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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/30/21

Guests: Katie Benner, Jane Mayer


"The New York Times" is reporting that DOJ is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz over alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. Leaked audio reveals efforts made by conservative groups to block voting rights legislation.


MEDHI HASAN, MSNBC HOST: That`s ALL IN on this Tuesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Mehdi. Thank you so much, my friend. Appreciate it.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Tonight, we`re going to have the latest on the trial of the Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. We are going to be looking at that story tonight in detail in part because some of the witness tomorrow testimony today was so dramatic and so charged.

We`ll also be looking ahead to tomorrow midday when President Biden is due to announce the next big thing he is planning on doing with Congress after the COVID relief bill. A huge infrastructure effort bigger than anything our country has been able to do in generations. If you just look around, you know that it is really overdue. We`re very overdue for infrastructure investment in this country. We are expecting President Biden`s plan to be really ambitious. We are looking ahead to that big rollout by the president tomorrow.

Also, tonight, we are keeping an eye on the COVID news. The Biden administration today announced that as of today, we have crossed an important threshold. As of today, a majority of U.S. seniors have been vaccinated. We have hit 50 percent of all Americans aged 65 and up have been vaccinated. Just a remarkable threshold.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky today meeting with governors from around the country asking them to please slow down or stop reopening plans in the states for the next few weeks because the vaccination rollout really only needs a few more weeks at this pace to get us finally a mathematical advantage against the virus for the first time if we can just avoid another huge surge of transmission in the next few weeks. Dr. Walensky making that case to the nations` governors today.

Of course, we`re also still watching and waiting for whether OSHA in the Biden administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, may issue a rule that requires mask in workplaces nationwide regardless of what states have what rules. An OSHA rule like that for mask use in workplaces, an enforceable rule. That would certainly help with what the CDC director is asked for from the states.

But I got to tell you, this is turning into a bit of a mystery. OSHA was told the first week of the Biden administration that they needed to study this matter and report back on what they were going to do by March 15th. We are two weeks past the deadline by which President Biden told OSHA they needed to have the mask rule ready to go if they were going to do it. We still haven`t seen hide nor hair of it.

It would be a big deal especially as the CDC and the president are pushing hard, hard to try to stop these opening up -- stop these various efforts to open up in various states just for the next few weeks until the now going gangbusters vaccination effort can get ahead mathematically of where the epidemic is.

So those are all things that we are watching tonight.

We are also going to have new updates on the new legal challenges to the draconian anti-voting bill passed last week in the state of Georgia as well as a lurid update on the far-right big money effort to stop Democrats in Washington passing voting rights protections, which would block the worst of what Georgia is trying to do as well as what Republicans are trying to do in other red states around the country.

So as I said, there is a lot -- lot going on. Lots to keep an eye on. A lot to get to in the show tonight.

But if you had asked me even two hours ago if we`d be having to talk about this next story tonight at all, I would have looked at you like you were cuckoo. I mean, sometimes, we think the news is going one way and then the news gods throw you a weird late curveball and you must adapt. That`s what happened tonight. That`s what just happened tonight, thanks to a front page bizarre breaking news story in the "New York Times."

Let`s start where I think the story starts. I will stand corrected if it starts somewhere deeper and weirder than this. But for now, as far as we understand it, the story starts in Seminole County, Florida. So, Seminole County, Central Florida, Orlando metro area, northeast from there, towards the Space Coast.

For reasons unknown to men, in Seminole County in the 2016 election, Seminole County voters in their infinite wisdom decided that they would replace their county tax collector with this young man, 31 years old at the time he was elected, no prior record of public service. And we now know from audits and investigations that he really hit the ground running as soon as he won that office in 2016 and was sworn in in 2017.

One little glimpse of how this is going. This guy, as I said, young man, first time in public service, 31 years old when he was elected, he had just been married a couple of months before he was elected. He was married mid- 2016.

After he won the election in November 2016 and got sworn in in early 2017, he apparently hired and started to pay with public funds six different people who had been part of his wedding party the previous year. I`m not sure that`s how you are supposed to staff up the tax collector`s office.

An "Orlando Sentinel" investigation found that he issued $1.9 million in contracts from his office to people who were his own close friends and business partners. Again, this is the tax collector`s office. A county audit found that for some reason within months of taking office, he also started spending public money for that office on guns and ammunition and body armor and drones.

The tax collector`s office in Seminole County, Florida, needs drones? Okay.

Also, by June 2017, so still only in office a few months, he proclaimed that he and his employees in the county tax collector`s office would henceforth all be carrying guns. He wanted them to wear their guns at work, to go along with their tax collector`s office badges.

This is like the office that collects license fees and stuff. This is not like some SWAT team agency with frontline Wyatt Earp out there defending the streets. But the guy elected to that office after hiring his groomsmen to come in and run the place buys all these guns and body armor and ammo and drones, tells everybody in the office they need to wear guns at work to go along with their badges?

Why did he want that? I don`t know for sure. But within a few short months, he personally had pulled over a woman driving who he decided might have been speeding.

Now, did he have like a speed gun? I wouldn`t put it past him. I don`t know.

But he decided she was speeding. He pulled her over. He flashed his badge, which if you look closely in the fine print was a badge that identified him as a guy that worked in the county tax collector`s office. But still, if it`s dark enough and you throw the right kind of weight around and squint, it looks like a sheriff`s badge. I wonder what the drone might have told him about whether she really had been speeding.

But it gets better. There is also the part where while working full time as the elected tax collector for that county, he set up a for-profit business inside the tax collector`s office to do Blockchain something, something. What was the company actually going to do? It does not matter.

He set up a private for-profit company, running it from inside the county tax collector`s office and in setting up that private for-profit company, he decided he needed $65,000 in brand-new computer servers to run his new private company and then he billed the county for those computer servers.

And just to put only icing on this on this particular part of the cake, the audit found that he was such a genius at this stuff, that when he installed those servers that he billed to the taxpayers, when he installed those servers for the private company he was going to run out of the tax collector`s office, he installed them wrong and thereby set the office on fire. Ta-da!

So, Seminole County, Florida, congratulations on your excellent choice for a new public official in the 2016 elections.

Along the way, the "Orlando Sentinel" reported on his frequent anti-Muslim social media posts and his posts posing with far-right white nationalist types, he ended up posting things online about his friendship with President Trump`s long-time political advisor and convicted felon Roger Stone who you see on the left side of the screen there, as well as the Trumpiest of all Trumpy Republican congressman you see on the center there, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

But where things get rough for the Seminole County tax collector is June of last year. Federal agents come to his house to arrest him for, among other things, allegedly stalking a local man who was going to run against him for county tax collector. Yeah, how dare anyone run against him for tax collector when our hero was doing such a great job in that office? Have you seen the way they wear their guns now?

To try to derail this potential opponent`s campaign, the tax collector guy, according to prosecutors, arranged for a false rape acquisition to be made against the man which was then sent to the school at which the guy worked. The same allegation was then hyped and circulated by a network of fake identity social media bots and accounts apparently controlled by a local guy from the Proud Boys and associated with Roger Stone.

Prosecutors say the tax collector guy also created a fake Twitter account in the name of the guy who was running against him and falsely posted things on that Twitter account in which he was claiming to be the guy running against him and also claiming to be a proud segregationist and a white supremacist.

But it was all fake. It was the tax collector guy who set up this Twitter account. It was a hit job. All set up by our hero, the armed to the teeth fire-setting wedding party-hiring tax collector of Seminole County.

So, federal agents show up at his house last summer to arrest him on the stalking charges and things get worse because what do they find when they come to arrest him at his house? I will read it from "The Orlando Sentinel" at the time.

Quote, the day he was indicted for stalking a political rival, Joel Greenberg had several stolen IDs in his work vehicle, a pair of fake IDs in his wallet, and materials for making more in his office. Evidence he was regularly abusing his position to steal unwitting constituents` identities, according to federal authorities. Inside the tax collector`s work vehicle, agents found his backpack which held three licenses from Canada, Virginia, and Florida belonging to Seminole County residents who recently obtained new Florida licenses.

Employees of the tax collector`s office told agents they had seen Greenberg taking surrendered licenses from the agency`s shred basket prior to their destruction. That`s from an "Orlando Sentinel" story from last summer titled ex-Seminole tax collector Joel Greenberg was stealing customer IDs until his last day in office, feds say.

They say he`s the ex-Seminole tax collector because he did resign his post the day after police showed up to arrest him. I mean, the fake ID stuff is nuts, right? I mean, in Seminole County, Florida, you have to go to the tax collector`s office if you move there and you want a new local ID when they get you your new local ID. You have to hand over your own ID.

Federal prosecutors say the elected tax collector was stealing all of the old licenses out of the to be shredded bin, and then using them to make tons of fake IDs. apparently, mostly for himself. So he would change the IDs so that -- doctor them, according to prosecutors, so they would have his own picture on them so he could flash the ID and it would look like him but the name and information on the rest of the ID was the people from whom he had stolen their old licenses at the his office.

And it wasn`t just like he did it once. According to prosecutors, he had a bunch of these IDs in his car, in his backpack, tucked into his wallet while they were arresting him. What do you need them all for? Why do you need a whole bunch of fake identities?

And why was he also, according to prosecutors, trying to figure out how to falsify concealed firearms permits as well? Do you have any idea how many things could go wrong all at once if you just elected the wrong guy tax collector of all things? Who knew what mischief could be made out of a single job like that.

But that "Orlando Sentinel" headline about him stealing people`s IDs allegedly through his last day in office, that ran in "The Orlando Sentinel" in July. By the following month, by August, federal officials had gone through the computers and electronic devices they seized from him during that arrest and what they found, according to prosecutors on those electronic devices and computers, would yield darker headlines by the following month, plus a superseding federal indictment for him.

By August of last year, this was the headline in "The Orlando Sentinel." Former Seminole tax collector Joel Greenberg facing sex trafficking charges. Quote, Joel Greenberg is facing sex trafficking charges related to a girl between the ages of 14 and 17 and is also accused of illegally using a state database to look up information about the girl and other people with whom he was engaged in, quote, sugar daddy relationships, according to an indictment filed Friday by the U.S. attorney`s office.

Quote: The former Seminole County tax collector used his access as an elected official to a state database to look up information about the minor victim. The database in question is the Florida driver and vehicle information database. He allegedly looked up information about the girl in that database, including her photo and her driver ID number.

He also, according to the indictment, used the database to look up other people with whom he was, quote, engaged in sugar daddy relationships. That`s the phrase used in the indictment. "The Orlando Sentinel" helpfully points out, quote, a sugar daddy is a term that refers to a wealthy man who dates a younger woman and gives her gifts in exchange for companionship or sex.

Again, the alleged victim here is a teenage girl. Per "The Orlando Sentinel," quote, Greenberg used the state database for prohibited purposes, including to produce a false identification document and to facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts.

So, there is the sort of reign of terror at this obscure office in Florida by this guy who is linked to the kind of highest levels of Donald Trump circles in Florida, and it ends in this very, very dark place. I mean, it starts off weird and get weird and dark in some ways, but then ends up in this terrible place, right? Charges of sex trafficking of a child.

Now, the tax collector guy quit his job after he was arrested. He pled not guilty to all of the 14 federal charges he is now facing, including the sex trafficking of a child charges. He was out on bail after he was charged last summer but last month the judge overseeing his case jailed him for violating the terms of his bail. So he is now in jail and scheduled to go on trial in Florida in June.

So, I know. Happy Tuesday. Yuck, this exists, I`m sorry.

But now tonight on the front page on "The New York Times", we get the national kick in the teeth that comes with this story. This is the headline tonight on the front page of "The Times". Quote, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is said to be investigated over possible sexual relationship with girl age 17. Quote: Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him according to three people briefed in the matter. Investigators are whether he violated feller federal sex trafficking laws, a variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under the age of 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.

The U.S. Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases and offenders often receive severe sentences. It was not clear how Congressman Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounter. It was about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing.

The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr. Given Congressman Gaetz`s national profile, this is interesting, senior Justice Department officials in D.C., including some appointed by president Trump, were notified of the investigation. Three people familiar with the probe said the examination of Congressman Gaetz is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, the Seminole County tax collector, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.

Mr. Greenberg, who resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County visited the White House with Congressman Matt Gaetz in 2019, according to a photograph that Mr. Greenberg posted on Twitter.

So, like you have to learn this gross Florida man story in order to get to what allegedly happened here, right? The tax collector from this county in Florida and Congressman Matt Gaetz, they both get incidentally elected to public office in 2016. We have multiple pictures and accounts of them together since.

In the Seminole County tax collector`s office, things go not just bad, but horror movie pad with the tax collector guy culminating in child sex trafficking charges. Now per "The New York Times", Congressman Gaetz, the loudest and proudest and most flamboyant trolling pro-Trump member of Congress in the Republican Party is, himself, reportedly facing investigation for the same very dark, very serious alleged crime.

And not for nothing, but the year that he and the Seminole County tax collector guy were both sworn in public office for the first time in 2017, which is when this alleged child sex trafficking is to have occurred, both per Gaetz in "The New York Times" and per prosecutors in the apparently related case in Florida, in 2017 when, again, this -- these alleged crimes are said to have occurred, Congressman Matt Gaetz, in his first year as congressman, did briefly earn some national headlines that you might remember.

It was weird at the time. Why is there one member of Congress from either party, either chamber, one alone who voted no, who voted against increasing law enforcement funding to combat child sex trafficking? This thing passed unanimously except for Matt Gaetz. Channel: 103 date: 03/30/2021 time started: 21:20 time ended: 21:25 comments: He voted no.

Now, according to "The New York Times," he is under federal investigation for child sex trafficking. Of course, that vote might just be a coincidence. Might be a totally normal part of the story because, sure, every part of this is totally normal.

Since "The Times" published the story, Congressman Gaetz has put out a public statement denying all the allegations. He is now just in the last hour or so done an interview on the Fox News Channel in which he claims he is not only innocent, but this is part of an elaborate extortion plot targeting his father and trying to get money from his very wealthy family. Also something about a plot to get him a pardon from President Biden.

He is making a series of allegations about what this really is. He says it`s nothing like what "The New York Times" says. He is very upset about the charges, specifically denies any relationship with any under age person. "The New York Times" meanwhile is standing by its reporting.

Joining us now is Katie Benner. She`s a "New York Times" reporter who covers the Justice Department. She is one of the reporters who broke the story tonight.

Ms. Benner, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I hope I haven`t butchered the story too much in my retelling.


MADDOW: Okay. So, let me ask you first about Congressman Gaetz`s pushback. I know that the story published initially you and Michael Schmidt published the story and quickly an update to account for Congressman Gaetz really angrily denying all of this and making counter allegations that this is the product of some sort of improper extortion plot.

Can you help us understand what his pushback is here?

BENNER: Sure. I think that to understand the congressman`s statements, the most important thing is look at the timeline in this investigation. What we found is that this investigation began at the end of last summer and it`s been going on for more than six months. This is a serious investigation that was serious enough that even the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the office of the attorney general, Bill Barr, said that, you know, the issue continued. So, that`s the context.

And this investigation had been going on several months. What Congressman Gaetz is saying is somebody found out about it and used that information to try to get money out of his family.

So I`m not saying that the extortion claims he is making are untrue. I`m just saying it came on the heels of months and months of an investigation in a part of the country where the offices are very small and there should be some expectation that information sometimes leaks out of these offices.

So the idea that the extortion exists or it happened, I think that it should be seen in the context of that timeline of an investigation that`s serious, brewing for a long time, bubbling out into the local community.

MADDOW: Now, Mr. Gaetz, Congressman Gaetz, has made this extortion allegation. He has named somebody who he says is the guilty party trying to extort he and his family for money to try to make this go away. Again, I have no idea about that, the veracity of those allegations. As you say, with the timeline it`s important to understand these may be two stories.

But the person that he`s named, is that a person who was involved with the Justice Department investigation? Gaetz is essentially claiming that these are false charges trumped up against him and somebody involved in trumping up the charges against him tried to extort money from him. Is the person he named somebody involved in this investigation?

BENNER: No, that person is not involved in the investigation. That person is in private practice and doesn`t work at the Justice Department. But, again, keep in mind, this is an investigation that when you look at the timeline was very serious and it was something that was taken seriously by Trump administration officials in the Justice Department. I think that one of the reasons why he has talked publicly about the extortion plot, publicly said the FBI asked his own father to wear a wire is to get people to not pay attention to the fact that it was in fact the Trump administration that felt it was worthy to investigate him.

In publicly talking about this investigation, sorry, in publicly talking about the extortion plot that he has described and publicly saying his father wore a wire, he is basically destroying and blowing up an FBI investigation, which is in itself something you would think would be against his own interest. You would think he would want to work with the FBI and keep this quiet.

So you have to put this all into context and say that in doing this and basically blowing up an FBI investigation into people trying to extort his family, you know, he has both complicated that investigation and also cast aspersions on someone that was serious enough that Attorney General Bill Barr approved it.

MADDOW: Attorney General Bill Barr personally approved it?

BENNER: Yes. So, remember, last February, Attorney General Barr put out a memo to all federal prosecutors saying that if anybody involved in the 2020 election was going to be investigated, if any members of Congress were going to be investigated, that those investigations needed to be briefed to supervisors, including the U.S. attorney in that district, and whoever the AG at the Justice Department would be. So, the head of the criminal division or the national security division, those people would need to sign off on it and then those people would brief it up to the deputy attorney general and to the attorney general. So, he would have known about this, yes.

MADDOW: Katie, let me ask you, in terms of Congressman Gaetz and whether he is, as you say, by his public remarks about this supposed extortion claim, whether he is blowing up a potential FBI investigation, whether there was an extortion claim subsequent to this investigation, in terms of thinking about his motivation there, can you tell us from your reporting whether the investigation into Congressman Gaetz is something that was resolving and not likely to head towards charges, or is this something that either was heading towards charges or could potentially still be heading towards charges and, therefore, very serious criminal liability potentially for the congressman?

BENNER: You know, I cannot be in Congressman Gaetz`s head. I am not sure why he would choose to publicly disclose information that would impair an investigation that he has publicly said should be helping he and his family.

But I will say that the investigation, the allegations are that he not only had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, but that he took her across state lines, which would be a federal crime, and he gave her something of value in return. That could be money. It also could just be travel expense or something else. That is extremely serious.

And again, we don`t know whether or not this will be charged. There is one reason why the Justice Department wants to keep these things quiet because you don`t know what`s going to happen. We know investigators have been working hard on the case and they believe it is worth looking into.

MADDOW: Katie Benner, "New York Times" Justice Department reporter, you`re in the middle of a maelstrom on this. It`s just fascinating, sort of gobsmacking reporting. Thank you for helping us understand it tonight.

BENNER: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We have much more ahead on this, frankly, bizarre news night. Anything could happen.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Today was an emotional second day in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin who stands accused of murdering George Floyd. Six witnesses gave testimony on the stand today and of those six, four of them were kids or young adults who witnessed the death of George Floyd May 25th last year. And who will all now live with that memory for the rest of their lives.

Because they are minors at the time of the thing they were testifying about, the court didn`t show their faces while they were giving testimony today. The people inside the room, including the jury, could see them, but the rest of us watching the video feed could not.

The court did, however, allow us to hear these young people, describing what they witness, and that was really something.

One was the young woman named Darnella Frazier. She was 17 on the day George Floyd died. She was there. She is the person who filmed the best known video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd`s neck for more than nine minutes until he died.

Today, the prosecutor in the case asked her about her decision to start recording what she was witnessing.


JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: What did you do when you first got there and we see where you are standing, what did you do?

WITNESS: I pulled out my phone.

BLACKWELL: And what were you doing in pulling out your phone?

WITNESS: Recording, capturing what I was seeing.

BLACKWELL: And that we have already admitted into evidence in this case the video which you had done, which is our exhibit 15 in evidence.

So tell the jury what you observed, what you heard when you stopped to look at what was happening there at the scene.

WITNESS: I heard George Floyd saying, I can`t breathe, please get off of me, I can`t breathe.

He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew -- it seemed like he knew it was over for him.

He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help. Definitely.


MADDOW: Later in the trial, Darnella Frazier had one of the most powerful and gut-wrenching moments of the day when she described how she has lived with the memory of that day since after seeing what she saw.


BLACKWELL: Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen how your viewing, experiencing, experiencing what happened to George Floyd has affected your life?

WITNESS: When I look at George Floyd, I look at my -- I look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all black.

I have black -- I have a black father. I have a black brother. I have black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them.

It`s the nights. I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.

It`s, like, it`s not what I should have done. It`s what he should have done.


MADDOW: What he should have done, indicating the defendant.

Darnella Frazier was at the scene of George Floyd`s death that day because she was taking her 9-year-old cousin to the store to get a snack. Today, that 9-year-old girl whose named is Judea also took the stand to describe what she saw. This was just remarkable.


BLACKWELL: Good morning, Judea.

WITNESS: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: First of all, would you tell us how old you are?


BLACKWELL: How old were you be by end of next week?


BLACKWELL: And then you have a 10th birthday coming up?


BLACKWELL: What grade are you in?


BLACKWELL: Now, when you came out to where your cousin was and you saw George Floyd, was there a policeman there?


BLACKWELL: Do you remember what the policeman or policemen were doing?

WITNESS: Putting a knee on the neck of George Floyd.

BLACKWELL: If I showed you a picture of a policeman -- why don`t I just do that? Let me ask you if you recognize the policeman in what is marked as exhibit 17. Do you recognize this man?


BLACKWELL: Who is he?

WITNESS: I can`t remember his name.

BLACKWELL: Do you remember what he was doing? How do you know him?

WITNESS: He was putting a knee on the neck of George Floyd.

BLACKWELL: Do you see him in the courtroom today?


BLACKWELL: Okay. How about him?


BLACKWELL: All right. So is that the person that you saw?



MADDOW: Not all of the witnesses who testified today had to do so off camera, although all of that testimony from those young people and those kids was astonishing.

Genevieve Hansen is 27-year-old Minneapolis firefighter who was at the scene when George Floyd died, imploring the officers to check George Floyd`s pulse. Today, she showed up in uniform to testify.


GENEVIEVE HANSEN, MINNEAPOLIS FIREFIGHTER: The officers didn`t let me into the scene. I also offered in my memory, I offered to walk, kind of walk them through it or told them, if he doesn`t have a pulse you need to start compressions and that wasn`t done either.

MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTOR: And so, well, is this -- are these things that you wanted to do?

HANSEN: It`s what I would have done for anybody.

FRANK: When you couldn`t do that, how did that make you feel?

HANSEN: Totally distressed.

FRANK: Were you frustrated?



MADDOW: This was day two of the trial in Minneapolis for the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with the murder of George Floyd. Day three is tomorrow. It`s expected to take several weeks, this trial.

Of course, the trial is taking place right now in the context of a civil rights and race crisis of a different kind for the country. Today, we saw another group of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, file another lawsuit, this is the third one, against the state of Georgia for Georgia`s new restrictive law curbing voting rights.

We`re still keeping an eye, I should tell you, on that criminal felony case that has been brought in Georgia against State Representative Park Cannon, African-American female Democratic legislator who was arrested by state troopers and dragged through the state capitol after she knocked on the door and asked to be allowed in the signing ceremony for that bill.

She is charged with two felonies in the state, facing years in prison potentially.

We`re also learning more about the nationwide well-funded effort on the right to not only help with the rollback of voting rights everywhere, including Georgia, but trying to kneecap the ability to stop it from Washington.

We got more on that story, next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: This was two weekends ago in West Virginia.

A small protest in West Virginia`s capital city targeting U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, pressuring him to vote against the voting rights bill that sitting in the Senate right now the For the People Act, HR-1. This rally was organized by several big money conservative groups that are not from West Virginia, not at all.

The groups based in D.C. and in order to do this rally two weekends ago, they had to bus people in. People who don`t low-risk in West Virginia to have what they said was a West Virginia rally. Why do you need to gin that up? Why do you need fake protesters bussed in from somewhere else to try to pressure Joe Manchin? Aren`t there locals who agree with the Republican Party`s position on this?

Turns out that`s kind of a problem for them on this.


KYLE MCKENZIE, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, KOCH-RUN ADVOCACY GROUP "STAND TOGETHER": When presented with a very neutral description of HR-1, people were generally supportive, and the most worrisome part, which Grover mentions at the very beginning of his presentation, is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description of HR-1.


MADDOW: That audio was obtained by reporter Jane Mayer at "The New Yorker." It`s audio from strategy session among leaders of big money conservative groups to figure out how to stop the bill sitting in the Senate right now that would protect voter rights nationwide.

In addition to protecting people`s right to vote, that bill would also dramatically overhaul campaign finance law, to essentially plug the flowing faucet of dark, unaccountable money in American politics. Dark money has been a life source in Republican politics in particular over these past couple of decades. It has buoyed Republican candidates, that has paid to help Republicans enact billionaire-approved conservative policies all over the country with billionaire-derived money that they never have to disclose.

So, that was the point of the meeting you just heard the audio from. Big money conservative groups message-tested ways to try to convince Republican voters that the voting rights bill is bad, right? They are hoping negative public opinion against the voter rights bill will tank the bill.

What they found when they message tested it is that even conservative voters liked the bill. They liked the idea specifically of getting secret dark money out of politics no matter how you try to spin it.


MCKENZIE: HR-1 stops billionaires from buying elections. Unfortunately, we found that that is a winning message for both, you know, the general public and also conservatives. There is a large, very large chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts. And so, you know, everything that people just went through here about the under the dome type strategies on this, you know, we think makes a lot of sense, simply because winning over public support for this is actually incredibly difficult.


MADDOW: Unfortunately, we found that this is a winning message for the public. And did you capture the guy said at the end how we need to use under the dome strategies? By under the dome strategies, they mean things that just happen in Congress, that don`t depend on public opinion and stuff happening in the streets organically or people showing their dissatisfaction with the bill, because real people aren`t going to be dissatisfied with this bill. They better figure out ways to kill this in Washington without having to engage actual voters on this.

Even conservative voters like how the voter rights bill in the Senate right now would keep dark money out of politics. They like the idea of nonpartisan administration of elections. They don`t mind the idea of people being allowed to access the ballot box. And it turns out, according to the conservatives own research, it`s a waste of time to try to convince Republican voters otherwise.

So, instead, they need other plans. They need plans that don`t involve the public. Question is, will that work?

Jane Mayer joins us next. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Jane Mayer has had a lot of scoops over the course of her unparalleled career in investigative journalism. She`s one of the greats.

This is the headlines of her current piece at the New Yorker. Her latest scoop at "The New Yorker" lays bare with tapes, the fact that the right wing billionaire funded groups that are trying to stop Democrats from passing their bill to protect voting rights and to force secret funding out of politics, those right-wing groups are apparently absolutely flummoxed by the fact they don`t have any good public arguments to make against what the Democrats are trying to do. They can`t convince even conservative voters to side with them on this thing.

And so, how else are they going to fight it?

Joining us now is Jane Mayer, staff writer at "The New Yorker". She is an expert on this subject. She`s the author of "Dark Money: The Hidden Story of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right."

Jane, it`s great to see you. Thank you so much for making time.

JANE MAYER, STAFFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Great to be with you, Rachel. I also just want to thank you so much for playing that tape because just listening to the audio, you really don`t get to be in the backroom with people behind the curtains that are usually closed like this very often. So, it was great that you played this for people to hear.

MADDOW: Well, I`m not going to -- I`m not going to pressure you on the sources. I`m not going to ask you how you got it. It is amazing that you got it.

But let me just ask you if this is -- if this is sort of their M.O., if this is the type of call, the type of research that these groups generally do, the type of message testing they do when they set out on a new political objective?

MAYER: Well, absolutely. I mean, this is the complete playbook. I mean, you have to understand that the groups are funded by some of the wealthiest people in the country, billionaires. And they have endless resources. So, they can do all kinds of research and market testing and they look for the best possible selling line.

And what was so extraordinary, at least to me, like I nearly fell off my chair when I listened to this, was they tried testing an argument against themselves, basically. They tried to test against a bill where the other argument is that it will stop billionaires from buying elections. Billionaires like themselves. And they couldn`t find an argument that convinced the public that it was a better thing to have the billionaires buying the elections.

And that included not just liberal Democrats or moderates but amazingly, it also included conservatives who also, it turns out, don`t really want billionaires buying American elections.

So, they were so frustrated by this. They lamented in the tape, and they talked about how basically you really should not engage with the argument because you can`t win it. It is better to just go inside the dome. We have to put the fix in in Congress.

MADDOW: Yeah. You pity the poor researcher who has been paid by these billionaires to go and figure out what sort of messages will work here. The researcher that`s go back to the billionaires and say everybody that we talked to is really against you, and what you`re doing. I mean, that`s -- that`s got to be a difficult sort of day at the office for those guys.

But when they were talking about an under the dome strategy, that you can`t engage with the public on this. Instead, you need an under the dome strategy, what does that mean? Does that mean essentially a technical, obstructionist fight in Washington that you can hopefully keep away from the public eye?

MAYER: I mean, it probably means, among other things, that they will use the filibuster in order to, you know, make sure that they can count on basically almost all of the Democrats, possibly not Manchin, but being against them, and so, they will need to filibuster the bill if they are going to stop it in Congress and they may get Manchin. He said a lot of things that are very good about campaign finance and about trying to get rid of dark money in politics.

So, they may -- the Democrats may very well get his vote. He is a Democrat. So, they may be talking about the filibuster.

Basically, I think what they are talking about is that public be dammed. The voters may be in one place, but we can count on the people that we fund to kill this for us. We can stop the bill by calling in our chips.

MADDOW: Jane Mayer, staff writer at "The New Yorker" with yet another unbelievable scoop and this audio file that will live for the ages in terms of exposing this stuff. Thank you so much for helping us understand, Jane. Thanks.

MAYER: Great to be with you.

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


MADDOW: So, one last piece of news that has just broke tonight since we have been on the air. We just gotten word, two Capitol police officers have just field this lawsuit against former President Donald Trump. These are police officers who were attacked and injured in the attack on the Capitol January 6th. Their lawsuit tonight sues former President Trump for inciting that attack, essentially, and thereby causing injuries to these officers and others.

The two officers are requesting a trial by jury in this lawsuit. Again, this just filed tonight. We have seen members of Congress filed suit against President Trump for his alleged role in inciting that attack. Now, Capitol police officers as well. Watch this space.

That`s going to do it for us for now.


Good evening, Lawrence.