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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/4/21

Guests: Fiona Hill, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, Jacqueline Savitz

Summary

Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, discusses new book "There is Nothing For You Here". Thousands join nationwide protests in support of abortion rights. Oil spill prompts beach closures in southern California.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Nothing better than a little -- a little makeup room chitchat, which has been missing from (INAUDIBLE) for a long time. Great to see you, man.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Have a great rest of your evening, Chris.

HAYES: Thank you.

VELSHI: All right. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Rachel`s got the night off.

We`re coming up on nine months since the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. I think probably for all of us, amid the deluge of video and photographic documentation of the attack that emerged in the days and weeks afterwards, there are certain moments, certain images from that day that are burned into our minds. Moments like this one.

A man in a very distinctive stars and stripes jacket with "Trump" emblazoned in big letters on the back steps toward the capitol police who are guarding a doorway and unloads a fire extinguisher at them at close range. And when the fire extinguisher runs out, he chucks it at them, at the police officers who are under siege. He chucks it as hard as he can.

One of the astounding things about this video and that guy in it is that for more than two months after the insurrection, that guy was not arrested. The FBI had his face on a wanted poster but had not even identified him, even despite that jacket that you couldn`t miss. It was online sleuths working from home, sifting through hours and hours of footage of the insurrection, who actually figured out who this guy was.

When reporters Ryan Reilly and Josselyn Cook at "The Huffington Post" called him up, he appeared blissfully unaware that the FBI was looking for him and he confirmed it was him, Robert Scott Palmer of Clearwater, Florida, in the eye-catching jacket. He told reporters that the Biden administration was trying to, quote, vilify the patriots, end quote, who were in the riot. But the reporters noticed he seemed to grow increasingly anxious as the call continued.

He said, quote, I didn`t do anything wrong, but he hung up when "The Huffington Post" asked him about the fire extinguisher. Because it is one thing to talk in general terms about being an innocent patriot being vilified. It`s another thing to answer specific questions about how you unloaded a fire extinguisher at a bunch of besieged police officers and then threw it at them.

Twelve days after that piece appeared in "The Huffington Post", Robert Scott Palmer was arrested and charged with assaulting those police officers. Today, he pled guilty in court to a felony. The specific charge is assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, inflicting bodily injury.

And he admitted in court not only to using the fire extinguisher but also to throwing a wooden plank at the officers. The judge ordered Mr. Palmer incarcerated until his December sentencing where he faces up to 20 years in prison. Make a note of that. That will become important in a few minutes. Many of the more than 600 people arrested for their involvement in the capitol attack are only charged with or are being allowed to plead to misdemeanor offenses and they`re getting off with little to no prison time.

For months now, federal judges in Washington have been expressing frustration at what they see as too much leniency in the treatment of many of the insurrectionists. The federal judge who presided over Robert Palmer`s guilty plea today in a separate case this morning did something no judge has done before in a January 6 case. She handed down a harsher sentence than what government prosecutors were asking for. This particular capitol rioter pled guilty to one count of, quote, parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol. That parading charge is actually one that several capitol rioters have pled to.

The prosecution had recommended that this guy get three months home confinement plus probation. But the judge rejected that recommendation and ordered the defendant to spent 45 days in prison. The judge saying from the bench, quote, there have to be consequences for participating in attempted violent overthrow of the government beyond sitting at home.

She continued: The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the history of this country before, for actions and crimes that threaten to undermine the rule of law and our democracy. And our democracy -- that`s the important part. And you can understand where the judge`s frustration is coming from. If January 6 was a violent insurrection against the government, an attempt to block the peaceful transition of power in our democracy, the consequences for that cannot just be a few hundred people being charged with holding an illegal parade, because it`s not what each individual person did on their own. It`s what everybody involved did collectively. That`s the insurrection.

And we do have a body that`s tackling this bigger picture. The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack is reportedly moving ahead with its work, even if we haven`t heard all that much from them publicly in recent weeks.

[21:05:09]

"Politico" reports that the committee has held its first closed door transcribed interviews with willing witnesses. And new ones are scheduled for this week. This Thursday, by the way, is the deadline for former Trump administration officials including chief of staff Mark Meadows and one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon to report to subpoenas the committee issued last month. The committee subpoenaed documents from them and ordered them to sit for depositions next week. The chairman of the committee, Bennie Thompson, says if they don`t meet the deadlines, the committee will probably issue criminal referrals for those former Trump officials.

Even as many of the people who physically breached the Capitol on January 6 have been tracked down and arrested and made to apologize in open court and pay some kind of price, the people who created the conditions for that attack, the people who teed up the event and stoked the crowds and who turned the January 6 certification of the election into something that they thought had to be stopped, those people are not only walking around free. They are still pushing the narrative that produced the insurrection.

Take this lawyer, John Eastman. He`s revving up the crowds here at the president`s stop the steal rally just before those crowds stormed the capitol. Eastman was not well-known at the time. But we`ve recently learned that he was the author of a memo for President Trump that detailed exactly how Trump could using the January 6 election certification process to overturn Joe Biden`s win and remain in power. And Trump and his allies were following Eastman`s instruction manual right up until January 6, when Vice President Mike Pence refused to carry out his part of the plot.

So Trump and Eastman riled up the crowd which went and stormed the Capitol instead. "The New York Times" this weekend did a deep dive on John Eastman, telling the story of how Donald Trump discovered him in 2019, seeing him on Fox News, of course. And how Eastman became Trump`s source for all kinds of hair-raising legal theories that would allow Trump to do things he wasn`t actually allowed to do, right up to and including the instruction manual for the coup that Trump almost pulled off.

John Eastman`s memo is one of the most terrifying pieces of evidence that has yet to come to light from those last several weeks of the Trump administration. It shows just how much planning went into trying to keep Trump in power after he lost and how close they came to succeeding. But not only is John Eastman so far successfully warranted off back into semi obscurity after the whole coup thing didn`t work out. He`s still working at it.

When "The Times" reached him for their article this weekend, John Eastman was still pushing the narrative that the election was stolen from Trump. He told "The Times" quote, there are lots of allegations outs there that didn`t get their day in court and lots of people that believed them and wish they got their day in court, and I am working very diligently with several teams, statistical teams, election specialist teams, all sorts of teams, to try and identify the various claims and determine whether they have merit or there is reasonable explanation for them, all sorts of teams. He`s working with all the teams.

And on one level, who cares if this kooky lawyers wants to work on election conspiracies in his basement with all of his teams? We should care. Because this stuff is the engine that`s powering all the various Republican projects to undermine Americans` faith in our elections, like the sham election audits being pushed by Republicans in state after state to create the incorrect impression that there was something wrong with the 2020 election and with our election systems as a whole. It`s powering the Republican takeover of elections boards and clerks` offices in state after state, and all the pro-Trump candidates for secretary of state across the country with the goal of controlling the machinery of elections for 2022 and 2024.

And it`s powering Trump`s own 2024 candidacy. "The Washington Post" reports that Trump is already running in all but name. That`s not officially declaring his candidacy yet because then he would have to re-jigger his whole fundraising apparatus to comply with presidential campaign finance laws and right now most of Trump`s fundraising just goes straight to Trump. Why mess with a grift that`s working?

But Trump`s former press secretary said today that if Trump does run and win in 2024, his presidency, quote, will be all about revenge. Well, that`s comforting to all of us. It isn`t something we know how to deal with in our country. We never had one of our two political parties become an explicitly anti-democratic party enthralled to a twice-impeached demagogue. We don`t even know how to measure how much danger our democracy is in because we`ve never seen it tested like this, certainly not in living memory.

[21:10:04]

So, one of the weird things about our current political moment is that some of the people who are turning out to be the most insightful about what we are going through now are those who are studied the decline of democracy in other countries, the rise of authoritarians in other countries.

If we look around and have trouble understanding exactly what`s happening in our country because we`ve never faced anything quite like it -- well, other countries have. You may remember that during Donald Trump`s first impeachment, one of the most compelling witnesses to testify was this woman, Fiona Hill. She was the top Russia analyst on Trump`s National Security Council and part what was so compelling about her testimony were her explicit warnings.

She repeatedly warned that what the president and his allies and some of the very members of Congress who were sitting on that impeachment committee were doing was dangerous. They were pushing wild conspiracy theories about American election and about Trump`s political enemies that were in many cases manufactured by foreign intelligence agencies with the goal of destabilizing the United States. She warned that pumping that poison into America`s political bloodstream was a danger to democracy. Fiona Hill knows something about dangers to democracy. She is, after all, an expert on Russia.

Well, now Fiona Hill has written a book. It is called "There is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century."

And I want to read you what she writes about the January 6 insurrection. Quote: The failure of Trump`s slow motion, in plain sight attempt at a self-coup was not preordained. Ultimately, it was thwarted only by key individuals at the institutions that could typically be involved in executing such a plot. First and foremost, high ranking members of the military resisted Trump`s efforts to personalize their power. If they had gone along with it, the outcome of Trump`s self-coup could have been completely different.

Other government institutions also held firm. For instance, throughout his tenure, with the help of Republican lawmakers, Trump filled more than 200 federal court vacancies with what he kept calling his judges. Trump judges all the way to the Supreme Court, however, respected their oath of office. They rejected the president`s appeals to overturn the legitimate election results. State and local government election administrators also refused to be swayed.

Throughout history, coup plotters have seized control of the main communication channels. Trump did not physically take radio and TV by storm but he continuously discredited the mainstream media who were critical of his behavior. He directly messaged 88 million people who followed his Twitter account to propagate false, self-serving narratives and blatant lies.

After the events on January 6, Twitter and Facebook belatedly acknowledged what Trump had done and cut off his accounts. In the aftermath of Trump`s disastrous reign, it was tempting to breathe a sigh of relief, but that would have been premature because there was no indication that his dynasty would fade away. And American populism looked like it was here to stay unless we could find a way to mend our socioeconomic and political divisions, end quote.

Joining me now, Fiona Hill, former White House adviser on Russia. She is the author of the new book "There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century" which comes out tomorrow.

Dr. Hill, thank you for being here. Thank you for writing this book. You`ve been studying Russia and authoritarian regimes for decades. You`re trained to recognize the signs of a nation spiraling toward authoritarianism in a way that the rest of us are not, which is why no one should take lightly when you write in this book, quote, Russia is America`s ghost of Christmas future, a harbinger of things to come. For me, watching Trump`s disorganized but deadly serious attempt at a coup unfold, the clearest and most unmistakable parallels were with Russia, unquote.

I ask you, what to your trained eye are some of those parallels?

FIONA HILL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER ON RUSSIA: Well, thank you, first of all, Ali, for having me on tonight.

There are certainly many parallels. I think anybody who is even the most casual student of Russia would see them right away. One of the most striking, in fact, is actually unfolding with an anniversary almost today, in fact. Back in 1993, in October 1993, President Yeltsin of Russia fired on his parliament what was known as the Russian White House, after a constitutional dispute with his own vice president, and also the speaker of the parliament, over excessive powers for the presidency in an amendment of the constitution. And instead of resolving this in, you know, the way that one would hope and would expect in a constitutional manner or through political debates, Yeltsin actually turned the guns of the Russian military onto the White House, onto the Russian parliament.

[21:15:03]

And that was a pretty striking, rather shocking episode. And, of course, the parliament capitulated, which gave the presidency greater powers. I mean, in a way, that is a parallel with what happened on January 6, when President Trump was trying to pervert the constitution to keep himself in power. There are many similarities like this. And of course it`s really jarring when you think about the United States starting to resemble anything like post-Soviet Russia.

VELSHI: This is why the book was such a good read, because these things come to mind for you immediately. They don`t come to lined for a lot of Americans because we don`t have those parallels. One of things that was compelling was that you wrote that in 2020, our democracy did hold the line. The military, the courts, the vice president of the United States, refused to go along with Trump`s attempted coup.

Is that to you a sign of the resilience of our democracy or a sign of the fragility of our democracy, that these how close we came to democracy falling?

HILL: Well, I think it`s a bit of both. But actually you did miss out there, although you actually talked about it in your overview, what happened on Capitol Hill in Congress. Because what we saw, however, was certainly members of the Republican Party not live up to their oaths to the Constitution or to their commitments to their constituents in the places they represent, because so many of the members of Congress, with just a few small exceptions, of the congressional Republicans went along with President Trump`s lies.

If we also look back at Russia and other authoritarian governments, what it takes is one particular party, on particular grouping, actually deciding they`re going to throw their lot in with a would-be authoritarian leader. If other institutions had gone along, we would be in a very different position than we are now.

VELSHI: So, you are clear in the book that the threat to democracy is very much alive, with or without Donald Trump. And that you actually argue that maybe Trump paved the way for a more competent populist to pull, as you call it in your book, pull a Putin in this country.

I think some people, maybe some of Rachel`s own viewers here, breathed a sigh of relief when Trump left the White House. What would you say to those people who think, it`s okay, he`s gone?

HILL: Well, it isn`t okay, because the big lie that he perpetrated in saying that he had won the election in 2020 when every piece of evidence suggests and underscores and confirms that he did not, is being perpetuated members of Congress, by him. He`s never repudiated anything that he said, he`s not conceded that he lost the election.

This is again another of those signs that we`re in deep trouble because millions of people have been convinced because of the president`s own credibility as being the president of the United States, and clearly somebody who people voted for and obviously somebody who they looked up to, somebody has been telling them over and over again an enormous lie.

We`re already in the territory that has been paved many times before through history by countries like Germany, Nazi Germany, and also the Soviet Union. People will say, oh, of course, here we go again, people making these kinds of comparisons. But these are valid historical comparisons. In each case, people went along with what became the beginnings of massive atrocities and also the perversion of democracy.

VELSHI: For an economic journalist like me, there`s a lot in your book that`s about economics. Your upbringing in northeastern England and the changes that you have witnessed and studied. It`s very clear that you understand the impulse that so many voters had to vote for Donald Trump. You`ve got a grasp on why so many people really did believe that their lives would be better with someone like him in charge.

That impulse has not died with the Trump presidency. What`s the antidote to this? It`s not even a uniquely American problem. It`s in your home country of England. It`s all over the world.

HILL: Yeah, well, sadly, we`ve just started to prove that America is not exceptional. I would have liked to have thought we could do better than this, as many of our really principal leaders have said. But we`ve actually shown we can go down the same path. We`re not immune to flawed leadership and we`re certainly not immune to eroding and undermining our best institutions.

But the socioeconomic aspects of this are really critical, because mainstream parties, both the Republicans and the Democrats, have failed to address many of the problems that the majority of Americans would like to see actually fixed for them. And this gave an opening to President Trump and to populist leaders to basically say, I`m listening, I`m hearing what you`re saying and I`m going to basically fix everything for you. It`s not so simple.

But, of course, the wrangling we`re seeing right now on Capitol Hill between the congressional Republicans and Democrats over the future of the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill that President Biden is trying to push through, really underscores the problems that we have, because many of the issues that are covered in that bill are the things that the majority of Americans would actually like to see their government basically undertake for them.

[21:20:15]

I would like to see their representatives carry out. We`re seeing there`s just no political will to do this.

VELSHI: You`ve drawn a very straight line between the economics, the economic shifts, and where we are politically.

The book is about 400 pages, so I`m not done with the conversation, I would love to ask you to stick around after the commercial break for a little more on the other side.

HILL: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: We`ll be right back with Fiona Hill, former White House adviser on Russia.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: In March of 2018, then-President Trump met with a group of steelworkers in the Roosevelt Room in the White House. It got a little extra press that day because the president told one of those steelworkers that his father was very proud of him looking down from above. The steel worker had to correct the president -- actually my dad is still alive.

[21:25:02]

It was awkward.

But something else about that meeting caught the attention of Fiona Hill that day, and here is how she writes about it in her book. Quote: Hidden away at the White House, the National Security Council staff were less like Ivanka Trump and more like the steelworkers who are clustered around her father in the Roosevelt Room. We shared the same family backgrounds and the same aspirations for a meaningful job. The people I worked with at the NSC, including some of the political appointees, were neither partisan nor ideologically constrained. They were pragmatic and operational, focused on accomplishing the mission.

But they had to contend with the fact that since the 1960s, popular appreciation and respect for government service and public servants had steadily declined in the United States. This made them easy targets for populist opprobrium from President Trump and others in the MAGA world. By fall of 2019, I started to feared the U.S. was stuck in a period of profound and dangerous disruption.

It was not just that Trump was embarrassing our country in press conferences abroad and playing a tin pot dictator at home. It was that the disaffection, decay, and division that had given rise to Trump and the MAGA phenomenon were getting worse. They threatened to corrode the infrastructure of our democracy, affecting not just the oft-maligned steelworkers but also the support struts themselves, end quote.

And it was in that exact time period that Fiona Hill found herself responsible for reinforcing the support struts of our democracy when she became one of the main characters in Donald Trump`s first impeachment, the one where he was impeached for using the power of the presidency to try to bully a foreign power into helping him win an elections.

In her testimony during Donald Trump takes impeachment, Fiona Hill basically blew the roof off the place in her very civil servant, steel worker way, talking about the wave of disinformation and conspiracy theories that were being stoked by the president and his allies as a way to absolve him of any wrongdoing. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.

The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined. I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative, that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us once again is Fiona Hill, former White House adviser on Russia and author of "There`s Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century", which goes on sale tomorrow.

Dr. Hill, every two weeks that I get out and go to somewhere in America and I talk to people -- I`m positively surprised by the empathy people show with each other if they`re together in a small space and having a conversation. I`m equally surprised at the misinformation that guides their political decisions.

You have encountered this. Again, in your book it`s tied into the socioeconomic problems, because people are receptive to this bad information. But in your testimony, this bad information was making it up to high knowledge individuals, people with an education, people with access to good information, they still believed these lies.

HILL: Well, look, and I think some of the people were also perpetrating these lies, deploying them for their own political purposes, which, again, is something that we have to bear in mind, because there`s a difference between simple misinformation and then disinformation which is deliberately used for political impact.

And we have to be very well aware that people within our own political system, we have all kinds of super political action committees, it`s the whole way our campaigning has now taken shape, of how you actually have to destroy your opponent in a political campaign by, you know, deploying information against them. This has become the tenor of our politics.

VELSHI: You know, what you`re describing here are flaws in our politics and in our democracy. But the other thing you write extensively in the book about is Donald Trump`s troubling encounters with autocratic strongmen. You actually say he had autocrat envy.

Talk to me more about that. What do you mean by that?

HILL: Well, this is also a part of the times. We have so many other strongmen around the world. They`re all men, rather than women here. The strongest woman of all, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is just about to leave the political stage. She doesn`t behave in the same fashion.

We have not just President Trump who was strutting around the world stage making a point of how important he was and how strong he was and how macho he was.

[21:30:04]

We have President Xi of China. We have Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. We have, of course, President Putin in Russia. And we have many more, Duterte in the Philippines. There seems to be a pattern, a trend here, of people trying to outdo themselves in this strongman stunts.

VELSHI: You said you remain proud of your role on Trump`s National Security Council, but also, you said, quote, I think it was a mistake to have President Trump as president, unfortunately.

We know that Donald Trump is clearly toying with the idea of running again in 2024. As someone who was inside the Trump presidency, you saw it firsthand, you`ve just written a book about it, what do you want voters to know going into 2024?

HILL: Well, first of all I want to stress that I do believe he was legitimately elected, so that the people who voted were not swayed necessarily about Vladimir Putin or any of the other things we`ve talked about over the last several years. They voted for President Trump because they mistakenly believed he was going to do something for them. He was going to fix all of the problems which frankly are still festering.

Unfortunately, what we saw is that president Trump only intended to do something for himself. He was Trump first, not America first. And what I would really like to say to people who were thinking about voting for him again, take a long, hard look.

This is not ideological. Donald Trump doesn`t have any ideology. And really what we`re on the verge of doing now is throwing away a democracy that we have built up over hundreds of years, something that everybody here in the United States values.

We`re not red, we`re not blue Americans. We`re Americans. And this is one of those pivotal moments where we all have to stand up and stand together and not tear ourselves apart. And Donald Trump is an incredibly divisive person who is focused just on his own interests.

VELSHI: Dr. Fiona Hill, thank you for your time, thanks for spending the extra time with us. Thanks for writing this remarkable book.

Fiona Hill is a former White House adviser on Russia. She`s the author of the new book, "There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century." It is on sale tomorrow.

Dr. Hill, we appreciate your time tonight.

HILL: Thank you, Ali. Thanks so much.

VELSHI: My pleasure. Coming up next, something began today that could shape the direction of this country for generations to come. We`ll talk about that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:36:27]

VELSHI: This was D.C. on Saturday, as thousands marched for abortion justice. They chanted, what do we want, abortion justice, when do we want it, now, as they marched on the Supreme Court itself to demand that Roe v. Wade be protected.

The group held signs like this one, bans off your body, keep your laws off my body. Others read: abortion saves lives, and, we won`t go back.

D.C. was one of 600 rallies held across the nation organized by the Women`s March. Men and women took to the streets to demand that the Supreme Court protect a woman`s right to choose.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, protesters chanted, their body, their choice. In New York City, they held up signs saying, health care as a human right. And if you aren`t outraged, you aren`t paying attention.

All across the state of Texas, from Austin to Houston to San Antonio to Dallas, people rallied against the state`s newly enacted extreme abortion ban. In Austin, the capital of Texas, protesters held up signs like these, when justice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

And one woman held up this gem, I cannot believe I still have to protest this, and had the word that rhymes with hit.

In Houston, one woman held up a sign that read, we did not endure a plague only to go back to the dark ages.

And in Columbia, South Carolina, one woman proudly holding this sign that read, so bad, even introverts are here.

In Chicago, we need to talk about the elephant in the womb, with the Republican Party elephant logo there.

In Toledo, Ohio, this rhyming sign, keep your rosaries off my ovaries. In Kansas City, Missouri, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Phoenix, Arizona, to Denver, Colorado, Honolulu, Hawaii, to Chicago, Illinois, thousands -- tens of thousands marched across the country as the high court is set to hear the biggest challenge to abortion in decades.

Today, the Supreme Court began its new term, one that`s already being called momentous. All justices except for Justice Brett Kavanaugh who has COVID and participated remotely were in person today for the first time since March of 2020. The court is just a few months away from hearing arguments in a case involving Mississippi`s 15-week abortion ban, which is a direct challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. A case that could throw out abortion rights for all women in this country, wherever they live.

Arguments for that case begin on December the 1st. We`ve already seen in Texas the state effectively overturning "Roe" with its abortion ban that outlaws abortions at six weeks. We`re still waiting to hear if a federal judge will grant the government`s request and issue a preliminary injunction against that law. And that decision could come any day now.

You remember that the Supreme Court declined to intervene and it let Texas effectively overturn "Roe v. Wade." Now, there`s a lot at stake with this new term that the court began today. In addition to abortion, the court will hear cases involving gun rights, separation of church and state, in school funding, and affirmative action.

So, what should we be keeping an eye out for?

Joining us is Tali Farhadian Weinstein, former state and federal prosecutor. She clerked for both Merrick Garland when he served as a judge on the D.C. circuit court and for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O`Connor.

Ms. Weinstein, thank you for being with us tonight.

TALI FARHADIAN WEINSTEIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good evening.

VELSHI: Tell me what you`re expecting, first of all, as it relates to abortion in this court.

[21:40:00]

The court has not decided. What they did in Texas was not actually hearing the case on the merits. The Mississippi case in December 1st is probably going to be the big abortion hearing that we`ve got at the Supreme Court.

WEINSTEIN: That`s right. And the analysts who are looking at that case, Ali, I would say are ranging from despondent to despondent in terms of their expectations of what will be left of "roe v. Wade" after the Supreme Court decides that case.

Now, there is some disagreement about whether the court will actually overturn "Roe" or just gut it. But here`s the thing that`s really clear. That law in Mississippi, just like the Texas law, is unconstitutional as the constitution is currently understood by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has said that the state can`t put an undue burden on the right to choose before viability. And these are both effectively bans on abortion well before viability.

So, they`re really designed to test whether Roe can survive, whether Casey, which followed on Roe, can survive or needs to be modified or eliminated, and that`s what`s at stake.

VELSHI: You just said something that was really interesting. I think it was really legally smart, but I want you to expand on it. You said they`re both unconstitutional as the constitution is currently understood by the Supreme Court. I think that`s what most of our viewers think. Except the question on our minds is, as the new session starts, will the Supreme Court see the Constitution differently under the way the Supreme Court is actually constituted? That I think is what`s worrying people.

WEINSTEIN: Exactly, because Mississippi, in its abortion case, has asked the Supreme Court to see the Constitution differently. And it`s given it a menu of options. It has said, there is no right to choose under the Constitution, you could say that, or it has said, this whole structure, the understanding that viability is a really important turning point in a pregnancy, and that the state can`t really interfere with the right to choose before viability the way it can after viability, that should be discarded. And it`s even gone as far as to say, well, we have some new science now that tells us viability isn`t as important as other things we might think about, fetal development.

And so it has really given the court lots of different pathways to interpret the Constitution differently, which is really a fancy way of saying overturning its precedents.

VELSHI: Yeah. So, the Texas law is interesting. A number of other states have said if this were to be held up, they`re looking to emulate it. Florida said so, South Dakota has said so. The Mississippi law, for some reason, people feel is more consequential. If that goes a certain way, there`s a real fear that this is not going to be a slow roll across the country, it will be almost instantaneous, that the protection of abortion rights in this country will go away.

WEINSTEIN: Well, that`s right, because the Mississippi case squarely presents the question of whether Roe should be overturned or modified in the ways I`ve described. The Texas law hasn`t brought that question to the Supreme Court. Right now, there`s litigation in the western district of Texas, the Department of Justice has sued the state of Texas over that law, but there is a procedural thicket around that law that has made it hard to get at the question at the heart of it, about the constitutionality of the right to choose, whereas the court is all set up to decide that question in Mississippi. And, of course, there will be consequences for all the states.

VELSHI: Thank you for joining us, Ms. Weinstein. We appreciate your helping us understand this.

Tali Farhadian Weinstein, we appreciate your time tonight.

WEINSTEIN: Thanks.

VELSHI: Still ahead, an environmental disaster as at least 126,000 gallons of crude oil fouls the California coast. The question is how is this still happening in 2021? We`ll talk about that after the break.

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[21:48:05]

VELSHI: On Friday, the first thing people noticed was the smell. Joggers on the Huntington Beach boardwalk about 40 miles south of Los Angeles reported smelling something, quote, rotten like old meat. In nearby Newport Beach, residents also reported smelling a, quote, horrible and strong tar- like odor that night. Then the next morning on Saturday, workers from Amplify Energy which owns around oil pipeline off orange county saw signs of oil in the water, while they were doing a routine inspection.

They reported to the Coast Guard at 9:00 in the morning, Saturday. By noon that day, the Coast Guard announced it was actively responding to an oil spill. The city of Newport Beach tweeted that day, quote, the city is monitoring the large oil spill, about three to four miles off the coast of Newport Beach. The spill is expected to dissipate through wind, sun, and wave action and is not expected to come ashore.

It did not dissipate. It kept spreading, stretching 13 square miles. This is what the Orange County coast looked like by Sunday, ripples of black people wash ashore. People trying to dodge the oil as they inspected the damage. Experts expect the oil to come ashore over the next several days.

So far, at least 126,000 gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline connected to the platform. The company that owns both the platform and the pipeline, Amplify Energy Corporation, has launched an investigation into what caused this breach. The U.S. Coast Guard is also continuing its investigation.

As of yet, we don`t know for sure the underlying cause of the spill. But there are multiple reports tonight that Amplify Energy believes that a ship anchor striking the pipeline might be responsible for the breach. State and federal officials have launched a criminal investigation into this leak.

And "The L.A. Times" reported just within the past hour that a branch of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, quote, observed sheen in federal waters several miles off the coast of Huntington Beach as early as Friday night.

[21:50:04]

But the Coast Guard was not notified until Saturday when the company that owns the pipeline reached out.

So all hands on deck to try to contain this thing right now, but every time there is a spill like this, it makes you wonder whether our obsession with oil is worth the inherent danger of the infrastructure that fuels it.

Joining us now is Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer for North America and Oceania, an international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation.

Ms. Savage, thank you for being with us tonight.

And look, I say this as somebody who consumes oil. I`ve got a carbon footprint like we all do. We have to understand this. There are leaks all the time. We`re lucky when there`s one close enough that you can smell it or see it. But oil leaks from pipelines under the water and under the ground all the time.

JACQUELINE SAVITZ, OCEANA NORTH AMERICA CHIEF POLICY OFFICER: Yeah, that`s right, Ali, when we drill we spill. It`s not a matter of if we`re going to spill the oil. It`s just a matter of when, and we`ve seen that time and time again. Yet, at the same time, our government continues to let oil and gas companies do what they want to do in our coasts, even though when there`s a problem like this, it ends up hurting the coastal economies, and that`s before we even start talking about the fact that oil and gas are driving climate change. It makes absolutely no sense to continue with our sort of fossil fuel age when we know we need to be making that history.

VELSHI: And the distinction you make is important. We can have this conversation, and on this channel we have it a lot about climate change and what we need to do about that, but the actual fact that after the Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf of Mexico, it was mind boggling to most of us that the oil companies had no plan. They had no way to deal with the amount of oil that was going into the ocean. Private enterprise, kids in schools were trying to figure out whether they could put detergent in water to get oil out. Why does this still happen in 2021?

SAVITZ: You would think that after we watched day in and day out that picture of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and just wrung our hands because there was nothing we could do about it that we would have learned something from that and begun to make the transition away from offshore oil and gas. Instead, we didn`t. We continued to sell leases in the Gulf of Mexico. We continued to allow drilling off of California, and you know, I think it`s really clear now as we sit and watch this, in this moment we have an opportunity to finally get permanent protection for our coasts. It`s being discussed in Congress now, and this is really a stark reminder that we absolutely need to make that happen.

VELSHI: A lot of places along the gulf coast, you can stand onshore, look out, see platforms and see rigs. Same thing in California, California you see them on land and off land.

What do protections look like? For people in these places that look out and see a platform on the horizon, an oil rig on the horizon, what do we want? What does success look like?

SAVITZ: Well, there`s a question about whether or not we should continue to expand offshore drilling, which we absolutely should not do. What we`re pushing for in Congress right now, by permanent protection, we mean stop all leasing for any new oil and gas development offshore. If we can get that done, we can prevent some future spills. We still have this historic legacy that also needs to be addressed. That`s going to require better inspections. We`re going to need penalties that actually create an incentive to prevent spills. Right now they don`t really.

And the fact of the matter is the oil and gas industry is sitting on so many active leases for oil and gas that 75 percent of what`s out there right now that they have their hands on if they can drill, if they are ready to do that, 75 percent of it is either unused or not producing, and that amounts to about 7,000 to 8,000 unused approved premise to drill.

And so when we talk about stopping the expansion of offshore drilling, the oil and gas industry, you know, seems to think that`s such a horrible thing, but in the meantime, they have more leases to drill than they could ever possibly even use.

VELSHI: So we`re not even capping the capacity of what we would drill.

Jacqueline Savitz, thank you for joining us tonight. Jacqueline Savitz is the chief policy officer for North America and Oceana.

SAVITZ: Thank you.

VELSHI: We`ll be right back.

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[21:58:26]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, they`re threatening to use the power, their power, to prevent us from doing our job, saving the economy from a catastrophic event. I think quite frankly, it`s hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: President Biden today criticizing Republicans in Congress for refusing to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. Congress must raise the debt ceiling by October 18th in order to keep the U.S. government from defaulting on its debts and many fear consequences could come even sooner than that.

Today, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to his colleagues quote, we must get a bill to the president`s desk dealing with the debt limit by the end of the week. Period.

As Democrats work to try and overcome Republican obstruction to save the U.S. economy from catastrophe, they`re also still working overtime to try and reach a deal on passing President Biden`s agenda. Today, at the same press conference, President Biden told reporters that he`s closed the deal with 99 percent of his party and that only two senators, I assume you can guess which two he`s talking about, are not yet on board.

The question is what will it take for them to get on board with the rest of their party?

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell.

Lawrence, good evening.

You are I think starting off with really the biggest story today, and that is the question of abortion rights in this country.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Yes, we`re going to begin with the Supreme Court tonight, but we also are going to have one of the 48, Ali, we`re going to have one of the 48 senators who Joe Biden has closed the deal with.

VELSHI: Right.

O`DONNELL: And maybe he can tell us what`s going on with the other two.

VELSHI: That is an artfully written tease, Lawrence. You said one of the 48. I`m going to have to stay here and watch until I see which one it is.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, I`m not going to tell you which one, it`s a very, very important member of the 48 will be joining us.

VELSHI: Have an excellent show, I`ll be watching.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ali.