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Transcript; The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/22/22

Guests: Jamie Raskin, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Ruth Ben-Ghiat


The Wall Street Journal" reports that former President Trump says he is not mad at Rep. Kevin McCarthy over leaked audio. MSNBC`s continuing live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed just today a bill going after Disney for speaking out against the state`s "don`t say gay" bill.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: That means a lot coming to you, my friend. Thank you and thanks for all the opportunity you gave me to report from there into your show. I`m looking for to see you on Sunday. You have yourself -- I`d say a good weekend, but as much of the good weekend as you get.


VELSHI: And thank you at home for joining us this hour.

I want to tell you the story of one American, who like many Americans, retired at the age of 65. He announced at the end of September 2015, by the end of the following month, he was gone. And to say he took the retirement like a fish takes the water would be an understatement of historic proportions.


FORMER REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): This morning, I am formed my colleagues that I would resign from the speakership and resigned from Congress by the end of October.

REPORTER: After years at the center of Republican politics, House Speaker John Boehner step down in 2015. Since then, he has mostly been absent from public life, with the exception of calling Senator Ted Cruz Lucifer in the flesh. Last week, in one of his first interviews since leaving office, Speaker Boehner talked to Vice founder Shane Smith about the raucous race for president and where politics had from here.

BOEHNER: There you go. This is the coolest wine opener ever.

I don`t remember the last time I didn`t interview with the glass of wine.





So, in 2015, the speaker the House, John Boehner, retired. Being speaker the House is a stressful job in the best of times, but there was other stressors of the job that maybe pushed John Boehner closer to a red wine and cigarette filled retirement at an accelerated pace.

John Boehner resigned from Congress in the middle of a projected leadership struggle and Republican politics. The most conservative wing of the party had been training to turf John Boehner out of the speakership. Rather than try to survive the vote, he decided to throw in the towel and take care of his lawn back in Ohio.

This created something of a mad scramble to see who would become the front runner to take his job. The Californian congressman, Kevin McCarthy, quickly announced that he would run for speaker. He was at the time, the House majority leader. That is the number to Republican in the House.

So, he was the obvious front runner until, on live television, Kevin McCarthy accidentally said the quiet part out loud.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.


VELSHI: Even then, most critical thinkers knew that Republicans were not really trying to get the bottom of what happened in Benghazi when they hauled Hillary Clinton in for testimony. But Kevin, buddy, you`re not supposed to admit that in live television. People can hear you.

Kevin McCarthy was ridiculed for that a mark. Ultimately, he stayed for running to speaker up to and including the very moment that every member of the House Republican caucus piled into a big room for the vote. Kevin McCarthy was there with his family. John Boehner gaveled the meeting to session. Everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance, at which time, Kevin McCarthy stood up and announced that he was quoting the race for how speaker. Again, this was at the vote for the House speaker. The entire thing was a fiasco.

He said part of the reason he decided his candidacy was untenable was because of that loose lip gap about trying to tank Hillary Clinton`s presidential bid.


REPORTER: How much do your comments about Benghazi last week play into your decision to step aside today?

MCCARTHY: That wasn`t helpful. Yeah, I mean, I could have said it much better.


VELSHI: It was bad. It was a deeply embarrassing moment for the Russian party. Memories are very short in Washington. And in the end, Kevin McCarthy climbed his way back into the good graces of the party, and particularly the de facto head of the Republican Party, Donald Trump.

During the Trump administration, Kevin McCarthy ingratiated himself to the president. He hand-picked out flavors of the presidents candy, his favorite candy, and presented it to him in a fancy jar. He let the president parade around Washington, calling McCarthy my Kevin. He routinely defended the president`s reprehensible behavior, which is frankly embarrassing to watch the whole thing.

But, ultimately, it was effective. Kevin McCarthy is now the top Republican in the House. He is, again, almost unfathomably the front runner to be the elected speaker of the House if Republicans take control in November.


And he almost got their speed bump-free this time around. Almost.


MCCARTHY: The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.


VELSHI: Okay, that audio came out just last night. Rachel played here on the show for the first time.

Kevin McCarthy saying that he planned to call Donald Trump and tell him to resign because he thought he was about to be impeached. The recording is particularly problematic for the wannabe House speaker because right before this audiotape was released, Kevin McCarthy flat-out denied that he had ever considered asking Trump to resign.

Today, more audio was released from the same conversation that Kevin McCarthy had would probably come leaders in the House in the aftermath of January 6. And from another conversation on the following day. This audio was first obtained by CNN and now by NBC News. Listen with me.


MCCARTHY: Let me be very clear to all of you, and I am very clear to the president. He bears responsibility for his words and actions, no ifs, ands or buts. I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened?

He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needed to acknowledge that.

I know this is not fun. I know this is not great. I know this is very tough, but what I want to do, especially through here, is, I don`t want to rush things, I want everybody to have all the information needed.

I`ve had it with this guy, what he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.


VELSHI: Nobody can defend it, nobody should defend it.

Of course, that defiant posture from Kevin McCarthy was short lived.

Here`s Kevin McCarthy less than three weeks later, visiting Trump at his golf resort, grinning from ear to ear. Kevin McCarthy remains one of the most vociferous defenders of Donald Trump in public.

Since that private call, McCarthy`s public line has been that he does not think Trump bears any responsibility for January 6. Neither Donald Trump nor Kevin McCarthy have issued any kind of statement, well Donald Trump has issued one tonight, but the two reportedly did speak today.

And get this, NBC News reports that McCarthy called Trump to repel justice for what he said on the recording. He told Trump that he did not actually mean it, and that he was just telling Liz Cheney what she wanted to hear.

According to "The Washington Post", Donald Trump reportedly told his Kevin that he is not upset, in fact he is glad that his Kevin had never falter and asked to resign. "The Post" reports that Trump interpreted this as a sign of his continued grip on the Republican Party.

According to "The Post", other House Republicans are waiting for marching orders from Trump, any kind of smoke single about how he might feel about Kevin McCarthy. So they can decide whether to support him for speaker, if Republicans win the House in November, or ditch in for a more pro-Trump member of Congress.

As I mentioned, the former president has now spoken to "The Washington Journal" about the phone call in reporting that just came out. Donald Trump confirmed to "The Journal" that he is not magic McCarthy. He said McCarthy said all the things in the audiotape before he had all the facts. And that McCarthy has since embraced him fully after he, quote, found out the facts.

As for Republicans who criticized him in the wake of the riot, Trump told "The Journal" tonight, quote, they realize they were wrong and supported me. Trump also denied ever taking responsibility for what happened on January 6, contradicting McCarthy`s recollection. He told a "Journal", quote, no, that`s false. I never claimed responsibility.

The fallout from this whole episode raises a ton of questions, like, which Republican is so quick on the draw with the voice memos up? And will Kevin McCarthy`s bid for the speakership go up in flames, not just once but twice?

But all of that is inside the beltway politics. Importantly for the country, all this raises the important question of accountability. The farther we get from the insurrection, the less likely it becomes the any Republican politician will face any kind of consequence for their actions up to and including Donald Trump.

Watching Kevin McCarthy twist himself into a pretzel today to apologize to Trump comes amid new signals to any hope of accountability for generous six might just be a fever dream.

Today, the Republican congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, appears to have wiggled out of a court challenge that would bar her from reelection for supporting the insurrection.


The congresswoman and her lawyer spent the majority of a court hearing on the matter today, deflecting and obfuscating her role in supporting the attack.

She insisted today that she had no recollection of whether or not she discuss the rally planned for January 6 with anyone in the White House, the rallied that ultimately turn violent. I mean, we all talk to the White House all the time, who can remember who said what do whom and when? Moreover, she says he has no memory of whether or not anyone mentioned her the threats of violence that day.

Today, a federal judge dismissed a similar attempt to remove three Arizona Republicans off the ballot for their ties to the insurrection attempt. It is likely that all members of Congress who supported the insurrection will be allowed to run for reelection. There is a more than decent shot them most of them will win. Leaders of the Republican Party continue to carry water for the former president, with members of Congress sympathetic to the president`s big lie continuing to burrow into our institutions. The list of ways to hold anyone accountable for what happened on January 6 is growing shorter by the day.

But we haven`t got to the bottom just yet. The January 6 investigation in Congress has been quietly, diligently continuing its work. Public hearings are reportedly expected to take place in June, where the committee will lay out to the American people what they learned about what happened that and exactly who was responsible.

And now, one of the members of Congress participating in that investigation, the Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, they set some pretty high expectations for what we should expect in his public hearings. He says, quote, the hearings will tell a story that will blow the roof off the house. How is that for a tease?

Joining us now is Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. He served as the lead impeachment manager at Donald Trump`s second impeachment. He`s the member of the January 6 investigation.

Congressman Raskin, thank you for being here. It is good to see you again.

I want to ask you, sir, about these audio tapes that have been released of Kevin McCarthy. They dominated the news cycle, they got potentially clear political implications, but that is not what you do. Your investigation is not about the politics of it.

How do those recordings, what Kevin McCarthy said at the January 6 about and possibly to Donald Trump have an impact on investigation?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): They are a vivid reminder of what was clear to everybody that was caught up in the violent insurrection in the attempted coup against Congress and against the constitutional order, which is that the president was deeply involved in this event. He was at the center of these events. And everyone believed at the time that there were constitutional crimes and statutory offenses committed.

And I think people had the right sense at that moment that nothing like this had ever happened in American history before, and we had never had a president who had actually gone to the lengths of inciting a violent insurrection against the union and attempting to overthrow our constitutional system. So, Minority Leader McCarthy`s words that were captured on that tape in a discussion with the Republican conference just reinforced everything we are finding, which is that this was an orchestrated, premeditated assault on our system of government.

And we have I think what will be a very riveting story to tell America about how this came about, what were the causes behind it and what we need to do to fortify our institutions in the future against coups and insurrections.

VELSHI: And that last sentence is really the reason anybody should care about this, right, because a lot of people make the argument that this is - - this is history, it might be in aberration, it is anomaly, Donald Trump is an anomaly. But, in fact, what we learned, is that the institutions that we have, strong though as they are, we are not strong enough to prevent an attempted coup.

RASKIN: Yeah, I mean, this is a democracy. And in a democracy, the people have a right to the truth about their own governing institutions. We came very close to losing it all on that day.

Had Mike Pence succumbed to the extraordinary pressure and coercion campaign being brought down upon him by Donald Trump and his lieutenants, what would have happened is that Pence would have returned to senator dozens of electoral college votes, lowering Joe Biden`s vote total from 306 to below to 270 in electoral college, if you had filed Trump`s orders and rejected Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania electors.

At that point, it would have shifted the whole election to the House of Representatives, where they understood, they would be voting up by one member, one vote, but one state, one vote in the GOP-controlled 27 states, Democrats are 22. Pennsylvania is split down the middle, 9 to 9.

So, even if they lost a vote of Wyoming with Liz Cheney as the at-large representative, they still would have had 26 votes. They would have declared Donald Trump president for another four years. He likely would have followed the advice of Michael Flynn, he`s disgraced former national security advisor, who is urging him to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law. At that point, he would have called in the National Guard to put down the insurrectionary chaos that he had unleashed against us.

And so, it was really only Mike Pence refusing to play ball with the president that he had served in such obsequious way for four years, and the valor and the heroism of the officers who stood between members of Congress and the mob and the insurrectionists that saved us that day. And that`s as close to fascism that I ever want to see America come to. And the people of the country need to understand how close we were to losing it all on that day.

VELSHI: And that picture you just drew would be bad enough on the face of it, if this were just Donald Trump and maybe some people around him. I want to ask you about, this because more important based on something he said on a panel event last night, you said that the committee, the January 6 committee, will provide evidence that proves there was coordination among then president Donald Trump and his inner circle and his inner circle, and his supporters who attacked the Capitol on January 6.

Now, that`s a big deal. Tell me -- tell me a little more about that.

RASKIN: Well, there were two streams of activity. One was designed to overthrow Biden`s majority electoral college. And, you know, they used different tactics for that. First, they went to court, in more than 60 courts, including eight judges who had been nominated but to the federal branch by Donald Trump himself, rejected every claim of electoral fraud and corruption of the GOP advance.

And in a civilized democracy, that should have been the end of it, but they refused to take no as an answer from every federal state judge that they brought their cases before. At that point, they tried to brown beat and intimidate election officials, as they did infamously with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia. You will recall that he was the one that Trump said to, just find 11, 781 votes, which was not Donald Trump trying to stop election fraud, that was Donald Trump trying to commit election fraud and being caught red-handed.

hey tried a bunch of other things, but it all came down eventually to January 6, where they wanted Pence to declare unilateral, constitutional, unlawful powers to consider and nullify and reject Electoral College votes, something no vice president had ever dreamed of asserting before in U.S. history. It is something that all of the lawyers were telling Donald Trump that he could not do.

You even had the attorney general, William Barr, telling Donald Trump that his arguments are BS. Although he spelled it out. So, it was very clear that they were trying to perpetrate a fraud against the American people with their counterfeit electors, their lies about election fraud, which he knew were lies. And then their attempts to coerce Mike Pence and to mobilize the second stream of activity, which was insurrectionary mob violence, which left more than 150 of our officers with broken jaws and necks and vertebrae and ribs and arms and legs and traumatic brain injuries, concussions, post traumatic stress syndrome -- they stormed their doors, they shattered our windows, they shut down the counting of Electoral College votes for the first time in American history.

And so, they interrupted the peaceful transfer of power. They left the capital a bloody mess. Those two streams of activity came together. Donald Trump was being begged and besieged by members of his own family, by members of his own administration, by members of Congress from both parties to call it off, and he refused to do that for more than three hours.

He was absolutely AWOL because he, I believe, and this part is uncertain, but I believe he was trying to turn up the temperature on Mike Pence by continuing to unleash and incite this mob against them. Even when Donald Trump understood that Vice President Pence was in danger, even when there are mobs chanting, hang Mike Pence, he continued to send out messages inflaming the mob against Mike Pence.


So, it seems clear to me that he wanted to continue all the way to complete whatever calling, the Green Bay sweep, which I am calling, a coup. That is what political scientist call it, a self coup, when the president decides to attack the constitutional system in order to prolong his stay in office and set aside the electoral process.

VELSHI: Wow, Congressman, you said the testimony will blow the roof off the house, we are looking for to hearing more of this. Thank you as always for joining us tonight. Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin is a member of the January 6 investigation.

As always, sir, we thank you for your time.

Well, still ahead this hour, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis says he is trying to turn Florida into what he calls, quote, the freest state. Bu that`s not what the bills that he signed today actually do.

Up next, the mystery surrounding the death of two Russian oligarchs, the latest example of mysterious deaths in Vladimir Putin`s Russia.



VELSHI: This is Sergei Protosenya. Until recently he lived comfortably in France with an estimated wealth of more than $400 million, money he made as a former top manager of the Kremlin connected Russian gas giant Novatek. He is basically the textbook example of an oligarch.

On Tuesday, he was found dead in a rented villa in Spain. According to the Spanish news outlet, TeleCinco, Spanish police found his wife and daughter dead with ax and knife wounds inside the villa. Protosenya hanging by a bathrobe in the garden.

Spanish police believe it is an isolated case of domestic violence, and say it is not connected to any criminal gangs or similar cases.

This is Vladislav Avaev, he was the former vice president of the Russian Gazprombank, which is the bank connected to Russia`s biggest oil company, Gazprom, it`s Russia`s third largest bank. Now, before that, he worked in the Russian office of the president, and in the state Duma.

On Monday, he was found dead in his luxury apartment in Moscow along with his pregnant wife, and 13-year-old daughter who had cerebral palsy. Russian state run press says that all three died from bullet wounds, and that 13 guns were discovered at the scene, including one that was found in Avaev`s hand. They also report that the apartment have been locked from the inside, making it impossible in their telling, that anyone but Avaev could have been involved.

Now, these could absolutely be totally unconnected cases of men killing their families and than themselves. But what are the odds that two Russian oligarchs with connections to the Kremlin, and the oil industry, decide to kill themselves within 24 hours of each other? And what are the odds that four have since done so since Putin invaded Ukraine.

The Ukrainian board Russian oligarch Mikhail Watford who made a fortune in Russian oil and gas in the `90s was found dead in his $23 million mansion in England on February the 28th.

And on the day after Russia invaded Ukraine, February 25th, the financial director at Russia`s biggest oil company, Gazprom, was found dead in a cottage near St. Petersburg.

Now, again, these could all be unconnected individual cases of murder and suicide. Both domestic violence, and suicide are unfortunately common things around the world. But these cases deserve a little bit of context.

"USA Today" put out an incredible report back in 2017 in which they documented 38 cases of prominent Russians who had died suspiciously in the previous three years. They included ten high-profile critics of Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin powerbrokers, 13 military or political leaders involved and the conflict over Eastern Ukraine, 12 were shot, stabbed, or beaten to death. Six were blown up. One died of mysterious head injuries, one reportedly slipped and hit his head in a public bath, one was hanged in a jail cell, and one died after drinking coffee, end quote. The other 16 were reported as either natural causes, or unknown.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that in the 22 years that Putin has been in power, 25 Russian journalists have been murdered. A whole bunch of them apparently just fell out of windows.

On April 10th, I interviewed the Russian opposition leader, Vladimir Kara- Murza. He has been poisoned twice by the Kremlin. On April 11th, the day after we spoke with him from Moscow, Kara-Murza was arrested. Today, we got the news that he faces up to 15 years in prison for breaking a new law against saying anything other than the government narrative about what is happening in Ukraine. Potentially 15 years in jail just for telling me, and you the truth, which is not too far off from the story of the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned in 2020, and just sentence last month a nine years in prison on completely bogus charges.

That kind of thing is just what Russia does. So again, domestic violence and suicide are a search of their own. And all of these recent murder and suicide cases should be investigated individually.

But, given Putin`s government`s history of making that people who are inconvenient to them disappear, it also makes sense to investigate the possibility that the Kremlin could be involved in these deaths.


Four Russian oligarchs, all with direct ties to either the Kremlin or the Russian oil and gas industry, all met violent ends just since this war began.

Watch this space.



VELSHI: Southern Ukraine is of strategic value to Moscow, capturing this part of the country gives Russia a chance to establish a land corridor through Ukrainian territory connecting Russia directly to Crimea, the peninsula that Russia stole from Ukraine, it is on the bottom of your screen, and then annexed in 2014.

At the center of Russia`s plan is the port city of Mariupol. Since the beginning of the war, Vladimir Putin and his troops have made Mariupol one of their main targets. They have spared no ammunition trying to conquer it.

According to local officials, 80 to 90 percent of the city has been destroyed, and entire neighborhoods wiped out, supermarkets, theaters, schools, hospitals, all bombed, as well as charges. This orthodox Christian city is named after the Virgin Mary, Mariupol. It is a Good Friday there today, by the way.

The mayor of Mariupol estimates that more than 20,000 people have been killed, by Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion. Now, we can`t verify those numbers because there are no reporters on the ground. But we should give you an idea of what is happening.

These are satellite images recently collected and analyzed by Maxar technologies. Now, it purports to show mass graves in the small village of Manhush which is 12 miles from the center of Mariupol. According to local authorities, this particular mass grave maybe 20 times larger than the one found in Bucha, it could hold up to 9,000 bodies.

Thousands of residents have fled Mariupol while others are desperately trying to do so. But despite their attendance, very few evacuation vehicles have made it through. Only as early we got word of three buses that were able to get out. They had 79 passengers on them, a drop in the bucket considering that according to Ukraine`s deputy prime minister, at least 50,000 people are still trapped.

Sky News Mark Stone spoke to some of those who have managed to escape.


MARK STONE, SKY NEWS REPORTER: On the skies that present a constant threat, into a car park where they have been expected for days, three buses from Mariupol, through the last checkpoint, and through a safety of sorts, 79 of the most vulnerable. They have been inside the besieged city for eight weeks.

Among them, Mykhailo and his wife Maria, in no state to talk, witnesses to an awfulness that brings an old man to this. Inside the tent here in Zaporizhzhia, they are fed. These are people who have lived in bunkers for weeks. They have with them all that is left.

Back outside, and fed, he thought he was ready to talk.

Just tell me how the situation is in Mariupol at the moment? These are the tears of an old man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s horrible. It`s horrible. I`m an old man but I`m crying. Everything is destroyed. These are the tears of an old man.


VELSHI: These are the tears of an old man. If Mariupol is any indication of what Putin wants to do next, the world should be alarmed. And I think we know that that is.

Russian officials said today that the goal of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is to take, quote, full control of southern Ukraine, and the eastern Donbas region. That ambitious Russian plan, that same officials said, includes a corridor to Transnistria which is in Moldova. It is a Russian occupied strip of territory in Moldova. It is a country to the west of Ukraine where Putin already has 1,500 soldiers which he calls peacekeepers.

Putin`s rationale for moving into this territory is that there too, Russian-speaking civilians are being oppressed.

Given the military and strategic failures that we have seen from Russian troops thus far, one can`t help but wonder how they are planning on doing all of this.

But joining us now is Andriy Zagorodnyuk. He is the former Ukrainian minister of defense. He is the cofounder and chairman of the security think tank Center for Defense Strategies.

Andriy, thank you for being with us tonight.


VELSHI: I want to ask you about these comments from Russian officials today, openly stating that they are eyeing a road to Transnistria via southern Ukraine. This is in Moldova. This is the argument that Ukrainians have been making, and a lot of eastern Europeans have been making, that Russia is going to use this excuse of Russians being oppressed anywhere else to justify going in.

As a military expert, what do you make of this?

ZAGORODNYUK: Well, first of all, let`s define what does it mean Russians oppressed? There are Russian-speaking people all around the country.


My family is Russian speaking. It has many families like a huge number which are Russian -speaking. And nobody was ever oppressed. So this is totally nonsense.

And our wars against Russians, we have the representatives of all possible international organizations in Ukraine for all these years, and we never had any single report that anyone was oppressed during this, the recent history of Ukraine 30 years since independence. So, essentially, we are just saying that he needs some kind of excuse, and that is the one. Or even not an excuse, but something to just say.

And then, the question is, what is the real goal? The real goal is to establish their domination in some territories of Ukraine, which are strategic importance, and the south of Ukraine is important because it is the coastline of the Black Sea. And from a trading perspective, you know, it is a big deal. Yes, they will be trying to do that.

But it is easier said than done because they were heavily fortified. Mykolaiv is the next city to the east is very heavily fortified. So one thing is to say, one thing is to say, it but another thing is to achieve it. And the way Russian army performing, it`s not -- they are not going to be successful, I don`t think so.

VELSHI: This is what I was going to say. A Russian official also said today that the goal is to take full control. I will stick that map up again of eastern and southern Ukraine which does mean as you said, Odessa, but it also means Kherson, Mariupol, Kharkiv, and to do that, Russians are going to have to travel through open Ukrainian roads, deal with some of these heavily fortified cities if they have not been able to take, and circle Ukrainian troops.

Tell me a little bit about. This was supposed to be done and 5.6 days, and it is ten times that, and it hasn`t been done yet.

ZAGORODNYUK: Yes. Russian ambition so far has been huge. But the problem is, for them, they are not that much ready for this. And they have a very serious problem with the quality of their personnel in the army. They still use conscripts. They still use reservists. So, like very poor training. They have command and control issues, and severe issues of the doctrine which is essentially improvised Soviet doctrine.

So, they are doing not that well for themselves at all. They are failing in all of the operational objectives. So the only thing they can do is use the advantage in the air, and just bomb cities out. That is what we are seeing in a number of cities. Mariupol obviously is the worst example, because they simply destroyed a city which was pretty much almost 100 percent Russian-speaking.

So, it is an extremely perverted way to protect Russian-speaking people by destroying their cities with people inside. And of course, they try to do this with the other ones. That is why Ukraine`s enhancing its capabilities, including partners from the West, in order to resist, and to counter- attack. With the Russian performance so far on the ground, I firmly believe that the counter-defensive is very probable and they`re very real.

VELSHI: Andriy, thank you for taking time to speak to us again. We learn a lot from you.

Former Ukrainian minister of defense, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, we appreciate your time.

All right, coming up next, I will talk to authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben- Ghiat about what she thinks of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis` antics, including the bill he signed just today going after Disney for speaking out against the state`s "don`t say gay" bill.

Stay with us.




GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the legislator and fellow citizens, together, we have made Florida the freest state in these United States. Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing on under authoritarian seemingly never ending mandates and restrictions.


VELSHI: Yeah, what a relief it must be in Florida tonight, that`s how Florida`s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis opened the state legislature in January, by declaring the state of Florida free, free from, quote, authoritarian COVID health protections and lifesaving vaccines, free from the, quote, Orwellian doublespeak, end quote, of the term voter rights, free from big tech companies that, quote, stifle descent.

DeSantis use variations of the word "free" 12 times during that 35-minute speech, stressing that his state, under his leadership, people`s rights were protected.

Today, more than three months later, Governor DeSantis signed a series of new bills into law. One instated in new congressional map that DeSantis created himself. The map, essentially, dissolves the seat of one black Democratic lawmaker in Florida. The map could also give Republicans an advantage in 20 out of the state`s 28th congressional seats, mostly by diluting the strength of black voters. The law was immediately challenged by a lawsuit.

Another bill DeSantis signed today is named the Stop WOKE Act.


Woke, by the way, standing for "Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees". The bill restricts the way that race is discussed in classrooms and adult workplace that varsity training sessions. The bill bans any lessons that could make white students or grown adults feel blamed for historic wrongs.

A third bill that he signed punishes Disney for speaking out against Florida`s don`t say gay bill. The measure banned lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation from some grade school classrooms. The Walt Disney Company has spoken out against the law, and it has suspended its political donations. The bill DeSantis signed today ends Disney special tax status, reversing a 55-year agreement that allowed Disney to self govern its own 25,000-acre theme park in Florida.


DESANTIS: It is really problematic that when a company had been so, so ominous with parents of young children, they have come out against the parents` rights bill. I have not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state, I just can`t do it.


VELSHI: Can`t do it. Not in my state.

This week, "Politico" interviewed Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and an expert on authoritarianism at New York and university. She had this to say about the governor, quote, DeSantis has autocratic tendencies. He absorbs the lessons of what you need to get ahead in the GOP today, and that is to be a forceful bully even to high school students.

That is one way he setting up Florida to be the victim of a certain politics, a certain ideology that he clearly then wants to take national, end quote.

Joining me now is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history at New York University and author of "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present".

Ruth, it`s good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

This is uniquely relevant because to a lot of Americans, Ron DeSantis is the governor of Florida, and it does not make any difference to them, it does not matter to them. You make the argument that he is setting himself up, he has watched Donald Trump`s relative success, and he`s trying to figure out how to possibly do better.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY HISTORY PROFESSOR: That is exactly right. The lesson is when you have somebody like Trump come into the system, he spawns imitators. Ron DeSantis has absorbed his lessons, even his hand gestures.

What is so disturbing is not just the content of what he`s doing in Florida with anti-critical race theory, anti-LGBTQ rights, the whole menu of repressive GOP policies, but his style of leadership, his executive overreach. You know, he is involving himself with things that governors never did before, not just redistricting but also put Mr. State Supreme Court.

And as for the measure against Disney, I feel like it is something out of Viktor Orban`s Hungary, he`s basically -- he is financially punishing and harassing a corporation because it doesn`t agree with his ideas.

VELSHI: It is actually contrary to the way that Republicans used to see things, right? The idea that you would punish a corporation for not agreeing with their ideas is not a traditionally Republican or conservative view.

BEN-GHIAT: No, but the thing with the new breed of Trumpians, and DeSantis is the primary one, it is about amassing personal power, it`s about bullying people. He got the state legislature to approve his Disney and other things in record time.

And you always have to ask, who`s going to benefit from this? What is the point? Certainly, not the people of Florida, they`re going to have, in that area, up to a 25 percent more tax burden, and the district that is now being punished will now be left with $164 million tax burden and now way to get that revenue. So, who is benefiting from this, just the power of DeSantis.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this whole concept of framing, restriction on activity, restrictions on speech, restrictions on teaching as freedom, that is the interesting part. DeSantis could do everything he done, except he cooks it all in I am giving you greater freedom.

BEN-GHIAT: Yes, this is very disturbing. It is an old right-wing playbook to set yourself up as the liberal democracies of tyranny, and you are the advocate of freedom. We really look at what he has done, as he clamping down on, if you do not agree with the science, if you`re pro-science, you do not agree with his COVID policies, he fires you, and then he appoints a new general.

So, he is punitive. This is the kind of projection, but it is a classic right-wing tactic to make yourself the best in your freedom. I`m also worried because he`s setting himself up to have this kind of regional power base.


Remember, at the height of the pandemic, he invited policeman and others who did not want to submit to tyrannical mask mandates to come and be free in Florida.

So, he is setting himself up as the kind of nemesis to federal government, and that is very subversive and extremist thing to do in my book.

VELSHI: Ruth, thanks as always for being with us.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history at New York University, we always appreciate your time.

Still a lot to come here on MSNBC, after the show, Richard Engel has a special hour on the front lines for the war in Ukraine, you would not want to miss it.

We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: Well, that does it for us tonight. Rachel is going to be back here again on Monday. This weekend, my day job, my show of "VELSHI" features a new installment in a series highlighting books that are targeted for banning.

This week`s banned book is "Dear Martin". It is a critically acclaimed bestselling young adult novel about a black teenager who attends a predominantly white prep school on a scholarship and grapples with the racism of modern-day America. Read the book if you can, and join me Sunday morning 8:00 a.m. Eastern for a conversation with the author, Nic Stone.

Right now, it is time for a special "ON ASSIGNMENT WITH RICHARD ENGEL". A brand-new report from the front lines of the war in Ukraine.