipments to Ukraine will now call new possibilities for him.

And so, we are deterred and he`s seeking to further deter us because it`s worked so far.

HASAN: So I just want to get to the bottom of this deterrence point. I agree with you. It`s deeply frustrating to see the way that Putin can almost blackmail the West with his nuclear arsenal. But reality is reality, if you`re saying that you agree with Bill Burns that he could use tactical nuclear weapons, then we kind of have to be deterred, do we not? Or are you saying we can edge forward, we can push forward with more weapons, maybe a no-fly zone as you`ve advocated in the past, without triggering that use of -- God forbid -- tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

BREEDLOVE: In our past, we have done this. In northern Syria, under a different administration, we took almost a battalion of Russians off the battlefield and we were in the same situation, with the same Putin and the same nuclear arsenal facing this, in that attack. And so, it`s just a matter of assessing the risks and then taking the appropriate actions.

And I think that we need to have those conversations about risks now.

HASAN: Yes, we do.

BREEDLOVE: The sad news is I believe there are people in this world who believe there`s no risk if we do nothing and I believe we incur more risk every day.

HASAN: You`re 100 percent right. There is risk on both sides and we do need to have these conversations, and we are having this conversation. I appreciate you having it with me.

The Syrian example though, correct me if I`m wrong, wasn`t that a group of Russian mercenaries that were killed in Syria? And, of course, Syria doesn`t mean the same to Putin as Ukraine does.

BREEDLOVE: That was the Wagner group, and as you know and all the world knows, the Wagner group is an extension of the Russian military. So we took Russian military off the battlefield in northern Syria.

HASAN: I guess the way I see it and you and I may disagree on this is I worry that on the one hand, we say Vladimir Putin is a genocidal warmongering war crime committing madman, the worst leader since Hitler, in which case we really have to take a nuclear threat seriously from a leader like that, or he`s bluffing, he`ll never use them in which case maybe he`s not the threat we think he is. We can`t have it both ways, can we?

BREEDLOVE: Well, I don`t draw the two distinctions that you do. I think there`s a middle ground. I don`t think he`s bluffing. I think if it goes bad enough for him, he may actually take these more drastic actions.

But if we allow the world to deter us in this way, then every nation that has a nuke looks up and says, okay, I now know how to deal with the United States over Taiwan. I now know how to deal with the United States over South Korea. I now know how to deal with the United States over the missiles I`d like to fire into the Middle East.

And so, I think that at some point, we have to understand that if we are going to allow ourselves to be nuclear blackmailed in every endeavor, then we`re going to have a tough time in the in the world ahead.

HASAN: I guess there`s never been a better argument for a nuclear disarmament.

One last question, General, after the massacre in Bucha and the destruction of Mariupol, and other attacks by Russian troops in Ukraine, it`s very unlikely that the two countries are going to sit down and succeed at a negotiating table anytime soon, even though the president of Ukraine keeps offering Putin a chance for a meeting. Is there any diplomatic off-ramp we can provide to the Russian president to try and persuade him to end his brutal war which has taken so many lives, to declare whatever fake victory he wants and just go home?

BREEDLOVE: Well, I think that`s going to be very tough. But you have hit it right on the head. We all want a negotiated ending to this, but what we don`t want is for Ukraine to have to give up its sovereign territory and its sovereignty as a nation.

[21:15:05]

And so we need to support President Zelenskyy, who is a wartime leader of the highest caliber. We need to support him and prepare his troops so that they can earn a better negotiation position at the table.

HASAN: Retired four-star Air Force general and former NATO supreme allied commander, Philip Breedlove, thank you so much for your time tonight. I appreciate it.

BREEDLOVE: Thanks.

HASAN: If you`ve been a fan of this show for a while, you know Rachel`s mantra: watch what they do, not what they say. Up next, new text messages reportedly obtained by January 6 investigators show that a supposedly die- hard defender of the Constitution, he said he loves it, was just as eager as anyone else to overturn the election. And what he had in mind could be one of the biggest threats to democracy going forward. That eye-opening report coming up next. Do not go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:20:34]

HASAN: The senior senator from the great state of Utah is a Republican named Mike Lee. He`s held that job for a little over a decade and on January the 6th, just as the attack on the Capitol was getting started, Senator Lee`s cell phone rang.

Here is how he remembers it, quote: The caller ID indicated that the call was coming from the White House. To my great surprise, it was President Trump on the other end of the line. There was a lot of noise and commotion in the room but I thought I heard him say, how`s it going, Tommy? Tommy? Who`s Tommy?

It turns out the president dialed the wrong number. He was looking for this guy, Tommy Tuberville, the newly elected senator from Alabama. Senator Tuberville was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump`s big lie, and that`s why the president was trying to call him on January the 6th to ask him to try and delay the certification of the election in Congress.

Instead, the former president got Mike Lee on the phone by mistake and yes, Mike Lee is a Republican, but there was a reason that the president was not calling him on purpose to try and get him to go along with his scheme to overturn the election that day. Senator Lee was not a vocal public proponent of Donald Trump`s big lie. He voted on January the 6th in favor of certifying the election results for Joe Biden.

Mike Lee told journalist Bob Woodward that he personally looked into some of Trump`s claims of supposed voter fraud and did not think any of it checked out. He says he disagreed with Trump`s claim that Vice President Pence had the authority to stop the certification of the election. By all public accounts, Utah Senator Mike Lee portrayed himself as a proud defender of the Constitution, someone with absolute fidelity to it.

But it turns out in private, Lee was actually just pushing for a different way to overturn the election. Today, CNN was first to obtain text messages that Senator Lee sent to the president`s chief of staff Mark Meadows in the few weeks after the election. These are text messages that have been turned over to the January investigation in Congress. I should mention that NBC News has not yet obtained or verified these texts.

In the messages, Mike Lee repeatedly says that there is only one surefire way to overturn the election and it has nothing to do with conspiracies about suitcases full of ballot papers or Italian satellites or krakens. It`s about the fake elector scheme, the idea that states that actually went for Biden could submit a fake slate of electors to Congress for Trump, so that if Mike Pence refused to certify the results, these fake Trump electors would be on record to flip the election in Trump`s favor.

On December the 8th, a few weeks after the election, Mike Lee writes to Mark Meadows, Trump White House chief of staff at the time. Quote: If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative states of delegates, there could be a path. A month later, he raises his concerns about the way his Senate colleagues have gone about trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results.

Mike Lee wants the president to know that his fake elector scheme has a much better shot of success. He says, quote: I really think this could all backfire badly unless we have legislatures submitting Trump slates. Later on that same day, he hits it again: we need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning, even if they can`t convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote and I`ve been working on doing that all day today.

Here`s why this matters so much right now: the fake elector scheme is a play that Republicans could very likely try to run again to overturn the election results in 2024, if the Democrats win the White House again. It is truly shocking to hear a sitting member of the Senate advocate -- excuse me -- for such a plan, though actually maybe a little less surprising coming from Senator Mike Lee, given that he tweeted right before the election that he does not believe the United States is a democracy.

So what do we do to save our institutions when the people constitutionally tasked with protecting them are in fact the ones who pose the biggest threat?

Joining us now is a democracy expert to help us understand the way we should be thinking about all this. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a history professor at New York University. She`s written a book on authoritarianism called "Strongmen".

Ruth, thanks so much for being here.

As someone who has written about authoritarianism, about strongmen leaders, what was your initial reaction to reading these text messages today from a senator, to a chief of staff it`s not even between Donald Trump and Mike Lee, Mike Lee texting the chief of staff saying all this stuff?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY HISTORY PROFESSOR: I felt very sad for the state of affairs, very glad that they`re coming out to remind us of the profound corruption of these individuals. And, you know, what strikes me reading through these is the casual criminality where, you know, this tone we`re just going to be very casual about committing these huge crimes where Mike Lee on November 7th said to Mark Meadows, oh, it`s not a binary choice between you know Trump conceding and, quote, the destruction of the credibility of the election process. That`s just thrown out there. It`s not the ideal option. There might be another option which turned out to be this, you know, fake electors.

But the casual way that these things are discussed, it`s really a testament to what we see in authoritarian you know when you have somebody like Trump, they -- at whatever level -- which is probably low of your ethics and your morals before, being around someone like Trump, you end up by the time he`s done with you much lower because his whole point is to make you as debased as possible and he was asking people to commit these, you know, criminal acts. And so it`s not at all surprising to find the circle is widening of the people involved.

Look at Ginni Thomas, that was the last revelation.

HASAN: Yes, coup by text.

To me, Ruth, what stood out the most about these text messages is not just that these members of Congress are rooting for the overturning of the election, it`s the specificity with which they went about it, suggesting certain tactics over others that would have a greater chance of success. And I wonder how should we think about -- how should we think about how these tactics not just fit into the larger scheme to undermine the election, but going forward, how they`ll be used again in 2024, as the old saying goes, a coup that`s not punished is just a training exercise?

BEN-GHIAT: That`s right and that`s very much how the party is thinking about this because as we see more and more evidence coming out, it`s very - - it just reminds us that and just, you know, January 7th, they could have gotten rid of Trump. It was toxic. Instead, what has happened is January 6 is a profoundly radicalizing event and all of these tactics are now absorbed into the party`s DNA.

So those texts are full of discussions of remedies to the problem of this election that didn`t go their way, also talk about election integrity which we know is -- you know, code word for fixing elections so they go your way. But this is now you know a year later, it`s institutionalized as policy. Think about Ron DeSantis who has his new office of election security.

So this -- think of for, you know, we`ve fallen so much farther as these people have not been punished and all of these methods which were very carefully plotted out which this revelation shows have become part of the party`s methods. And there`s no reason to think they wouldn`t use them in the future.

HASAN: So I was -- Ruth, I was on Twitter earlier today and I saw someone say, well -- you know, we`re talking about accountability for members of Congress, someone said Mike Lee should resign for this, and I kind of laughed. He`s not going to resign. I mean, we have Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who helped incite an insurrection. Hawley who stood in front of the mob and stuck his fist in the air, they didn`t resign. They weren`t expelled from Congress. They`ve been busy trying to undermine and smear the first Black female Supreme Court justice.

There are no consequences for these Republican members and I wonder why the Democratic Party does not shout from the rooftops about these colleagues of theirs in Congress who helped incite an insurrection, who are complicit in a coup.

BEN-GHIAT: That`s a huge failing and it`s as though we are, you know, it`s like we`re all pretending that it`s not that we depend everything`s okay, but we`re not grasping the gravity of these people still there as sitting lawmakers. And, you know, it`s even worse because January has become this badge of honor in the Republican Party, so much so that dozens of participants in January 6, including several who breached the Capitol are being encouraged to run for office.

And so, when you have a party that wants to rule in a lawless fashion and be an autocratic party, unfortunately, you need criminals and you need lawless people among your ranks, and that`s what`s happening. The party is remaking itself explicitly with Trump`s endorsing over a dozen of these people, people who did this lawless thing are now the new heroes of the Republican Party. And that`s a consequence for pretending that everything is normal when it`s not.

HASAN: Quick last question. You have a new piece in "The New Republic" today where you explain how the Republican Party`s essentially absorbed the authoritarian tendencies of Donald Trump and I was thinking about that piece when I saw Trump endorse JD Vance in Ohio, in the GOP Senate race there.

[21:30:01]

Vance, who used to be a Never Trumper, who told me in 2016 that he thought Trump was exploiting and encouraging racism. Kind of says it all.

BEN-GHIAT: Yeah, and he`s just one of the people you know who made this journey under Trump. Think of Kevin McCarthy who right before Trump got the nomination was, you know, the one who said that he thinks Putin is paying Trump.

HASAN: Yes.

BEN-GHIAT: And then he ended up voting what, was it, like 97 percent of the time in favor of Trump.

And we really have to take this personality cult of Trump seriously and it`s extraordinary what he managed to do in an open society with an open media and bring this party to heal and have it be his personal tool.

And those texts from Lee and Chip Roy, they`re also kind of like leader cult. I see January 6 as a leader cult rescue operation. And so, look how far we`ve fallen.

HASAN: Well said.

BEN-GHIAT: It`s very dangerous since Trump could well come back to power.

HASAN: Ruth, I`m not sure how American democracy survives and one of the two major parties brazenly openly does not believe in democracy anymore.

We`ll have to leave it there. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, history professor at NYU, thank you so much for being here tonight.

Up next, one of Donald Trump`s closest former advisors was just removed from the voter rolls in North Carolina for being registered to vote in two separate states. TBD if he will even face any legal consequences for that.

But my next guest, she`s fighting a five-year prison sentence for just trying to vote. That unbelievable story, next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:36:08]

HASAN: The messages read, quote: This fight is about the fundamental fairness and integrity of our election system. The nation is depending upon your continued resolve. Stay strong and keep fighting, Mr. President.

And we need ammo. We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend.

As we`ve been talking about tonight, those are just two of about a hundred messages sent by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas to then White House chief of staff Mark Meadows shortly after the election.

The texts were reported by CNN. NBC News has not independently verified those texts. The two lawmakers were encouraging Meadows to do everything he could to bolster the president`s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Find the proof, find the ammo.

We know for sure now that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in any state that impacted the election results. But we learned this week that Mark Meadows might have been able to offer up his own ballot as the example of voter fraud his friends so desperately sought. The former chief of staff was removed from the voting rolls in North Carolina after state election fraud investigators found that he was registered in both North Carolina and Virginia. He last voted in North Carolina in 2020. His registration is tied to a single wide mobile home that there is no evidence of him ever actually living in.

The state bureau of investigation is still investigating. We will see if he faces any consequences, which is an open question when you look at the history of who tends to face real consequences for behavior like this.

Over in Florida, two men from a retirement community called The Villages are facing their own consequences for their admitted voter fraud. The two men pled guilty this week to casting multiple ballots for the 2020 election, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. They were sentenced to 50 hours of community service and a 12-week adult civics class among some other requirements. As long as they manage that, they will face no further punishments for voter fraud.

Those kinds of light sentences for white guys who knowingly cast fraudulent balance seemed to be a trend.

There was Bruce Bartman of Pennsylvania who cast an absentee ballot for Donald Trump under his dead mother`s name. He got five years probation.

Then there was Edward Snodgrass, a Republican official from Ohio. He cast an extra ballot for his dead father. He got three days in jail and a $500 fine.

Then there was another man from Pennsylvania, Robert Richard Lynn, who applied for an absentee ballot under his dead mother`s name. He got six months probation.

There was also Donald Kirk Hartle (ph) from Nevada, who cast a ballot for his dead wife. He got a year`s probation.

And then there`s Crystal Mason, a black woman from Texas, who cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. She was on supervised release for a federal conviction at the time. She did not know she could not vote. She maintains that no one told her that she could not vote before her federal supervised release ended.

Her ballot was ultimately never counted. Again, it was provisional and it was rejected and yet she was sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to vote.

Late in 2020, Crystal Mason filed a petition with the Texas court of criminal appeals to review her conviction. And last year, the all- Republican court agreed to the review.

Joining us now is Crystal Mason, the Texas woman who is appealing her five- year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election.

Crystal Mason, thank you so much for joining us on the show tonight. We know that Mark Meadows is being invested -- we know that Mark Meadows is being investigated for voter fraud, the former Trump White House chief of staff. I mentioned a bunch of other men who were investigated charged found guilty, pled guilty and they didn`t really get any prison time or prison sentences.

And then this happened to you. The outcome for them so different to your outcome. What do you make of it all?

CRYSTAL MASON, SENTENCED FOR 5 YEARS IN PRISON FOR VOTING VIOLATION: This really saddens me, saddens me on what type of justice system we have here today. Obviously, it shows that I was pretty much target, and I`m right now five years later -- go ahead.

HASAN: No, I was just wondering if you think it`s -- I`m going to ask -- I`m just going to ask the question straight up, do you think it`s because they`re white men and you`re a black woman?

MASON: Of course, of course. You can see plain as day that it`s just a -- just it`s a different system. It`s a different system.

HASAN: It is indeed. And I wonder what is happening in terms of the system that you`re dealing with right now? What is the latest on your fight to get your conviction overturned? We know that last year, the Texas court of criminal appeals agreed to review your case. They`re going to rely on legal briefs rather than oral arguments.

What can you tell us about what you`ve heard from them what happens next?

MASON: Well, right now, five years later, I`ve been out on an appeal bond for five years fighting to stay free. And I`m at the criminal court of appeal and just imagine waking up every Wednesday to see if you stay free or if you go to prison. It`s overwhelming for me and my family. And it`s just so sad when you look at cases like this to see were little no consequences to --

HASAN: I think we may have lost Crystal Mason there. Let`s just -- I think we`ve got her back. Sorry, I think we lost you for a moment there, Crystal.

Let me -- let me ask you this before we run out of time very quickly. Does it worry you that if someone can so easily make an innocent mistake at the polls as you did and be sent to jail for five years, while other people are deliberately carrying out fraud and nothing`s happening to them, people like yourself, people who look like you from backgrounds like yourself, who might be not -- not be obviously Republican voters are some of these guys whether I mentioned, they`re going to be intimidated into not voting, they`re going to say well it`s not worth the hassle to go out and vote, and maybe that`s the goal of all this?

MASON: That`s exactly what it is. I feel like the goal is to scare the Black and the Brown away from the poll. And if you look at the cases, you can kind of see, from little to no consequences at all on true real voter fraud cases. And yet, I filled out a provisional ballot and never counted and I`m sentenced to five years for illegally voting, for never voting.

HASAN: Crystal Mason, we appreciate your time tonight. We wish you well with your appeal against your sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Thank you for coming on the show tonight.

MASON: Thank you.

HASAN: Up next, what the richest man in the world just can`t seem to buy. This one is a doozy. You are not going to want to miss it. We`ll be right back.

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[21:47:32]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few hours ago, you made an offer to by Twitter.

(LAUGHTER)

Why?

ELON MUSK, CEO, TESLA: Well, I think it is important that it be an inclusive arena for free speech, where -- yeah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HASAN: That was the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and the boring company, the world`s richest man, Elon Musk, yesterday at the Ted 2022 Conference in Vancouver.

By now, it`s near impossible to avoid hearing the story that Elon Musk is attempting to purchase Twitter in a whopping $42 billion unsolicited takeover. Today, Twitter announced that it will be adopting what is colloquially known as a poison pill, a legal maneuver that makes it significantly harder for anyone to purchase more than fifteen percent of Twitter stock. The move could come at the expense of their stock price but it greatly diminishes the chances of Elon Musk taking over.

But let`s take a step back from the will he/won`t he`s story about whether Musk will actually buy Twitter and look at the bigger picture. If there`s anything that Musk is good at, it`s self promotion. And right now, he is using this potential purchase to burnish his credentials as the world`s great champion of free speech, come to save us all. This all kicked off last month with him referring to himself in a tweet as a free speech absolutist. In his SEC filing to try and purchase Twitter, he wrote that he believes that free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy, and all of that has led to an avalanche of press framing this as a fight between Musk, the champion of unrestricted free speech and Twitter.

Whatever you think about Elon Musk and his cars, whatever you think about him potentially buying Twitter, can we please not pretend that this guy is a paragon of freedom of speech for everyone? When the thin-skinned Musk is on the receiving end of speech he doesn`t like, he uses his power as CEO and world`s richest man to retaliate and try and suppress that speech.

In 2016, a venture capitalist in California blogged about how the Tesla Model X launch event was poorly run, and Musk responded by cancelling his order for the car. The venture capitalist claims he`s been banned from buying Tesla cars all together over a blog post.

In 2017, Tesla fired an employee in what the National Labor Relations Board ruled was retaliation for visibly being involved in union organizing. The guy was literally fired in retaliation for acts like distributing leaflets in the parking lot.

[21:50:00]

A 19-year-old self-described fan of Musk started a Twitter bot that tracked Musk`s private jet. In January of this year, Musk try to pay him to take it down, and then he blocked him. All of that flight info is already publicly available, the teenager was not doing anything wrong.

In February of this year, just a month before Musk started calling himself a free speech absolutist, Tesla fired one of their employees because he had a YouTube channel where he reviewed self-driving cars. He owned a Tesla and candidly reviewed its self-driving car software. And not only did Tesla fire him, they also cut off his access to the self-driving car software in the vehicle he personally owns.

Elon Musk does not appear to be a guy who believes absolutely in free speech. So musk has the right to buy whatever he likes and run his company however he likes, but we do not have to buy his nonsense story about saving free speech.

Joining us now is Tim Higgins, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and the guy who wrote the literal book on Elon Musk, "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century".

Tim, thank you for being with us tonight. In your book, you write the Musk has a tendency to rage fire employees. Musk claims this is false. He has the right to fire people. He`s the CEO.

But can you help us understand the reasoning reason behind these firings?

TIM HIGGINS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, oftentimes, he would just lose patience with somebody. It`s this interesting phenomenon, a new employee, a new manager, a new executive -- at first, he might be attracted to that person like a new shiny object, but then something might happen, and he`s a flip -- a switch has been flipped and he no longer either trusts that person or wants to be even around that person and they must go.

HASAN: And often because of something they`ve said, right? That`s what you document in your book.

HIGGINS: It`s said or have done. There was in one instance in the book for example that the factory is struggling to ramp up production of the Model 3. This is putting the company under great pressure and great trouble, and an employee, a very low level employee was working on a safety system on the assembly line that would stop if somebody got in the way of a car.

And this -- and Elon saw this and saw that the assembly line was stopped, he became very unhappy and just lost his temper and started banging his head against this car that was on the assembly line to show that it wasn`t hurting him and as they tried to tell him that this was about safety, he told the person, he fired the person, told him to get out of there.

HASAN: So do you believe -- you`ve studied this guy, you`ve written about this guy. Do you believe his goals here are truly ideological, that he`s in it for the free speech? I don`t but I`m wondering what you think. You`re the expert.

HIGGINS: I think that he probably has convinced himself that he is and in some ways he is about free speech as long as it`s his speech that is free to be out there.

HASAN: Yes.

HIGGINS: But it really you also can get it -- they can get at the core motivation of why do billionaires and millionaires for generations put their money into trying to buy media. It`s about ego. It`s about power. It`s about influence and Musk has shown time and time again that he understands that how to use and wield power and controlling Twitter would cement his power on social media.

You have to keep in mind here the almost like Donald Trump, he has figured out how to use social media in a way to build his empire, to build his strength and influence around the world. In an era where there is great debate about how speech and those platforms can occur, and people are being kicked off for crossing lines, you have to imagine that he is concerned about it. Here is a guy that has crossed once before, there is a possibility that his most potent tool could be taken away from him, that has to be concerning.

HASAN: Yeah, the guy has more than 18 million followers on Twitter. He thinks that free speech is under threat.

The idea of the problem of Twitter is censorship rather than the rampant abuse of minorities and women and others is kind of bizarre, which tells me he does not really care.

Tim Higgins, we`ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time and your analysis. Tim is a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and the author of "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century". Thank you.

Okay, one last story here tonight before we go. Do stay with us. It is a good one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:58:52]

HASAN: I know it has been a heavy week with all that is going on in the world right now, but there was one moment of levity and bravery to stuff to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZACH: I was working on this store. Okay. I was working at the store. I do security cameras.

REPORTER: What store were you working at?

ZACH: Over there, and I see him, I seen him walk on the sidewalk. So I was watch him, the camera from the screen. And I thought, oh my God, this is the guy. He has his bag on his back. He was -- he put on the floor like this. And I see the people walking, being next to him.

I thought, guys, guys, be careful. Keep far from him. Maybe he will do something, like give space. People think I am crazy. Like maybe people think I`m on not. I`m fasting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HASAN: I`m fasting. As someone who is also fasting for Ramadan, I can relate. Twenty-one-year-old security camera technician Zach Tahhan is being hailed as a hero for not only stopping the suspect of Tuesday`s attack in Brooklyn, but also letting police nearby. He`s become an Internet sensation, thanks to many videos of his energetic retelling of that moment.

He is also given us a great Ramadan meme. I`m not crazy. I`m fasting.

I will be speaking to Zach Tahhan on my show this Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back here on Monday.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.