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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/6/21

Guests: Barton Gellman


A new "Atlantic" article examines threats to 2024 election. President Joe Biden is going to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin as tensions over Ukraine grow. The DOJ sues Texas over discrimination election maps.


ASHLEY PARKER, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So, even if you believe it was a false positive for Trump, you now know he has been exposed regularly to someone who came down with the virus. They were not told before they got on Marine One with a maskless Trump that he had it.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Ashley Parker, great reporting. Thank you so much.

That is "ALL IN" on this Monday night.

PARKER: Thank you.


Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us here on this Monday night.

Thirty years ago this week, the other superpower in the world besides the United States breathed its last breath as a nation. Thirty years ago this week, the leaders of what was then Russia not an independent country but Russia part of USSR, the leaders of Russia and Ukraine and Belarus, they met in Belarus and they signed a document acknowledging that the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was coming to an end.

The Baltic states had been first to bail out of the Soviet Union, but by the end of 1991, 30 years ago, all the constituent parts of the USSR had been fighting for or just declaring their status as independent nations and it was a landmark moment 30 years ago this week when Russia, itself, acknowledged the game was up. The leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, realized basically he would have to agree.

And before the end of that month, on Christmas night, December 25th, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as head of the Soviet Union. The hammer and sickle flag of the USSR was brought down at the Kremlin. The three color flag of the Russian federation was raised in its place.

And on Christmas, 30 years ago, Christmas, 1991, Boris Yeltsin became president of the Russian Federation. He served as president for eight years almost exactly from Christmas 1991 until New Year`s Eve, 1999. He served as president until Y2K, December 31st, 1999. That night, Yeltsin was gone and Vladimir Putin -- surprise, who is he? -- became president of the Russian Federation. And Putin has been running that country with an increasingly authoritarian hand ever since.

Since 22 years is clearly not long enough in power for him, Putin has just given himself the authority to stay in power until 2036 because who among us doesn`t think a 37-year presidential term is normal for a president in something that is nominally a democracy?

Vladimir Putin has described the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago as, quote, the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, a genuine tragedy. When he says it was the greatest geo political catastrophe of the century he is talking about the 20th century. The century that included, like, World War I, where 20 million people minimum died, the 1918 flu epidemic where 50 million people died, World War II where 60 million people died.

Putin believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago this week was worse than all of those. He says the end of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.

Well, tomorrow, President Biden will hold a long teleconference with Vladimir Putin.

Putin is currently massing Russian troops on the border of Ukraine again. Russia has been waging a sort of low level war in Ukraine for more than seven years now, on top of Putin`s actual invasion of Ukraine in 2014 where he just took part of that country for himself, annexed part of Ukraine into Russia. That was the only time since World War II one country in Europe has had another country invade and take over and change its borders.

President Biden tomorrow will be trying to head off another Russian invasion of Ukraine. Presumably at that meeting, he can also find some way to neener-neener Mr. Putin about the big end of the Soviet Union 30th anniversary this week, 30 years is a big one. If this were a wedding anniversary, he could get him pearl earrings, 30 years is pearl. I don`t think they count dissolution of your country`s anniversary as the same way they count them for weddings, but still, I`d pay good money to see him open the box. Oh, pearls.

Immediately after his Putin meeting, President Biden this week on Thursday and Friday of this week, he`ll be hosting what the White House is calling the Summit for Democracy. This is 110 Democratic countries meeting at President Biden`s invitation.


The meeting has a three-part agenda: promoting respect for human rights, addressing and fighting corruption, and defending against authoritarianism. Again, this Summit of Democracy is right at the end of this week, right after the Putin meeting, 110 countries.

The Chinese and Russian governments have already put out a very huffy statement, saying they`re very upset about this summit of democracies because they think it implies criticism of the kind of government they`re running instead.

The answer to that, of course, is, yes, correct. You have correctly surmised that President Biden is trying to rally the small D democracies of the world to stick with democracy, to advance democracy, to protect democracy, and to not slide toward the authoritarian models that China and Russia represent instead. Yes, you`re right. The whole idea is implied criticism of you.

Look at the three points of the summit. As it says: promoting respect of human rights, fighting corruption, and defending against authoritarianism. Now, ahead of this summit because President Biden has invented this summit, he has invited all the other countries, the U.S. is leading it, ahead of the summit, the U.S. wants to show off that we`re taking all three of those things very seriously ourselves.

The U.S. is trying to sort of lead by example on all three points. So, on the first one, for example, on human rights, the White House announced today the U.S. government will not be sending any U.S. government officials to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, as a protest against the Chinese government`s human rights abuses, specifically their mass internment camps and prisons they are using to lock up hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims.

The U.S. is not boycotting the Beijing Olympics full stop. U.S. athletes will still go and compete, but there will be a full scale diplomatic boycott. No U.S. government officials will attend.

And again, the timing here, the announcement today ahead of the democracy summit at the end of the week, if taking action to promote human rights is one of the themes of the big democracy summit that President Biden is hosting -- well, this announcement about the Beijing Olympics diplomatic boycott is something concrete he and the U.S. government can point to say, hey, we`re not just talking about this. We are walking the walk on that point.

So, human rights. Second point was corruption. Corruption is the under appreciated but constant companion to authoritarian government. You don`t get one without the other and you don`t get the other without the first one.

But, today, the Biden administration rolled out a new, long, U.S. government strategy against corruption. A big 38-page document laying out a whole new approach to fighting corruption both at home and abroad and it includes for example concrete new steps to stop people from money laundering, from stashing illegally obtained money in U.S. assets particularly in U.S. real estate. That anticorruption strategy being rolled out today.

And, again, the timing on that is helpful for this summit of the democracies this week. So the U.S. government can point to what we`re doing on each of these three points, right, on human rights, on anticorruption. And what`s the third one? What`s the third one? Oh, right, defending against authoritarianism.

Well, that one, on the last one, what is the Biden administration going to be able to say about its actions there? About its priorities there, about how it is walking the walk and not just talking the talk? Defending against authoritarianism.

That one is not that easy because on that one, we do have our own significant, very live domestic challenges. I mean, just today`s news alone on that front shows -- gives you a sense of how big and how active the challenge is within the United States.

Here is one little piece. The conventional wisdom in Washington, of course, is that the Republican Party is likely to take control of Congress, at least the House in next year`s elections. Historically speaking, they have a good chance of doing that.

If that happens that will mean any senior Republican, anybody who is, you know, the top Republican on a committee right now, or who used to be a committee chair, the last time Republicans were in charge, all top Republicans, all leading Republicans are gearing up to take back over and wield power again under the assumption that they`re going to do well in next year`s elections. You know, particularly being a committee chair -- if you are in line for that sort of thing -- committee chairs, a boring couple words but they kind of run the show on Capitol Hill. They kind of run the legislative branch.

So, the Republicans who are potentially in line for those leadership jobs, if the Republicans take control again, they are really stoked right now. They are making their promises. They are raising money. They are planning their staff hires. They are doing all the horse trading they need to do among themselves to maximize the powers they think they are about to get.


It is a really heady time. If you are a Republican expecting your party to take back control and you`re expecting to be one of the power brokers, once that happens. That`s kind of conventional wisdom in terms of what is going on right now in Washington looking ahead toward next year`s elections.

But contra that, in tonight`s news, there is news that Republican Congressman Devin Nunes is quitting Congress. Now, he is definitely one of the people in line for a major gig if Republicans win the elections and do well next year. I mean, the last time Republicans were in control in Congress, Devin Nunes was chair of the incredibly powerful intelligence committee.

He is in line if they win next year to be the chairman of the ways and means committee which might be an even more powerful job than running intel. But, nevertheless, as of tonight, we learn he is quitting Congress all together effective immediately basically, leaving at the end of this month.

Why would he walk away right now? Especially when he is poised to have some real power? Well, because instead of that power in Congress, he would apparently prefer to become the CEO of former President Trump`s new media company. Huh.

That media company we also learned today is under federal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as an agency called FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the latter agency typically investigates things like illegal insider trading. The other agency, the SEC, appears in this case to be investigating whether or not the whole Trump media launch might have been illegally structured as a way to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

So it is already under federal investigation by two powerful agencies. Naturally, you`d give up one of the most powerful jobs in government to go do that instead? That`s not weird at all. That doesn`t suggest anything weird about the perceptions of corruption adjacent to government service in this country.

The same former president this weekend, last night, told an interview on the Fox News Channel that he fired the FBI Director James Comey when he was president in order to stop FBI investigations that he believed would result in him being removed as president. He just volunteered this information.

He said, quote, don`t forget, I fired Comey. Had I not fired Comey you might not be talking to me right now about my four years at the White House. He said, quote, I don`t think I could have survived if I didn`t fire him.

He doesn`t mean he`d be dead. He means, he couldn`t have survived as president. He couldn`t have made it four years as president. Because of the FBI investigations in place under Comey that stood to remove him from office.

So he fired the FBI director in order to divert those investigations, in order to keep himself in power. He just admitted that`s why he did it and that it work. That`s how he managed to stay in office for four years.

This is like the thing you hope to like, you know, entrap somebody into saying. This is the thing you hope to, like, tape somebody accidentally admitting to somebody who doesn`t know that they`re going to get in trouble for saying it.

This is him confessing. I will just say, not a lawyer, but theoretically, if someone were going to bring an obstruction of justice prosecution against him for that, firing the FBI director in order to get rid of the investigation that stood to remove him from office, if somebody were going to bring an obstruction of justice prosecution for that, we are still within the statute of limitations if that in fact was a crime. I`m just saying. And he did just confess to that in detail on national TV last night. I can send you the transcript. I`m just saying.

We got news today as well that the chief of staff to Trump`s vice president, a man named Marc Short, is reportedly cooperating with the January 6th investigation, the investigation into the violent attack on the U.S. capitol by Trump supporters and the plot to overturn the election results that led up to that day.

This weekend in Washington, a ridiculous white supremacist boys club called Patriot Front dressed up in matching outfits to make themselves look like menacing middle managers of an electronics store. They got their white nationalist flags and their little shields and their khakis and their shin guards and they marched from the Lincoln Memorial down the national mall in what was supposed to be a white supremacist show of force in the nation`s capital.

According to reporting today in "The Daily Beast", this is the neo-Nazi group that used to call it Vanguard America but changed their name to Patriot Front after one of their members drove his car into counterprotesters at Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen.

That was at the Unite the Right rally where then president Trump said there were very fine people on both sides, both sides being the neo-nazis and the protesters against them.


This weekend in Dallas, the Trump-supporting cultish conspiracy theory QAnon had one of its offshoots show up at the Dallas Christmas parade. This is Trump supporters, QAnon offshoot, a Trump supporters QAnon offshoot that believes Trump is going to be king of the world or maybe he already is and the reason they have pictures of John F. Kennedy with MAGA hats on here is because they say president John F. Kennedy is coming back from the dead and so is his son John F. Kennedy Jr.

I`m going to show you a video here shot by an online reporter who goes by the name Hot Tub Twin on Twitter. She has been covering these folks and their doings in Dallas as concern grows that this mass -- this Trump supporter mass delusion might be turning into something that seems more dangerous than it does just wacky. Dangerous potentially of course to the people involved.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You remember Jack? He`s our president. And JFK Jr. is our vice president. And you`ll find out soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: JFK alive, 174. You`ll find out. It`s in your face 165.


MADDOW: You see how they`re saying numbers in between those statements? JFK is alive, 174. You`ll find out, 174. It`s in your face, 165.

The numbers they`re saying at the end of those phrases is because they`re doing like bogus kindergarten level made up numerology which they believe unlocks the secret code that their leader communicates with Trump, uses to communicate with Donald Trump, and the secret code is about how Trump will be restored and how he secretly is orchestrating the return of the Kennedys from beyond the dead, also all the dead celebrities. They are very joyous about this because the numbers tell you this is all about to happen.

There they were at the Dallas Christmas parade this weekend with the big JFK heads with MAGA hats on. They`ve been in Dallas for weeks now because they keep expecting, like, the opposite of the zombie apocalypse when the dead celebrities come back and it`s a good thing and Trump gets restored.

That`s how it`s going right now on the political right in America. That`s how half our two-party system is holding up.

Before the 2020 election, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter named Barton Gellman wrote a piece for "The Atlantic" about this seemingly farfetched scheme. The article is called "The election that could break America." The subhead there says, if the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?

Gellman described this scheme. Again, this was in advance of the election, September of last year. He wrote about the scheme by which Trump and his supporters would try to still the election or at least make it seem like the election had no clear result.

Gellman reported in that piece, he broke the news that Republican officials in at least one swing state in Pennsylvania had been in touch already ahead of the election with the Trump campaign about a plot to have the Republican-led state legislature in that state and others override the results from the voters. The state legislators would instead declare that the voters` intent couldn`t be clearly discerned. There were big problems in the vote. So instead the legislature would just declare that Trump had won.

The legislature, the Republican-controlled legislature would decide to ignore the vote and just send Trump electors to the Electoral College even if Biden won the state. Mark Gellman again wrote that in September of last year in advance of the election that was the plan the Trump side was working on and it seemed crazy at the time. I mean, even as Trump was openly laying the groundwork for it before the voting was even started, calling the election a hoax before there was even voting. Even then, Gellman`s reporting seemed like it was visiting from another planet, one that wouldn`t necessarily sustain Democratic life.

But then sure enough that is exactly what happened. That is exactly what Trump and company did. It is in fact what they`re still trying to effectuate, right, in the state legislatures with these election reviews from Republican state legislatures in Arizona, and in Wisconsin, and other states. They are saying the election results should be decertified which means there shouldn`t have been Biden electors from there. There should have been Trump electors. Trump secretly won the election and should be restored to power. That is what they tried after the election and is still what Trump is trying.

Bart Gellman was right about what Trump was going to do in 2020 as far fetched as it seemed at the time.

Well, now, today, Bartman Gellman has written his follow up also in "The Atlantic". It`s the new cover story that`s out today and it is called "January 6 was practice."

Here`s how it starts: Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away or millions to produce the required effect.

The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect. The prospect of this Democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats big and small D Democrats are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them including President Biden have taken passing rhetorical notice but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

Richard Hasen, the professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October, quote: The democratic emergency is already here. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now, he speaks matter of factually about the death of our body politic.

Quote, we face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024, he said. But urgent action is not happening. For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party`s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft.

Election -- excuse me -- elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Trump`s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure from 2020 and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time.

Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They`re driving out or stripping power from election officials who refuse to go along with the plot last November aiming to replace them with exponents of the big lie.

They are fine tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters. By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt. That made up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls. That tyranny has usurped their government. That violence is a legitimate response.

Any Republican might benefit from these machinations but let`s not pretend there is any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try.

Neither will a setback outside politics like indictment or, say, a disastrous turn in business -- neither will those things prevent Trump from running. If anything, those could redouble his will to power. Quote, in nearly every battle space of the war to control the count of the next election, statehouses, state election authorities, courthouses, Congress, the Republican Party apparatus, Trump`s position has improved since a year ago.

To understand the threat today, you have to see with clear eyes what happened, what is still happening after the 2020 election. The charlatans and cranks who filed lawsuits and led public spectacles on Trump`s behalf were side shows. They distracted from the main event, a systematic effort to nullify the election results and then reverse them.

The strategic objective of nearly every move by the Trump team after the networks called the election for Biden on November 7th was to induce Republican legislatures in states Biden won to seize control of the results and appoint Trump electors instead. Every other objective in courtrooms, on state election panels, in the Justice Department, in the office of the vice president, every other objective was instrumental to that end in the state legislatures.

Although Trump won broad rhetorical support from state legislators for his fictitious claims of voter fraud, legislators were reluctant to take the radical, concrete step of nullifying the votes of their own citizens despite enormous pressure none of the six contested states put forward an alternate slate of electors for Trump. Only later as Congress prepared to count the electoral votes did legislators in some of those states begin talking unofficially about decertifying the Biden electors.

Still, though, the Trump team achieved something crucial and enduring by convincing tens of millions of angry supporters including a catastrophic 68 percent of all Republicans in the November poll, that the election had been stolen from Trump.

Nothing close to this loss of faith in democracy has happened here before. Even Confederates recognized Abraham Lincoln`s election. They tried to secede because they knew they had lost.


Delegitimating Biden`s victory was a strategic win for Trump then and now because the big lie became the driving passion of the voters who controlled the fate of Republican legislators. And Trump`s fate was in the legislators` hands.

Gellman then explains how the bizarre world theory that Republicans and state legislatures should just take over, nullify the actual votes in their states and instead proclaim the winner they prefer themselves. He goes through and explains how that crazy theory is now not just being propounded by crazy people like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. It`s being fine-tuned by real lawyers and is already circulating in places like Fox News as a Republican Party talking point for the election in 2024.

Gellman explains point by point how Republicans who weren`t onboard with these kind of efforts to throw out the real election results in 2020, those Republicans, everybody from -- you know, Brad Raffensperger and Brian Kemp in Georgia to lesser known officials in Michigan and across the country, those Republicans who wouldn`t go along with it for the 2020 election have been removed from office, they`ve been censured. They`re facing Trump- backed primaries if they want to stay in office.

He shows the polling data which indicates that the Republican base voters haven`t cooled off or backed off from the literally revolutionary implications of what Trump tried to do to overturn the election. Over the past year instead, Republican voters have become more militant on the subject and more likely to embrace violence as a potential solution.

He says, quote, Donald Trump came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again, and his position is growing stronger. Republican acolytes have identified the weak points in our electoral apparatus and are methodically exploiting them.

They have set loose and are driven by the animus of tens of millions of aggrieved Trump supporters who are prone to security thinking who embrace violence and reject democratic defeat. Those supporters are armed and single minded and will know what to do the next time Trump calls upon them to act.

Democracy will be on trial in 2024. The midterms marked by gerrymandering will more than likely tighten the Republican Party`s grip on the legislatures in swing states. The Supreme Court may be ready to give those legislatures near absolute control over presidential electors.

And if Republicans take back the House and Senate, as odds makers seem to believe they will, the Republican Party will be firmly in charge of counting the electoral votes. Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024, but he does not intend to take that chance meaning he does not intend to take the chance of the election being conducted fairly.

Sounds dystopian, I know. But the last time I read something that was simultaneously this serious, this well reported than dystopian, it was Barton Gellman in September of 2020, predicting exactly what was going to happen with election 2020 and its aftermath up to and including January 6th.

The last time I read something this serious and this worrying, it was Barton Gellman predicting something exactly. Well, this is what Bart Gellman is reporting today. He joins us next.



MADDOW: Later on this hour, we`ll be looking at today`s move by the U.S. Justice Department to try to protect voting rights in Texas. The DOJ today, making the case the new electoral maps drawn up by Texas Republicans those illegally disadvantaged minorities in order to give extra disproportionate representation to white Texas Republicans. That`s the kind of action the Justice Department has been taking on voting rights. It is actually the second time they`ve sued the state of Texas in the space of a month.

But as Barton Gellman notes in his terrifying new cover story for "The Atlantic" magazine while the Biden Justice Department has sometimes shown itself willing to go to court to protect voting rights from attacks by Republicans, they haven`t been going to court to protect elections themselves, to protect democracy itself.

And he uses as an example the state of Georgia where, quote, the Justice Department has filed suit to overturn some provisions of the new Georgia law but not to challenge the hostile takeover of election authorities. Instead, the DOJ`s federal lawsuit takes issue with a long list of traditional voter suppression tactics. These provisions make it harder by design for Democrats to vote in Georgia.

The provisions that Attorney General Garland did not challenge though are the ones that make it easier for Republicans to fix the outcome. Those provisions represent danger of a whole different magnitude. Meanwhile, Gellman writes: The Justice Department and the FBI are, quote, chasing down the foot soldiers of January 6th but there is no public sign they`re building cases against the men and women who sent those foot soldiers. Absent consequences they will certainly try again. An unpunished plot is practice for the next one.

Joining us now is Barton Gellman, staff writer at "The Atlantic", who is the author of today`s cover story, "January 6th was practice."

Mr. Gellman, it is a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for terrifying me once again. Thank you for making time to be here tonight.

BARTON GELLMAN, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Thank you for having me on and for reading my stories. I don`t want to publish anything else. I only want you to read my stories aloud.

MADDOW: Anything you publish I will read. I`m telling you and I will read them out loud for the most part, I can promise you.

Well, let me ask you in terms of the elements I chose to read and present on the air, let me ask you if I have the important bits or if there are other pieces of this you feel you want a front page and make sure people understand here?

GELLMAN: You have honed in directly on the most important points as usual and you`ve been following this stuff as closely as anyone. The other big chunks of the story go into detail about what is happening in the states and they also focus in on some individuals.

I spent a lot of time with this firefighter in New York who is a Trump supporter and believes the election was stolen and I wanted to understand why he believes that and whether his beliefs were capable of being altered by evidence. And I found that to be very interesting and very dispiriting frankly, because I couldn`t budge him.

MADDOW: Bart, when you talk to Republican officials before the 2020 election and they were willing to tell you in that very scary piece that they were in conversations with the Trump campaign, that there was a plan afoot to have state legislatures replace the vote with what they wanted to be the result of the election for their state, you wrote that up before the election in a way that was illuminating and shocking but it was ultimately borne out.

Do you feel like in your reporting right now, particularly of this idea about, you know, moving to throw out thousands if not millions of votes in the 2024 election, do you feel like you have similarly sort of uncovered something that might seem sort of far fetched and unbelievable but is actually a real plan?

GELLMAN: I think it is very real. I personally am just as a citizen very worried about it. I think you have people who are bound and determined not to allow Republicans to lose another national election and not to allow Trump to lose another election. And they are giving themselves permission to do it, this is something I don`t go into in this piece, but you`ve seen it, they are characterizing the Democrats as tyrants, as thieves of an election, who actually stole the presidency as communists, as people who hate America, and they couldn`t -- they couldn`t discuss it with any more extremity than they are doing.

When you do that, you give yourself permission to take all kinds of steps in opposition. I mean, if you have an existential threat to the United States of America, which is what Republicans are saying about Biden, then what remedy would not be allowed to you?

MADDOW: Is that why you believe, Bart, that the feeling among Trump supporters, especially the hard edge Trump supporters is hardening both the militancy around the election issue, which has gotten steadily worse over the course of the year, but also the openness to violence as a potential solution here, that`s gotten worse over the course of this year, too. Is it simply a result of the type of rhetoric you are describing or is there some other dynamic at work?

GELLMAN: I think there is a strong, ongoing message that is amplified thousands of times by the whole ecosystem on the right that is a propaganda ecosystem. And it is telling people that someone stole the election from them, that the Democrats are destroying the country, that more and more and more so-called evidence proves these things, and, yeah. I think the -- there is this very large mass of Trump supporters who believe both that Biden is an illegitimate president who stole the office and that violence is justified.

And, frankly, if you were living in a country in which the election was literally stolen, and an imposter was holding office, why wouldn`t violence be justified? I mean, they are making an argument that leads only to one place.

MADDOW: The cover story in "The Atlantic" right now is called "January 6 was practice. Donald Trump is better positioned to subvert an election now than he was in 2020". It is authored by Barton Gellman. Bart, staff writer at "The Atlantic" -- thank you so much for your time tonight.


Again, this is terrifying but required reading, really important stuff. Thank you.

GELLMAN: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: It was a five way call. President Biden got on the phone tonight with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K.

Here is the White House readout of the call. Quote: The leaders discussed their shared concern about the Russian military build up on Ukraine`s borders. They called on Russia to de-escalate tensions. The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity.

President Biden tonight leading that five-way call with major European allies ahead of his one-on-one tomorrow with Vladimir Putin. Now, there is a handful of things on the agenda for his meeting with Putin tomorrow but the big one is to address what NATO is calling large and unusual Russian troop movement near the border with Ukraine. Nobody knows exactly what Putin is up to here which I think is part of the point.

Is Russia deliberately trying to create the fear that they`re going to invade Ukraine again with no intention of actually doing so?


Or is this really the prelude to an invasion? If the United States knows, will we know by the behavior of our own government what they think based on how President Biden conducts himself in this meeting?

Joining us now is Michael McFaul. He served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama.

Mr. Ambassador, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for making time tonight.


MADDOW: Are you glad that the U.S. government has agreed to this one-on- one between President Biden and President Putin tomorrow, or is it possible that this is something in itself that Putin wanted and the U.S. government maybe shouldn`t have given him?

MCFAUL: I`m not glad. I do think it is necessary though at this moment in this crisis, right, which is to say, yes, Putin created this crisis. I want to underscore that, 100 times.

There was no reason for this build up. There is no threat of Ukraine trying to take back Donbass by force. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO should be measured in decades not years.

He created this crisis but in times of crisis leaders need to talk. So I support the idea of talking. I would like to see more coercive diplomacy ahead of the calls, Rachel. Not after them.

But I think they have to talk and I hope it leads to some kind of diffusion of this moment.

MADDOW: Do you have a sense as to whether or not Putin is trying to create the appearance of a crisis here, trying to create a crisis environment without actually having an intention of reinvading Ukraine? Are there things that we should be looking for from the outside or that the U.S. government may or may not understand about his real intentions here?

MCFAUL: I don`t know. And the director of the CIA doesn`t know, and President Biden doesn`t know. And I don`t think Vladimir Putin himself knows the answer to your question yet, Rachel, which is to say as you said in your set up, he likes unpredictability and makes us all move, makes us all think of, well, let`s do this and that to appease him. And therefore, that uncertainty is precisely what he wants.

Now, having said all that, this is the largest build up ever. This is much bigger than what he did in the spring. And if he wants to move, he has the capacity to do it, whether he`s made that decision or not yet, I don`t know, and I actually don`t believe anybody else does.

MADDOW: There is so much craziness going on in Belarus right now. I don`t want to try to project any rationality on the behavior of that Russian ally but I was struck by the fact that not too many days ago the dictator in Belarus said if Russia invades Ukraine, Belarus will join that war as well and they`ll stand right along side Russia in doing so.

If Putin does pull the trigger here and does send troops across the border either wearing insignia or not, is it possible that this triggers a wider European war?

MCFAUL: Well, Mr. Lukashenko might join and that remind me of Soviet interventions in Hungary in `56, Czechoslovakia in `68 when lesser allies allegedly joined declaratively those Soviet actions. I don`t think it leads to an interstate war with NATO allies. Most certainly the United States is not going to go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

But I do think it means a qualitatively different moment in terms of European security and I hope short of military action President Biden and all those people he was on the phone with today understand that this would be qualitatively different and therefore act qualitatively different in response, including massive sanctions and massive military assistance to the Ukrainians.

We want to deter Putin. Those are two things we should be doing more of.

MADDOW: Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama, thank you so much for your time tonight, Mr. Ambassador. It`s really nice to see you here.

MCFAUL: Great to be here.

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




MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, the Justice Department has filed suit against the state of Texas for violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Texas has violated Section 2 by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and black voters to vote on account of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group.

VANITA GUPTA, U.S. ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Texas` population grew by 4 million people from 2010 to 2020. In 95 percent of that growth came from minority populations. Texas will gain two new congressional seats because of its population growth, almost all of which is due to growth in the state`s minority population. However, Texas has designed both of those new seats to have white voting majorities.

The Justice Department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot.


MADDOW: Attorney General Merrick Garland and the senior Justice Department official Vanita Gupta announcing today that the Justice Department will sue the state of Texas over that state`s new Republican-drawn electoral maps.

We`ve been covering on this show the ways those new Texas congressional maps really flagrantly reduce the number of congressional districts where black and Latino voters are in the majority. In their lawsuit filed today, the Justice Department says the new congressional map from Republicans, quote, effectively turns back a decade of rapid Latino population growth and preserves Anglo control of most remaining districts.

They asked the court to immediately stop Texas from holding any election using these new congressional maps. The Justice Department asked the court to act on that quickly in time for Texas`s upcoming primaries which are set to take place in March.

Depending on how the courts view this challenge from the Justice Department, it means this case could move relatively quickly. That said, thanks to the Supreme Court`s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act back in 2013, DOJ is going to be waging an uphill battle here.


By now, you probably know that Attorney General Merrick Garland is very hands off when it comes to matters of Congress. He doesn`t tell Congress what to do. He doesn`t like Congress telling him what to do.

But on this topic, AG Garland has been quite outspoken about what he wants Congress to do. Today, he concluded this press conference about suing Texas with a plea to Congress to please pass new federal voting rights legislation in order to stop this kind of gerrymandering, this kind of election tilting of the playing field to stop it from happening in the future.

The Justice Department in other words is making clear it will do whatever it can but it wants members of Congress to do the same.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: All right. Thank you for being with us tonight.

One last reminder before we go. Tomorrow, President Biden is going to have that big one-on-one summit with Vladimir Putin. It is a one on one teleconference they`re calling it. That basically means a meeting on Zoom.

The two of them doing some sort of teleconference that is going to happen at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time in the Situation Room. This of course happens as Russia appears to have amassed as many as 175,000 troops on or near the border with Ukraine.

Russia is insisting it is not planning on invading and they`re like, I don`t know, they`re all washing their hair or something. But we expect to have a read out tomorrow from the White House fairly shortly after that conference ends in terms of the resolution of that matter.

The question of whether or not the U.S. is going to put some sort of sanctions in place against Russia for that build up for other things they`ve been fighting with Russia against recently. That may be resolved as soon as tomorrow. Tomorrow should be sort of a prickly day if term of that relationship and all the high stakes it means. Watch for that tomorrow.

That`s going to do for us for now.


Good evening, Lawrence.