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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, December 16, 2020

Guests: Dan Diamond, Richard Besser, Richard Blumenthal


Daily COVID deaths set a new record of 3,400 deaths in 24 hours. In an e-mail obtained by Politico, we now know that the Trump administration deliberately tried to spread the virus. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are briefed today on the Russian cyberattack. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is interviewed on the classified briefing they had on the Russian cyberattack. A former police captain was charged with holding a man at gunpoint over voter fraud conspiracy.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Absolutely. And I think -- I think all of America wants the same thing for you. Anjanette Young, thank you so much for being here. And I'm so sorry for what you went through. Keenan Saulter, thank you very much. That is tonight's REIDOUT. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voice over): Tonight on ALL IN. 300,000 Americans dead. Tonight, we know the Trump administration deliberately tried to spread the virus.

SCOTT ATLAS, FORMER COVID ADVISER, WHITE HOUSE: The goal of policy is absolutely not to stop all spread of COVID-19 to asymptomatic or very low-risk individuals.

HAYES: Tonight, new details of the tragically failed Trump strategy to get as many Americans sick as possible, with the chilling instruction, "we want them infected."

Then, the massive failure of intelligence as the full scope of a Russian hack of multiple U.S. government agencies comes into view. Plus --

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I'm soliciting information, OK. This is only part of the process.

HAYES: The boondoggle hearing into bogus election fraud claims and the dangerous consequences of those conspiracy theories when ALL IN starts now.


HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I'm Chris Hayes. We want them infected. Those are the words of a top Trump appointee directing the federal government to pursue an intentional strategy from the top-down to get as many Americans as sick as possible in an attempt at so-called herd immunity.

It's a strategy we have seen unfold before our eyes. We've talked about it here on the show. It's been apparent to all of us reporting on this and watching. But we now have the smoking gun evidence, e-mails obtained by Politico, in which the very people at the center of this say what exactly they were doing, that they wanted people to get the virus. And this is the result.

That's the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. last night. It's bell totaling 300 times, one ring of the bell for every 1,000 Americans as we passed the 300,000-death toll. According to the COVID Tracking Project, we lost another 3,400 Americans that have died since roughly when those bells rang just last night. And that is a new Daily Record. We'd never seen it before. No country has. 3,400 Americans lost to the virus in just the last 24 hours. And they did not have to be this bad.

We have the world's worst aggregate death toll by far, and not because of our size. There are bigger countries like China and India, of course. No, the U.S. accounts for around four percent of the world's population. But we have nearly 19 percent of the world's COVID deaths. But the thing to understand about that is it is not an accident and it is not bungling.

Donald Trump and his administration, as backed by Republicans in his party in Congress, explicitly pursued a strategy that would lead to more Americans getting sick and more Americans dying. And they did this despite the fact they kept denying they were pursuing the so-called herd immunity approach. It was always clear they were.

Trump put Scott Atlas, a right-wing radiologist from a conservative think tank, in charge of the COVID response. And he did that because he saw Atlas on TV when Atlas went on Trump's favorite TV shows and said things like the following. "When you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you're prolonging the problem because you're preventing population immunity." See that word there, immunity? Trump would later talk about the herd.

Now, it was always apparent how reckless and dangerous the herd immunity strategy was. Because the one place that openly tried it, in good faith -- I think they thought it was the best way to do it, was Sweden, and it became clear pretty quickly it was a catastrophe. Sweden had a far, far higher death toll than its neighbors. The elderly, folks in long term care facilities particularly hard hit. And the Swedish government was then forced to abandon its failing strategy quite publicly and impose new restrictions.

The evidence is clear. You either suppress the virus and you get low levels of cases and low levels of deaths or you don't, and you get high levels of cases and high levels of deaths. There is literally no one in the world nowhere that has tons of cases and lots of young people getting it who don't end up passing it to people who are immunocompromised, and elderly people, and people in nursing homes.

That's how this virus works. It's what the public expert said from the beginning. The virus spreads. When young people started going back to colleges, we knew that it was only a matter of time until the virus got out to the rest of the community. And as the New York Times reported, though, young people do have indeed less risk, deaths rose fast in college towns when they return to campus.

Again, all of this was as predictable as night following day. There has always been an ironclad correlation between cases and deaths, even as a fatality rate has indeed fallen. But here's what one Trump appointee was saying when colleges closed. Listen to this. "We essentially took off the battlefield, the most potent weapon we had younger, healthy people, children, teens, young people who we need to fastly infect themselves, spread it around."

Think about that for a second. This is a Trump administration official at HHS directing COVID response, expressing that he was upset that fewer people would get the virus and get sick. Think about this. It is like a general rooting for casualties among his own troops. Now, the person who wrote those words, you should know his name. His name is Paul Alexander. He's a former part-time assistant professor at a university in Canada, who is appointed to Department of Health and Human Services.

Paul Alexander and this gentleman Michael Caputo, you should also know his name and his face. Both of those individuals were installed specifically to be Donald Trump's eyes and ears at HHS, the White House's eyes and ears, and to override the science when it was politically advantageous to do so.

And that pair interfered with CDC reports on COVID. And they pushed back against anything they thought would undermine Trump's message that we're back, baby, get out there. And it wasn't just them. New York Times has a new report out in which Trump appointees described the crushing of the CDC by the administration. One saying "Damage has been done to the CDC that will take years to undo."

Among those interfering in the agency were Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump, you know, just sending their ideas about once in a century pandemic management. So, this wasn't just a couple of political hacks mouthing off in e-mails. No, this was a concerted coordinated strategy from President Donald Trump down. The administration reaching into control and override the actual experts in infectious diseases at the most preeminent public health institution in the world, or at least it used to be until he broke it.

The simple truth of the last nine months sounds extreme. It sounds almost hysterical when you say it, but it is what it is. And here it is. Donald Trump and our government, under his leadership, explicitly pursued a strategy to spread the virus, to get more people sick. They took the side of COVID. They had the same aims as the virus. They were, as I said before, objectively pro-COVID and they are to this day.

And not because they weren't competent, even though they are, but because they actively, affirmatively chose that path. Because through a combination of idiocy and cynicism, they thought that path, aligning with the virus to infect as many people as possible would be best for Donald Trump's reelection.

And the deliberate intentional decisions that Donald Trump and Alexander and Caputo and all of them took have gotten tens, actually, probably hundreds of thousands Americans killed unnecessarily. We are now 35 days from the end of the Trump administration. We lost 3,400 people today and there will be more with those tomorrow and the day after. We're at the beginning of writing the history of Donald Trump's stewardship of this pandemic. And the epitaph scrawled across this era should be those four words. We want them infected.

I'm joined now by the reporter who broke that story who has been one of the great reporters of the Trump era who got his hands on those e-mails, Dan Diamond of Politico. And Dan, I want you first to just set up for me who was Paul Alexander and who is Michael Caputo and what role did they play at HHS?

DAN DIAMOND, REPORTER, POLITICO: Chris, thanks for having me back. Paul Alexander, a part-time health professor from McMaster University in Canada, he became a scientific adviser in the Trump administration for most of the pandemic. He advised Michael Caputo, the department's top public affairs official, who was also a confidant of President Trump. President Trump personally installed Caputo in the department.

So, to put it in simple terms, Paul Alexander was the handpicked advisor to the handpicked head of federal health communications during the pandemic. And four months, Paul Alexander sent e-mails to CDC director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn, other officials urging them to let Americans get infected. Young Americans, middle-aged Americans without preexisting conditions, infants, to accelerate what he and others in the administration believe this idea of herd immunity. That by having so many relatively healthy people get infected, it would be a way to contain COVID, allow the president to reopen the economy.

And when some officials got these emails, like Kyle McGowan, the former Chief of Staff for the CDC, a Trump appointee, we spoke today, McGowan said, when I got these messages from Alexander, I assumed he was speaking with the weight of the White House.

HAYES: This is an important point I want to just reiterate and quote from your story here. It was understood that he spoke for Michael Caputo who spoke for the White House, said McGowan, a Trump appointee who was CDC Chief of Staff before leaving this summer. That, you know, in any administration, the org chart doesn't really matter. People have different titles. They're going into this or that place. What matters is your proximity to the President.

And if you're on an ad agency, and there is someone there who is speaking for the president, that carries more weight than any title or any office you sit in, generally, because it is understood that this is what policy should be.

DIAMOND: I think that's fair, Chris. There were public health officials who, at the beginning of the pandemic, looked at what was happening to Alexander Vindman or other officials, career officials who spoke up during the impeachment process, and were showing the door or seemed to be punished. They didn't want that necessarily happening to them. So, they would give officials who seemed to be speaking for Trump a pretty wide berth.

And in the case of Paul Alexander, this was a guy who did what he did for months and months without any resistance that we saw.

HAYES: I want to just quote another line here, because again, it is shocking to read this, but this was explicit. The bottom line is, if it is more infectiousness now, the issue is who cares? That's Alexander writing in July 3 e-mail, the health department's top communications official. There's a long period in the history of this pandemic where that thinking as represented by Scott Atlas, to the President, and the sort of governors the President was in concert with, that is the dominant thinking, ordering American pandemic policy for many months.

DIAMOND: Well, I want to be careful with the reporting says and what it doesn't. We know that when Paul Alexander was sending these e-mails, he wasn't alone. There were people like Scott Adams who he referenced, the advisor to President Trump, the handpicked personal advisor who believed this idea too. But there are also senior political officials who argue they ignored Alexander, they went about pursuing more traditional public health strategy in trying to protect Americans from getting sick.

I think it is fair to say, Chris, when we see e-mails like this, which were uncovered by Congressman Jim Clyburn in his House Subcommittee on Coronavirus Response, that it raises further questions about why Paul Alexander was able to send these e-mails for so long. And the only responses I've seen from people like Michael Caputo asking for more research on herd immunity.

So, I don't want to get ahead of what the reporting says. But it's clear that there were people inside the administration who at least tolerated these ideas and there was pressure brought to bear on health officials trying to do the exact opposite of what Paul Alexander was arguing for.

HAYES: Yes, that's -- I'm grateful for your -- for your precision here. One thing I just want to say from my observational standpoint is, in pandemic response and public health, the message is the policy in many places. So, when you have a big -- when you have big events with a bunch of people unmasked, you are -- you are sending a policy message about what the policy is. And that we all saw in front of our eyes.

Whatever was happening in the e-mails, the message was sent from the top down about how to -- how to encounter this pandemic. Dan Diamond, like I said, who has been a scoop machine over the last few years, great reporting as always. Thank you.

DIAMOND: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: Now, to discuss the damage we've seen at the CDC, I want to bring in another former -- the former Acting Director of that very agency, Dr. Richard Besser. Doctor, the Times reporting here is fairly remarkable and in line exactly with what Dan's reporting was at Politico, constant pressure and jacking and bullying on the sort of folks running the CDC -- some them whom are Republican appointees. They are not like, you know, deep state or is trying to get, you know, sticking to the president -- to override best scientific evidence and practice.

RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Yes. You know, Chris, this is a story that's been reported throughout the pandemic. And that's the politicization of science, the lack of CDC being allowed to step out in front and lead, a change that occurred very early in the pandemic when CDC sounded the alarm about how dangerous this could be.

And you and I have talked about this before. I think one of the -- one of the critical factors in why the U.S. has done so poorly in this pandemic is that we have seen such disparate messaging from our political leaders and our public health leaders. Without our politicians sounding the same messages that come from public health, we see the disconnect where half of the population, those who support those in office are feeling that we are doing way too much. And those who support a public health approach recognize that we are doing far less than we need to do as a country if we truly want to save as many lives as possible.

HAYES: Tell us -- I mean, for people that are -- don't know much about CDC and are now viewing it through the lens of Redfield and its response to this pandemic, what would you say about it as an institution prior to this administration in terms of its reputation and its capacity and its competence?

BESSER: Yes. CDC is recognized around the globe as the -- as the world's leading public health institution. Countries all over the globe reach out to CDC for assistance in handling their own crises. And that's not to say CDC doesn't make mistakes, but it is truly a brain trust when it comes to public health.

The thing I'm really thankful for is that we have not seen a major exodus of talent from CDC. And so, it will come to the next administration to work to rebuild the trust that is absolutely critical. Because not only has CDC taken a hit here in terms of the public and its reputation, but across the country, public health leaders have taken a hit.

There's a recent report out from the AP and Kaiser Health News that one in eight people in America now live in a county in which their public health leader was either fired, retired, or resigned. And a lot of that was because of the threats, because of political influence in their work, and because of the message coming from the top not to listen to public health. It has been absolutely disastrous during this pandemic.

HAYES: Yes, there was an item yesterday about the mayor of Dodge City, Kansas, if not mistaken, who supported a mask mandate who has now essentially resigned his position out of fear of violent recrimination and threat over that. And what I'm hearing from you, which is important point, which is that that flows from the top down. That what happened is CDC then becomes a model in every county and every state for how to deal with public health experts who don't tell -- say what you want them to say.

BESSER: Exactly. When you -- when it's -- you're allowed to inject politics into public health at the federal level, that gives permission for that to happen all the way across the board. And it gives permission for those who disagree with public health, who support this approach of not trying to control this pandemic, to question why states and cities and localities mandate masks, mandate social distancing and do everything they can to reduce transmission.

You know, we are -- we are faced right now with the possibility of this pandemic ending with vaccination. And to think that we would have allowed this virus to spread widely, when the end is clearly in sight -- if we can follow public health recommendations, and social distance, wear a mask, then next year when we gather for the holidays, our relatives who we love so much will still be here. But if we abandon that public health approach, we will lose hundreds of thousands of more people before this comes to an end.

HAYES: The major of Dodge City, I should note, is a woman. And she did resign after supporting that mask mandate. Dr. Richard Besser who was the acting director of CDC, thank you so much as always for your time tonight.

BESSER: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Next, as we witnessed yet another record-breaking day of Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, what it means to have confirmation that this was the administration's plan all along.


HAYES: As Trump's days as president are numbered, there's a debate, a worthwhile one to start to begin to have about the legacy of this administration and just how bad it was in historical terms. There's two different ways we can think about the threat that is posed, threat to democratic norms, institutions democracy itself, and also into the lives and health of the American people.

I think it's fair to say the failure on Coronavirus, the explicit failure not through incompetence, not good-faith mistakes, but the cynical pursuit of a strategy that led to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of unnecessarily dead Americans ranks as one of the greatest failures of American president in the last 100 years and possibly ever.

Here to talk about where Trump stacks up historically what the context for all this is, Michelle Goldberg, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and an MSNBC Political Analyst, and Mehdi Hasan, the host of the Mehdi Hassan show on Peacock, NBC streaming service, also an MSNBC Political Analyst.

Michelle, I feel like when you speak the basic facts here that Donald Trump oversaw the deadliest year in American history, and the first president since World War II to lose jobs on that, just those two facts say a lot about just how bad it's been. But I also think that we're so close to it, it can be hard to actually express in a deep sense of just where this stacks up in the long arc of American history.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, I was on your show the day after I think Donald Trump was elected, and we were both very alarmed. I think that neither of us at that point could have imagined just how horrific it would be just how much American life would be, you know, kind of plunged into death and destruction and misery and long-lasting suffering, right.

I think if you had said, this is what the arc of this presidency is going to be back then when people -- when it was still fresh, it would have been beyond most people's worst nightmares. There was a quote, there was something Donald Trump said last week that I feel like got sort of lost in the general chaos and insanity that always surrounds him.

There was a press conference for Operation Warp Speed. And he said he was talking about people developing immunity after they get the disease. And he said, I hear we're close to 15 percent. And hearing that, and that is terrific. That is a very powerful vaccine in itself, right. So, there's a -- there's often revelations about the administration are shocking, but not surprising. It has not been a secret that Donald Trump thinks it is, as he said, terrific, if millions and millions and millions of a huge percentage of Americans get infected.

HAYES: Yes. And I think, Mehdi, you know, one of the things that I think is important to sort of keep your eyes on this, is not to say -- is to distinguish what I think makes the Trump response so morally abominable. There's lots of policymakers who have done bad things or done a bad job with a virus, Democrat, Republican, local level.

There's other countries that have governments from Belgium, to France, to Spain, to Canada that have made mistakes, that have had bad responses. There's a specificity to the cynicism of the way that Trump and those that support him attack this that I really don't think has been replicated anywhere else except for maybe Brazil.

MEHDI HASAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Nowhere else in the world, I would say, including Brazil, because at least Brazil sorted out the economic side in terms of sending money to people. I think it is truly unique globally. I think it's truly unique historically. I'm glad you asked the question about historical context.

I mean, the two worst presidents of the last 100 years are the last two Republican presidents, the current one, Donald Trump and George W. Bush, which speaks volumes about the modern Republican Party. And also, when you compare Trump and Bush, Bush killed hundreds of thousands of people abroad. You know, brown and black people in faraway countries that we don't care about.

Donald Trump killed hundreds of thousands of people or presided over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, preventable deaths, here at home in the United States of America. And that for me, you know, you talk about morally abominable. It's sociopathic. You mentioned earlier in the show the four words that will be the epitaph is we want more infections, we want more infected. What about who cares in those e-mails? That jumped out at me.

This guy, Paul Alexander writes, if we have more cases, more people infected, more positive tests, who cares? And you take "who cares," you add it to Donald Trump's "it is what it is," you add it to Jared Kushner's, that's their problem when people in New York are dying. This is sociopathic. This is not just morally abominable. And I think people should be held to account. I think they should be prosecuted. The people behind these preventable deaths should be prosecuted when they leave office on January 20th.

HAYES: You know what? I don't know -- like, I go back and forth as to what the right way and whether this rises to anything that would clear a criminal threshold. But the thing I do strongly believe, Michelle, is there needs to be some kind of 9/11 style commission. Like, there has to be some kind of comprehensive, sustained examination with some power to actually get records and documents about what happened here. Because there are going to be future pandemics. Like we -- it has been predicted for years and years and years, and the big one hit. But we can't just say, well, the vaccine happened and move on. Like there actually has to be something that happens in a sustained way to look at this response.

GOLDBERG: Right. And it seems like there's a lot of resistance in the Bible administration to having anything that would be regarded as backward-looking. There was also that kind of resistance in the Obama administration to having any sort of backward look at the financial crisis, which was far less deadly than the Coronavirus crisis.

And I understand Joe Biden not wanting to spend a lot of political capital on this. But Congress has to establish something. There has to be some sort of accountability. There has to be some sort of accountability and some sort of -- you're not going to get a consensus, but at least some sort of official understanding of what happened here. Because part of what's been so poisonous is that, you know, after the Iraq War, we could at least have a national consensus about what had gone horribly wrong.

Because Donald Trump has broken the connection between empirical reality and so much of a country, there's the not even anything approaching a kind of common understanding of what we're all going through.

HAYES: Yes, that's -- it's a good point. And I think many, Mehdi, Iraq to me is the nearest analog we have and precedent. And you said this, right? Like, a humanitarian disaster of massive scale that the critics saw happening as it was happening and said, this is terrible, don't do this. And it still happened.

And I do think the one weird point of some hope here is that in 2005, I never would have thought in a million years, Republicans would come around to the consensus view that Iraq was a disaster. But they kind of did a lot of them. In fact, it helped Donald Trump win that primary. And I do think that like, setting the legacy here that like this was unacceptable, what is happening is unacceptable and should never happen again, is actually key to whatever happens in the future for this country and his politics, and also the way it deals with mass catastrophe.

HASAN: Yes, agreed. And I think the Iraq analogy is an interesting one. I also think the 9/11 kind of commission and investigation definitely, that we can't just move on. No way. But the Iraq analogy is interesting, because on the one hand, yes, we all agree across the board it's a disaster today, most of us with the exception of maybe John Bolton.

But the reality is the people who were the architects of that war did just move on. Dick Cheney did just move on. George Bush is busy painting paintings and swapping (INAUDIBLE) with Michelle Obama. We cannot allow that to happen again with Donald Trump and Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller and the rest. We can't allow them to rehabilitate themselves in the way that the architects of the Iraq war did.

HAYES: Michelle Goldberg, Mehdi Hasan, two people I'd love to talk to whenever I get a chance, thank you both for making time tonight.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

HAYES: Next up, Senator Richard Blumenthal on what he learned about that massive Russian hack on the U.S. government that left him "deeply alarmed, in fact, downright scared. And he joins me live next.


HAYES: The more we learned about Russia's extensive months-long cyber attack in nearly every major federal agency, the worst story looks for everyone involved. The New York Times reports the U.S. government failed to detect the attack despite spending tens of billions of dollars on cyber offensive capabilities over the last few years. The government only learned about it when a private security firm reported they themselves were hacked.

The Times described the espionage attack as "among the greatest intelligence failures of modern times." After a briefing today, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff released a broad vague statement saying in part, "The seriousness and duration of this attack demonstrate that we still have enormous and urgent work to do to defend our critical information networks, that we must move quicker than our adversaries to adapt."

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has been far more vocal with his concerns tweeting yesterday, "Stunning. Today's classified briefing on Russia's cyberattack left me deeply alarmed, in fact, downright scared. Americans deserve to know what's going on. Declassify what's known and unknown."

And Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joins me now. Obviously, Senator, you can't speak to classified information. But how would you -- I mean, there is obviously a lot of cyber espionage that happens among major powers in this world right now. We know the U.S. has offensive capabilities as well as defensive ones. We know there are attempts at intrusions that many countries have done. Why is this different to your mind? From a policy perspective, what marks this as so alarm?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): What made me so alarmed, and scared, and frankly, angry was the apparent scope and magnitude of this breach. And frustratingly to me, I'm not at liberty to disclose most of what I know. But the fact is, the American people deserve to know, because this attack was virtually an act of war.

And I think that the vulnerability is not only as to Russia, which, unfortunately, this administration has coddled and cozied over the last four years, but also to other nation states, and other hackers. So, we need an overhaul after we clean up this mess of our nation's cyber defenses.

And you just mentioned a potential commission to look into the pandemic, a 9/11 type commission. I actually have sponsored a bill along with Adam Schiff to do that kind of bipartisan nonpolitical commission, looking at the reasons and the faults and mistakes made in connection with a pandemic. But also, we may need the same kind of objective commission like review of our cyber defenses here. Because if you look at the Web page of FireEye, it's virtually a who, who, of corporations and defense contractors.

HAYES: Yes. I mean, obviously, the fact that this was a private -- a private security firm, figuring out the vulnerability before apparently the U.S. government did, and also being much more transparent and open about what's happening. We've been getting very, very little from the federal government whatsoever.

I want to -- you said virtually an act of war. And that's language similar to what Dick Durbin used, the senator from Illinois. And you know, the thing that scares me the most about this right, is some escalatory back and forth in which we end up in actual, you know, war that initiates with some sort of cyber intrusion. Why do you use that term? What does -- what does that mean to you when you say that, and what does it mean about the understanding of different geopolitical actors about what you can and can't do?

BLUMENTHAL: What it means is, frankly, that we need to make the Russians pay a price and reset our relationship with them so that they actually fear us. When General Nakasone was confirmed by our committee to be in charge of Cyber Command, he said our enemies don't fear us in the realm of cyber.

Well, apparently, they don't fear as much more than they did then. And in this realm as in so many where we have adversaries and potential attackers, we need to show them that we will respond proportionately, not a tit for tat, not leading to escalation, but simply in the same way that they have attacked us. And it could be in sanctions, it could be in covert cyber actions, but most important, we need to strengthen our defenses because this vulnerability indicates that those defenses certainly are at best effective.

HAYES: You said this today that Americans deserve to know the impact of this staggering cyberattack. How Cozy Bear, of course, that's the codename for the Russian intelligence cyber unit reportedly slipped into systems under our sleuths' noses. With no sign of a timeline for disclosure, I'll be demanding more facts.

What level of transparency or public accounting do you think is appropriate given that, obviously, presumably, a lot of this is classified for a decent reason?

BLUMENTHAL: We need to be sensitive to the reasons for classification, but we also need to recognize that there is way more classified than it needs to be. Protecting sources and methods of legitimate read, reason for classification --

HAYES: I want to ask you since I have you here-- oh, sorry, I think your sound out for one second. I want to -- I want to just ask you because I have you here about the Justice Department, which I know has been something that you've kept a close eye on and feel very strongly about.

There's talk about the president essentially trying to push the now-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen into taking some actions that he wants to see, for instance, a special prosecutor for the president elect's son, despite the fact there seem to be cases that are -- that are under investigation under other jurisdictions independent of anything happening at the AG's level, also talk about firing Chris Wray, the FBI Director. How seriously do you take that? What do you make of that?

BLUMENTHAL: Just to finish the last answer. I'm going to push to declassify a lot of this information as much as possible. What I make of the move to appoint a special counsel, is that there's absolutely no reason for it. The United States Attorney in Delaware and in Pennsylvania has apparently been conducting this investigation. Hunter Biden has reacted with grace and dignity. He said he's going to cooperate. And there is no reason to appoint special counsel except to try to wound and embarrass the Biden administration.

HAYES: All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, it's always great to have you here. I appreciate you making some time tonight.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

HAYES: Ahead, programming that Senate like it's Trump TV. The unhinged voter fraud hearing today. And we learn more about the dangerous results of the election conspiracy theory.


HAYES: Over the last few months and intensifying the last few weeks, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Conservative media have managed to construct this kind of perpetual motion machine of B.S. They've used the bully pulpit of the presidency, the most powerful platform in the world, arguably, right, to just inundate people with this completely fraudulent set of false lies about the election being stolen, right.

They're constantly tweeting about it. He's talking about it, and it's running on their networks. And then the iron clad circular logic keeps rolling and rolling and rolling with 24/7 on various outlets on the President's Twitter feed. And then other Republicans can then point to the fact that people don't trust the election as the predicate for the conclusion that something must be wrong, because otherwise why would these people be so mistrustful?

This is what they're doing. This endless loop of lies was on display today as Senate Republicans led by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin held a hearing about a fictitious election irregularities.


JOHNSON: Courts have handed down decisions and the Electoral College awarded Joe Biden 306 electoral votes. A large percentage of the American public does not believe the November election results are legitimate.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Every time I go out, people come up to me and they're frustrated with the unfairness of the system. Now, of course, these are people that, you know, wanted Trump to win. They think that he lost unfairly, but they're mad. They're mad at this because they read -- they hear about what happened in Wisconsin, they hear about what happened in other states. And then they -- and then they're furious that they think this -- the whole system is rigged.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Yesterday, I was talking with some of the constituents back at home, a group of about 30 people. Every single one of them, every one of them told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn't matter, that the election had been rigged.

These same people are told you to sit down and shut up. If you have any concerns about election integrity, you're a nutcase. You should shut up. Well, I'll tell you what, 74 million Americans are not going to shut up.


HAYES: No, no, no, Senator. No, no, no, you get it wrong. They're not a nutcase. You're lying to them. You and your allies are very cynically lying to them. Don't put it on them. You're lying to them. Democratic Ranking Member Gary Peters laid bare the stakes of this vicious cycle of Republican lies.


SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): By not speaking out earlier, even though they knew it was wrong, that there was no evidence to support these claims, and that this inflammatory rhetoric is harmful to our democracy, many elected officials gave the president and his supporters license to spread damaging lies about the election.

Amplifying these obviously false narratives about fraud or irregularities corrodes public trust. It threatens national security. It weakens our democracy and our standing around the world.


HAYES: Now, at one level, again, all of this is ludicrous, almost clownish. It's political posturing to stroke the President's ego and to soothe the hurt feelings of the MAGA base and to position for a 2024 primary run. But we are watching the consequences of rhetoric like this play out across the country through some violent actions of Trump supporters who are hearing this stuff and believe it.

And when we return, a terrifying story of a wealthy Trump supporter who financed a small army of fraud vigilantes that ended with a former police captain behind bars.


HAYES: The lies from the President about voter fraud, they didn't just start off the election, of course. He's been pushing this stuff now for two months -- for months and months and months before the election. And here's the thing. These claims, they're not just ridiculous, they're dangerous.

Yesterday, a former Houston police captain, Mark Aguirre, was arrested for running a man off the road in October a few weeks before the election, and pointing a gun at the man's head in an attempt to prove that the victim was the mastermind of a giant fraud, and that there were 750,000 fake ballots in a truck the man was driving.

There, of course, were no fake ballots, and the victim was just an innocent and ordinary air conditioner repairman. But this is not just about one man acting like some vigilante or losing his mind. It's part of a much bigger coordinated effort. Here to tell us more about that is Texas Tribune reporter Erin Douglas.

Erin, maybe we can start with the sort of donor that masterminded this kind of fraud vigilante squad Steve Hotze. Tell me about him.

ERIN DOUGLAS, REPORTER, THE TEXAS TRIBUNE: Yes. So, what we know about Steve (AUDIO GAP) here in Houston, Texas. And Hotze, allegedly, he was in charge of the Liberty Center. And what happened was Aguirre, Mark Aguirre, the former police officer who was arrested yesterday in the Houston area, he told police officers after the incident that he was working for the Liberty Center.

Now, the Liberty Center for God and Country, that is a right-wing group led by the prominent Texas GOP activists and donor Hotze. And so, what we know is that a lawyer for heat for Hotze told me yesterday that they had hired Aguirre and 20 other private investigators to look into ballot fraud in Houston during the 2020 election. Aguirre himself, he was paid more than $260,000 for those services according to court documents.

HAYES: All right. So, you've got -- you've got -- just to be clear, you got -- you got a big sort of Republican donor with money who starts hiring people before the election to go sniff out fraud. One of the people he hires is an ex-Houston police captain named Mark Aguirre, and he pays him $266,000 to go do this? Is that right?

DOUGLAS: So, they hired not only Aguirre, but they also hired 20 other private investigators as part of this effort to find evidence for alleged voter fraud in Harris County. Officials have said over and over that there is no substantial evidence to the claim that there is a big fraud scheme here in Houston during the 2020 election regarding ballots.

And for this particular incident, Hotze said that he was not aware of the particulars of, you know, this incident in southwest Houston in October when this former officer allegedly pulled a gun on this man. He denied knowledge of any investigator pulling a gun on somebody.

However, we do know that Hotze's group was paying this man and we know that Hotze was involved in sending information and tips for his investigators to then follow up on.

HAYES: All right, so this was part of this scheme. We know the money went from this donor to this individual. This individual, Mark Aguirre, I think he was arrested, right, by the DA of Harris County yesterday for this incident. Tell us what you know about -- what does the DA say about what happened in this incident?

DOUGLAS: Yes. So, based on the police affidavit, Mark Aguirre allegedly hit the back of this man's truck while he was driving. And then, the man got out to see what was wrong, and then Aguirre allegedly told him to get on the ground and pointed a gun at him. After that, at least two other cars allegedly pulled up and searched this man's truck looking for the fraudulent ballots they were trying to find. They only found air conditioning equipment.

After that, they allegedly stole the truck. Police later found that vehicle abandoned a few blocks away. Aguirre, when he was speaking with police, according to that interview with police, he did not identify the other people he was working with. But he did say -- he allegedly told police that there was a command post that they set up in a hotel nearby and they surveilled this man for four days before the incident.

HAYES: Erin Douglas who writes the Texas Tribune reporting on this story, thank you so much for making time tonight. I appreciate it.

DOUGLAS: Thank you for having me.

HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.


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