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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/15/21

Guests: Bob Bauer, David Kessler


Top Democratic and GOP lawyers teamed up to help threatened election workers; election workers face barrage of threats in wake of Trump election fraud lies. U.S. COVID deaths topped 800,000 this week.



REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I mean, they literally had a plan, and here`s what I find scary. It wasn`t just in Donald Trump`s head. There were 20, 30 people w knew about it and were close to going through with it.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Congressman Ro Khanna, nice to have you here in person.

KHANNA: It`s always a pleasure.

HAYES: Be safe, have a good holiday.

That is "ALL IN" on this Wednesday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Are you glad you did the interview?

HAYES: I guess. I mean --


HAYES: What are you going to do?

Hey, look, you know, I go back-and-forth on this. It is true, like, we all share this country together, right? We do. And like, you know, they`re doing the right thing by this committee. I`m interested in what they have to say, but the degree to which people are wedded to a set of beliefs and a perception of persecution that is so dangerous and toxic for like the body politic more broadly is really tough to deal with. That`s my review.

MADDOW: Yes. And even when you can find a place to meet, which you did through -- by hook and by crook, it took you a long time to get there, even still, it has to be about, well, if you scored a point on me, I`m going to score a point on you. And since we`re coming from different places we each have to win, and if we don`t win by destroying the other, it`s not a real win.

That dynamic is true, even when you fight for that common ground. I thought -- I thought you did a great job with it, and I`m glad it was you and not me.

HAYES: I had that thought while I was doing it. Like, Rachel kind of warned me off this last night.

MADDOW: It wasn`t a warning. It was like, oh, really. Okay.

HAYES: Well, you know. It`s like baseball.

MADDOW: Glass of wine for you tonight, my friend. Well done.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It`s really good to have you here.

This past month, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl published a book called "Betrayal" about basically the great unraveling of the Trump White House at the end of the Trump presidency, "The Final Act of the Trump Show is Subhead of That Book".

It hasn`t even been a year since Trump left office, but there have already been a bunch of significant and well-reported books published already about how things went so off the rails at the end there. But in the Jonathan Karl book, there`s one anecdote, one bit of reporting from him that has really stuck with me from that book in particular.

And it was the part about rescuing the CIA director because she had been wounded in Germany. You remember this? I mean, spoiler alert, CIA director was fine. She wasn`t in Germany. Nor was she wounded.

But this is the way Jonathan Karl reported it out in his book. Pentagon official, quote, received a call from Sidney Powell who was advising President Trump and promoting some of the craziest theories about the election. Powell called the Pentagon official with a bizarre request. Her request was specific, urgent, highly sensitive. It was also completely insane.

Quote, CIA Director Gina Haspel has been hurt and taken into custody in Germany, she told the official. You need to launch a special operations mission to go get her. The official had never before spoken with Sidney Powell and was shocked she had called him on his direct phone line in his office. It`s a phone that only rang with calls from within the pentagon or from the White House. It was an unpublished number that somebody with access to the internal directory had to have given her.

Sidney Powell went on to explain on the call that CIA director Gina Haspel had been hurt while on a secret CIA operation to seize a computer server from a company named Scytl, S-C-Y-T-L, Scytl.

The server, Sidney Powell claims, contained evidence that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of votes had been switched using rigged voting machines. Sidney Powell believed that CIA Director Gina Haspel had embarked on this secret mission to get the server and destroy the evidence. In other words, the CIA director was part of the conspiracy.

That is why Sidney Powell wanted the Pentagon to send a special operations team over to Germany immediately. They needed to get the server and also force CIA Director Gina Haspel to confess.

Pentagon official who took the call from Powell thought that Powell sounded, quote, out of her mind. Yeah, you think?

This is -- I mean, if Jonathan Karl`s reporting is correct, this is the actual Pentagon being told by this Trump lawyer that the CIA director was wounded in Germany because in addition to running the CIA, which is a large agency, she`s apparently also some kind of commando herself, who carries out secret missions personally and like delta force has to go get her and interrogate her and seize the server from her and then force her to confess her role in this conspiracy to steal the election, which she was covering up by personally stealing the server in Germany from the -- I mean, this is not just bananas.


This is bananas topped with cuckoo for cocoa puffs, with an extra scoop of nut balls on top. It`s just absolutely insane to the point of being funny.

And we have since kind of figured out where that came from. Thanks to materials that Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows handed over to the January 6th investigation. He did hand over like 9,000 pages of material before something spooked him and he decided to change his mind and stop cooperating.

Well, the committee let it be known a few days ago one of the things Mark Meadows had handed over to them was a 30-something page PowerPoint presentation on supposed fraud in the election. Soon after they made it public that that`s one of the documents Mark Meadows had given them, versions of that document started circulating online.

And so, now, we`ve got access to it. And it does seem to be what the committee was describing, at least a version of what the committee was describing. And to be fair here, there`s no evidence that Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows or anybody else in the Trump White House actually did anything with this document. There`s no evidence, for example, that they had anything to do with writing it. There`s not even any evidence that this point that we have seen that they passed this document on to other people.

But "The Washington Post" was able to track down the man who claims credit for creating the document. And he says that he was in frequent touch with Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He also says he made multiple trips to the White House after the election. He also says he briefed Republican members of Congress on his ideas and theories the day before January 6th. The day before the U.S. Capitol was attacked by Trump supporters. He says he briefed Republican members of Congress using this document on January 5th.

And this document, this PowerPoint document he apparently used for this briefing is facially insane. It demands that the president should declare a national security emergency, whatever that is. It demands he should federalize the national guard all over the country and have the national guard go seize ballots, go seize votes. You should declare all votes cast on voting machines to be invalid. Okay.

And then the PowerPoint helpfully points out once all of those ballots are taken away, not only does, quote, Trump almost certainly win, but quote, additionally, U.S. senators, U.S. House races, state and local races now turn to Republican as well. Now turn to Republican.

See, if you just declare an emergency, have troops take all the ballots and declare most votes don`t count, then it`s easy. Republicans win everywhere.

And you know, it`s got this really weird stuff about how it`s China who really ran the election, except when we say China, kind of what we mean is Venezuela, even though those are very far apart on the globe and totally different countries. It`s kind of the same.

The PowerPoint literally has a little inset picture of the brother of the vice president of Venezuela. It describes him as the, quote, likely mastermind of the whole election plot. That said, it also says China is the mastermind of the election plot. At least that`s, I think, what this means.

Quote, China has leveraged Venezuela to control U.S. voting infrastructure. China uses Venezuela like a fork? So it`s the Venezuelan vice president`s brother who is the mastermind but he`s also not a mastermind, just a lever, a tool used by the China.

Again, this is something that was reportedly briefed to Republican members of Congress the day before January 6th. It says that on January 6th, Vice President Mike Pence should just seat Republican electors over the objections of Democrats. Just seat Republican electors in all the states where fraud occurred. Meaning declare that Trump was the winner in all of the states where we say the election shouldn`t count. And, of course, you can tell which states those are because those are the states Biden won.

And clearly, that was the doings of the brother of the vice president of Venezuela, masterminding the plot while also being used as a tool by the Chinese communists. It`s all there in black and white. It`s in a PowerPoint presentation. So, clearly, I mean, why are you even resisting?

But look, it`s 30-something pages. This is page 11 of the document. Honestly, feast your eyes on that. This is their bird`s eye view theory of why Trump is still secretly president.

Remember, 68 percent of Republican voters believe this now. They think this is the truth, and you see the title of this page: Where and how it`s done.


High level view of voting system and networks, and right under the headline, kind of on the center right, it says Scytl server in Frankfurt. Remember that word, Scytl, S-C-Y-T-L.

My favorite part is the arrow pointing to that from the right, a dashed arrow for some reason. What do the dashes mean? Other malicious actors access this.

Oh, the other malicious actors. You know, the Newfoundlanders and the Malaysians. And maybe the lizard people, the other malicious actors. It got to that Scytl server in Frankfurt. That Scytl server thing, that`s the go rescue Gina Haspel thing. That`s where we get that hilarious call to the actual Pentagon from Trump lawyer Sidney Powell telling the Pentagon they need to dispatch the Green Berets to saver the wounded CIA director because she`s been hurt in Germany while she was on a secret CIA operation to steal the Scytl server, which was all the evidence of her involvement in the plot to (INAUDIBLE).

The guy who is taking credit for this PowerPoint presentation, right, which ended up after all with the White House chief of staff, which is how we got it, because he handed it over to the January 6th investigation. The guy who is claiming credit for having assembled most of this document, this document which reportedly was briefed to Republican members of Congress on January 6th, the guy behind the theory that somehow the CIA director needed to be rescued in Germany and then interrogated and then, like, sent to Guantanamo or something, I don`t know.

I mean, this isn`t even like a normal conspiracy theory. It`s like if a run of the mill conspiracy theory took acid, took LSD, and the resulting trip didn`t go well. This is so insane it`s funny, but the guy who claims credit for inventing all of this stuff, for having compiled that document, guess what he`s doing now.

Yesterday, Republicans in the state legislature of the great state of Louisiana invited that man, that guy, to come brief them, to come to Louisiana state capitol and give lawmakers a 90-minute official briefing on his thoughts, his ideas, his theories, for the state commission that they have formed in Louisiana to reshape their state`s voting system.

They have decided that he is their kind of expert and they want to know from him what they need to do.


PHIL WALDRON: This is got a UV barcode, a UV printing in the back. I don`t have my black light. I had to take it out of my pocket going through security.

It has a seal, a rare earth mineral detector so that, you know, if there`s questions about the validity of ballots, there`s a little wand. You can scan over this.


MADDOW: It`s a little wand. It`s a rare earth mineral detector wand. That will take care of the Venezuelans.

This guy, this past week, is publicly taking credit for this PowerPoint document that turned up in the January 6th investigation. That literally calls for the declaration of a national security emergency to justify the National Guard seizing ballots all over the country.

It calls for Mike Pence to just say Trump won states that Biden won. It says that what we think the election results were is actually an illusion because of a spell cast by the Venezuelan vice president`s brother and a computer server in Germany that`s now in Gina Haspel`s purse. And, and, and.

This guy is claiming credit for that this past week. And then yesterday, Louisiana Republicans bring him in to their state capitol as their expert witness, to tell the state of Louisiana how it should administer elections now, because clearly, he`s got some inside information.

"Washington Post" reports that he received lots and lots of applause during his presentation in Louisiana yesterday. The Republican secretary of state who was in attendance for his presentation said out loud that lots of members of the Louisiana state election commission are members of that guy`s quote fan club. That`s the image in which they want to rebuild America`s elections or at least the ones in Louisiana.

There`s a lot going on in the news right now. Quite a lot of it that is a little hard to wrap your head around sometimes, if you ask me.

And we have a lot to get to tonight. We have the top science adviser to President Biden on the COVID response joining us tonight to talk about all of the new news that has come out today about the new variant, this omicron variant. It`s a lot to take in. It`s a lot of bad news.


It`s some news that appears to be good news but I don`t know quite how to calibrate it against the bad news. Dr. David Kessler has been an incredibly straight shooter with us from the very beginning. He`s going to be joining us tonight. I`m looking forward to having that conversation with him.

We`re also continuing to keep an eye on new developments in Congress generally, including on voting rights, which we talked about at length on last night`s show, and where it appears there may be some movement along the lines we were talking about on last night`s show. We`ll also be talking about President Biden`s main economic agenda.

We`re also watching developments that are coming sort of fast and furious now out of the January 6th investigation.

Here, for example, is the lead tonight at See the headline there, January 6th investigators mull whether Trump violated obstruction law. Quote: members of the January 6th investigation are homing in on a politically explosive question. Did Donald Trump`s actions amid the Capitol attack amount to criminal obstruction of Congress?

Twice this week, Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney has raised the possibility that Trump`s conduct while a mob of his supporters overtook the Capitol could qualify as an effort to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden`s victory. Cheney described that as a key topic facing the investigation, particularly as it seeks the testimony of one of Trump`s one-time closest aides, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Cheney asked twice this week, quote, did Donald Trump through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress` official proceeding to count electoral votes?

"Politico" continues, quote, Cheney`s statement includes precise terminology from the criminal obstruction statute. To convict someone of that crime, a jury must determine that a defendant took an obstructive action, affected an official proceeding, and acting with corrupt intentions.

There are several obstruction statutes in the criminal code, but the one deployed by prosecutors in January 6th cases thus far, meaning among the rioters thus far, has been the obstruction statute that is among the most severe. It carries a whopping 20-year maximum sentence. Some January 6th defendants have challenged the Justice Department`s claim that the January 6th session of Congress meets the legal definition of an official proceeding.

But a Trump appointed federal judge, Dabney Frederick, rejected that claim in a recent opinion. Courts have long held that Congress is not permitted to investigate for the sake of law enforcement, but lawmakers are permitted to share the results of its probes with the Justice Department if they believe they have uncovered evidence of a crime.

Again, that`s the lead tonight at January 6th investigation does seem all of a sudden like it is turning more and more clearly toward finding criminal liability, potentially with members of Congress, potentially of the former president. Which means I think we`re about to move into a whole new era for our country, a whole new era of debate over the wisdom and the practicality of potentially bringing criminal charges against a former U.S. president. That`s something that`s never been done before.

Like I said, it`s a little hard to get your head around it sometimes. But here`s maybe one way to start, at least to start to be able to do that. This is something you may not have known was going on this week.

I want to show you the front page from "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" earlier this week. "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" in Wisconsin, of course. You see the headline there across the very top of the masthead. Key Republican slams election review.

Republican State Senator Kathy Bernier calls exercise baseless, dangerous. State Senator Kathy Bernier, a Republican who leads the state elections committee says the Republican commission to review of the 2020 election results in Wisconsin is firing up people who don`t understand elections. A Republican state senator criticizing the Republican review of the election results in Wisconsin. That was page one of "The Journal Sentinel" earlier this week.

The following day, "The Journal Sentinel" editorial board wrote a blistering editorial cheering for that Republican, cheering for that Republican and her willingness to take that stand.

Look at this, quote, Kathy Bernier stood up for the truth on Monday. The Republican chair of the state Senate elections committee knows it may lead to vile threats against her and almost certainly will come as a political cost. She did it anyway. That`s courage.

Finally, a Republican leader in Wisconsin stood for democracy. Senator Bernier eviscerated the partisan review of the 2020 election that Republican assembly Speaker Robin Vos launched to appease former President Donald Trump. She called the Republican inquisition exactly what it was, a charade.

She knows far more than the man conducting the review does about the subject which she speaks. Kathy Bernier oversaw elections for 12 years as the county clerk in Chippewa County. She has seen what is plain as day, repeated lies by Trump and Republican politicians from Washington, D.C., to Madison, Wisconsin.


Those lies are undermining confidence in the most basic of American institutions, the ballot box. All the lies and ceaseless provocation comes at a serious cost, 68 percent of Republicans nationwide do not have confidence in the 2020 election, according to a November poll. What they`re doing is dangerous.

In addition to threatening democracy, some people are also threatening elections officials. Top officials in both Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, have been menaced as the lies spread and took root. It has never been harder in Wisconsin or in the nation to do the hard work of actually insuring election integrity. And it`s never been harder to do the hard work of actually telling the truth about the threats to our democracy.

But on Monday, Senator Kathy Bernier told the truth, and every citizen of our state should thank her. That`s "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", again, this week, shining a light and really standing up and cheering for a Republican who is being brave on this subject, who is the whole rest of her party nationwide and state-wide is indulging in this stuff.

She is standing up and she`s the chair of the elections committee in the Senate in Wisconsin. She`s standing up as a Republican and saying, actually, you know what, no. This is all nonsense. I`m not going along with it.

And it cannot be an easy thing for a Republican to do. But she is doing it.


STATE SEN. KATHY BERNIER (R-WY): This is a charade. There`s a simple explanation for almost every single thing that people accuse election officials of doing. These made-up things that people do to jazz up the base is just despicable, and I don`t think any elected legislator should ever play that came.

We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating. They say but we don`t have confidence in Milwaukee, and we don`t have confidence in Madison. Just remember, you take it down to the micro level.

There are volunteer poll workers practically volunteer, working every single poll. And every single poll have people that are just as honest as you and I working that poll. No election is perfect, but there is not evidence of intentional malfeasance. No evidence that the election in 2020 wasn`t accurate.

When Benjamin Franklin came out of the convention and our Constitution was created, he was asked what kind of a government do we have. And he said, a republic if we can keep it. We`re in jeopardy of losing it.


MADDOW: You can hear the emotion in her voice there at the end. It can`t be easy.

Republican State Senator Kathy Bernier in Wisconsin taking on her party and the way they are still trying to undermine the election results. Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature announced just today their election review in 2020, they`re going to extend it. They were supposed to end it by the end of the calendar year. They now say it`s going to extend into 2022 and they`re going to give it lots more taxpayer funding.

But State Senator Kathy Bernier is standing up and saying no, this shouldn`t be happening and it`s dangerous. And that clip I just showed you of the Senator Bernier, the vent at which she was speaking there was an unusual one and I think an important one. It was held in Wisconsin along with two of the most famous politics lawyers in the country from opposite sides of the aisle. Ben Ginsberg is one of the most recognizable Republican lawyers in the country. He was the national counsel for, for example, the George W. Bush presidential campaign, for Mitt Romney`s presidential campaign.

Bob Bauer on the other side of the aisle is one of the most recognizable Democratic lawyers in the country. He was White House counsel to President Obama. He was counsel to both Obama campaigns and also to the Biden campaign.

Earlier this year, you might remember us covering it at the time, these two lawyers, the Republican and had Democrat, thesis these two veteran very high level lawyers. These two guys from opposite sides of the political tracks formed together a bipartisan legal defense network, specifically for election officials.

The Elections Officials Legal Defense Network, they formed, has signed up top shelf A-list lawyers and law firms all over the country to volunteer their services to represent and defend election workers at all levels who get threatened now because of their work, who get -- who are facing intimidation and potentially malicious legal actions or even prosecution because they work on elections.


This week, Ginsberg and Bauer went to Wisconsin saying that their network that they formed to defend election workers has noticed an intensification of threats against election officials in Wisconsin. They said in an op-ed they published together right before they arrived, quote, Wisconsin has become ground zero for attempts by political actors to achieve partisan control over a state`s election process.

In conjunction with this partisan 2020 election review the Republicans have been carrying out, Bauer and Ginsberg said Wisconsin has featured baseless threats of criminal prosecution against election officials. They showed up in Wisconsin this week, basically, to say we`re here to help. They showed up there this week to backstop that Republican senator, Kathy Bernier, who was willing to sit there with them and take that stand. They showed up there this week also to publicly warn that the Trump election deniers who are now threatening public servants in that state, they should think twice. They might need to back up off that.


BOB BAUER, LAWYER: Those election officials should be defended and are looking for defense will be defended, and the network is available to provide them with that legal counsel should they need it.

And we will do so quickly. We pressure tested it. We have been able to do this for election officials across the country and we`ll continue do that.

I should also point out those who are issuing those threats should understand that properly represented election officials who are defending themselves will have something to say about abuse of process, about malicious prosecution, about people in law enforcement who have law degrees who are disregarding the constraints on their behavior imposed by the bar rules and who can face a call for disciplinary action for misusing their licenses or in the case of a public official, misusing their official responsibility for partisan political purposes to try to subvert the electoral process, by undermining the ability of election officials through threats and intimidation to do their jobs.


MADDOW: In other words, if you`re coming for elections officials, if you are threatening and intimidating elections officials, you better come correct, because that is not a free punch. That is not something that -- these are not folks you can freely swing at and freely intimidate in this way. There will be consequences for people who maliciously do this.

I know this is a time where it is sometimes hard to wrap your head around what`s going on in the news. A lot of what is going on is unprecedented stuff, and it`s so wacky you can`t believe it`s in the center of the news. But it is.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that some of this really is happening. I do believe, though, that one way to get a grasp on it is to make sure you`re following the efforts of people who are fixing things and standing up for what`s right and who are bringing up the other side of the fight.

Bob Bauer joins us next. Stay with us.



MADDOW: Wisconsin Republicans are bout six months or so into their review, their revision of the 2020 presidential election results in their state. They spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on this thing already. It was due to wrap up by the end of the year, but surprise, Wisconsin Republicans have announced they`re going to extend it into next year and spend more taxpayer dollars to keep it going.

Bob Bauer, the former White House counsel to President Obama, former legal counsel to the Obama campaigns and Biden campaign, Mr. Bauer has returned from Wisconsin where he and Republican super lawyer Ben Ginsberg have been lining up pro bono legal defense for election workers who as one of the consequences of this election revision they`re doing in that state, election workers are facing now what Bauer calls, quote, baseless personal attacks for doing their jobs.

Joining us now is Bob Bauer, former White House counsel, senior adviser to President Biden`s campaign. He`s now law professor at NYU.

Mr. Bauer, it`s really nice to see you. Thanks for making time to be here tonight.

BAUER: A pleasure to be here. Thank you.

MADDOW: What`s the relationship between this now apparently indefinitely extended review, this partisan revision that Republicans are doing in Wisconsin, and the kinds of threats to election workers that you and Mr. Ginsberg have set about trying to help people defend themselves from?

BAUER: Yes, the audit is one of the tools in the current tool kit for intimidating and harassing election officials. These are not professional audits. In Wisconsin, the assembly directed audit led by a former Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, whose name appeared on your screen.

This Mr. Gableman has acknowledged he doesn`t know anything about running an election. However, he did come into the audit with a view that the 2020 election had resulted in theft. It was fraudulent. Voters had been stolen from.

So he knows nothing about elections or how they`re run, but he had an opinion, and he`s the person the assembly chose to put in charge of this audit.

We have seen this before. We have seen this in, say, Arizona with the so- called Cyber Ninjas audit that was also an embarrassment. Once again, it involved people who did not know anything about running an election, much less auditing one after the fact. But election officials now understand, and this is the key point, that partisan actors are seeking to subvert nonpartisan election administration.

And I came to know Ben Ginsberg quite well over the years. We have been on the opposite side of the partisan divide in any number of context, but I came to know him very well when we co-chaired President Obama`s administration on election administration, and we understood then that the country was supposed to be moving and the commission was meant to help the country move in the direction of nonpartisan election administration.


What we`re seeing is a 180 degree radical turn in the opposite direction toward partisan control of the electoral process.

MADDOW: You have been sounding an alarm about that for months now. Not just the intimidation of election workers which you and Ben Ginsberg are taking concrete action to try to defend those folks. But specifically that partisan hijacking of election administration processes. What do you think? What have you come to believe is the best bulwark against that?

BAUER: We needed to do a number of things. We really need an all systems approach to solving the problem. We need to give election administrators across the country protection, which is why we`re through the network offering them pro bono legal defenses.

And as you point out, those who would attack them know, as you put it, it`s not a free punch. That`s certainly part of it. We need to resist the enactment of laws that are designed to allow partisans to take over the polling place and limit the ability of polling place workers to actually create a safe space for voting, and we`re seeing that problem develop in states that are enacting statutes they could have extremely harmful consequences for the conduct of elections in the polling place in the United States.

Congress certainly should take a look at the Electoral Count Act, and that is in desperate need of reform. We saw what happened on January 6th, even before the rioting began, the baseless objections and the call on Vice President Pence as president of the Senate to falsify the tally in some way.

So there`s enormous amount to be done here to bring back what we thought we would see after the Florida presidential recount in 2000, which is a country that was fully committed to nonpartisan expert election administration, now we see a movement that just has to be resisted toward putting partisans in control of the electoral process where they clearly have a stake in counting the results the way they would like to see them counted.

MADDOW: Bob, one last very quick question that is something you mentioned in your op-ed this week. Am I correct that the election officials legal defense network you and Mr. Ginsberg have formed, you`re still soliciting volunteers? You`re still looking for lawyers and law firms to do pro bono representation for election workers when they`re threatened. You`re still looking for people to help.

BAUER: We are very much welcoming the help. We have recruited hundreds of lawyers. We have deployed them in circumstances to help and consult with election officials under attack. Our view however is it`s the presidential campaign in `24 approaches and even in 2022, we have to have a massive force available to provide this kind of defense.

So, yes, we would welcome the help and we`re continuing to look for it.

MADDOW: The Election Officials Legal Defense Network, a truly bipartisan effort.

Bob Bauer, former White House counsel, thank you so much for being with us, Mr. Bauer. It`s nice to see you. Thanks.

BAUER: Thank you very much. A pleasure.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got have much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.



MADDOW: That was Washington National Cathedral in D.C. tonight. They tolled the bell 800 times tonight, in recognition of the 800,000 Americans who have now died from COVID as of this week, 800,000.

There is, of course, a lot of talk now about the new variant of coronavirus, the omicron variant, and what it will mean for us. We`re going to talk about that with the top science adviser to the White House COVID effort in just a moment.

But before we bring Dr. Kessler on here, I want to show you one thing. Even before omicron has fully taken hold here, we, of course, have recently been seeing COVID numbers shoot back up, and a lot of states, hospitals are as overwhelmed as they have been ever.

But I want to show you something that to me at least puts a really fine point on the question of how we`re going to be able to get out of this. And how we`re going to be able to get through what we`re in right now. This is data released by the CDC, and this is newly reported cases of COVID in nursing homes.

And if you look down at the axis along the bottom of your screen, that`s dates. It starts in early October. The first column is October 2nd. As you go further to the right on the graphic, it carries through forward in time and carries all the way through last week.

So what this shows is that over time, you know, nursing home case numbers are going up. And nursing homes, of course, from the very beginning have been the epicenter of the pain and the death in this pandemic. Seeing nursing home numbers sharply climb back up again since the end of October, that`s really worrying, especially because we know that populations in nursing homes, when they get it, they`re often in for the worst outcomes.

It`s older populations, very often sicker populations. People in nursing homes you do not want to get infected.

But now, I want to be specific about what you`re looking at here. This line on your screen we`re showing you here, this is the increase in nursing home COVID infections recently, specifically among people in nursing homes who have not been vaccinated.

Now, here, look, this line is better. Oh, a little flatter. This is still a line that`s rising. It still shows COVID case numbers rising but not as steeply. This line shows COVID cases in nursing home residents who have a baseline level of vaccination.

So the really bad numbers are for the unvaccinated people in nursing homes. Better numbers, but frankly still bad, still rising, are nursing home residents with baseline vaccination. But now look at this.


The good news in this graphic is this third line, this green line that you see on the bottom of your screen. That green line is nursing home residents who have gotten a booster shot. That`s case numbers reported in that population. Their numbers are not going up at all. It`s flat, flat, flat.

That is boosted nursing home residents. About half of all nursing home residents in the U.S. have been boosted. Imagine if they all were. That is about as blunt of a case as I can make for why people ought to get booster shots, certainly in nursing homes.

But presumably, you can extrapolate to the broader population from that. We`re being told by the experts now that boosters are apparently our best defense against the omicron variant about which there has been a ton of news today.

Joining us to get through some of it now is Dr. David Kessler. He`s helped guide us on the show through questions like this many times before. As you know, he`s the top science adviser to the Biden administration`s COVID response.

Dr. Kessler, it`s an honor as always to have you here. Thank you for making time to be here.


MADDOW: Let me ask if it`s fair to extrapolate from that, then. Are booster shots as clearly helpful as that nursing home data would seem to suggest? Should that guide us not just for that specific population but for all of us?

KESSLER: Absolutely. No question.

Let me explain how it works. So if you boost the immune system with a third dose after a pause, that produces enhanced immunity. And that`s what you saw in those graphs. That was important in the nursing homes and it`s especially important as we face omicron.

MADDOW: In terms of omicron, it seems like just like you and the other experts told us, it does seem like it`s taking hold here fast. The CDC says Omicron already makes up about 3 percent of what`s known to be circulating in the country right now.

Do you think that is a fair estimate? Do we have a good way of measuring that, and do you think that number is going to rise rapidly?

KESSLER: I think we have to expect they`re going to be a lot of cases in the United States. I think the current number, while you said it`s 3 percent nationwide, I think in certain areas such as New York, it`s estimated to be about 13 percent. And it`s doubling every two days.

So there are going to be a lot of omicron cases, but with vaccines and boosts, more of those cases will be mild. So extrapolate from that graph to Omicron, yes, we have to be prepared over the next six weeks for a lot of Omicron cases. Strategy, vaccines, boosts, take care, caution, more of those cases will be mild.

MADDOW: We talked a few weeks ago when -- a couple weeks ago when the Omicron variant was first emerging about the question of whether or not there is any difference in how sick on average people get when they`re infected with the omicron variant versus how sick on average they get when they`re infected with the delta variant.

Do we have any further clarity on that? It seems like we do know omicron is looking to push out delta, it is more transmissible, it will become potentially the dominant variant, potentially quickly. It seems like we have clarity on that. But do we have clarity on whether or not it causes any difference in the symptom profile compared to what we have been living with?

KESSLER: Clarity, no, but certainly some preliminary evidence. From the South African scientists who have been absolutely terrific in sharing their data with us, we see about a 30 percent reduction in severity.

So I think we have to see a lot of cases in the UK right now, just spent the last hour just looking at hospitalizations. Over the next two weeks. Let`s see what happens to those hospitalizations, and we will know. It is possible this might be milder, but I`m speculating at this point.

MADDOW: I appreciate you being honest about sort of what`s known and what`s not known there. I think we have seen a lot of people sort of jumping to conclusions about what they`re guessing the data is ultimately going to show.

Again, as you point out, you don`t know what you don`t know. That said, we`re all operating from behind this sort of little bit of a veil of ignorance here. And we are seeing cases surge in lots of states across the country right now, during the holiday season. Hanukkah ended last week. Christmas is in ten days. New Year`s is the week after that.

Given what we know and what we don`t know and what we`re seeing in terms of the numbers, what we`re seeing in terms of hospitalizations, tell us, Dr. Kessler, what should we be doing right now? Should we be gathering with friends and family for the holiday holidays? Should we be canceling the gatherings like we did last year? Should we be avoiding seeing our elderly relatives or people who are otherwise vulnerable?

How should we calibrate our personal risk now, especially given the time of year?


KESSLER: I can only tell you what I`m telling my own family. And that is to be a little more that is to be a little more cautious.

Certainly when you`re out, when you don`t know people you`re with indoors, mask up, get boosted. Let`s get through the next six, eight weeks. Maybe this is milder, but until we`ve proven it`s milder, I would ask you to be just a drop more cautious than you`ve been.

MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer to the Biden administration`s COVID response, former FDA commissioner, of course, Dr. Kessler, as always, we`re grateful for you being here whenever you can be here. Thanks for taking the time to be here tonight.

KESSLER: Thank you, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: They insisted it could not happen not once.


And I guess in the end, that was technically true because it didn`t happen once. It happened twice, twice in two weeks.

Over the last two weeks, the Senate twice created exceptions to the filibuster, two different things they allowed to pass with just 50 votes, not the 60 votes that a filibuster requires. We had Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock here last night after he argued in the Senate that if that 60-vote rule can change for other things and the dome of the Capitol doesn`t come crashing down because of it, why can`t we change that 60 vote rule to pass voting rights too?

Senator Warnock told us here last night that he`s been making that case in person to his fellow Democratic senators, particularly Senator Joe Manchin who has refused over and over again to allow any kind of rule change like that to pass voting rights legislation.

But now after months of stone walling on this, some cracks are potentially appearing maybe. Multiple news outlets including NBC News today reporting that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is hoping to move on voting rights by the end of the year. Sources telling NBC News a group of moderate Democrats including Manchin have been engaging on discussions in recent days about approaches to changing rules, changing the filibuster rules to allow voting rights to pass with a simple majority.

One source familiar saying that senator Schumer hopes to find a path forward in the coming days, meaning before the end of the year.

Schumer will need the support of every Democratic senator to carve out a filibuster rule for voting rights. I should tell you that after meeting with some of her Democratic colleagues on the issue today, conservative Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona put out a statement reiterating her reluctance to change the filibuster rule, while also stating her support for voting rights, which is hard to reconcile because she`s saying simultaneously she really wants to pass voting rights, they`re really important, and also she definitely won`t let voting rights pass. She will personally stand in the way.

So we`ll see. Democrats do look like they`re going to try to move on this before they move on anything else, which presumably means they do see some cracks in the stone wall. I mean, heck, we`re apparently at the part of the plot where we are changing the filibuster rule all the time now, so who knows what`s possible.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: All right. That`s going to do it for tonight. I just want to close with one thought, we are less than a week away from the days starting to get longer. I know, right?

See you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.