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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 5/3/21

Guests: Nina Pullano, E.J. Dionne Jr., Cecile Richards, Patrick Radden Keefe


Another Trump supporter who was not at the Capitol on January 6th but committed a federal crime for Donald Trump two days later on January 8th has already gone on trial in federal court in New York City for that crime and found guilty of threatening members of Congress. CNBC reports the stock market is performing the best it has ever performed during the first 100 days of Joe Biden`s presidency going back to at least 1953. Two years after most presidential elections, the president normally suffers losses in his party`s representation in Congress. The Biden strategy to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress is to give Democratic senators and members of the House legislative accomplishments they can run for in their reelection campaigns. Around 500,000 people in this country have lost their lives to opioid addition while one family was making billions upon billions upon billions of dollars for pushing opioids in this country. Senator Elizabeth Warren is now in a real position to write tax law because in January in her eighth year as a senator, she became the newest Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over taxation.



I need your advice about something tonight, the way to handle a particular guest. It`s Patrick Radden Keefe. He is the author of a brilliant new book about the opioid crisis called "Empire of Pain."


O`DONNELL: He`s already done some press about it and he tweeted this, Rachel, about one of his appearances on TV. He said: Just had a priceless call from my father who saw a TV interview I did about the book and said in a decidedly accusatory tone, quote, I noticed you`re doing a Lawrence O`Donnell and dropping your Boston accent for professional reasons.

So Rachel, here is my question --


O`DONNELL: Here is my question. Do you think Patrick Keefe and I should do this interview in Boston accent or in --


O`DONNELL: -- our dropped Boston accent for professional reasons?

MADDOW: You should do it in your Boston accents and you should subtitle it. You should get it closed captioned so that we can all know -- we can all know the true depths of what you`re talking about. You should absolutely -- actually -- can I just kvell for a second about Patrick Radden Keefe.

He`s one of the few non-fiction writers in America who I read everything he writes. Every time he writes a book, I read it. Every time he writes an article, I read it.

He -- when -- anything that he writes, whether or not I am at all interested in the topic because Patrick Radden Keefe has written it, I go and read that book. I go and read that article right now I am reading his book "The Snake Head" which is about illegal Chinese immigration in the `80s and `90s and organized crime syndicates that sprung up around that, which is absolutely fascinating.

He -- I`m convinced he`s a national treasure no matter how he pronounces his R`s.

O`DONNELL: Yes, he is. He`s got that Boston storytelling gift.


MADDOW: Well, I want to hear you two -- I want to hear you guys do the full Monty.

O`DONNELL: All right. We`ll figure it out. We`ll ask him and decide which way we want to do it. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Excellent. Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, not one of the over 400 Trump supporters who are facing criminal charges in the January 6th attack on the Capitol has been brought to trial yet on those charges and that`s normal. That`s kind of the timetable these things take. It doesn`t happen that quickly.

But another Trump supporter who was not at the Capitol on January 6th but committed a federal crime for Donald Trump two days later on January 8th has already gone on trial in federal court in New York City for that crime. And last week the jury returned a verdict in that case after the Trump supporter took the witness stand in his own defense to testify under oath that his threats to assassinate Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer were just jokes.

The defendant Brendan Hunt, 37 years old, has been in courtrooms before. His father was a family court judge in New York City. And before he was arrested on federal charges of threatening to assassinate members of Congress, Brendan Hunt was a clerical worker in the New York state court system. It must have helped when he was applying for that job that his father was a judge in the same system but his father could not help him on the witness stand in federal court when he was asked under oath by federal prosecutor David Kessler about his jokes.

Question, we played a video where you referred to killing the Juice. Do you remember that? Yes, I remember that joke. It was in very poor taste and I never uploaded that video.

Now, the kill your juice video was in poor taste because kill the juice means kill the Jews right? Yes, that was in very poor taste. Right.

You were joking about killing the Jews, right? Yeah, that`s sort of a thing that was said a lot online as far as making offense comments and things. Hitler memes are very prevalent online.

Yeah, I`m not asking you what`s online. This video wasn`t online. I`m saying you decided to make a joke about killing the Jews. Yes, I did.

The online world that Brendan Hunt is referring to is the Trump supporting online world where he says Hitler memes are very prevalent.

The prosecutor asked about something else in that same video.

Question: in that video you said George Floyd was a porn star and a drug addict who died of his own addictions, do you remember that? Answer: yes. Question: was that a joke? Answer, no.

In establishing this Trump supporter`s motive in threatening to kill members of Congress, the prosecutor asked, you thought it was a fake election in fact? And Brendan Hunt said, quote, I believed the president. The two leaders Brendan Hunt seems to believe the most are Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler.

Quote, question, you wrote Trump should just declare martial law, cancel the transfer of power and round out the domestic enemies of the republic, the military and the American people would back him. During Hitler`s first term in office, circumstances were such that it was necessary for him to override the democratic process and became the absolute leader of his country. Trump should probably do the same if necessary. Did I read that correctly? Answer, yes.

On January 8th, two days after the invasion of the capitol, Hunt posted a video entitled "kill your senators". In that video, he said, quote, we need to go back to the U.S. Capitol when all of the senators and a lot of the representatives are back there and this time we have to show up with our guns and we need to slaughter these mother.

In previous Facebook posts, Brendan Hunt identified Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer as high value targets, saying, quote, they really need to be put down. These commies will see death before they see us surrender.

In his closing argument to the jury, prosecutor David Kessler echoed the prosecution in the execution -- in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. It was an echo of that closing argument that we heard in that case when he said that you could believe your eyes, you could believe what you saw Brendan Hunt`s videos, you could believe what you heard him say on those videos.

Quote: This is a case in which the defendant told you everything you need to know. You heard him repeatedly threaten to kill members of Congress. He literally said, I shoot them and kill them. He called for executions.

He called members of Congress high value targets and the defendant also told you why he made these threats to interfere with Congress` work in certifying the results of the election and retaliate against Congress all of Congress, Democrats and Republicans for certifying the vote. He said members of Congress were traitors and should be scared to go in public. They should go out with bodyguards and he said he wanted to broadcast those threats out to the world.

What the defense called a joke or statements protected by the First Amendment, the prosecution called a true threat, a true threat to murder.

The prosecutor read the Facebook posts to the jury in the final argument. Quote, if you`re going to shoot someone, go after a high value target. Get like Pelosi, AOC or Schumer. They really need to be put down. We want you to hold a public execution of Pelosi, AOC, Schumer, et cetera.

A member of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez` staff testified that they took that threat seriously.

The defense stressed the point that Brendon Hunt took down the kill your senators video the day after he posted it. He took it down. So what could be the problem?

In his final argument, David Kessler, the prosecutor said once you make a threat to kill members of Congress for doing their jobs, you`ve committed a crime. It doesn`t matter if you take it down later. You know, in terms of taking the video down, he, you know, you wipe your fingerprints off a knife you used to stab someone, that`s not evidence that you didn`t commit the crime. That`s evidence that you knew you committed the crime.

He made the choice. He chose to cross far over the line and decided to commit a crime. He made a choice to threaten and kill members of Congress for doing their jobs and chose to threaten them repeatedly. That`s what the law does not permit.

Ladies and gentlemen, you didn`t leave your common sense down stairs with your cell phones when you came into court today, you take it with you. You take your common sense with you when you go to deliberate and use that common sense, you should use it to evaluate the evidence that`s before you and when you do, I submit you will see that your common sense and the evidence shows you that there is only one verdict supported, guilty.

The jury unanimously found Brendan Hunt guilty of the true threat of hurter of members of Congress, a crime he committed because as he said under oath, quote, I believed the president.

That was his motivation in threatening assassination. I believed Donald Trump.

Brendan Hunt will be sentenced next month. He faces a maximum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Andrew Weissmann, served as FBI general counsel and chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of New York. He is an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst.

Also with us, Nina Pullano, a reporter for "Courthouse News" was covering the Brooklyn federal court trial of Brendan Hunt.

Thank you for joining us, both of you.

Nina, let me start with you. I know you got to speak to some of the jurors after this case and it seemed to go in -- to be submitted by the prosecution as a very, very clear case.

Is that the way they took it in the jury room?

NINA PULLANO, COURTHOUSE NEWS REPORTER: From what we heard from the jurors and a few other reporters on the ground, we were able to catch a few folks on the way out. The jury was very much on the same page. We heard someone told me it was -- the word she used based on the evidence that, you know, the jury made a point of ruling on the evidence and, of course, there was a lot of materials and emotional reactions and careful to point that out.

O`DONNELL: Andrew, this prosecution is quicker than what we`re seeing in Washington but it the on case this particular U.S. attorney`s office had like this to prosecute and must clear up cases and make this quicker.

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It`s also quite a different case, it was taken down shortly before the inauguration precisely because the FBI was very concerned about the threats that were made by the defendant and then Pam Chen, the judge in charge, you know, did what you`re supposed to do, which this is relatively simple case. Discovery was turned over and she set a trial date. And in spite of COVID, she held a fair trial.

I do think something Nina said is important to note, which is that the jury here only found one of the four grounds in terms of finding that the defendant made a threat to assault or murder a member of Congress because of what he or she did in their professional capacity. It did not find three of the four grounds and that really shows, I think, the jury was careful to separate out the truly offensive comments here and to really look at the worse of the grounds which is the January 8th video.

And I think the reason that the jury did that is that the defendant surprisingly took the stand and in addition to saying things that were obviously preposterous, that this was like the comedy routine that he was trying out, that was the one time that he really reflected and took time before he posted a video of himself that he created and made it very hard for the jury then to say, you know, this was just because he was taking a lot of drugs, which was one of his other defenses.

So I think they clearly bent over backwards to give him a fair trial but the proof as you noted was overwhelming here.

O`DONNELL: And, Nina, the point about, you know, he put the video up and took it down the next day. The video got him convicted, how much did the defense rely on he took down the video? How much was the defense counting on taking down the video, getting him off the hook for this crime when the prosecution was saying, all you have to do is put the video up and you`ve committed the crime the moment that video goes up?

PULLANO: Right, I think we heard the mention of the video (INAUDIBLE) throughout the trial, that point was made, you know, to me the most strongly during summations when Brendan Hunt`s attorneys brought up that all of the content as we just mentioned, all of those four statements that were part of the charge, each of those statements had been taken down.

The Facebook posts that mean specific members of Congress were taken down when Brendan Hunt to look at his Facebook, one of the comments part of the charge on the website Parler was offline when that entire website went debunked, and Amazon took offline and then the video itself, that ended up being the basis of the conviction was taken down. Sort of that, that was summarized in the closing arguments but as you read, David Kessler`s rebuttal to that was to bring up the analogy of wiping your fingerprints off a knife. You know, I can imagine that may have been powerful for the jury.

O`DONNELL: And Andrew Weissmann, this defendant was like some of the Trump supporters we saw invading the Capitol who were wearing their support of Hitler on their jerseys. He`s one of those people. He also has horrible things to say about a lot of other subjects that he was not charged with any criminal conduct over that and the prosecutor made that very clear because a lot of this came out because of his cross examination.

The prosecutor said he`s not being prosecuted for his views about the Sandy Hook shooting or racism or white supremacy, or Dylann Roof`s manifesto, or the election or his political views, or his views, or any controversial topic being debated right now in this country. He`s not charged with any of that and he`s not being prosecuted for any of that. The defendant is being charged with threatening to kill members of Congress for doing their jobs.

And that`s such an important distinction because there was so much information about his hateful, crazy, anti-Semitic and racist beliefs that came out in this trial but he wasn`t being prosecuted for any of that.

WEISSSMANN: Absolutely. And, you know, Judge Chen who is a really terrific federal judge actually excluded a lot of evidence precisely because it could inflame the jury, as Nina said, could go to their emotions. But when the defendant decided to testify, that is known as opening the door because by contesting his intent and saying that`s not what he was intending to do, that he was in a drug induced state, that this was just a joke, he opened the door to this evidence coming in.

I don`t expect, you know, absent of the defendant taking the stand that you`re going to see that in D.C. this being repeated.

O`DONNELL: Andrew Weissmann and Nina Pullano, thank you both very much for joining us on this important story tonight. Really appreciate it.


O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, the people who attacked the capitol on January 6th are facing federal prison for believing the big lie that Donald Trump told them about the election but Republicans have another lie they have been telling for decades even though Democratic presidents have repeatedly proved that that big lie is not true. That`s next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s about time we give tax breaks and tax credits to working class families and middle class families instead of just the very wealthy. And here is what the American Family Plan doesn`t do. It doesn`t add a single penny to the deficit. It`s paid for by making sure corporate America and the wealthiest 1 percent just pay their fair share.


O`DONNELL: Donald Trump predicted that if Joe Biden became president, the stock market would immediately collapse. CNBC reports the stock market is performing the best it has ever performed during the first 100 days of a presidency going back to at least 1953. The stock market continues to rise even as President Biden is promising an increase in the corporate tax rate because the stock market seems to know that in 2013, when the capital gains tax was increased by the Obama administration, the S&P 500 increased almost 30 percent in what turned out to be one of the best years for stocks in 20 years or so.

During the Reagan years in 1986, when the capital gains tax was increased, the stock market continued to increase by nearly 40 percent through most of 1987, according to the "New York Times."

And that is why when Republicans tell you that tax increases proposed by Democratic presidents are going to be bad for the economy they never give you examples of when that happens. When President Obama raised taxes on top income earners, Republicans unanimously stood in opposition to that with Republican House Speaker John Boehner echoing what Newt Gingrich said 20 years earlier about Bill Clinton`s tax increases.

And I had a chance to discuss both the Obama and Clinton tax increases with Newt Gingrich on "Meet the Press" in 2012.


O`DONNELL: The problem for Boehner is how does he give rates? He said this the other day, I oppose tax rate increases because tax rate increases cost American jobs. That gives you to room to give on rates. It is, by the way, not an original thought.

Who said this? The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession and the recession will force people out of work and on to unemployment and actually increase the deficit. That`s Newt Gingrich in 1993 on the Clinton tax increase and those of us who were working on the other side of that tax increase, Newt, have been waiting for your apology for 20 years for being completely wrong with that.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I don`t agree with you.

O`DONNELL: The economy soared and nobody lost a job.

GINGRICH: Baloney, baloney.

GINGRICH: There was no recession. You said there`ll be recession, there was no recession.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Jason Johnson, professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University and my political contributor for "TheGrio". He`s an MSNBC political analyst.

Also joining us, E.J. Dionne, opinion columnist for "The Washington Post" and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. He is a professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

And now we`re going to have a meeting of the faculty club with the two professors here.

Professor Johnson, as the younger among us, let me start with you. Are you surprised to learn how long Republicans have been saying oh, this Democratic president is going to ruin the economy with this tax increase no matter how much evidence we have that these Democratic presidents, Clinton, Obama, raising taxes has not harmed the economy in any way?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, Lawrence, this is the thing. In my lifetime as junior faculty here, in my lifetime, the pattern has literally been Republicans heat the economy and then drag us into a recession, and then the Democrat, whether it`s Bill Clinton or Barack Obama or now what appears to be Joe Biden, ends up having to pull us out of the ditch. Like that`s the overall historic story here.

But the second thing is this idea of big spending being a problem and we cut taxes and all these things and concerned about deficits, those only seem to be a concern of the Republican Party when there`s a Democrat in office. When there`s Democrat in office, suddenly, they care about deficits.

When it`s Republican in office, they can spend $100,000 on a hammer for a new fighter jet that we don`t need. They can spend all sorts of money they want.

And I think in particular, when you look what Joe Biden is trying to do right now, the last time you had a Democratic president trying to push this much money into the social safety net, it literally launched the Tea Party in 2009 with Barack Obama. I mean, literally, the Republicans always seem to get angry at investments into the economy, which they end up benefitting from down the road but blame the people that came up with the policy.

O`DONNELL: All right. I want to continue the course of this with Kevin Brady. He`s the Republican, top Republican on the house weighs and means committee and this is only 12 seconds of pain to listen to him doing the latest version of this Republican story about Democratic tax increases. Let listen to this.


REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX): These are dramatic increases that have real impacts on jobs here in America. There is no question in my view this will sabotage the jobs recovery. It will drive jobs overseas.


O`DONNELL: Professor Dionne, why didn`t it do that before? Why didn`t it do that every other time Republicans have told us this is what the Democratic tax increase will do?

E.J. DIONNE, JR., OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, this goes back a long way. One of my favorite New Yorkers cartoons going back decades, two wealthy guys sitting in the plush chairs at their men`s club smoking cigars and one turns to the other and says, I don`t understand it, every time these socialists Democrats take power, I make a pile. And it`s happened again and again and again.

And the thing about the money is Republicans act as if Democrats want to take this money and throw it into a dumpster fire. What does Joe Biden want to spend on? He wants to spend the money on roads, on bridges, on mass transit and broadband, on educating the next generation workers. Guess what, all that stuff is beneficial not only to people but businesses and to the economy.

You know, in the last thing is supply economics, which was drawn on a napkin a very rigorous approach to making economic policy, that says if you raise taxes to 100 percent people will stop working. Well, yeah, I buy that if taxes are 100 percent that might have an effect on people`s activity. Nobody is proposing taxes of 100 percent.

Biden is talking about bumping up the top rate three points. He`s talking about bumping up the capital gains rate on people who made a pile over the last 20 years. So he`s saying let`s invest some of this back in the economy, which will actually help grow business.

O`DONNELL: Professor Johnson, you know, in `93 when they were making this argument against the Clinton tax increase, I can tell you that on the Democratic side when they had the door closed, there was some concern that there could be some contractionary effect in the economy because economic theory indicated that that was a possibility but we had plenty of other reasons why this had to go forward and it did.

And in fact, the Democrats were very pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out economically, but there is a reason why you keep your mind open to what the possibilities are because when you see the results of the experiment, you go oh, okay.

The Republicans you can run this experiment as many times as you want and they`re simply never going to admit what the results are.

JASON JOHNSON, PROFESSOR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, think about it, Lawrence. You know, they pass this huge tax plan, this huge tax cut in 2017. Did everybody take those savings and keep their jobs through the pandemic? No. Because those tax cuts did not end up benefiting a lot of regular people.

Did we have the wildest Christmas ever in 2018 because of 2017 tax cuts? No.

Here is the thing. This is what`s often missed when we have this sort of right-left argument one way or another. Yes, tax cuts can be beneficial. They can stimulate the economy if you cut the taxes or give benefits to regular consumers.

But if you give the benefits to corporations, what do they do? They use it to buy back stock. They use it to invest overseas. They use it to raise -- they used it raise the salaries of the executives. We`ve seen this with Delta Airlines lately. So that`s the other issue here.

When Republicans say hey we`re going to cut taxes and put money in your pocket, no. They are cutting the taxes of people who already have plenty of money already and they`re keeping what they already have in their pocket while you`re still out there struggling.

O`DONNELL: And that will have to be THE LAST WORD in tonight`s meeting of The Facts Glee Club (ph). Professors Jason Johnson and E.J. Dionne, thank you both professors very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.


JOHNSON: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Cecile Richards, who is not yet a professor, will join us. She`s working on electing Democrats in the next congressional election in 2022. Joe Biden believes the best way to do that is give Democrats big, big legislative achievements to run on.

Cecile Richards will join us next.


O`DONNELL: Are you feeling optimistic? A new ABC News poll finds 64 percent of people are optimistic about the way things are going in this country. The Biden-Harris administration has done their part in delivering optimism by delivering nearly 250 million vaccine shots into arms and by delivering $1,400 COVID relief payments to most individual tax filers in this country along with child tax credits for as much as $3,600 per child.

Two years after most presidential elections, the president normally suffers losses in his party`s representation in Congress. The Biden strategy to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress is to give Democratic senators and members of the House legislative accomplishments they can run for in their reelection campaigns.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A once in a generation investment in our families and our children that addresses what people care most about and most need. The investment we need to win the competition -- the competition with other nations in the future because we`re in a race. We`re in a race.

It all starts with access to good education. The American Families Plan is going to provide access to quality affordable child care, keeping parents - - helping parents go back to work, providing a lifeline of benefits for children as they do better in school throughout their lives.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Cecile Richards, co-chair of American Bridge 21st Century. She`s the former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Cecile, thank you very much for joining us tonight. You`ve taken on a tough job trying to elect Democrats in a midterm election. What you have going against you is history, of course, because historically, presidents will lose seats in the Senate, lose seats in the House. If you lose one in the Senate, you`ve lost the Senate. But then we`re living in the age where the impossible has happened. We just elected two Democratic senators in Georgia.

So how do you make the impossible happen again in 2022 and elect and preserve Democratic control of the House and the Senate?

CECILE RICHARDS, CO-CHAIR, AMERICAN BRIDGE 21ST CENTURY: Well, I think you`re completely right, Lawrence. We`re living in unprecedented times and one of the things we do know is that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the Democrats in Congress have delivered immediately on so many things that they said they would do.

And what I do know from 2018, we won the House back because of women. They turned out in record numbers, the historic gender gap. Women won the election again in 2020 and I believe that`s going to be the route in 2022, which is why I`m excited about this project with American Bridge.

You know, women lost so much during COVID. 2.5 million women lost their jobs and they are looking for government to do something about that. And the incredible thing is Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have done that. As you just said, not only shots in arms but -- and stimulus checks to people but reopening schools, focusing on things that women need to get back in the work force like child care, like paid family leave.

And I think these kind of practical, you know, economic issues that women have been looking for help on, we`re delivering on. And I think it`s also important to remember that Joe Biden did the American Rescue Plan with not a single Republican vote and that difference, I think, can really make the difference for us in 2022.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to the first woman vice president in history talking about how this administration is targeting the needs of women.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we are talking about those moms who need to walk on the sidewalk to get to the bus pushing a stroller walking a toddler, they are not identifying their problem through the lens of who they voted for in the last election.

When we`re looking at the capacity to grow the economic vitality of communities including small businesses and increase the productivity of a work force much less expand the work force.

What we know is that the reality is that people regardless of who they vote for and with which party they register with, that`s what they want and that`s what they want to see their government focus on.


O`DONNELL: And so far Cecile, there is a poll showing that 67 percent believe that Republicans are compromising too little with Joe Biden, that they want to see much more Republican compromise with Joe Biden, which they are not getting.

RICHARDS: Absolutely and I think that`s -- I mean that`s what we`re seeing is the Republicans actually don`t have anything to propose that they`re doing and that`s why I think they`re going after voting rights and other issues.

I think what is important, Lawrence, the thing that we need -- why it`s so important that we are doing this work now to educate women and all voters about what this administration is doing is we know what happened under President Obama. We passed historic health care reform but we didn`t stop to actually explain it to folks, let them know the benefits they were getting, we just kept going.

And I think right now what America (INAUDIBLE) is committed to doing and what I`m committed to doing is making sure that women know what`s in the American Rescue Plan, what the jobs package is and what the American Family Plan is so that when it comes to 2022 it`s not new news and they`re ready to reelect Democrats in the Senate and in the Congress.

O`DONNELL: Cecil Richards, thank you very much for joining us tonight. And please rejoin us as often as you can. We really as appreciate it.

RICHARDS: Thank you. Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thanks you.

Coming up, George Floyd`s girlfriend testified about his struggles with opioid addiction. That was a story that some of the jurors might have been familiar with because millions of Americans have struggled with opioid addiction.

500,000 people in this country have lost their lives to opioid addition while one family was making billions upon billions upon billions of dollars for pushing opioids on this country.

You`ll hear that story next from one of Rachel Maddow`s favorite authors, Patrick Radden Keefe.



COURTENEY ROSS, GIRLFRIEND OF GEORGE FLOYD: A story -- it`s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids, we both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back.

We both had prescriptions, but after prescriptions that were filled and we got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.


O`DONNELL: That was George Floyd`s girlfriend Courteney Ross, sharing her story about George Floyd`s addiction to opioids and her own addiction to opioids. Millions of Americans have faced that same struggle. Nearly 500,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses in the 20 years between 1999 and 2019 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The opioid addiction epidemic is the result of the greatest marketing success in pharmaceutical history by a company called Purdue Pharma from the start aggressively promoted Oxycontin urging the company`s sales reps to create quote a blizzard of prescriptions.

Those sales reps were told to tell physicians that there was nothing addictive about Oxycontin. Purdue Pharma created millions of Oxycontin addicts, many of whom moved to heroin when they couldn`t get Oxycontin.

Purdue Pharma was controlled by the Sackler family, a family that took home billions and billions of dollars from the opioid drug trade. No member of the Sackler family has been sentenced to prison while El Chapo is serving a life sentence plus 30 years in federal prison.

This story of drugs, death and corporate greed is told brilliantly by our next guest in his new book "Empire of Pain: the Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty".

Joining us now is Patrick Radden Keefe, staff writer at "The New Yorker" and one of Rachel Maddow`s favorite writers about anything, according to what Rachel told us at the beginning of this hour.

Patrick, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE, AUTHOR: It`s great to be with you. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And I just want to begin with this tweet that you put out about your father noticing. He said that he noticed that you`re doing a Lawrence O`Donnell and dropping your Boston accent for professional reasons. I leave it to you, Patrick, should we drop the Boston accent for professional reasons so America will understand what we`re saying or should we do this in our native tongue?

KEEFE: Can we go full Boston? I don`t think your audience could handle it?

O`DONNELL: Yes, it would scare people. They would have to -- they`d have to have a translator ready. Patrick, you know, I did the narration of a documentary we did here at MSNBC on this subject, but you know, one hour of television compared to what you`ve delivered in this book, there`s just no comparison. And so for me, it was filling in so many of thousands of details that I didn`t know.

And what I knew was horrific before I opened the pages of this book. For you, what was -- what was it for you, just the moments where you just kind of had to stop what you were doing and just say I just -- I can`t believe they did this?

KEEFE: Well, there were a lot of them along the way. I mean I had originally written a piece in "The New Yorker" in 2017 about Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. And at that point I didn`t have access to the kinds of documents that I would eventually get. And the kinds of sources that I would eventually develop.

So a lot of it was me imagining the conversations they were having behind closed doors. What I found in the book was this paper trail really establishing kind of what they knew and when they knew it, which I found really shocking.

I mean to take just one example, when Purdue Pharma is getting ready to launch Oxycontin, they realized that doctors believe that oxycodone, which is the opioid that`s the main ingredient was weaker than morphine.

Now, it turns out that`s not true. It`s not just stronger than morphine but twice as strong. But there are these e-mails in which senior people in the company say doctors have this wrong. They think it`s weaker and we want to sell this to a wider range of people. So let`s not do anything to correct the doctors and make them realization that they have this wrong.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And there`s also a change in medical culture that Sackler was promoting which is that you don`t have to live with pain. That there is no reason for any patient to endure pain at any moment. And the older school thought well, there is a certain amount of pain you might have to deal with because our alternatives to that are addictive.

KEEFE: Yes, so you get a sea change really in the culture of prescribing and part of what I was trying to do with this book, is the opioid crisis is obviously an incredibly complex public health crisis. There`s many, many variables and factors to consider.

But it`s also true that this drug, Oxycontin was kind of the tip of the spear. And you see these very deliberate conversations, including members of the Sackler family and the company Purdue, where they set about trying to kind of change the mind of the American medical establishment about how dangerous these drugs should be.

And part of what they want to do is see them prescribed not just for cancer pain, end of life pain but really all sorts of pain, even moderate back pain, injuries you got on the job, sports injuries.

And so you can see the commercial reason why they might want to do that. But the way in which they pulled it off was this marketing campaign in which they said, turns out these drugs aren`t addictive at all. I interviewed many former sales reps from the company and they told again and again and again, they would meet with thousands of doctors across the country and say it is addictive less than 1 percent of the time. That`s what they were (INAUDIBLE), less than 1 percent of the time. We know now that was not true.

O`DONNELL: How much money did the Sackler family make on this drug trade and how much have they sacrificed as a result of the law at least civil law, not criminal catching up with them?

KEEFE: So it`s interesting, you know what I mean. I think you look at this story, there is a tendency to think of it as a family saga or a story about big pharma. It is also a crime story.

This is a company, Purdue Pharma which pled guilty in 2007 to federal crimes of misbranding Oxycontin and then pled guilty again just a few months ago in late 2020 to a new set of crimes associated with the aggressive marketing of this drug.

In between, we now know the Sackler family pulled at least $10 billion out of the company. So that`s $10 billion in profit that they pulled out during that period of time when we now know the company was engaged in criminal misconduct.

O`DONNELL: Patrick Radden Keefe, thank you very much for this book. I issue that thanks from myself and on behalf of Rachel Maddow, who I know is going to love it -- "Empire of Pain: the Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty".

Patrick, thank you very much for joining us tonight and my best to your father and I hope he approves of the way we handled this tonight.

KEEFE: And to you. I appreciate it. Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. We will be right back with THE LAST WORD from Elizabeth Warren.


O`DONNELL: Senator Elizabeth Warren is now in a real position to write tax law because in January in her eighth year as a senator she became the newest Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over taxation. But even as the junior most member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Warren has been named chair of the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. And last week in her very first hearing as chair of that subcommittee Senator Warren said this.


SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Tax reform is just about choices. We can let our roads and bridges crumble, not upgrade broadband, make no investments in child care, or getting lead out of drinking water, and let rich people keep paying taxes at about half the rate as everyone else.

Or we can ask those at the very top to pay a wealth tax. We can require giant corporations to pay a tax on book profits. We can get serious about tax enforcement for the rich and powerful.

Those three changes in the tax code would give us trillions more than we need in order to pay for President Biden`s infrastructure plan and his care economy plan. It is all about choices.


O`DONNELL: Senator Elizabeth Warren`s new book "Persist" will be published tomorrow. And tomorrow night Senator Elizabeth Warren will join us right here on THE LAST WORD. That`s Elizabeth Warren tomorrow night 10:00 p.m.

And remember when Joe Biden went to Georgia last week? Joe Biden spent his 100th day in office in Georgia where he and first lady Jill Biden met with former president Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter at their home last Thursday.

We only saw Rosalynn Carter at the door in one shot, but tonight the Carter Center released this photograph of the visit -- two Democratic presidents who won Georgia`s electoral votes.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.