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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/17/21

Guests: Martin Paone


The January 6 committee is continuing to probe into Capitol attack. Senate Democrats are considering filibuster carve-out to pass voting rights legislation with simple majority.


JORDAN WEISSMANN, SLATE.COM: You could do child care and pre-K. You could do fixes to Obamacare subsidizes and essentially, pick another policy, you know, could throw in medical care --

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": For a good amount of time and they would not die in the next Republican Congress.

You should check out the piece on

Jordan Weissmann, thanks so much for your time tonight.

WEISSMANN: Thanks for having me.

HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for the week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have a fantastic weekend, my friend. Much appreciated.

HAYES: You too.

MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Really happy to have you here.

It was May, 2019 when Michael Cohen was ordered to report to prison. Mr. Cohen, of course, had worked for years for Donald Trump at his real estate business. When Mr. Trump turned to politics, Mr. Cohen became this very visible surrogate and enforcer and sort of consigliere for Trump.

After Mr. Cohen pled guilty to, among other things, helping Trump cover up illegal campaign contributions for his presidential campaign actually hush payments to women to prevent them from talking about alleged affairs with Trump before the campaign, after Mr. Trump pled guilty to helping Trump with that, among other things, in May, 2019, he was sent to prison.

After serving about a year in prison, though, Mr. Cohen got out and he was transitioned effectively to home confinement and the reason he got out then is because of COVID. It wasn`t special treatment for him. It doesn`t appear to have been. This happened to a lot of prisoners at the time.

But a seriously crazy thing happened to him right after that, something that appears to have been very specifically designed for him. Just a few weeks after he was sent home because of COVID, the Bureau of Prisons revoked his home confinement and decided even though he had only been home a couple of weeks, they`d send him right back to prison. Sure he`d been released because of COVID, just like lots of other prisoners. They had told him that they were going to fit him with an ankle monitor and let him actually serve out the rest of his sentence at home.

But then just a few weeks into it, they changed their minds. And without warning, they shackled him and sent him back to prison because he broke the rules, they say of what you`re allowed to do while on home confinement.

Well, what is the rule he had broken? What did he do to get his release revoked and have himself thrown back in federal prison? It turns out, what he had done, is he had written a book critical of then President Donald Trump and had started speaking publicly on social media of the forthcoming publication of that book.

The problem with that scenario as I just laid out is that`s not actually against the rules for people who are out on home confinement, like he was in that moment. It appears, and this is contested, but it appears, that under the Trump administration, federal prison officials drafted a special rule just for Michael Cohen that said he couldn`t write a book, or talk to anybody in the news media, or post anything online, a special rule just for him.

And as I say, this is contested but I`m also pretty confident in saying this is what appears to have happened, because it`s not just me who`s asserting it, not just Michael Cohen asserting it. A federal judge says that`s what happened.

After they shackled Michael Cohen back up again and sent him back to prison for the grave crime of him writing a book, saying it was going to be published, last July, a federal judge ruled that Cohen actually had to be released again and further, the judge ruled explicitly, that the Trump administration had locked Michael Cohen up, had revoked his home conferment and put him back in prison in retaliation for him writing this book that was critical of then-President Trump. The judge said in his ruling, quote, the purpose in transferring Cohen from release on furlough and home confinement back to custody was retaliatory, in response to Cohen desiring to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book critical of the president and to discuss the book on social media.

The federal judge proclaimed this to have been an unconstitutional act, an illegal act of retaliation against him, orders him freed.

And it is -- you know, it`s one thing for a person like Michael Cohen`s former boss, Donald Trump, to threaten Michal Cohen, shake his fist at him, criticize him, personally maybe retaliate at him. You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

But it`s a much bigger problem, for all of us, if any president, so motivated, can employ the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice to carry out that kind of retaliation, with all the power and compulsory force of the United States government.


I mean, Trump might have loved to say "lock her up" about Hillary Clinton and threatened during the debates in 2016 that if he became president, she`d find herself in jail. He never did that, of course, but he did actually lock up Michael Cohen, and a federal judge ruled that the reason Michael Cohen was locked up was because of retaliation against him for criticizing Trump. They actually put him in prison for doing that. That`s what a federal judge says what happened when he ordered Cohen freed.

Well, now, Mr. Cohen has filed a new lawsuit against Trump and also, importantly, against Trump`s last attorney general William Barr, who was head of the Justice Department at the time this happened, also filed a suit against a whole variety of federal prison officials who are involved in this mishegoss.

And I know this might seem like a sort of new chapter in the ongoing Michael Cohen saga, I know. The personalities here can get distracting, but take the personalities out of this. I mean, a president being a bad guy is one thing. A president being a bad guy and then being able to use the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department to go flock his enemies out of their homes, shackle them and throw them in jail without legitimate cause, that is a blaring red siren, not just for what it means to have a bad person in power, but a government bent to that person`s will, for what it means to have a government that is insufficiently independent and governed by ethics and law. That an unscrupulous can employ the federal government in that way for their own purposes. That`s a big, blaring red siren.

And I always felt about that case, that because it`s Michael Cohen and there`s so much drama around Michael Cohen, I felt that case maybe never got taken all that seriously. That`s a big deal case in terms of who we are as a country. This new lawsuit is a civil case brought by Mr. Cohen, we will see what happens with this case.

I find myself wondering since he filed the suit last night, whether the National Republican Party might also pick up Donald Trump`s legal fees for that case, right? I mean, Trump`s the main defendant here.

We just found out in "The Washington Post", that the National Republican Party is paying Trump`s legal fees, paying Trump`s lawyers in the alleged tax fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud cases that are pending against Trump and his real estate business in New York. Those cases and those investigations, they have nothing to do with Trump`s time as president or even Trump`s status as a Republican. They`re all about his time in private businesses, time as a private citizen, but nevertheless, the Republican Party is picking up the tab and paying his legal fees in that investigation anyway.

Maybe he`s poor now and can`t pay for himself, so it`s charity. I don`t know.

Those New York cases still have an act of grand jury hearing from witnesses in case there was doubt about that, editor at "Forbes Magazine" was the latest person to come forward today to say that he was called to sit before the grand jury at the case yesterday in Manhattan.

This decision by the National Republican Party to pay Trump`s personal legal bills, it comes at an odd moment for the party itself. I mean, the logic there is they want Trump to be happy, right, so they give him money, I guess. They pay for things he would otherwise have to pay for himself as a private citizen because he`s so important in the Republican Party they can`t run the risk of alienating him or the whole party will collapse or something.

That appears to be the running theory in Washington for why the National Republican Party decided to spend its donors` money paying the legal bills of a very rich private citizen.

All right. Trump`s such a big deal to the Republican Party, they have to put all their resources, including financial resources to personally propping him up, or the Republican Party will collapse because he`s so important to them.

Even just this week, there has been a whole bunch of evidence that undercuts that theory of the case. A bunch of evidence that he`s not exactly super potent anymore when it comes to Republican politics or even to his much vaunted ability to separate his devoted followers from their wallets.

Mr. Trump, for example, has arranged to do a four-city speaking tour, along with a man who used to be on the Fox News Channel but he was fired after revealed he and the network paid out literally tens of millions of dollars to settle multiple sexual abuse and sexual harassment claims. They are nice pair, these two.

Now, you might remember hearing about this planned speaking tour. The tour was announced far enough in advance it was way back in July when ran an article that the ticket sales for these events were very slow. The venues these guys booked for the speaking tour were having a hard time selling the tickets.

These guys responded by threatening to sue "Politico" for that article. One Trump spokesperson claimed at the time, come December, when the events were scheduled, all the events would be sold out shows and wouldn`t "Politico" be embarrassed then.


Well, it`s December now and these events have started. The first one was in Sunrise, Florida, this past weekend. Here`s "The South Florida Sun Sentinel" reporting on how that went. Many seats remained empty in the cavernous arena. The top level was closed and ticket buyers were, quote, upgraded to the lower bowl.

The next night was in Orlando, Florida, and apparently, they had the same problem. Here`s "The Orlando Sentinel". Quote, hundreds of seats for Trump event were available in the upper bowl as late as Sunday, the day of the event. When doors opened at noon, people who bought tickets to an upper bowl seat, including an Orlando Sentinel reporter, were told they had been upgraded to empty seats in the lower bowl. The closure of the upper bowl with tarps was similar to what was done at the previous Trump/O`Reilly event in south Florida the day before.

At that Orlando event, the second event in Florida, that arena can hold up to 17,000 people for an event staged like that one was. Trump bragged it would be sold out, standing room only, but of the 17,000 available seats in the arena, apparently, he was only able to sell about 5,400 seats, which means the venue was more than 2/3 empty.

The next two events on the big tour are this weekend, tomorrow, and Sunday, in Dallas and Houston, Texas. Maybe he`ll do better there. There are reports that the QAnon doomsday cult people who have been staying in Dallas for a few weeks now, because they say John F. Kennedy and his son JFK Jr. are coming back from the dead and will reinstall Trump as president or maybe world king, those people have been in Dallas for weeks. There have been reports this week that all of those people are going to go to the Trump event this weekend. So maybe that will fill out the crowd.

That said, there have also been reports this week that the Dallas QAnon JKF/Trump people doing seminars on telegram this week on the benefits of drinking their own urine. So I don`t know if that all happens before they go out in public, but maybe that puts a crimp in the plans, I don`t know how that affects you.

I say this only because I think there`s a disconnect. Sorry, that last point just, I was going to say let it wash over you, but don`t. I`m sorry. Excuse me.

I say this, I bring this up, because I do think there is a disconnect between how this guy is now operating in the real world now and the kind of deference he is getting from the national Republican Party. I mean he`s not selling seats to his supposedly, you know, fervent faithful. He`s also striking out in endorsements.

"The National Journal" this week had good reporting on this and, I think it didn`t get more pickup in the Beltway press because I think it goes against beltway common wisdom. But what "The National Journal" reported on this this week is all true. Here`s the headline, quote: Too big to fail? Trump`s endorsements risk diminishing his political clout, already 0 for 2 in political endorsements this year, with several other favored candidates struggling to meet expectations.

The article of "The National Journal" goes on to explain that Trump`s endorsed Senate candidate in Pennsylvania has dropped out of the race. Trump`s endorsed Senate candidate in Alabama looks like he`s falling behind another Republican candidate there. Trump`s endorsed congressional candidate in a Texas special election earlier this year, that candidate lost too.

There is this beltway common wisdom of why Republicans have to robotically repeat Trump`s toxic, wingnut, bullpucky stew about him not really losing the election and the election being stolen, right? Supposedly, all Republicans have to repeat that, have to endorse that craziness, because otherwise, Trump will turn against them and endorse someone to run against them and that will end their careers. Even if that were true, would that be the worst thing in the world?

But it doesn`t look like it`s true. I mean, so far in the real world, his endorsements aren`t working. They`re not doing much. They`re not moving the needle, not just general elections but Republican primaries where he`s supposed to be the end-all, be-all, right?

And that losing streak extend to see an even more Republicans-only exclusive environment where he has been trying to throw his weight around, hammering away at it for months, in this case with support from those most loyal supporters in the conservative media, but again -- impotent. It`s not working.

Here`s the headline at today. GOP blows off Trump`s bid to oust McConnell, quote, despite months of attacks, the campaign led by former President Donald Trump to depose Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has resulted in firm pledges from just two Republican candidates and no Republican senators. And it has failed to turn out any formidable challenger to run against McConnell.

Former President Trump remains critical of McConnell for declining to help him overturn the results of the 2020 election. He has ramped up calls for Mitch McConnell to be ousted from his leadership position in recent weeks. This week alone, Trump issued several official statements lambasting McConnell. Quote, how this guy can stay as leader is beyond comprehension. This is coming not only from me, but from virtually everyone in the Republican Party, Trump wrote on Thursday. He is a disaster and should be replaced as, quote, leader, ASAP.

Oh, this is coming from everyone in the Republican Party? Well, it is coming from Trump and friends. The barrage of attacks on McConnell, according to "Politico", quote, have been amplified by Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity who have gone after McConnell on the air. Mr. Carlson, during a segment last week, announced that his show would begin to regularly highlighting problems with Mr. McConnell.

But inside the Capitol, conservative senators shrug the question, revealing a lack of appetite, even among the Republican Party`s antiestablishment wing, also revealing continued support for Mitch McConnell as a leader. Anti-McConnell sentiment is also not been a dominant theme on the campaign trail ahead of 2022 elections. Republican campaign staffers said only candidates received one or two questions about their support for Mitch McConnell.

Like I said, it`s just impotence. Irrelevance. Impotence. Political impotence.

Can`t sell seats. His endorsed candidates lose. His demands to throw people out get met with a shrug even with a Fox News boost. Impotent, soft, increasingly politically irrelevant.

Which does raise questions why that private citizen, a billionaire after all, is having his personal legal billed paid by the National Republican Party, when he`s a private citizen. Particularly among signs that those legal bills are just going to keep going up and up and up.

That deflation of his political potency, contrary to everything you`re hearing in the Beltway press, the real world signs are that his political potency has booped and that comes at a time when non-political consequences are already starting to loom larger and larger with each passing day.

And this is serious stuff. In the January 6 prosecutions, one man who confessed to using multiple weapons against police officers on January 6, a fire extinguisher he unloaded on them, threw at them and when it can came back, through it back again which through a metal pole at police officers. There was a wooden plank he got ahold of and through like a spear at police officers.

That man received the longest sentence yet handed down against anybody who participated in the Capitol attack. He got more than 5 years in federal prison.

I want to read you this from the court transcript of his sentencing today. The judge in his case is responding here to the defendant having claimed at his sentencing hearing even though he is sorry for what he has done, he shouldn`t got too harsh a sentence, because he was a nobody. He was a foot soldier. He just had listened to these pleas and cries and rallying calls to do this.

He said he wasn`t anybody who actually organized the attack and the harshest punishment should be saved for them. That`s the argument he made at the sentencing. The judge in his case today said this from the bench before she handed down his sentence of more than five years in federal prison.

She said, quote, he went to the Capitol because despite election results clear cut, despite the fact that multiple courts all over the country have rejected every single one of the challenges to the election, Mr. Palmer did not like the results. He didn`t like the results, and he didn`t want the transition of power to take place because his guy lost, and it is true, Mr. Palmer you made a good point, that the people who extorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight, those people have not been charged.

That is not this court`s position. I don`t charge anybody. I don`t negotiate plea offers. I don`t make charging decisions. I sentence people who have pleaded get or been convicted.

The issue of who has or not been charged is not before me. I don`t have influence on that. I have my opinions but they`re not relevant. And you are correct and that no one who is encouraging everybody to take the Capitol has been charged as of yet. But I don`t think that fact means you will get a lower sentence.


The fact is there are lots of people who agreed with you, who didn`t like the results of the election, who felt the election was stolen in some way. They stayed home. You decided, of your own free will, to leave Florida, and come to Washington, and go to the rally.

That is your right. You are not being sentenced for your political views. When you left that rally and went to the Capitol and saw what was going on and then engaged in combat with those law enforcement officers, that`s what you`re being punished for.

So you have a point that the people who may be the people who planned and funded it and encouraged it haven`t been charged, but that is not a reason for you to get a lower sentence.

And indeed, Mr. Palmer did not get a lower sentence. He got the longest sentence anyone has yet had. And, you know, we took a look back recently at the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack and the questions that were raised then about, what that judge was talking about in the courtroom today, the question of potential legal liability for the people at the top, the people that exhorted the Capitol rioters to excite that day, as the judge put it in the courtroom today.

Look, this is from two days after the attack in "The Washington Post". Quote, legal advisers to President Trump and allies expressed increasing concern Friday about possible criminal liability in the wake of Wednesday`s melee, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Trump has been told by attorneys he could face legal jeopardy for inciting a mob. Again, that was two days after the attack.

This was CNN in February, after the attack. Quote, former President Donald Trump privately voiced concern in the last two weeks about whether he could face charges as a result of the January 6 riot he is accused of inciting according to multiple people. Trump has mainly been quiet since leaving the White House last month, his silence in part related to those concerns, quote, he`s worried about it, said one adviser close to Trump. Worried he was going to be criminally charged as a result of the riot.

And, of course, talking about the immediate aftermath of the attack, this was one of the surprise lines of reasonings we heard from Republicans at Trump`s impeachment proceedings when he was put on trial in the U.S. Senate for his role in inciting the attack.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice. Never meant to be the final forum for American justice. Impeachment, conviction, and removal are a specific intra- governmental safety valve.

It is not the criminal justice system where individual accountability is the paramount goal. President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run, still liable for everything he did while he was in office. He didn`t get away with anything, yet. Yet.

We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.


MADDOW: Didn`t get away with anything, yet. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. That was Mitch McConnell`s argument for voting not to convict Trump in the second impeachment, but instead, to handle this through the criminal justice system so he wouldn`t get away with it.

Well, now that the January 6 criminal prosecutions are regularly producing courtroom discussions between defendants and judges as to whether or not the people who caused the attack will also be charged, now that the January 6 investigation in Congress turned its focus from hey, where did that riot come from, to, oh, that riot was one part of a serious, concerted weeks, if not months-long illegal plot to thwart the transfer of power, as the January 6th investigation made that transition and started talking about criminal liability for people who orchestrated the plot, as people involved, yet another one today, are taking the Fifth, are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self incrimination for fear of their roles in that plot, are we, in fact, in a place where something other than political accountability is back on the table and for real?

We`ve been thinking a lot about that specific question ever since the January 6 investigation raise the prospect of criminally investigating Trump at the beginning of this week. Over the course of this week, we have turned behind the scenes to our friend Chuck Rosenberg for advice on this subject and I realize tonight we`ve been talking with him enough about that this week, it`s probably time to share some of his legal expertise and take on this with you guys, because as Chuck sees it, at least, the prospects are more interesting than you might think.


Joining us now is our friend Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former senior Justice Department and FBI official.

Chuck, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for all your help on this subject over the course of this week and thanks for being -- thanks for agreeing to be here tonight to talk about it.


MADDOW: You too.

First, could you tell me if I`m getting any of this the wrong way around or if there`s any part of this I`m framing in a way that`s outsized or inappropriate at all?

ROSENBERG: No, not at all. I mean, I think what you`re saying reflects what the judge said and what many of us have been thinking.

You know, if you walk past the bank and the plate glass window is broken, you would assume a robbery occurred and would investigate it. We know that on January 6th, there was a coup attempt. In fact, I held out my dictionary to look up the word coup to make sure I was using it right, the sudden appropriation or take-over of power or leadership, that is a coup attempt. That`s what happened.

It`s like broken glass outside a bank. And you got to wonder, if there was a coup attempt, is there an investigation of the coup attempt? I don`t mean by Congress, I mean by the Department of Justice.

MADDOW: There is no sign that there is an investigation of the coup attempt beyond the people who physically put themself in battle with police officers or at least inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. That said, the congressional investigation looking at January 6 we now know as one incident in a larger concerted plot to falsify the election results and overthrow the U.S. government.

They are increasingly talking, and Liz Cheney, the vice chair, increasingly is talking in terms that echo federal statutes about potential criminal liability for those at the top of the sort of, organizing effort there. She specifically named Trump in conjunction with that criminal statutory language.

Is she stretching? Is she reaching? Or is the kind of implication she`s casting there within what seems reasonable to you?

ROSENBERG: It seems reasonable to me. Let me give you a little bit of context, Rachel.

Congress doesn`t have the authority to prosecute anyone for anything ever, but that doesn`t mean they can`t talk about what happened. What happened appears to be an attempted coup. That authority to investigate and prosecute, not just investigate, but investigate and prosecute lies with the executive branch, in this case, the Department of Justice.

And so, what Liz Cheney is talking about is exactly right. The question is, has someone picked up the mantle? Has someone picked up the baton? Is there an investigation of an attempted coup?

Because it sure looked like, smelled like, sounded like an attempted coup. She`s right to be talking about that, but she doesn`t have the authority, nor do her colleagues, to do anything about it other than hold hearings and write a report.

So the critical question, as the judge articulated in sentencing Mr. Palmer for assaulting an officer is whether or not those who encouraged and orchestrated and led the attempted coup will be held accountable.

But don`t put the indictment cart ahead of the investigative course. The question is, really, right now, is there an investigation? If not, why not? Normally, when there`s investigation, we start to hear and see reflections of it, when witnesses are called to grand jury for instance. We haven`t seen that yet.

I`m not saying anyone shouldn`t be charged with attempted coup. I am saying they should absolutely be investigated for orchestrating an attempted coup.

MADDOW: But when it comes to the actual criminal statutes in question here, obstructing official proceeding or impeding and impairing the lawful functions of the U.S. government, are those the kind of things that actually ever get charged? Have those things, A, been charged against the other January 6 defendants or they otherwise charged as a matter of normal business within the Justice Department? Or would these be exotic charges?

ROSENBERG: I don`t think there`s anything exotic about it. They wouldn`t to be appropriate for most of what the people were charged for in the January 6 riots. Look, what those people did are awful -- assaulting cops, battery, those are awful things and they should be prosecuted for it.

But let me give you an example that you will well know. I think it was summer of 2018, which now seems like seven timelines ago, when the Mueller team indicted the Internet Research Agency, Russian troll farm, for impeding and impairing the lawful functions of the United States government.


If you look at June 2018 indictment, count one, the Russian troll farm was charged with the precise statute you were just talking about.

In that case, in the Mueller case, the Russian troll farm was charged with impeding and impairing the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State.

That`s not that exotic. I`ve charged that statute myself as a federal prosecutor for impeding and impairing the IRS, for instance. And so, while it might not be appropriate for those assaulting cops, it would absolutely be appropriate for those who orchestrated an attempted coup.

MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official, senior Justice Department official. Chuck, your clarity is unimpeachable, forget the phrase, and always great to have you here. Thank you for your clarity, your help over the course of the week. Thanks for being here tonight.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure, thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Much more to come here tonight. Stay with us.



MADDOW: Last night on this program, we talked with New Hampshire Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan about her decision, which she announced yesterday, that she`s going to now support passing voting rights by creating an exemption to the Senate rules. Voting rights legislation is currently blocked by Republican filibuster, Senator Hassan yesterday announced for the first time that she supports a carve-out to the filibuster rule so they can pass with a majority, just 50 votes, rather than finding 10 Republicans to vote with them, which on voting rights is something that will not happen.

So we`ve been talking about this subject for a really, really long time. The prospect of Senate Democrats changing the rules in order to pass the defense of voting rights, as Republicans are tearing down voting rights in states all over the country. We`ve been reporting on this so long, it`s like we`re watching grass grow but you know what? The grass has grown.

The progress has been slow but there has been progress. We have watched as slowly, one after another, moderate Democrats like Maggie Hassan have come to the conclusion, voting rights and protecting democracy is a more important imperative and now support exception to those rules, specifically for this thing.

In recent days, even West Virginia Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, who`s been against changing the filibuster rules, he`s been taking meetings on this subject, with President Biden and also with other moderate Democratic senators, appearing to maybe dead set against it anymore, who knows? It`s Joe Manchin.

But something happened today which has never happened before in this process, which looks like potentially genuine momentum on this. NBC News reports today that the for the first time, a Democratic senator has presented the plan for how to do it. How the filibuster could be tweaked to allow voting rights to pass. A senate, Democratic lunch yesterday, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine reportedly presented an actual, practical plan, the plan, to get this done.

It would involve resurrecting some version of the talking filibuster, in other words if a minority of Republican senators wanted to block a vote, they would have to actually hold the floor and refuse to stop speaking for a very long time, a little more like what was made famous in the movie Mr. Smith goes to Washington, right?

At the end of a very long time being set aside for that real talking filibuster, then, the vote would go ahead and a 50-vote majority could pass the bill. So that happened yesterday. The actual plan, put forward by Tim Kaine, this is how we could do it.

Well, today, NBC News reports that Democrats held a special caucus meeting, all Democratic senators were invited to know there to talk about moving ahead with this plan. For that meeting, this is interesting brought in not one, but two guys named Marty and these Martys are the world`s basically two greatest known experts on how the rules of the Senate works.

One of the Martys is a guy who worked for Senate Republicans literally for decades. The other Marty worked for Senate Democrats for decades. Again, no one knows more about Senate rules than these two Senate staffers from both sides of the aisle.

Senate Democrats talking through not just whether this rule change ought to be done and whether it`s important to do it, but how they`re going to do it, which does something is happening. We have been watching grass grow on this all year long. The grass is now -- suddenly a lot higher than it was before.

One of those two greatest living experts on the United States Senate`s rules is going to join us here live, next, fresh out of those discussions, today. Stay with us.



MADDOW: It all started with a job in the congressional post office in 1975, such a great story. Martin Paone getting his master`s degree at Georgetown, needed to make ends meet so needed a side job, ended up taking a job in the House of Representatives post office. Sure, why not.

When that job ended, said he saw a sign on a bulletin board that said, quote, parking lot attendants wanted, $5/hour, must be polite. Well, Mr. Paone was polite, and $5 an hour was a lot at the time. So, Mr. Paone applied for that job and he became what he referred to as, quote, a vehicular replacement specialist, in the United States Senate`s parking office.

Those two jobs, post office at the House, parking at the Senate, were the two first two unlikely stepping stones to what would be a very accomplished, basically unparalleled career working inside the U.S. Senate, a career that spanned nearly three decades. He ultimately held for years a really, really important job, almost no one outside the Senate has heard of.

He was Democrat Senate secretary, which means basically he was the floor manager on the Democratic side. He advised Democratic leadership on how to draft bills. He was going over the procedure. He became both the go-to guy for new senators, who are w , describing for the new guys how the chamber works, basics like how to expect votes, how to schedule around it and all that, but also became adviser to the Democratic leadership.

As one senator said it, he`d been the ones deciding, quote, what comes on the floor or what gets off the floor, what gets amended or not. He was so good at his job, after he left the Senate, Mr. Paone was scooped up by the Obama administration to serve as the administration`s Senate liaison. They knew they needed somebody seasoned to help navigate the priorities for Congress.


And everybody agreed that Mr. Marty Paone knew the Senate rules better than anybody on earth.

So it makes sense that Marty Paone would be the guy who Senate Democrats called on today for advice. And perspective, as they decide a way forward to possibly change the Senate rules in order to try to get voting rights passed.

Joining us now is Marty Paone. He`s a former Senate Democratic floor adviser, former Senate liaison for Obama administration. He`s now senior adviser for the Prime Policy Group.

Mr. Paone, it`s a real pleasure to have you here. Thank you for making it down here tonight.


MADDOW: I know that there are things about your discussions with Senate Democrats that you are not going to tell me, but I was hoping you might be able to describe what you were asked to come do today. What about your expertise did they want to tap?

PAONE: Well, certainly, Schumer had been working on this for quite a long time and trying to get some movement on the voting rights bill, and he`s come close, as you noted, Senator Kaine unveiled a package of possible changes. And they`re getting closer.

And so they asked me to come in and talk to members about, you know, what the place was like and how much it changed over the years, and whereas, you know, like it used to be a much more wide-open Senate, where members could walk in and offer amendments of their choice and they would get majority votes. You know, Feinstein, Senator Feinstein`s assault weapon ban in `94 was passed, I think, with 52 votes. So, there`s no cloture necessarily.

Now, unfortunately, you need cloture on everything pretty much, unless it`s a reconciliation bill and, you know, it`s a much more closed environment. And so, he was asking me just to bring in, come in and talk with the members about the changes that they`ve -- that are happening over the years and how these potential changes that they`d like to do might impact the current Senate.

MADDOW: Given that evolution that you were describing, and the way the actual sort of pattern and practice of the Senate has changed over time so that there`s this 60-vote threshold, this sort of unspoken 60-vote threshold for almost everything now. Do you think that Democratic senators are on the right track? Procedurally, not as a matter of sort of political opinion, but procedurally, do you think they`re on the right track to think it may be possible to change the rules in a sort of one-off way? To make a change around this voting rights question that won`t necessarily have a cascading effect or the kind of slippery slope effect that Senator Manchin has said he is so opposed to, in terms of fundamentally altering the way the Senate operates?

PAONE: Well, whatever change they make, the opponents will say that you have made such a change, you know, irreversible, altering the Senate. And they don`t necessarily have to make it to apply just to voting rights. They could do a generic change, that voting rights would be the first to benefit from. And these are questions they`re still dealing with, and we`ll see how it comes out.

MADDOW: In terms of the sorts of objections that some senators have raised, moderate senators in particular have raised, saying that they don`t want the Senate to become like the House, that the filibuster rule in the Senate, like it or hate it, it has an effect of promoting bipartisanship and comity and, and sort of reconciliation between the parties, compromise between the parties.

Is it in your view that that`s true? Is it the practical effect of those rules, as they have changed, over the years, as you were describing a moment ago?

PAONE: It may have been -- it probably was true in another era. Like, if you look at the `64 Civil Rights Act, that bill was on the floor for many weeks and it was opposed by a lot of like 18 Democrats, one Republican. It was supported by Dirksen (ph), a Republican leader in , but Dirksen still, and some of his colleagues had a problem with how dry the bill was so it was on the floor for 50 days, after 54 days, Humphrey and Dirksen work out a compromise that net some of their fears or concerns and they accepted, they offered that as a substitute amendment and were able to get closure shortly thereafter by 70 votes.


But now, the bipartisanship, the parties have changed. In those days, you had liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats. You had liberal, conservative Republicans. Now it`s Republicans versus Democrats.

It`s just the two teams, and you know, you don`t -- there`s very little bipartisanship that you used to seeing. And the place has changed personally because of the country and the hyperpartisanship. It`s also changed physically in the sense that in those days that I refer to, senators lived in D.C.

Remember when President Ford died, they brought his casket around and it was Alexandria. They used to live here with their families and they weren`t criticized for it. Now, many of them members do not bring their families to Washington. It`s like taboo for them.

It`s really unfortunate, because when they all lived here, they got to know each other. And they their kids went to the same school and members of the same PTA. And car pooled sometimes.

Those days have completely changed. And they walk around with instant news on their phone. And it`s a different era, which means you may need different rules to deal with it.

MADDOW: Marty Paone, former Senate Democratic floor adviser, former Senate liaison for the Obama administration, now senior adviser for the Prime Policy Group -- Mr. Paone, thank for your service to our government, working in Senate all this time and helping us understand it better. You are an invaluable source of institutional knowledge here really. Nobody else does it like you do. Thanks for talking with us this evening.

PAONE: Thank you. It`s very flattering.

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



MADDOW: Something to keep an eye on as we head into the weekend. In Phoenix, Arizona, in Phoenix this weekend these a big pro-Trump political event held by a conservative group called Turning Point. It`s sort of a par for the course pro-Trump thing with lots of hard right politicians and conservative media people. Don Trump, Jr. is supposed to go, I think.

That itself is worth keeping an eye on just because the group organizing this thing did brag about sending tons of buses full of people to D.C. for January 6th. So, yeah (ph).

But the reason I say this might be worth keeping an eye on this weekend is because walking distance from that gathering, simultaneously in Phoenix also this weekend is big white nationalist event featuring a bunch of state Trump endorsed political candidates and a few far right congressmen and people with links to white nationalist groups.

We don`t know about any formal connection between these two events in Phoenix this weekend, but that is a potentially really toxic mix for the capital of Arizona this weekend. So sorry to say it, but watch that space.


MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight on this fine Friday evening. I`ll see you again on Monday.

But now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" which tonight is hosted by the great and glorious Jonathan Capehart, filling in for Lawrence tonight.

It`s great to see you, Jonathan.