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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/29/2021

Guest: David Kessler�


MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Interview with Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and now leading the Biden administration`s effort to speed up development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Yeah, the Republicans complain about bipartisanship, I`m like, you guys threw a COVID party for Amy Coney Barrett before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the ground, what are we talking about?

Jon Favreau and Michelle Goldberg, thank you for making time tonight.


HAYES: That is "ALL IN" on this Friday evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Way to put a cap on it, man. Seriously. I know that`s slightly more than a bumper sticker, but, you know, good point.

Have a great weekend, my friend. Thank you very much.

HAYES: You too.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It`s really good to have you here.

So, you remember the photos of the guy of the attack on the capitol, January 6, the guy with his feet up on a desk in the Nancy Pelosi`s office, like going through papers in that office, he later bragged that he left what he called a nasty note on that desk calling the speaker a word that rhymes with "witch" but starts with "B," he left a note swearing at her on the desk on her office. This is him, charming guy.

The FBI says they received a tip from a member of the public five days after the capitol attack pointing out that in some of those iconic photographs of that guy, if you zoom in on some of the photos of him taken in Pelosi`s office, if you look closely, you can see in those photos that actually he was armed while he was in there.

In fact, there is a logo that you can see on some kind of stick on his left hip. That`s not like an umbrella or a normal walking stick. The logo on it says "ZAP," Z-A-P. What it is is basically a powerful stun gun mounted on an extendible walking stick. The ZAP Hike N Strike, hiking staff, high voltage stun device. It`s 950,000 volts.

Here is the FBI agent`s affidavit about that. Quote, on January 11, 2021, your affiant learned that law enforcement received a tip that in one or more of the photographs of Barnett seated in speaker Pelosi`s office he was carrying a stun gun. Your affiant reviewed the photographs and determined the tip to be accurate.

As seen in the zoomed-in box in the photograph, the stun gun is seen tucked into Mr. Barnett`s pants. The weapon appears to be a ZAP Hike N Strike 950,000-volt stun gun walking stick.

The affidavit continues, law enforcement conducted a search on January 8, two days after the attack, at the residence of Mr. Barnett in Gravette, Arkansas, pursuant to a search warrant. During the execution of that warrant, law enforcement observed the empty packaging for that stun device inside Mr. Barnett`s home. That said, even though they found the packaging for that device, they never actually found the device. The 950,000-volt stun gun on an extendible stick that he had on him when he broke into the Capitol and broke into Nancy Pelosi`s office and started going through that stuff.

This guy did media interviews outside the capitol when the siege was breaking up, bragging about how that was him and how he had stolen stuff from Pelosi too. And after doing all that, he just went home, drove home to Arkansas, nobody arrested him.

The siege of the capitol was on a Wednesday. This guy, among all the rest of them, just went home that night. When he got home to Arkansas, he apparently cleaned up some stuff at his house, except for the packaging for his stun gun on a stick, he forgot about that. But he apparently got rid of his cellphone and he stashed his guns and he made arrangements to turn himself in when it would be convenient for him, which he decided would be the Friday after the attack.

And when a judge in Arkansas reviewed his case days later, that judge decided to send him home on his own recognizance, presumably to go keep cleaning up whatever other evidence might be used against him at trial. Now, federal prosecutors in D.C. did not like this outcome and they asked a federal judge in D.C. to step in, to intervene, to stop him from actually being released from custody, basically to override that decision by a federal magistrate judge in Arkansas. The chief federal judge in the courts in Washington, D.C. heard that motion from prosecutors this week in D.C., yesterday afternoon in D.C., and it did not go well for Mr. Boots on the desk with the stun gun on his hip.

We just got in the transcript tonight of what happened at that hearing. You may have seen headlines about some things that the judge said. We just got the actual transcript. Check this out.

The judge, quote, pending before the court is the government`s motion for review and appeal of the magistrate judge`s release order. It is the government`s motion, so, Ms. Dohrmann. Ms. Dohrmann, the federal prosecutor, I will let you proceed.

Ms. Dohrmann, the federal prosecutor, says, thank you, your honor. The government`s position is that no condition would ensure the safety of the community and the defendants appears in this case. He breached the U.S. Capitol during a solemn proceeding with both houses of Congress and the Vice President of the United States were then present in the capitol. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Your honor has his post, figure 7, in the government`s memorandum, stating, it`s time, shortly before the breach in the Capitol. The defendant bought a stun device he had purchased just days before. It`s clear that he planned his actions and acted on animus to occupy the office of Speaker Pelosi.

The judge then interrupts, Ms. Dohrmann, you call that a stun device. Is it a stun device, is it a stun gun, or something different than a stun gun?

Prosecutor: your honor, it is a stun gun but in the form of a walking stick like a staff, so I suppose it`s extendible to the length of what one might call a walking stick but it can also be collapsed down, is my understanding.

The judge: that stun gun walking stick device, has that been recovered? The prosecutor: no, your honor, that`s part of the government`s concern, as to Mr. Barnett`s statement to law enforcement, that they could search his home, but they wouldn`t find it.

What the government did recover is the box it came in as well as the receipt. But the stun device itself, your honor, the government has inferred that the defendant has disposed of it in some manner.

The judge then, in this hearing, notes some of the other times in recent months that this defendant, the guy from Pelosi`s office, has recently come to the attention of police in Arkansas, including this charming incident as relayed by the judge. The judge said, quote, I appreciate there was a July 25, 2020, Fayetteville, Arkansas, police report of a 911 caller complaining about a person who turned out to be the defendant pointing a rifle at her car because her car had a Black Lives Matter sticker on it.

And then there was another incident of a call to the police on September 20, 2020, regarding protesters for something called Save the Children who reported the defendant walking around on the public street in Fayetteville with a rifle slung on his back and a pistol on his hip. So, this is part of the known record in terms of his contacts with police. He points a rifle at a woman because her car had a Black Lives Matter sticker on it. He brings multiple guns to a Save the Children rally which is likely to be part of the QAnon Satan worshipper`s anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that so many Trump supporters have fallen under the sway of.

The judge, in fact, at this hearing asks if this rally was about, if it was a QAnon thing when he turned up at it with all the guns. The prosecutor says it appears that`s what that rally was. The defendant later in the hearing denies that rally had anything to do with QAnon, which, okay. But Mr. Barnett`s defense counsel then tries on an argument with this federal judge in D.C., telling the judge basically, listen, down in Arkansas, we just weren`t that worried about this guy, we`re still not that worried about him, he seems fine to us.

And the defense counsel makes the case to the chief federal judge in D.C. that, listen, the judge who looked at this down here, rightfully said the guy could just go home instead of awaiting trial in jail. The cops also were not that concerned about picking him up with any urgency. We are much more relaxed about him here. I don`t see what the big problem is.

Here is the defense counsel trying that on. Defense counsel, quote: I would like to point out, your honor, that my client came home after the events of January 6. He was called but not visited by law enforcement on the next day, on Thursday. And through his wife, he made an appointment to surrender on Friday and appeared as he agreed to on Friday morning in the sheriff`s office in Bentonville where he was apprehended.

The judge: and wouldn`t you agree that that scheduled time gave him enough time to clear out his house? Didn`t the FBI agent in this case testify about Mr. Barnett essentially saying I cleared out my house, go ahead and search it? It gave him just enough time to do that, didn`t it, counsel?

Defense counsel: well, you know, it certainly did. The agent also said he wasn`t going to go out and arrest Mr. Barnett on Thursday, so the level of concern here certainly has a mixed set of characteristics.

Yeah. Mixed levels of concern here to say the least. They just weren`t that concerned about him in Arkansas. Oh, you`re the guy with the Nancy Pelosi pictures bragging about what you stole from her office and there`s a stun gun on your hip?

Well, you know what, I can`t be bothered to go arrest you right now, do you want to come in sometime tomorrow, is that convenient for you?

And knowing these are the circumstances in which the guy came to the attention of authorities, the judge in Arkansas in fact let him go. So here is the defense counsel saying to the chief judge in Washington, D.C., you know, your honor, you should let him go too, just relax about all this, we don`t think that`s a big deal.

How do you think that worked out with the chief federal judge in D.C., how do you think that argument played for her? We now know in her own words.

The judge: the defendant has been charged with a serious felony, knowing remaining in a federal building or grounds without lawful authority while carrying a dangerous weapon. This carries ten years of imprisonment. He`s also charged with misdemeanor offenses, violent entry and disorderly conduct on capitol grounds and also theft of money or property or records. The descriptions and the title, the title of those offences to my mind don`t even properly capture the scope of what Mr. Barnett is accused of doing here. These felony and misdemeanor charges are too benign sounding to describe what happened on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol.

What happened at the capitol is criminal activity that is destined to go down in the history books of this country of hundreds of Americans using the force and violence against the American government to disrupt what we have been most proud of, a peaceful transition of power. This violence disrupted a constitutional function of Congress necessary to the presidential transition and to the functioning of our democracy.

This was not a peaceful protest. Hundreds of people came to Washington to disrupt the transition of power and to thwart Congress, a branch of the federal government, in carrying out its duty and fulfilling its constitutional task of officially certifying the votes of the Electoral College. During the assault on the capitol that was intended to disrupt the transition of power to a new administration, as designed under our constitution, five people died and many more were injured. Members of Congress and the then-vice president were forced to flee the grounds of the capitol. Congressional staffers and members of the media were forced to hide, fearing for their safety, barricading themselves in offices.

Many on the scene, from the capitol police, to members of Congress were afraid for their lives. We`re still living here in Washington, D.C. with the consequences of the violence in which this defendant is alleged to have participated. Thousands of National Guard troops were brought into the district to ensure that last week`s inauguration could proceed peacefully. Thousands of heavily armed members of the National Guard remain in the District of Columbia just outside this courthouse which faces the Mall with a clear view of the capitol, visible reminders of this January 6 riot and the assault on the capitol.

We see heavily armed National Guard troops still patrolling from my window, behind tall fencing, barbed wire, concrete barriers, all to protect the heart of the government and the people of the District of Columbia from the risk of violence. Shockingly, this risk of violence, the judge says, is posed by fellow Americans. Just yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism advisory system bulletin indicating a heightened risk of violence from ideologically motivated violent extremists who are emboldened by the January 6 Capitol attack and might target elected officials in government facilities.

The government has presented overwhelming evidence that this defendant, Richard Barnett, enthusiastically participated in this act of assaulting the capitol and disrupting the Democratic process. He not only entered the Capitol without authority, but he strutted into the office of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and sat behind her desk and had pictures of himself smiling and seemingly enjoying himself. The government would describe his conduct as brazen. I would agree that is an accurate description.

He felt so entitled, he put his feet on the desk, he felt so entitled, he picked up her mail, and walked off with a piece of mail. He felt so entitled that the government has pictures of this defendant showing off, holding the mail he took from Pelosi`s office when he breached the outside of the Capitol. He felt so entitled that he spoke to media outlets on January 6 about what he had taken from Speaker Pelosi`s office.

He said, quote, I put a quarter on her desk even though she ain`t f-ing worth it. And I left her a note on her desk that says, Nancy, Bigo was here, you curse word.

And the judge says, and I quote, wow, brazen, entitled, dangerous. The judge says, quote, the defendant traveled all the way from his home in Arkansas to Washington, D.C. prepared for this assault in the Capitol. The government has obtained evidence that one week before his travels to the nation`s capitol, he went out and bought the stun gun and also walkie- talkies and also pepper spray. He came to the city on a critical day under our constitution prepared with a weapon and cloaked with entitlement.

The nature and circumstance of this offense clearly weigh in favor of pretrial detention. When the defendant drove back to Arkansas from D.C., he admitted, almost bragged, that he took steps to hide his identity. He turned off the location services on his phone. He covered his face. He only used cash, all steps to evade law enforcement which you knew, given his brazen conduct while in D.C., were looking for him.

He knew the images of him at the riot and the assault on the capitol had been widely circulated. He didn`t turn himself in immediately. But instead arranged a time, arranged for a time to surrender, that allowed him to clear out his house of incriminating evidence. He bragged about this to law enforcement saying, quote, if you all go out there and do a search warrant you can all see all my bleep. You aren`t going to find nothing out there. I assure you, I`m a smart man, there`s not anything there, end quote.

The judge continues, quote, I don`t know how smart Mr. Barnett is, but he is certainly a braggart, bragging to law enforcement about what he has done to cover his tracks is not a smart thing to do. In short, the judge says, the fact that the defendant turned himself in on a schedule of his choosing does little to mitigate the heavy weight of the other factors favoring detention. The court finds there are no conditions or combination of conditions that will assure this defendant`s appearance as required or compliance with any release conditions, because of his entitled behavior that he exhibited on video and photographs while he was inside the U.S. Capitol, showing total disregard for the law or official directives, and total disregard for the U.S. constitution.

The magistrate judge in Arkansas, the judge says, did a thorough and thoughtful job considering the evidence but I respectful disagree. The charges against this defendant are gravely serious. The evidence is extraordinarily strong. His brazen conduct inside the Capitol building during the assault on our legislative branch of government and his evasive conduct once he knew he was under investigation bring into question his willingness to abide by any conditions of release that this court might impose instead of pretrial detention. The government`s motion for pretrial detention is therefore granted.

And so the decision back home in Arkansas to let that guy go home to stay with his girlfriend, that decision is reversed and the guy who put up his feet on the desk in Nancy Pelosi`s office is thereby locked up as of right now by orders of the chief federal judge in Washington, D.C.

"BuzzFeed News" today rounded up a whole bunch of these cases in which people in the Trump mob who attacked the capitol were allowed not only to walk away and go home after the attack that day, like they all were, but then when some of these folks were arrested back home, we have seen, again and again, that local courts have decided that those people should be freed on their own recognizance. And in multiple cases now, federal prosecutors in D.C. have asked judges in D.C. to overturn those orders and in fact keep these defendants in custody.

I mean, you just saw that happen in the tour de force that we got from D.C. Chief Judge Beryl Howell. That was the case of the guy in Pelosi`s office. The guy with the stun gun we now know in Pelosi`s office. That same federal judge in D.C. also overrode a local decision in Tennessee where a local -- a judge there decided to free the zip tie guy, the guy with all the plastic handcuffs. What were you going to do with those?

That guy, it turns out, was also armed with a stun gun. He`s described by prosecutors as having stashed additional weapons in the bushes just outside the capitol. A judge in Tennessee looked at all that and said it was fine to send him home. The judge in D.C. said basically, oh, my god, are you kidding, no, he`s staying in custody. So he`s in custody.

The same thing with the guy in the QAnon shirt who chased Officer Eugene Goodman up the Senate steps, just feet away from where Mike Pence had been taken by the Secret Service. Turns out while he was menacing Officer Eugene Goodman, why did he keep putting his hand in his pocket while he was doing that? We now know. Look at the knife he had in his pocket while he was menacing that officer.

Despite knowing that, despite that evidence, a judge back home in Iowa said to release this guy and let him go home. The federal judge in D.C. had to swoop in at the request the federal prosecutors and say, no, he is not going to be sent home, he is going to be in custody.

Same goes for a guy arrested in New Jersey, accused of beating police officers inside the capitol and found to have been armed, found to have had a collapsible baton to better beat police officers with. A court in New Jersey said, oh, well, it`s just beating police officers with a weapon inside the capitol building while it was being overrun by these guys who were trying to violently overthrow the government, you know what, it was three weeks ago, let`s let him go home.

A D.C. federal judge again intervened there to say, no, that guy needs to stay in custody while his trial is pending, overriding the judge in New Jersey who said to send him home. I mean, basically, everybody who attacked the government, everybody who attacked Congress in the capitol building just walked away on January 6. But a lot of them got arrested and got charged once they got home. And we have been watching local news stories all over the country ever since.

Local news coverage in north Texas, in California, in Missouri, in Pennsylvania, in Massachusetts, in West Virginia, in New Mexico, in Florida, in Arkansas, in Delaware, in Cleveland, Ohio, all people who participated in the attack on the government, we now have all this footage from local news of them having their houses raided and being arrested and in some cases turning themselves in, having their arraignments and their court appearances. And even in the case of those charged with serious stuff, you know, people having weapons and physically attacking police officers and stealing stuff from the capitol, there is this recurring theme now of even the people charged with the most serious stuff being let out after their initial arrest.

And so, we have seen repeatedly federal judges in D.C. overturning those local decisions in an increasing number of cases and saying no, these people need to be held in jail. And the arrests and the indictments continue. Two members of the Proud Boys indicted today, interestingly they`re being charged with conspiracy, for playing some kind of organizing role in the violence. Those charges announced tonight by the Department of Justice in D.C.

Two women from Pennsylvania also charged today, they`re charged with multiple crimes in conjunction with entering the Capitol as part of the attack on the 6th. In one video posted after the attack, one of the women arrested -- excuse me, one of the women charged today says, quote, we broke into the Capitol, we got inside, we did our part. She says, quote, we were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the frigging brain but we didn`t find her. The woman says that on video from the capitol on the day of the attack. She`s now been federally charged.

We learned today that U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick who apparently was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher by the Trump mob that day, we learned today that his body will lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol rotunda on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. There will be a ceremonial arrival of his body, Tuesday night, 9:30 p.m. Eastern. We will cover that live as it happens if we`re allowed to have a pool camera there.

The first viewing of Officer Sicknick`s body as it lies in honor will be for members of the capitol police that night. Members of Congress will be able to pay their respects starting the next morning. And then they will hold a tribute for him on Wednesday and then his body will be taken to Arlington, to Arlington National Cemetery to be interred, for his services in defending the country against the violent mob sent by the former president to try to stop the transfer of power.

And so, you know, we are seeing all of these people. As January comes to a close, this remarkable month in American history, we are seeing these people who took part in the attack getting arrested, getting charged. And there is considerable drama and interest and lots to watch, and some scandal in terms of the handling of their individual cases. There`s also the question of how many of the hundreds of members of the Trump mob will end up being charged. Every one of them who entered the capitol can be charged. How many of them will be?

There`s a question of command and control and organization among them in terms of paramilitary tactics and weapons and all the rest.

But, you know, just like Michael Cohen went to jail for delivering the illegal hush money payments that Donald Trump directed should be paid to help his political campaign in 2016, just as individual-1, Donald Trump, is the person on whose behalf those crimes were committed, that`s why prosecutors described the former president as individual-1 in those crimes, for having directed the commission of those crimes, I mean, to a certain extent, so too were all these people, attacking police officers and breaking capitol windows and doors and trying to find Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence to shoot them or hang them, so too were they doing what they did for a reason, for a person. For somebody who they believed was asking them to do it and for someone who they over and over again have been telling judges as they`ve started to get arrested, started to get charged, told them to do what they did.

The president will face his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate starting a week from Monday. I can tell you tonight, we can report that more than 270 congressional staffers have signed onto this letter, asking U.S. senators to please convict him at that trial. The letter says in part, quote, we are staff who work for members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, where it`s our honor and privilege to serve our country and our fellow Americans.

We write this letter to share our own views and experiences, not the views of our employers, but on January 6, 2021, our workplace was attacked by a violent mob trying to stop the Electoral College vote count, incited by former President Trump and his political allies, some of whom we pass every morning on our way to work. As the mob smashed through capitol police barricades, broke doors and windows and charged into the capitol with body armor and weapons, many of us hid beneath chairs and desks or barricaded ourselves in our offices.

Six people died. A capitol police officer, one of our co-workers who guards and greets us every day was beaten to death. The attack on our workplace was inspired by lies told by the former president and others about the results of the election, in a baseless months-long effort to reject votes lawfully cast by the American people.

Our Constitution only works when we believe in it and defend it. It`s a shared commitment to equal justice, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of our differences. Any person who doesn`t share these beliefs has no place representing the American people now or in the future. This violence and lies to overturn an election is not worthy of debate. Either you stand with the republic or against it.

As congressional employees, we do not have a vote on whether to convict Donald J. Trump for his role in inciting the violent attack on the capitol. But our senators do. And for our sake and the sake of the country, we ask that they vote to convict the former president and bar him from ever holding office again.

And it is signed by more than 270 congressional staffers, people who work for members of Congress and members of the U.S. Senate at the Capitol.

And we don`t know if there will be consequences for the former president at all for having finished off his term in office by leading his supporters toward a violent attack on the government to try to keep him in power. We do know that a Republican group, a group called the Republican Accountability Project is spending a million bucks putting up billboards like this one all over Texas right now.

You lied about the election. The capitol was attacked. Senator Cruz, resign.

They`re putting up equivalent billboards all over Missouri, saying the same thing to Senator Josh Hawley.

Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, tells "Politico" tonight, quote, it took a lot of players within the Republican Party to convince the vast majority of their voters that the election was fraudulent. We are here to be an institutional memory of what happened and who said what. The goal is not to allow these officials to memory hole the fact that they pushed this lie which incited the attack on the capitol.

The Republican Accountability Project, which is a Republican group, is going to put up those billboards in Texas and in Missouri, targeting Senator Cruz and Senator Hawley, and they`ll put up the billboards in the congressional districts, the home districts of all these Republican members of Congress, Devin Nunes in California, Elise Stefanik in New York, Jim Jordan in Ohio, Louie Gohmert in Texas, Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, Matt Gaetz in Florida, Mo Brooks in Alabama, Dan Bishop in North Carolina, they`re all getting those billboards in their district, telling them that the U.S. Capitol attack is on them and they should resign.

The same group is also going to start running this ad on "Fox & Friends" and during Fox news prime time shows in the home districts and home states of all of those Republicans I just named.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): There was fraud.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Fraud.


REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): Dominion machines that were problematic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I blame it on Dominion.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The election was stolen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our election is stolen from us.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): President Trump won this election.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): More bad behavior is what we need.

REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): Call your congressman, you can lightly threaten them.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): You got to go to the streets and be violent.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Let`s have trial by combat.

REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): Today, American patriots start kicking ass.


MADDOW: You did this. Hold them accountable.

You know, there`s been a lot of media attention, particularly this week, on a couple of individual members of Republican Congress and Congress, members who are really extreme, who have threatened their colleagues, promoted outlandish conspiracy theories. That attention is warranted. And there`s also a former president and lots of members of Congress who supported and incited the cause behind the violent attack on the U.S. government. That was only mounted three weeks ago.

A white supremacist group marched in Washington today, up the National Mall, toward the U.S. Capitol, a group that calls itself Patriot Front, white supremacist group. The FBI today upped the reward for information leading to the capture of the Capitol Hill bomber who they now say placed operable pipe bombs at the Democratic Party and Republican Party headquarters on Capitol Hill the night before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

The mad bomber of the capitol attack is still at large, somebody capable of creating and placing operable pipe bombs and getting away without getting caught. That person is still at large. The reward to capture that person is now up to $100,000.

That`s what`s going on on the right in this country. That`s what`s going on in the Republican Party in terms of its politics and its actions.

Meanwhile Democrats are like, can we work on COVID? You know, can we work on immigration and a jobs bill? But more than three weeks down the road, heading into this last week before the president`s impeachment trial, this legitimate nightmare still hangs over us and the arrests and charges still continue for all these low level people. So far it`s for just them alone, they`re facing the consequences alone. Why`d they do it? Who did they do it for?

A lot to get to tonight. Watch this space.


MADDOW: So there`s good news but then there`s also worrying and sort of flummoxing nuanced news. Let`s start with the good. Plainly good news, there was a COVID briefing today, another one, led by scientists.

The Biden administration announced there is going to be regularly-scheduled public briefings multiple times per week from the scientists and experts leading the White House COVID response. They are holding to that. We`ve had two this weeks. Wednesday, and on Friday. They say they`re going to do them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from here on out. We get to here directly from scientists like Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky, leaders of this effort.

Also good news, new vaccines in the pipeline, getting closer to ready for use. Early data from the trial of the Novavax vaccine in the U.K. showed pretty promising results. Johnson & Johnson announced today its data is strong enough that they`re going to apply to the FDA for authorization for its one-shot vaccine as soon as next week.

Like I said, some of this news is less than -- less than just clearly good. Some of it is a little hard to parse. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for example, the one that may be on the cusp of getting approval in the U.S., at least on the cusp of applying for approval, it turns out per Johnson & Johnson`s own data that this vaccine is significantly less effective than the vaccines we`ve already got when it comes to preventing people from getting infected. The Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, are more effective at preventing you from getting COVID.

But even that is a sort of nuanced implication because Johnson & Johnson, while they say the vaccine may be less effective in terms of preaching people from getting COVID, the data from their clinical trials also show that if you get their vaccine, it`s almost 100 percent effective at preventing you from dying from COVID or even from being hospitalized for it.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine also has other redeeming qualities. Like I said, it`s only one shot. That`s a really big logistical improvement over the current two-shot regiment for the vaccines we`re already using. Also, doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine don`t have to be frozen, let alone in super deep freeze storage. They just need to be refrigerated. That makes storing it, transporting it, and distributing it much easier.

But then there`s also news about mutations to the virus. All the vaccines, the Pfizer one, the Moderna one, both of those that we`re currently using, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the other ones that are in the pipeline, all of them appear to be less effective against a relatively new, more contagious variant of the virus that has emerged in South Africa and that South Africa variant has been found for the first time in the United States within the past couple of days.

So we`re all learning, you know, basic layman`s virology and vaccine techniques. But, you know, we need expert help on some of this stuff. I`m following this stuff as closely as any of you are. But I feel like even with reading all this stuff very closely including reading some of the studies and stuff, I am left with some basic simple questions about what`s happening with vaccines right now, what`s happening for our country right now in terms of our hopes of beating this thing through vaccination.

Questions like, why would the FDA approve a vaccine like Johnson & Johnson`s that`s only 66 percent effective, 72 percent in the U.S. part of the trial, when we`ve already got these other two vaccines already on the market that we`re already using that are way more effective than that, 94 and 95 percent at preventing infection, why would we not just double down on the ones we have if they`re that much more effective?

There is an answer to that that I want explained to me by an expert.

Also, as these virus variants, sort of evading our current vaccine interventions gain momentum and gain strength and become a larger proportion of the virus that`s out there, are we going to need to scrap the vaccines we have and develop new ones that are designed to attack these ascendant virus variants or can those vaccines we`ve already got be modified or boosted in ways that handle the variants?

And what about treatment, therapeutics, are these variants less susceptible to treatments as well as being less susceptible to the vaccines? Beyond the fact that one of these vaccines maybe one shot instead of two shots, what are the other logistical differences in these new vaccines, things like storage temperature and other things that might make a difference in terms of ease of distribution?

Also, is there a material difference between the companies making these vaccines in terms of how much they can make? I mean, presumably, it`s less value to the country to approve a vaccine if the company making it can`t make lots of it. Presumably, that leans in favor of approving a vaccine where the company has the capability to make tons of it, maybe even if their vaccine isn`t the best one that is available.

I`ve lots of questions. I`m glad that I`m not involved in the decision- making process in terms of figuring out how to implement this stuff as all these different vaccine candidates come online. But fortunately we have somebody here tonight who is in a position to answer them and who is in a decision-making role on this stuff.

The man President Biden has put in charge of COVID vaccine development for the United States joins us live here next for the interview.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is Dr. David Kessler. He`s a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He`s now leading the Biden administration`s effort to speed up development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines.

Dr. Kessler, once again, it`s an honor to have you here. Thank you for your time.


MADDOW: You are nine days in. I just want to ask you broadly, how is it going, and how did your expectations compare with how it`s actually been?

KESSLER: Let me tell you where we are today. As of today, as of tonight, 27.9 million vaccines have been administered, 49 million have been distributed, nearly 5 million people have had both doses as of tonight, 2.7 million people have received them in long term care facilities. The rate of administration is about 1.2 to 1.4 million doses a day.

We need to meet the president`s target of 100 million doses in 100 days. And we are trying 24/7 to meet that goal.

MADDOW: In terms of the vaccines that we`ve got to work with, there`s been so much hope about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a number of reasons. One, it seems like Johnson & Johnson is capable of producing very large numbers of doses. It`s more convenient that it`s a single shot rather than two shots. It just has to be refrigerated. It doesn`t need to be in a deep freezer or even a freezer in terms of its transit and distribution. That all seems good.

But the numbers today, just to a layman looking at it, when they announce 66 percent effectiveness against people getting infected, 72 percent in the U.S. part of the trial, that felt like a disappointment, when the two vaccines we`ve already got are up in the 94, 95 percent range.

KESSLER: So your numbers are right. But I think we need to look beyond just those numbers. In fact there`s another number, and it`s 85 -- the number is 85 percent, and that`s the effectiveness rate against preventing severe disease. In fact, there were zero cases of hospitalization, zero deaths, even with the South African variant, with this vaccine.

So maybe we won`t be able to wipe out the virus entirely. But we can change the course of this disease to take out the morbidity and mortality. And that would be an enormous accomplishment.

So, in some ways, I`m sitting here, we just are very, very fortunate for the United States to have multiple vaccines.

MADDOW: In terms of the variants that are sort of thwarting some of our vaccine interventions right now, all the vaccines that we know of seem to have some lesser amount of effectiveness against, for example, the south African variant, maybe some of the other variants as well. As those variants spread more widely, and as they become a larger proportion of the COVID infections that are out there, are we ultimately going to need whole new vaccines that are designed to attack them, or will there be boosters or tweaks to the existing vaccines that we`ve got?

KESSLER: I think it`s probably the latter. I think we are equipped to do that. That`s the advantage of the great science that`s been done, the technology. But the fact is, and I was very concerned about the South African variant, but the data today, again, shows, just with the Janssen vaccine, that it can work against that variant in preventing serious disease. I don`t want to get out ahead of the FDA.

We have the next several weeks. The FDA has to go through all the data. The CDC committee called the ACIP has to study it and decide where and when and if it should be used. So I don`t want to get out ahead. But I`m sitting here a lot more confident that we can take the morbidity and mortality out of this disease.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, one of the things that you have talked about here on this show and that I`ve asked you about urgency, is the treatment. Obviously, we`re trying to reduce the number of people getting infected and thereby reduce the number of people getting sick, but we`ve still got thousands of people getting infected every day.

And having been personally terrified in seeing the progression of illness in someone who didn`t have the worst of cases, didn`t end up in the hospital, I want there to be progress on therapeutics, on treatment. You`ve talked about how that`s a priority for you and the White House now.

Is there any indication that these variants are less susceptible to the therapeutics that we got or the therapeutics that we`re hoping will show a promise?

KESSLER: So, we`re looking at the monoclonal antibodies and we`re learning more every day. As you and I have talked, we need to find an oral antiviral. And we`ve embarked on that program.

But right now, if you have positive results on the virus, from PCR and any other kind of testing, and you`re at high risk of progressing to severe COVID disease, and you`re not in the hospital, you`re at high risk, you should ask your doctor about starting monoclonal antibodies.

MADDOW: Is there an issue in terms of supply of those? There was a lot of attention to those therapeutics when the president, fro example, was hospitalized and that`s part of -- that was part of his treatment. But there`s been this public sense that those are just for the rich and famous and just for the connected. And I`m not sure people checking into their local community hospital with shortness of breath know they can get it.

What is -- what is the pipeline like in terms of making those available on the frontlines?

KESSLER: In fact, tonight, we have more than we`re using. That`s why I`m mentioning it. Again, these are in limited supply. I can`t guarantee it`s available for everybody. If you are at high risk for progressing to severe disease and you have a positive COVID test, at least talk to your doctor. Let`s use up what we have.

MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner now leading the Biden administration`s effort on vaccines. Sir, good luck to you and your colleagues. Come back any time you want to talk to the audience. We`ll take you any time you have time for us.

KESSLER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Last weekend tens of thousands of Russia citizens from literally all corner of that country defied subzero frozen temperatures to protest the Kremlin`s imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. After recovering from an attempt to assassinate him with a Russian nerve agent, Navalny, the bravest man alive, returned to Russia where they just tried to kill him and they arrested him when he landed. He was arrested as soon as he landed.

He told the people of Russia to not be afraid. He told them to take to the streets. And in fact, the protests supporting Navalny last week were among the largest the country has ever seen. Nearly 4,000 Russians were arrested.

This weekend, they`re going to go do it again. They`re planning more protests. Here at home we have a president who`s directly calling on Vladimir Putin to release Navalny, and the U.S. is now again threatening sanctions over what Putin is doing to his own people and the political opposition.

Putin and security forces continue to lock up Navalny`s supporters and family members, put his allies under house arrest. They`re still keeping Navalny locked up as well.

But watch this space. The bravery of the Russian people last weekend was astonishing. And it`s just the security officers and what they did, but temperatures 50 and 60 degrees below zero but now they`re going to go back and do it again this weekend, even after 4,000 people got locked up. It is going to be something to see.


MADDOW: You did it. You made it to the end of this week. You thought it couldn`t be done. That is going to do it for us tonight. I hope you have a great weekend. I will see you again on Monday.

But don`t go anywhere. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where the great Ali Velshi is filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.