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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/8/22

Guests: Ben Wikler, Lauren Lumpkin


Republicans who did not accept the 2020 election results are running for elected office in Wisconsin. January 6 investigators are identifying links to domestic terrorism leading up to January 6. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) breaks with the RNC and calls the January 6 Capitol attack a "violent insurrection".


MASHA GESSEN, THE NEW YORKER: It`s a total waste. Everything that the occupation of Crimea brought Putin was pure profit.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Masha Gessen, great reporting on this in "The New Yorker" right now. It`s always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

GESSEN: Thank you for having me.

HAYES: That is "ALL IN" on this Tuesday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ali Velshi at the anchor desk.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Chris, good to see you. Thank you for that great discussion. I`ll talk to you tomorrow.

And thanks to you at home for joining us at this. If you`re a regular viewer of the show, then you will probably recognize this. This quite naughty thing that happened at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, back on December 14th of 2020. A group of 16 Michigan Republicans came to a side door at the state capitol and try to get in.

Now, inside the capitol at the time, Michigan was going through the official process by which the states presidential electors were sent up to the Electoral College. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, won the vote in Michigan in 2020. So that meant the electors for Biden and Harris were casting their votes in the Electoral College, inside the Michigan state capital that day.

But these Republicans that I just showed you were trying to get in because they said they were real electors for Trump.


OFFICER: The capital is close unless you have an office here to conduct business today or if you are taking part in the electoral college process. Anybody else is not permitted to come in here.

GROUP: We are electors, we are electors, we are electors. We are part of the electoral process.

OFFICER: The electors are already here, they have been checked in.

GROUP: But not all the electors are inside.

OFFICER: The capitol is closed. All sixteen electors have already been advised by the governor`s staff that were going to be here to vote in the electoral college, have been checked in, they`re already here.

GROUP: But the GOP`s electors -- I`m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But these are -- these are the rest of the electors.

OFFICER: I`m sorry I understand, but it`s -- the capitol`s closed.


VELSHI: When these Michigan Republicans did this, at the time, it kind of seemed like play acting. Like they were playing some fantasy of a Trump victory. But those Michigan Republicans did not just disperse after they couldn`t get into the states capitol, they created and all of them signed, a forged document claiming to be the official slate of presidential electors from the state of Michigan, and they claimed that they were the state`s duly elected and qualified electors.

And they sent that fake certificates to the United States Senate and to the National Archives as though it was legitimate. Republicans did this in a number of different states that day in what we now know was a scheme orchestrated by the Trump campaign and Trump allies of the government to try to falsify the election results and keep Donald Trump in power.

The plan was that ultimately, when Vice President Mike Pence presided over the certification of the election in Congress on January 6th, Pence could use these fake slates of electors to overturn the election results and declared Donald Trump the winner.

As we know, Mike Pence declined to do that. And just last week, Pence said that Donald Trump is, quote, wrong to say that Pence had the power to overturn the election. But the more we`ve learned about the fake elector scheme, the clear it`s become just how well the ground had been prepared for Mike Pence to overturn the election if Trump or the violent mob that stormed the U.S. capitol on January six had managed to pressure Pence into doing it.

For instance, those fake Republican electors in Michigan, why were they trying so hard to get into the state capital that day? It wasn`t just because they wanted to play acted being the real electors. Michigan law actually says that the states presidential electors must meet inside the capitol on December 14th. So, they wanted the fake forged certificates to appear legit enough to win the used to overturn the election, they had to get inside the capitol and cast their votes there and take some selfies to prove they were inside like the law says they have to be.

But look at this forged certificate that the Michigan electorate submitted to the United States senate. Quote: We convened an organized in the state capital, in the city of Lansing, Michigan, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the 14th day of December, 2020.

That was the required language. But it was a lie. They never gotten, making the certificate fraudulent in more ways than one. They were lying in the middle of lying.

Now, while the broad outlines of the scheme have been coming into focus in recent weeks, how the scheme was organized, the actual nuts and bolts of the logistics has remained a bit of a mystery. But now, a reporter Michigan has made a major advance in our understanding of how that went down.

Craig monger at "The Detroit News" has obtained emails sent to Rudy Giuliani, and his buddy, Bernard Kerik, both of whom were investigating voter fraud for the Trump campaign.


The emails were updates on the fake elector scheme in Michigan sent by a lawyer involved in the Trump campaign`s efforts to overturn the election. Crucially, in these emails, this lawyer is telling the Trump campaign that he`s been working with one of the fake Michigan electors.

This is one of the emails. It was sent by this lawyer. His name is Kenneth Chesebro. He sent this email on December 11th, 2020, so three days before the electors needed to cast their votes. You can see that Rudy Giuliani is copied, as well as another campaign official from the Trump campaign.

Quote, Mr. Kerik, thank you for your call. Attached are the memos I mentioned which should help the Michigan people get up to speed on some of the reasons for having all electors vote in all contested states. Last night, I emailed to Michigan grassroots vice chair Marian Sheridan a draft packet of materials to use for the voting. I will have an updated package later this afternoon, which I`ll forward both to you and her, end quote.

Marian Sheridan was one of the fake electors. With three days later, she would sign the fraudulent certificate asserting that she was one of Michigan`s duly elected and qualified electors. "The Detroit News" reports that less than two hours after that email, quote, Chesebro sent an other message that included a seven document package for Michigan, including a checklist for voting. The email said he would leave it to Kerik and to Trump campaign officials to determine who should receive these materials.

Now, the fake Michigan elector that this lawyer claims to have sent the material to would not answer any questions from the Detroit news. Rudy Giuliani didn`t respond to a request for comment, and Bernard Kerik`s attorney told "The Detroit News` that Kerik probably received such an email but he doesn`t know the lawyer.

But those memos that the lawyer Kenneth Chesebro was forwarding to Trump campaign officials, and at least one fake Michigan elector, we`ve seen what we believed to see those members, or at least some version of it. "The New York Times" last week published two memos authored by Mr. Chesebro in which he said to a Trump campaign lawyer in Wisconsin, in November and December 2020.

One memo outlined all of the specific steps that fake electors would need to take in each of the states where the Trump campaign was planning the scheme, and all of the potential hurdles that fake electors would need to overcome. The memo noted for instance that, quote, Michigan is more specific about the location in which electors must meet, which could be a bit awkward, end quote. Well, yes indeed! That was a bit awkward, wasn`t it?

But because we`ve seen those memos before, these memos -- these emails reported by "The Detroit News" are the first concrete evidence that we have seen of the coordination between the Trump campaign and the fake electors on the ground. Here`s a Trump campaign connected lawyer, putting together all the materials, the fake electors in Michigan will need to pull off their part of the scheme, claiming to have sent those materials to one of the fake electors, reporting his efforts up the chain to the Trump campaign.

And here`s the thing, the effort to overturn the election in Michigan is still not over. Trump supporters held a rally on the steps of the Michigan state capital today, demanding that the Republican state legislature orders a so-called forensic audit of the 2020 election. That election, if you are keeping score at home, was 15 months ago. Today`s crowd heard from a state Senate candidate who is advocating showing up to polling places armed at the next election. And a candidate for governor who suggested the poll watchers unplug voting machines. Another, different Republican governor candidate told the crowds today that if elected, he`ll arrest and prosecute anyone involved in sending out absentee ballots.

One Michigan political reporter tweeted this photo today and wrote, quote: These forensic audit rallies at the Michigan capital seem to be getting considerably smaller. But the conspiracy board is getting bigger.

And it`s not just Michigan, of course. In Arizona, for example, the Trump interest Republican candidate for secretary of state has just introduced a measure in the state legislature to set aside the results of the 2020 election in certain counties. The measure doesn`t look like it will get far, but if he is elected, the secretary of state, he will be in charge of Arizona`s elections. This guy.

It`s not just the top level state jobs, the secretary of state, the governor, that Stop the Steal advocates have their eye on. Trump allies are pointing members to election canvassing boards in Michigan. They`re winning races to become local voting judges and inspectors in Pennsylvania, and urging election deniers to apply for jobs in election offices in Colorado.

And then, there is Wisconsin, which rolling stone this week called Ground Zero for the MAGA effort to steal the next election.


Quote, Republicans, convinced Trump won, are pushing to certify his 2020 loss and lay the groundwork to overturn the next election if it doesn`t go their way, end quote.

Republicans in Wisconsin have been moving toward a legislative takeover of the states elections, potentially putting the power to decide election outcomes in the hands of the Republican legislature. They`ve also spend hundreds of thousands of dollars some funding an investigation into the 2020 election run by a guy who says the election was stolen and who hired former Trump officials to be his investigators.

And the thing to know about Wisconsin is that they have gotten an election coming up one week from today, primaries that could have huge implications for the midterm elections later this year, and the 2024 presidential elections, because next week`s elections are for local offices across the state. And stop the steal election conspiracy as a running in a number of them.

Now, Wisconsin has the most decentralized election system of any state. Elections are run by nearly 2,000 clerks have the local municipal level, which means that local elections in Wisconsin can have an outsized impact on how elections are actually run. And with one week to go until those elections, whether Wisconsin Democrats, I want to say Democrats, I mean big D Democrats and small D democrats who are in favor of democracy, doing to protect that democracy in the state of Wisconsin?

Joining us now, Ben Wikler. He`s the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

Mr. Wikler, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

We have tried our best to explain the complexities, the differences in Wisconsin that some of our viewers may have, from their own state. But this occurrence of these stop the steal advocates at the local level is disconcerting for a number of reasons.

BEN WIKLER, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF WISCONSIN: Absolutely, and I`m so glad that you are covering this and I`m glad to be with you.

Wisconsin was the tipping point state in 2016 and 2020. It`s a state that handed the presidency to Trump, I`m sorry to say, and then to Joe Biden. And in 2022, we`re going to elect our governor who ultimately certifies the states election results in November.

If Governor Ever is reelected, he will continue his vowed to protect the right to vote and make sure our elections are secure. The Republicans running, like Rebecca Kleefisch, has refused to rule out signing bills that would put the state legislature in charge of deciding who won. And what happens in November in that all-important governor`s race will be seeped by what happens in Wisconsin in these local spring elections.

You have people like Melinda Eck who organize the stop the steal protests outside of city hall in Green Bay, our third largest city in our state, she`s running for city council on a slate of conspiracy theorists stopped the Steelers in that city. And the primaries coming up in one week and we are organizing the living daylights out of these local races because they`re often decided by just a few votes.

If you get on the vote right now and call voters and green bay, you can help turn out the voters to make sure that the stop the steal team doesn`t take over that city`s city council which has enormous control over the municipal clerk could ministers the election, the budget for election administration, and a dozen other things.

VELSHI: You make an interesting point here. Because I`m thinking, prevents -- looking for candidates who are going to deal with policing and roads and schools and garbage collection, and things like that. So why would anyone care to vote for someone who`s a stop the steal advocate? Your point is valid, that turnout for local elections is very, very low, so the ability to win a local election can be with very few voters.

WIKLER: This is the thing. Wisconsin elections, over and over, come down to a hair`s breathe. Four out of the six presidential elections came down to less than one percentage point. Our governor`s race in 2018, Governor Evers was elected with a 1.1 percentage point margin. That`s two or three voters per precinct in our state.

If you look at deeper Wisconsin, smaller city, Kelly Rue (ph) is one of the fraudulent electors. She`s on the city council into Pierre. She was just subpoenaed by the January six committee and she is running for reelection. Running against her as a candidate who is actually a poll worker who believes in free and fair and secure elections.

So these races could shape, you, know whether voters are turned away, whether if someone has an error on their absentee ballot, they get a phone call about it so they can fix it. That can shape statewide outcomes and -- statewide outcomes can shape national outcomes in 2024.

If we want to stop the coup in `24, we have to obsess over local elections right now.

VELSHI: Yeah, I want to underscore this point because you are saying this cause Ezra Klein to write not bad for "The New York Times" in which he cited you, saying, if you want to fight for the future of American democracy, he should spend all day talking about the future of American democracy. These local races that determine the mechanics of American democracy are the ventilation shaft and the Republican Death Star.


These races get zero national attention. They hardly get local attention. Turnout is often lower than 20 percent, which means people who actually engage have a superpower.

The point you are making tonight, the point that our viewers have to hear, wherever they live in the country, particularly if they live in Wisconsin, is that you have that superpower. Literally, registering to vote, literally showing up to vote, think attending school board meetings, attending city council meetings and knowing who`s on the ballot, could be the mechanism for saving democracy in this country.

WIKLER: That`s absolutely right. And I would underscore something. No matter where you live in the country, you can join our virtual phone banks. We are calling voters all this weekend, and we`ll be calling them through the primaries on February 15th through the local elections on April 5th. If you go to, you can sign up and volunteers across the country can make those reminder calls.

We don`t need to persuade a hard-core Trumpist to vote for pro-democracy candidates. If we just remind people who voted for Joe Biden in Wisconsin in 2020 that there are local elections coming up in the next few weeks, that can make all the difference. And if they vote this spring, they are definitely voting this fall, so you`re helping throw out Ron Johnson and reelecting Governor Evers at the same time.

It`s such a powerful act, and it`s so powerful because so few people on either side to it. Right wing talk radio right now in Wisconsin is pushing the slates of candidates, like Melinda Eck in Green Bay, that are opposed to our democracy. And we need to organize harder than they are. We have to care about more.

Whoever works harder in these elections wins. They are not millions of dollars of TV ads, it`s just person after person making phone calls when it gets a little warmer, knocking on doors. That work will determine what happens in our democracy at the local level with skills that up to the whole country.

VELSHI: I got to pause and leave it there because that is the point that I think people have to understand.

Ben, thanks for making it so strongly. Ben Wikler is the chairman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. We appreciate your time.

Much more ahead tonight, as Democrats figure out how to defeat Republicans at the local level. New signs tonight that in Washington, Republicans are turning on each other. New reporting tonight as well on who the January six investigation is investigation. The reporter who broke the news joins us right after this.



VELSHI: They met up in the parking garage, almost as if they were cosplaying Deep Throat. On January 5th of last year, the day before the attack on the Capitol, there was a meeting and a random D.C. parking garage between the leaders of two of the most radical right-wing extremist groups in America, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers.

We know about this meeting for a little while now. No one involved was particularly forthcoming about the condescend meet up, but now we know that the FBI is trying to figure it out. "Reuters" exclusively reporting today that federal investigators are now looking into the meeting between the two extremist groups, which took place 24 hours before the members of both groups orchestrated a coordinated attack to try and overthrow the results of the election.

Now to stop something like January six from ever happening again, part of the complicated granular work that has to be done is to really understand how these kinds of extremist groups operate. Because until that shoe leather work is done, it`s just kind of like, pulling up weeds, more and more threats for more extremist groups will keep popping up. You have to dig deeper, you have to pull the whole system up by the root. And intended with this new line of inquiry by the FBI, it seems like there is another team of investigators that are doing just that.

Reporter Ben Collins here at NBC News is something of an extremist expert. He operates in among those weeds and he`s up with fresh reporting out of how investigators of the January six investigation in Congress are trying to piece together the origin stories of these two extremist groups in the hopes that it will shed light on the capitol riot.

Quote: The committee`s investigators are zeroing in on events attended by members of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in 2020. Those events include COVID lockdown protests, counter-protest to some racial justice demonstrations, armed protest activity focused on state capitals across the U.S., and stop the steal rallies that occurred prior to January 6th, 2021.

The investigators assigned to the domestic in extremism inquiry are split into two teams. The red team is concentrating on the events that took place on January 6th. And there is a whole separate team, the purple team, looking into how those anti-democracy factions formed in the months before January 6th and how they evolved in the year since.

And the goal behind this is pretty straightforward. Quote, the goal, according to several of the investigators who spoke with NBC News, is to determine whether these earlier events where proving grounds, opportunities to network, or places to encourage one another to cross red lines into future violence.

Joining us now is NBC senior reporter Ben Collins who covers disinformation and extremism. He broke in this new report today.

My friend, it`s good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

Ben, what kind of things are they looking for that will demonstrate what you report in your reporting? They are looking to see what they were doing, these other things, and what connection they had to January 6th.

BEN COLLINS, NBC NEWS SENIOR REPORTER: Yeah, they`re looking for hard and fast catches between groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys and QAnon conspiracy theorists, that happened over the last year or before the January 6th riot. That includes things like those state capital protests, in Oregon and Michigan we, that kind of priests aged what happened on January 6th.

You know, especially the one in Michigan that ended in the idea that they were going to take the governor.


It was a similarly violently rhetorical protest. So they`re looking for hard and fast connections there. But they`re also looking for ideological similarities between some of these groups.

So the Proud Boys and QAnon people, they don`t necessarily have a lot of common. A lot of Proud Boys look down on QAnon people, they view them as silly. And it`s kind of unclear how they came to the same conclusion, that January 6th, they all had to storm the Capitol, and they all had to fight back for President Trump.

VELSHI: Some of these people have been charged in the litany of charges that that a lot of them face. Some of them have been charged specifically with conspiracy. But not a lot of them are cooperating.

Is there is some idea that they can get people like you would in the mob, get people who are lower down who don`t have the resources or the gumption to hold out to start telling authorities what`s behind some of these organizations?

COLLINS: Yeah, of course. And some are cooperating, by the way. Stewart Rhodes, who is a member of the Oath Keepers, last week dialed into a video conference. You know, he was indicted by feds, but he`s still dialed into a video conference for the January six committee. And he did completely take the Fifth. He did answer some questions.

And, you know, you`re going to -- there`s a lot of trees to shake here. You`re going to see a lot of that over time. And they also have both the feds and the January six committee, they have more and fast data and it has nothing to do with people`s testimonies, it has to do with people wear on the day, and the days before, social media posts, things like that.

So they are going to get to the bottom of this, it seems like. It`s just going to take a while.

VELSHI: You`re right, this was actually published in Lawfare, but it talked about the fact that the Proud Boys` role on January six was more affirmative than the Oath Keepers, but also and more violent and momentous. Just one among the 21 accused Oath Keeper conspirators have been charged with assaulting a police officer, where many of the proud boys have been.

What`s the -- what`s their connection, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers?

COLLINS: Sure, they are kind of two disparate ideas. The Oath Keepers were created shortly after Barack Obama took office, to keep an oath to defend the role of the United States. That`s one thing.

The Proud Boys were created during the Trump era. The Proud Boys are like Milton Street gang basically that was created to fight back against what they believed to be leftist violence in the streets. That`s why they were constantly in these racial justice protests trying to stir up more agitation. The Proud Boys are inherently more violent group. It takes getting into physical fight to be initiated as a high level Proud Boy.

Whereas the Oath Keepers were not planning a much larger thing, they are largely filled with people who are ex-military, ex-police. They had a plan. These people where we earpieces and talk to each other in the day.

They had this idea for QRF squads which are basically bring ammo in, bring out the weapons and later in the day that they stored at the hotel room. So one was -- the Proud Boys are basically like a street gang wanting to fight on command. The Oath Keepers are kind of like a military. Those are the two big differences there.

VELSHI: One of the things in your piece that was interesting as you talk about the revelation of details from the house committee`s investigation comes as federal law enforcement agencies remain on alert for domestic terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory Monday saying the U.S. remains in a heightened threat environment field by several factors including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories and other forms of mis-, dis-, and mal- information or MDM, introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors.

So there`s a bigger piece to this which you have been studying for years which is enveloping this current matter.

COLLINS: Yeah, I talked to some people on the committee, some investigators of the committee on this, and they are similarly worried about this. Whatever report they wind up producing, it would be like a Mueller report or Warren commission at the end of the day.

But they are really worried about this anti-elite sentiment that is the pushed by these groups that used to be pretty separate, Proud boys, the Oath Keepers, QAnon people, the anti-vax community, they`re all kind of coalescing. All of them seem to think there`s a new world order out to get them. They all seem to think that there is this hand above the United States government that is pushing people down.

This is a, you know, the parallels of history in this are very scary. This is the stuff that you get before very grim times in history. Deeply anti- Semitic, deeply racist, that`s how you get to this moment.

But all of them are coalescing around this. You see this in Europe with the anti-vax protests over there, they`re a little more violent than the ones that have been here. You see that in Canada with the trucker convoy right now.


This is a global movement of, you know, I think they wanted to be called populism. But it`s a global movement of anti-elitism, anti-authoritarianism -- sorry, anti-authority in general, pro-authoritarianism. It`s basically anarchy. And that`s what they are rooting for so they can revenge a system that works better for them.

VELSHI: And it`s not easily discounted because of the way it`s spreading around the world. You can`t now just sort of shove it into a corner and ignore it. And I appreciate the reporting you do this.

Ben Collins is a senior reporter for NBC News. We always appreciate your time my friend.

Coming up next, the growing spin and Republican Party about January six and what voters are going to make about it come election day. We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: It`s been five days since the National Republican Party it`s officially condemned the January 6th mob attack on the Capitol, calling those attacks, quote, legitimate political discourse, while censuring two of its members for having the temerity to try to get to the bottom of what`s actually happened that day by joining the January 6th committee.


But now, we are actually starting to see some Republican senators offer some qualified pushback.


SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): I think the RNC is out of its lane, quite honestly.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think all of us up here want to talk about forward not backward.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): We`ve got issues that we should be focusing on besides censuring two members of Congress because they have a different opinion.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): They said in the resolution that they wanted Republicans to be unified. That was not a unifying action.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us.


VELSHI: Now, each of those Republican senators showed some willingness to distance themselves from what is now the official position of their own party. That itself is actually remarkable thinking these days. It`s a message being embraced by the top Senate Republican.

Moments after leaving his weekly meeting with Republican senators today, Mitch McConnell made his feelings clear to reporters.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Let me give you my view of what happened on January 6th. We are here. We are here. We saw what happened. It was a violent insurrection with the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That`s what it was. And the issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That`s not the job of the RNC.


VELSHI: A person who spoke to McConnell tells "The Washington Post" tonight that the Republican leader is, quote, frustrated that the party was focused on the only liability we have, when he believes Republicans are otherwise well-positioned to win the November midterms.

But not all Republicans agree that the party`s official downplaying of January 6th is in fact a political liability. An RNC spokeswoman tells "The Post", outside of the D.C. bubble, our grassroots are very supportive of the decision to hold Cheney and Kinzinger accountable.

That statement was echoed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who`s made it clear that he will never apologize for objecting to Biden`s 2020 win.

He told reporters today, quote: Listen, whatever you think about the RNC vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters.

Joining us now to discuss this is former RNC chairman Michael Steele.

Michael, it is good to see you, my friend. I need you for a fact check tonight, because on one side, we are kind of excited that a few Republican senators said the most obvious thing they could say, right, that you cannot call what happened on January 6th legitimate protest. Nobody is going too far out on a limb. In fact, it was interesting to see Mitch McConnell probably going further than most. But they`re not going too far. This is the most obvious thing you could say as a Republican, that this was an insurrection.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. You know, look, I think a lot of folks are sitting here and saying, thank you, thank you for acknowledging what the rest of the country acknowledged a year ago.

And I get it. I understand a lot of the politics and everything. But this is beyond the politics, Ali. And I think a lot of us appreciate Mitch and on Republican senators now coming out and stating the obvious.

How much damage has been done? How much further have we allowed this rot to continue inside the party? If these comments and this acknowledgment had been made over the past seven or eight months, do you have a moment like you had with the rest of the clips showing the craziness of Josh Hawley and others talking about, well, oh, our base, this is what we want. Well, our base wouldn`t be this base if the leadership acknowledged the facts and truth at the very beginning.

VELSHI: So, let me ask --

STEELE: After the election.

VELSHI: So, what is the trigger, then, for McConnell to do this? Because that`s as forceful as he has been about this issue. There is a real debate -- maybe there is not a ton of debate going on in the Republican Party. But there is one around whether embracing the January 6th rioters is a liability or advantage come November. Someone, maybe Mitch McConnell himself, but someone has decided it`s a liability.

STEELE: It`s a liability and it is probably reflected in their internal polling. Look, Mitch is nothing if not calculating. Mitch is nothing if not dialed in.

And so while Josh Hawley thinks, yeah, this is where the Republican base is, it`s a very small portion of the Republican base that buys into what the RNC did, relative to the potential loss come this November.

Why is that important? Because yeah, you still need Republicans to turn out and vote.


You still need them to support the candidates. And you don`t want to continue to add fuel to that fire.

So the internal conversation in McConnell`s world is focused on how we navigate the space, clear the lane of -- the debris of January 6th and stay focused on talking about Biden, talking about the economy, et cetera. This takes away from that in a major way.

And to the broader question about, you know, this being the only thing that Republicans have is a problem going into November was talking about this -- no, the problems are a lot bigger than just this one issue. So, there are a lot of other pieces that come together that McConnell is looking at that now put him in a position to stand very clearly in opposition to Donald Trump and the Trump wing of the party.

VELSHI: It`s interesting you mention the polling that McConnell may be relying on. I want to show you a new Pew Research poll, taken between the January 10th and the 17th, asking Americans whether they think Trump bears a lot of responsibility for January 6th.

One year ago, right after January 6th, 52 percent of Americans thought that Trump bore a lot of responsibility. And I would`ve thought that, with everything we learned, it would have been greater. But according to Pew, it has gone down. Fewer Americans think Trump bears a lot of responsibility for January 6th.

What do you make of a poll like this?

STEELE: That is where leadership comes in. You beat the drum, you create the confusion, you depress the narrative. Yeah, people tune out. They then begin to see everything to a political lens.

And this is the risk, Ali, that I think the Biden administration but more importantly the January 6th commission has to deal with, is how they pull this out of that purely political space and get the American people to focus on what we had happen. It was real, it was threatening to our democracy and now people need to account for it.

And that is the part that, over the next few months, is going to be the challenge. That is why those numbers show that number at 43 percent versus 52 percent a year ago, because of the lack of emphasis of just how important this really is.

VELSHI: Why is the RNC out in front of this thing? I mean, you are a former RNC chairman. Why did they get themselves into a position where they would be perhaps not thinking they would be having this discussion?

STEELE: This is all what Trump wanted. This is all about what Trump wanted. In fact, Dave Bossie, the national committee man from my great state of Maryland, God bless us, they go traipsing down to Mar-a-Lago saying, oh, there was no conversation between Trump and Bossie.

Yeah, Trump is still sitting there, orchestrating and dictating the terms. Bossie is one of his acolytes. This is -- there are Trump fingerprints all over it. The chairwoman is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump operations at this point.

And so, the reality of it is, we have those two inside the building along, with all of the Trump acolytes who have elected chairman and national committee chairman and chairwoman over the last years. This is the tool that the party is beginning to see internally. Trust me the McConnells of the world and others are going to feel that pull, which is why some members are retiring, members are retiring, et cetera, because they do not want to be caught in this any longer.

It is going to be a real tug of war between now and November, given also, Ali, the fact that you have Republicans like myself and others who are going to make sure, damn sure, that this pull and this tug happens because we want this party to move off of the stupid and back into a position where it can govern the country and not run it into the ground by upending its democracy.

VELSHI: Michael, I am always much smarter for listening you. Thank you, my friend, for joining us tonight. I really appreciate your time.

Former RNC chairman Michael Steele.

Much more tonight, stay with us.



VELSHI: Paul Lawrence Dunbar Senior High School invited Vice President Kamala Harris`s husband, the second gentleman Doug Emhoff, to visit for Black History Month commemorations today at the school`s museum. The D.C. high school was named after the noted poet that was founded in 1970 as the nation`s first public high school for African-American students.

Dunbar High has very many notable alumni including Washington, D.C.`s member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton. This is her picture from the school`s 1955 yearbook.

So, it was a fitting place to hold an event to celebrate Black History Month. But the event was cut short. Mr. Emhoff was only there for five minutes before his security detail told him he had to go. Photographers in the room called these images of the Secret Service rushing him to safety over what the vice president`s office called a, quote, security threat.

Students and faculty were also told to evacuate the building. We later learned that the security threat of the school was a bomb threat. The Secret Service says it does not believe this bomb threat was linked to the second gentleman`s visit. And a D.C. police spokesperson says the FBI does not believe that this threat right now is linked to several threats to HBCUs, historically Black colleges and universities in the last few weeks.

But this claim came hours after classes were disrupted at Spelman College, a famous historically black university in Atlanta after another bomb threat to that school. The campus was on lockdown for four hours as police did a thorough sweep of the campus. This is the third time this year that Spelman has faced a bomb threat. And it follows a disturbing pattern last week at the start of Black History Month, bomb threats on the campuses of at least 17 historically black colleges and universities that force administrators to cancel classes and to lockdown buildings.


The FBI says that it`s identified six juveniles as persons of interest in these threats and is investigating them as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes. One of the callers to one of the schools claim to have ties to a neo Nazi group.

And it`s against this backdrop today that the Southern Law Center held a digital roundtable with several HBCU presidents and an official with the Department of Education about the impact that these threats are having and how to move forward.

Joining us now is Lauren Lumpkin, a reporter for "The Washington Post" who has been following the threats against HBCU. She attended the roundtable today.

Ms. Lumpkin, thank you for making time for being with us tonight.


VELSHI: What happens at a roundtable like this, other than people conveying the fact that this is bad, it`s disruptive, it`s frightening, it`s probably emotionally disturbing for the students and the faculty? Was there any sense of a plan or support that goes out to these HBCUs to deal with this?

LUMPKIN: Right, so, like you said, a lot of these we people were coming together and talk about how the campuses have been over the last couple days. It`s a very scary time, at this point, they haven`t found any bumps on these campuses, but just a threat can really rattle a campus.

But at this point, you, know the Department of Education, Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper was there, the department offered support. The FBI has put the investigation at the top of their priority list.

So there`s just a lot of talk about public safety and how the federal government, state, law enforcement is going to be there and support this investigation.

But you also heard from the university presidents a little bit of, kind of -- you know, being patient, obviously, but also want to get to the bottom of this and figure out who is making these threats and remedy the situation as quickly as possible.

VELSHI: Yeah, one or two you can`t discount it, it`s now at 17. We don`t know if they`re copycats. We don`t know if it`s the same people. Are there any good working theories right now?

LUMPKIN: Well, it`s hard to speculate at this point. You know we know the FBI is investigating this as a hate crime. So clearly, there is reason to believe that these are racially motivated threats.

And I think it`s clear based on what the FBI said that these colors -- obviously institutions that are being threatened, these are all historically black universities. And they thought these 16 threats on -- last week, the first day of Black History Month, a time when students are celebrating their history and their places in the higher education, a bomb threat is clearly not a great way to start, what is normally a month of celebration.

VELSHI: And, of course, the strain that it puts on the students which, you are reporting and you heard the university presidents talking about.

What kind of resources are available to students who are, you know, worried about going to universities where they are getting bomb threats called in?

LUMPKIN: Right. Mental health thing -- piece is a really big part of this. I was at Morgan State University, in Baltimore, and speaking to students and -- I mean, imagine being a college student right now, this pandemic, your ready kind of anxious about what`s going on. And now, your school is getting threats. So at Morgan State, officials are kind of offering mental health services at Harvard University last week, that students got a day off, the president called it a mental health day for people to kind of fresh and take some time to take a break honestly.

So, we see the counseling centers, you know, making sure that counselors are available to students and we see a lot of these officials that are repeating over and over, we`re here for you, we support you, let us know if you need our help.

So I think, you know, people are kind of being little lenient, just trying to be understanding because of everything that`s going on right now.

VELSHI: Yeah, that`s already enough stress being a college student in this country without having to worry about bombs going off.

Lauren, thanks for your great reporting on this. Lauren Lumpkin is covering issues at local universities and colleges for "The Washington Post". We appreciate your time tonight.

Coming up next, even though he`s been out of office for a year now, all of the former president`s grifters seem to keep popping up again. We`ll have more on that ahead.



VELSHI: One more thing before we go tonight. Let`s call it a trip down memory lane.

Here`s the email that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort received 11 days after the 2016 election from a Chicago banker. Subject, quote, Stephen M. Calk, candidate for sec army. The attachment says, quote, perspective rolls for in the Trump administration in rank order. Yes, that is roles as in job functions and not the things into which I put my chicken salad.

Hew goes on to list them. Quote, one, secretary of the army, two, deputy secretary of treasury, three, secretary of commerce. That email about Stephen Calk, this guy, the former CEO of a Midwestern bank called the Federal Savings Bank. And that was not any ordinary pitch email from someone trying to curry someone favor with the incoming administration. It was in fact a bribe.

You see, in July of 2016, Paul Manafort who was at the time Trump`s campaign manager, came to Stephen Calk`s bank seeking a multimillion dollar loan. The one glaring problem was that Manafort had a lot of red flags on his financials. He was deep in debt, he had multiple properties facing foreclosure, and he needed money, he needed it fast.

So he struck a deal with Calk. Calk ignored the red flags on Manafort`s financials and ended up securing Manafort two loans totaling a whopping $16 million. Days after approving the first loan for Manafort, Calk was appointed to the Trump campaign`s economic advisory council. When Manafort needed that multimillion second loan, this time, Calk approved it and shortly thereafter, sent Manafort a list of administration jobs that he wanted.

Manafort did end up getting Calk an interviewed in Trump tower for undersecretary of the army, but Calk never got the job. He did eventually get indicted for that scheme by federal prosecutors in New York City. He was convicted in July of financial institution bribery and conspiracy, and yesterday, nearly six years after the start of that bribery scheme, Calk was finally sentenced.

The Department of Justice aptly puts the news and it`s headline announcing the news, quote, bank CEO Stephen M. Calk sentenced to one year and one day for corruptly soliciting a presidential administration position in exchange for approving $16 million in loans.

In addition to spending 366 days in prison, Calk must pay over $1.2 million in fines, complete 800 hours of community service, and undergo two years of supervised release.

As for Manafort, he too was convicted of multiple felonies and other schemes, including bank fraud and filing false tax returns. But he is free, of course, because Donald Trump pardoned him right before he left office. Nice work if you can get it.

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


Lawrence, that`s not our world. We just have to keep on working. We can`t just do that stuff and get away with it.