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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/23/21

Guests: Jen Fifield, Ashish Jha, Ben Rhodes


GOP-backed recount of Maricopa County, Arizona`s ballot resumes. CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, tonight, made the big announcement, that the CDC recommends the immediate resumption of the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine. After advice from his own doctors, today, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny ended his hunger strike after 24 dangerous days.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. Rachel Cohen, thank you so much for that. We`ll stay on this issue. I think if you care about this, it might be worth to go your member of Congress. Call the White House switchboard and let them know.

That`s "ALL IN" for this week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have a great weekend, my friend. Thank you.

HAYES: Thank you.

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

It was one year ago today, I will never forget it, imagine your job is corporate PR. You work for a big corporation that makes consumer products and your job is running social media for that kind of a company. It may be not anybody`s idea of a dream job, I think. But still, it`s a job.

And I imagine that that kind of work is at least fairly predictable, right? Nothing jarring, nothing earth-shattering, right? You run the twitter account and like the Instagram feed for like a thing you might buy at the grocery store, right? Like, it`s a job. Sure.

You might imagine that that is the sort of job where there aren`t many surprises. There certainly aren`t many shocks. There certainly aren`t many world changing shocks in the course of your day.

But then one year ago now, you had one of those world changing shocks, because you, as a corporate PR person, showed up at work, your regular day job at the company that makes Lysol, and you ended up having to put out this. Imagine the discussion in the office about how exactly to word this. First word, reminder. Is it okay if we start the tweet with the word "reminder" as if we`ve ever had to say this before, let alone on Twitter? Okay, let`s just do it.

Reminder: Lysol disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as directed and in line with usage guidelines. Imagine what the conversation was like in the office to come up with that exact word. Reminder: Hey, you know, just -- and you can see under the text of that tweet, they posted this big, long, beautifully corporately formatted, very heavily lawyered statement.

Quote, as a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that, bold type here, under no circumstances should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body through injection, ingesting or any other route.

This was the day, one year ago today, when the Lysol Corporation`s poor corporate PR team had to step up and earn their kibble, right? They had to figure out how they were going to gently but firmly insist to the people of all the world that no one should listen to the president of the United States about COVID, because this is what he said a year ago today.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it`s ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And I think you said you`re going to test it. And I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do, either through the skin or, in some other way. And I think you said you`re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.

And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number in the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.


MADDOW: It would be interesting to check that, the light inside the body, through the skin, or some other way. What`s the other way? It`s not through the skin. With the light, to get the light inside the body, if you`re not going to do it through the skin, how do you do it, hmm?

A light, very powerful light. Also the disinfectant. How about -- what`s the phrase exactly? Injection inside or almost a cleaning.

Injection inside with the disinfectant, it would be interesting to check that. A year ago today, the former president himself and his White House press secretary and lots of his defenders on the right and the conservative media would soon insist he was clearly being sarcastic, that was him doing a hilarious comedy bit about Lysol. Is that what it sounded like, like he was joking there?

The poor Lysol people, they`re like, you know, we have a lot of challenges in our business, telling people not to inject Lysol or bleach has never been one of our problems before but it turns out presidencies matter. Choose wisely when you choose somebody for that particular gig, because as Matt Zapotosky of "The Washington Post" was first to point out earlier today, quote: On the anniversary of the day then-President Trump suggested injecting disinfectants to fight COVID-19, the Justice Department announces it has indicted a Florida family for selling bleach as a COVID-19 cure.

This is today from the U.S. Justice Department. And indeed, Matt Zapotosky is right. Here is the Justice Department announcement of this indictment today. It is actually amazing.

Look at this. Quote: A federal grand jury in Miami has returned an indictment of charging a Florida man, Mark Grenon, age 62, and his three sons with fraudulently marketing and selling miracle mineral solution, a toxic industrial bleach, as a cure for COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions.

According to the indictment, the Grenons, all of Bradenton, Florida, manufactured, promoted, and sold a product they named Miracle Mineral Solution. Miracle Mineral Solution is a chemical solution containing sodium chloride in water which when ingested orally became chlorine dioxide, a powerful beach typically used for industrial water treatment or bleaching textiles, pulp and paper.

They Grenons claimed that ingesting their Miracle Mineral Solution could treat, prevent, and cure COVID-19. The FDA, however, has not approved Miracle Mineral Solution for treatment for COVID-19 or for any other use. Rather, in prior official warning statements, the FDA has strongly urged consumers not to purchase or use Miracle Mineral Solution for any reason, explaining that drinking the solution was the same as drinking bleach and could cause dangerous side effects.

Whereupon the Justice Department in this announcement about the indictment today actually provides a hyperlink to this warning from this formerly published warning from the FDA which indeed warns the public in bold type, do not drink this stuff. Is somebody trying to sell you Miracle Mineral Solution? It is not a miracle. It may be a mineral, but it`s a solution to nothing.

Apparently that was not enough to have that warning from the FDA because look at what the indictment says next. Quote, in fact, FDA received reports of people requiring hospitalizations, developing life-threatening conditions and even dying after drinking this Miracle Mineral Solution, which again, is industrial bleach.

This is the Justice Department saying today in this indictment, in this indictment announced today, that per the FDA, Americans actually died from drinking industrial bleach to try to cure their COVID or prevent themselves from getting it. Like I said, choose your president wisely.

But it even gets worse from there. Here is the part from the indictment about Waco and concealed guns in a custom made violin case. Quote: The indictment also charges the Grenons with criminal contempt. The Justice Department previously filed a civil case against the defendants in which the government obtained court orders halting their distribution of Miracle Mineral Solution. According to The family willfully violated those court orders and continued to distribute the Miracle Mineral Solution.

The Grenons also allegedly threatened the federal judge presiding over that civil case and threatened that should the government attempt to enforce the court orders halting their distribution of their mineral miracle solution, the Grenons pledged to, quote, pick up guns and instigate, quote, a Waco.

Furthermore, a search warrant was executed for the defendant Jonathan Grenon`s house at the time of his arrest. Officers discovered they were manufacturing the Miracle Mineral Solution in a shed in Jonathan Grenon`s backyard in Bradenton, Florida. Officials seized dozens of blue chemical drums containing nearly 10,000 pounds of sodium chloride powder and thousands of bottles of Miracle Mineral Solution.

The government also recovered multiple loaded firearms including one pump action shotgun concealed in a custom made violin case to disguise its appearance according to prosecutors.

Listen. What have we as Americans learned? Among other things, you hire the wrong president, eventually you run the risk that he`s going to ruin the whole day of the Lysol Corporation`s PR department by telling the American public to ingest bleach or disinfectant to fight the COVID or try also to bring the light inside their bodies through some means other than the skin. Very powerful light.

And somewhere down the road, within a year, some guy and his sons in Florida are going to end up with custom made violin cases built to conceal the shotguns they`re using to threaten to kill the federal judge who has ordered them to stop selling bleach as a COVID cure since people are in fact drinking that bleach and dying because of it.

Choose your president wisely. Happy bleach-iversary. It`s only been one year.

Later on tonight, we`re going to be talking with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health about the big announcement tonight from the new administration, new president, new administration.

Biden administration tonight, the CDC, and the FDA announcing that it is okay to resume the administration of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. They did find some additional cases of women under the age of 50 getting blood clots after having the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the cases were so rare that the CDC review concluded that many, many, many more American women`s lives will be saved by resuming the administration of that vaccine than will be put at risk by this one rare side effect. So, we`re going to talk with Dr. Jha about that dramatic announcement tonight and some of the lingering questions around it like why it seems to be if not only then at least predominantly women and young-ish women who have had this rare side effect.

Also, some comments the administration made today, both this morning in a public interview from the NIH director and also tonight on the press conference announcing the resumption of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, some interesting comments from administration officials about how this rare side effect from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is actually treatable if you catch it early, which would very much change the calculus in terms of whether or not that`s an acceptable risk even at the individual level if you`re thinking about what kind of vaccine to get.

So, that conversation coming up in just a moment. Big news today on the vaccine front because of that.

Bt also, in terms of what else we have been covering today, I did not expect to be talking about this story again at this point in the show, but unexpectedly, it turns out a real greased pig twister tournament has been taking shape today in the American southwest, in a national politics story that is still almost impossible to believe. Now, this is a story that we told you about on last night`s show. Boy howdy, did it get weirder than expected today.

But as we reported last night, Republicans in the state Senate in Arizona, they think they have found a way to uncover the scandal of the century, to stop the steal, to reveal that Donald Trump actually won the last election and Joe Biden therefore isn`t really the president. In pursuit of this very exciting fantasy, even now, Republicans in the state Senate in Arizona as of today have started an audit of the results of the 2020 presidential election in the largest county in the state of Arizona, Maricopa County.

Now, Joe Biden won Maricopa County fairly easily in the 2020 election. He also won the state of Arizona overall. President Trump and Arizona Republicans refuse to believe that. They say there was a simple problem in the Arizona election which is that these supposed Biden votes were all fake votes.

If you simply just strip away all the fake votes, particularly all of them in Maricopa County, then Donald Trump would be revealed to be the true and rightful winner of Arizona and therefore be reelected as president and Joe Biden has to go home to Delaware.

Immediately following the election they pursued this theory nine ways to Sunday. Arizona did an audit of the election results in Maricopa, done by a federally accredited firm. There was a second audit then ordered by the state legislature. There was a hand recount supervised by both parties. None of it showed any sham ballots, any fraud, any change in the results.

The board of supervisors from Maricopa County, five members of, four of them Republican, voted unanimously to certify Biden as the winner in the county and in the state of Arizona. But clearly that`s not enough. That`s not enough, not for this Republican Party, not with Donald Trump out there tooting this particular horn.

And so, now, by mandate of the Republicans of the Arizona state senate, there is happening right now a new audit of the election results, all 2.1 million ballots cast in the state of Arizona`s largest county. No matter that Biden has been certified the rightful winner of the presidential election, no matter that he is currently the president, let`s count `em up one more time to find all that fraud.

I will also just note in covering this story something I didn`t note last night when we first started talking about this, that, you know, there was a whole bunch of elections up and down the ballot in Arizona in November, but this recount, this audit that they`re doing, Arizona Republicans have only audited -- ordered up this new audit of two specific races from November. They`re only auditing the presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won, and the U.S. Senate race which Democrat Mark Kelly won. All the other races are fine.

There was massive fraud, they`re sure, but only affecting the races that the Democrats won. Arizona Republicans are only interested in auditing and reviewing the ballots where Democrats won. Where Republicans won, they`re not checking those, those are obviously fine.

As we talked about on the show last night, the Arizona Republicans did not hire long-standing practitioners of this kind of work. Audits and recounts are technocratic thing, they happen in counties, they sometimes happen statewide, they happen all over the country. There are firms and experts who are experienced about doing this sort of thing, in some cases are certified to do this kind of work. That`s not who they hired. This is not that kind of audit.

Arizona Republicans instead decided the firm they would hire to do this, the firm that would actually be given the real ballots from the 2020 election for them to review, is these guys, Cyber Ninjas. This is the company that -- see the ninja costume? Come on.

This is the company that has been hired by the Republicans in the state of Arizona to recount all the 2020 presidential election ballots in the state`s largest county. This company is not known to have any experience in elections work at all. They certainly don`t advertise having done any of that work on their ninja website.

The chief executive of the Cyber Ninja company hired to complete this audit has promoted the fringiest of fringe conspiracies about the 2020 election including that the U.S. Army secretly went into Germany and seized a secret computer server that had the real vote totals on it that showed that Trump really won, not only did he win, he won huge, he worn more than 400 electoral votes including winning the state of California.

The secret server showed it all. The Army went in and seized the secret server and American soldiers died and it`s all being covered up by the CIA, who I think is in on it, and Angela Merkel or something. It was so insane, like there was a lot of insane Trump theories about the election, that was maybe the weirdest, the Cyber Ninjas guy, the guy who runs this Cyber Ninjas company, promoted that conspiracy theory in particular.

He also promoted the conspiracy theory that the vote tabulating machines in Arizona were secretly tied to Venezuela and were set up in a way to allow foreign communists could use those elections to flip votes and fix the election for Joe Biden. He put that in writing and it ended up on the website of Sidney Powell, Trump`s crackin election lawyer.

That`s the guy the Senate Republicans in Arizona hired to redo the election, to review the ballots, to recount, to audit the Arizona presidential election results. We reported last night that all 2 million plus ballots arrived in Phoenix at the convention where they`re doing this as of yesterday. The official audit led by the Cyber Ninja guy began today. The Cyber Ninjas say they hired a subcontractor to actually physically handle the ballots.

The CEO of Cyber Ninjas, again, the guy who was the proponent of the theory that U.S. Army commandos in Germany stole the real election server and got into a war with the CIA over it and the truth is out there, he says the company he`s hired to handle all of the ballots has drawn their employees for this purpose from a pool of retirees to perform the recount.

Wait, who is actually going to be handling the ballots? He says, don`t worry, they`re retirees. He says they`re retirees of veterans, former law enforcement. No further details are available. No word on any training they may or may not have received to handle all of the actual ballots cast in the presidential election. But now they`ve got `em.

Meanwhile, journalists have been denied access to the arena where the audit is taking place. The only people allowed inside are the Cyber Ninja people running the audit and the retirees, the unknown retirees who have been hired to handle the ballots and a group of observers.

And God bless local journalism, here is your semi annual reminder to subscribe to your local paper because among the reporters was a reporter from "The Arizona Republic" named Jen Fifield. She volunteered to be an observer today of this mishegoss, not necessarily because that`s an appropriate way for the press to have to observe this thing, but the alternative was no reporters would be allowed to observe at all. So she got herself named to observer of the process by that means, the only report as far as we know who was able to get inside the room.

She said she and her fellow observers received no training beyond being told to watch that the counters were recording the votes accurately. How were the volunteers supposed to know what that looks like? Who`s to say?

But shortly into her volunteer observership to watch the counters who are handling all the real ballots, reporter Jen Fifield noticed something that seemed quite wrong going on in terms of the way this is being conducted, in terms of the way this is being conducted.

Here is how she explained it on Twitter. She said, quote, I noticed the counters had blue pens. You`re supposed to have only red pens when you`re around ballots since ballot scanners can read black and blue ink. Those blue pens the counters have could potentially be used to mark the ballots. Just think about this for a second.

In Arizona, the way you cast your vote is you fill out one of those bubbled sheets, like when you take a standardized test or something, you fill the bubble for the candidate you want to vote for using a pen. That paper gets fed through a scanner which reads your pen mark and that`s how your vote is counted. Those scanners are trained to use blue ink or black ink.

If you`re handling a ballot, a real presidential ballot from the presidential election after the fact, you`re handling for the purposes of a recount, you want to be super-duper careful that under no circumstances can you accidentally, let alone intentionally, mark that ballot would blue or black pen because if you do and it gets run through the scanner again to recount it, if you`ve marked it anew with blue or black ink, that messes up the original intent of that ballot. You could wind up changing someone`s vote, you could end up spoiling that ballot or changing the way that it`s read.

Literally in Arizona`s election handbook it warns about this specifically. Here is the part in the election handbook about procedures for conducting the hand count. Quote, hand count board members shall not bring cellular phones or other electronic devices or pens with black or blue ink into the official hand counting area. You`re not even supposed to bring black or blue pens into the room, because of the risk that they could be used to change ballots.

But here`s this "Arizona Republic" reporter Jen Fifield who sees the ballot counters all holding blue pens while they`re recounting the ballots under the watchful eye of the Cyber Ninja guy who has been an online promoter of the QAnon conspiracy and all the craziest stuff in the "stop the steal" movement. She says something to the Cyber Ninja guy about the fact that the counters have the blue pens.

Here`s what happens next. Quote, Doug Logan, the Cyber Ninja guy, is running this audit. He told me that his understanding was that blue ink was fine, that the ballots can only read black ink. Then he said actually it seems I am correct but he still seemed unsure. He said they would work on this.

After that, Jen Fifield from the "Arizona Republic" was banned by the Cyber Ninja editors from posting any further updates. And so, she goes dark for the day. The only reporter in the room as Arizona Republicans are doing that to the secure election of November 2020. They got their redo. They`re doing it right now.

She was the one reporter in there. The rest of the media was banned from even coming inside the building.

The Democratic Party in Arizona filed a lawsuit yesterday to try to stop this from going forward in Arizona. They said the whole enterprise was illegal. Today the judge in the case agreed to pause the audit over the weekend while the merits of their lawsuit were considered, but that pause came with an odd price tag. The judge told the Arizona Democratic Party that if the audit was going to be paused, the Democratic Party in the state would have to pay $1 million to cover any costs associated with the delay.

The Cyber Ninja guy, the Cyber Ninja CEO running the audit up until now has refused to say how much the audit will cost in total. The controversy of the audit is he`s not only taking taxpayer money to do it, he`s also taking private donations from undeclared sources to carry this out, which means Trump supporters could be paying for this Cyber Ninjas company to run a recount on whether or not Trump won the election.

Anyway, somehow the judge in this case decided that a delay would cost the Cyber Ninja company upwards of $1 million and Arizona Democrats had to indemnify them against that by putting up the money upfront. The Arizona Democrats refused to do that so the audit is supposed to be back on, supposed to continue through this weekend.

That dustup in court today was not for nothing however. The judge did say that the Republican State Senate, which ordered this audit, and the Cyber Ninja company hired to do it, the judge ordered they must file written documentation of all the procedures being followed as part of the audit so the judge can review them and make sure they`re all in line with the law. The judge ordered that the audit workers must comply with existing Arizona laws around elections which means they must stop, for example, using blue or black pens while they are recounting the ballots.

Indeed when "Arizona Republic" reporter Jen Fifield emerged, she had this to report before dashing to meet her print deadline. She said, quote: One quick update. They switched to green and red pens.

Joining us now is Jen Fifield, reporter for "The Arizona Republic," who has had a most unusual day in reporting.

Ms. Fifield, thank you so much for being here. I imagine this has been a pretty strange day.

JEN FIFIELD, REPORTER, THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Definitely. Thank you so much for having me, though.

MADDOW: Let me ask if I characterized this observer role correctly. It is a source of great consternation among major news sources in Arizona that reporters are being barred from directly covering this process the way that journalists normally would in a recount. Instead, the organizers of this have said that you needed to sign up essentially to be a participant in it in order to be able to witness what was happening and that`s how you got in the building, is that a correct way to describe it?

FIFIELD: That`s correct. We were told that we needed to serve a poll shift. While I was there I was to be an observer and not a reporter. And that`s part of the crackdown halfway through my shift, they came up and said no posting updates, we don`t want any blogging or posting news reports during this, you`re to be an observer.

MADDOW: Were you allowed to keep your phone, is that how you were able to tweet from inside the facility?

FIFIELD: We were told no notepads, no note taking while we were in there. We didn`t have our phones, we didn`t have any electronic devices. So I had to lock everything up in a locker just outside of the counting room. And I could go out and take breaks. I was filing updates with my editor as I went up until I got shut down.

MADDOW: Wow. Let me just ask about sort of your level of concern when you were there. You were in this very unique position where there aren`t other reporters being allowed in to watch this. It`s not a process that the press is being allowed to observe. It also seems to be a process that isn`t being conducted the way other recounts have been conducted, not only that very alarming reporting you did about the color of the pens that the counters were using, but also the fact that it`s being run by this private company that doesn`t appear to have any experience ever doing anything like this before. Just how unusual is the process that is happening there that you were able to see today?

FIFIELD: This is definitely a first of its kind process, at least in Arizona. I don`t know that we`ve had a full recount of ballots ever. So that makes it a very high stakes process. Elections are very complicated, and so you need people there overseeing the process who know how audits work, who know how to count ballots, how to keep track of ballots.

And the fact that, you know, I`m the only journalist in there, journalists have a wide range of what they know. I know a lot about the election, but other reporters might have caught other things in there. So, we`re still fighting to get better access.

MADDOW: Do you know if you will be able to go back in, if you will be allowed back?

FIFIELD: I`m not sure at this point I might be able to sign up as an observer again, that`s the closest point I might get. I know that the coalition of news organization in Arizona have been working with an attorney to try and negotiate our access.

MADDOW: Jen Fifield, reporter for "The Arizona Republic", doing some intrepid work today in a very strange environment, operating with really strange constraints, but reporting on something that was of huge importance about what you -- what you view today, despite the narrow lens you are given to look through.

Ms. Fifield, really appreciate your time tonight. I hope you will be able to get back in and I hope this process gets to be something that other reporters get to see too.

FIFIELD: Thank you so much.

MADDOW: All right. I will tell you, this Arizona story -- like I said I did not expecting to be covering it again tonight after we covered it last night. It is obviously strange, laughable in lots of ways.

But the president, former President Trump put out a statement today lauding this and talking about how this was going to reveal the truth of the 2020 election, and citing a whole bunch of other states who are doing this in trying to reveal the truth about the 2020 election. And he`s still maintaining this fantasy that he somehow won and that Joe Biden isn`t really the president anymore. He`s not the legitimate president.

What`s the Arizona Republicans are doing here, this process by which they are bastardizing the actual secure election from November 2020 and they are going to produce some results that says that it was some other fraudulent thing will be used by the Trump part of the Republican Party in the Trump right to cast doubt on the 2020 election among their most fervent supporters in a way that none of their failed lawsuits in the past have been able to do.

They`ve got the actual ballots and they handed them to conspiracy theories who say that, you know, QAnon is the mastermind or whatever it is that stopped -- that they need to use to stop the steal. I mean, the craziest parts of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories world is that they have the actual ballots and they are going to declare that something different happened in election then would really happen, and that will become a lie that they try to live on and build on for a long time to come.

You watch. This is a ridiculous story that will become very dangerous in the long run.

We`ll be right back.



DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRCTOR: Today, after hearing the deliberations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, CDC in partnership with FDA is recommending that administration of the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen vaccine resume. To be clear, we are no longer recommending a pause to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I support the ACIP`s recommendation that the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine be used for persons 18 years of age or older in the United States population under the FDA`s emergency use authorization, and I have signed this recommendation.

With this action, the administration of Johnson & Johnson`s COVID-19 vaccination can resume immediately.


MADDOW: Can resume immediately. CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, tonight, making that big announcement, that the CDC recommends the immediate resumption of the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

This decision follows a recommendation from an advisory panel to the CDC which voted today to approve that recommendation after all day public meeting. That was fascinating if you dipped in and watch any of it.

Dr. Walensky said tonight that the CDC used the ten-day pause, they put on using this vaccine, to collect data on a very rare, but serious, blood clot that was reported in a handful of people who got a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. What they found was initially they`ve known about six cases, ultimately after this pause, they found a total of 15 cases, nine additional cases they learned of, of a rare blood clot.

This is 15 cases out of about 8 million doses administered in the U.S., all of the 15 cases that they found with blood clot were in women, 13 of the 15 women were between the ages of 18 and 49, which is interesting.

Why is it only women? And why is it women under the age of 50.

A CDC risk-benefit analysis determined that every million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered would prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations for COVID. And so, given the risk of this rare but serious blood clot, you do the math, the benefit of using the vaccine, they say, far, far, far outweigh the risk of not using it because of concerns about this rare side effect.

Joining us now to field in some questions about what this means is Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.

Dr. Jha, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for making time to be here tonight.


MADDOW: So what`s your top line reaction to this decision tonight from the CDC and the FDA? It was a very transparent process, being able to see the ACIP discussions today and last week as well as they considered the data.

JHA: Yeah. So, first of all, it was a very transparent process. Everybody could see the data, all the discussions were out in the open, as it should be. I totally agree with the decision, I`m not sure that the ten-day pause was totally necessary. These are incredibly rare events.

That said, they did it out of caution, I think that is fine and now it is time to resume it. These are really, really safe vaccines. There is no drug, no vaccine, that is completely risk-free, these are among the safest vaccines we have out there, I think they made the right call by resuming it.

MADDOW: One of the things that is interesting is that among the cases they identified of this rare side suspect, which led to the pause, they said they not evaluated it, and considering them, it`s still safe to resume the use of this thing, they seem to be confined to a specific demographic. It`s women, basically, women under the age of 50. I think the first six cases, they were even able to say was all white women.

Do we know anything about why there might be demographic specificity to this side effect and whether that should, or could sort of, inflected the way that specific vaccines are recommended for specific people?

JHA: Yeah, it`s a really good question, it`s a bit puzzling.

I will say two things, first, the specific type of blood clot which is very rare, does happen in people other than, obviously, under vaccination and also happens more often in young women. So, that`s interesting to suggest that there is a broader phenomenon. And the second is that this one seems to be immune immediate, but there is something, again, very rarely your immune system has a reaction that triggers that clot and we know that autoimmune conditions are more common in women.

So, we don`t know. Obviously, the biology is not well understood, it is thankfully very rare, but there does seems to be that pattern and I suspect as the signs get sorted out, that phenomenon may very well be borne out that it is among young women primarily.

MADDOW: And let me and again, I don`t mean to make more of the side effect then it needs to be, as you say. You are sure that the ten-day pause was necessary, given the infrequency of this side effect. But because people do know about it and it is going to be on their mind, I was interested to see Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH say today, quote, this is a treatable condition if you recognize it right away. One of the reasons it has been good to have this pause is to get everybody apprised of that, we know that it is something to watch for, and we know that we should treat it appropriately if it should happen in the future.

Tonight, the officials from the FDA in the CDC who did this press conference about the end of the pause, the resumption of administering this vaccine and the question and answer period they made the same point that this rare, serious side effect, is itself treatable if you know to look for it and you can get to it early.

Is that true, and do enough clinicians know that?

JHA: Yeah, A, it is true. It requires a very specific type of treatment and I think one of the reasons for the pause was to help physicians understand, that you don`t want to use standard blood clotting or anti-blood clotting therapies. There are different therapies for this one and I think that has gotten out there, and most physicians are well aware of this, because it has gotten so much attention.

So, I think the attention is good. I think the publicity is good, I think the transparency is good. And if it happens again and physicians will be on guard and will be able to treated appropriately.

MADDOW: Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the school of public health of Brown University, thank you so much for your time, and helping us understanding the big decision from the CDC tonight. It`s good to have you here.

JHA: Thank you so much.

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


MADDOW: The most charismatic and effective opposition leader in Russia is Alexei Navalny. And Navalny has been held in a Russian prison camp without access to medical care since January. He was arrested in January when he returned to Russia from Germany. He had been getting treatment in Germany after being poisoned by a Soviet military trade nerve agent called Novichok, an assassination attempt the U.S. government says it was carried out against him by Russian intelligence.

Well, now, he`s in prison and Russia. Again, he`s been there since January. He`s been on a hunger strike for the past 24 days, demanding access to real medical care for an increasingly worrying series of unexplained ailments.

Well, after a big show of support from thousands of protesters who defied security service warnings and Russian government warnings to hit the street all over the Russia this week, demanding that Navalny get the treatment that he needed, the Russian government did after those protests allow independent doctors to see him for the first time and administer him medical tests.

After that, advice from his own doctors, today, Alexei Navalny ended his hunger strike after 24 dangerous days. In an Instagram post past, we assume through his lawyer, Navalny explained the decision today.

He said, quote, two months ago, they smirked at my requests for medical assistance. They refused to issue any medicine at all. Now I have been examined twice by a team of civilian doctors. Doctors I fully trust it to the statement yesterday we did shoved an up for me to end the hunger strike.

He said, quote, wished me luck. Once again, this is entirely to your credit. The kind and caring people around the world. Thank you, he said, I won`t let you down.

Navalny has stood up again and again to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russians in the streets stood up for Navalny. And now, it appears that Putin has blinked in this case. Hopefully now, Mr. Navalny will survive.

President Putin is also apparently backing down this week on the international stage. Over the past few weeks, he`s amassed over hundred thousand troops along the Russian border with Ukraine, more than any time since he invaded Ukraine back in 2014 and took part of Ukraine for himself.

And a chest pounding speech on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin was full of bluster, warning of swift and harsh consequences for any country that dared cross Russia`s red lines. He refused to say what those red lines were. He said he and he alone would define them.

But, today, nevertheless, Russia announced it`s pulling back its forces from Ukraine`s border. Turning around and heading home after international consternation and pressure and rejection of that military menace.

We just kind of how bullying works, right? I mean, you get this just pounding and threatening noise from a guy like Putin, but you push back, he backs down. Never mistake bluster for strength.

It`s a good reminder in life. It`s a good reminder in these things, too.


MADDOW: The deputy national security adviser to President Obama was Ben Rhodes and Ben has been kind enough to join us here tonight to talk about a few different things that are going on that I really want to get his perspective on.

Ben, it`s good to see you. Thanks for making time.


MADDOW: I want to hear your take on what happened with Alexei Navalny. He just ended a 24-day hunger strike in prison in Russia. Just wanted to know what`s your take of this? I think a lot of people were wondering whether Putin would kill him, or at least allow him to die in prison?

RHODES: So, Rachel, you know, you and I have been talking about this. I spent some time talking to Alexei Navalny through the last year for book I have coming out. He knew exactly what he was getting into. I remember him saying to me, you know, when the cell door clanged behind, you and you know they could do anything to you, of course, you feel fear.

He knew that`s what he was getting into. He also said, look, whenever I feel like giving up, I know my family is with me, the people in Russia are with me, and I know that I have to fight this corruption in my country. I cannot stand by all this is happening. I think what he shows is that what Putin wants is apathy. He wants is on people to think it`s not worth standing up to corruption because that`s the way things are. It`s not worth standing up against what we are trying to do in Ukraine because inevitably I`m just going to wait you out.

And part of what Alexei Navalny demonstrated is, the Russian people saw that in him and they refused to be bullied in apathy. They turned out on the streets and Putin didn`t do this because he`s a humanitarian. He did this because he was afraid of what the Russian public opinion would be if Alexei Navalny died in prison. That`s the only leverage Alexei has.

MADDOW: We have seen large demonstrations, even larger demonstrations that we saw this week in support of Navalny and his anti-corruption movement and the opposition movement broadly in the past. And the sort of last round of those protests led to an incredible security services crackdown. Thousands of arrests people held for a very long time. People hit with very stiff charges, people treated very badly in custody.

We did see, we think about 1,700 people arrested nationwide for these protests, but was there any sign of security services treating people any better, easing up a little bit, trying to both brutalized protesters and instill fear in people from trying to protest again in the future?

RHODES: Unfortunately no, Rachel. And I think Putin likes to be mercurial and unpredictable. He leaves this episode communicating that if I want to kill Alexei Navalny, I can. He`s in my custody. If I want to move those troops in Ukraine, I can.

I think that means it`s incumbent on everybody to make clear to him what the cost will be. And I think it`s not out of Russia. From the U.S., it should be, look, if Alexei Navalny, if you try to silence this man, there are not only people rise up in Russia, but around the world to expose Vladimir Putin`s corruption, to spotlight the corruption of Vladimir Putin and the oligarch network that supports him. To make Putin again think twice about, is this a time I might push too far and invite a backlash that fundamentally threatens the stability of this country?

You know, that`s ultimately the only thing that is going to get someone like Putin`s attention, and that`s why Navalny has been so challenging to him. It`s not a coincidence he was arrested the same day he put out a video. It exposed the fact that Putin owns the most luxurious possible residents in the world.

That corruption is dangerous for Putin. It`s what exposes Russia for the kind of Ponzi scheme that Putin has constructed as, as you yourself have written about it at length.

MADDOW: Uh-huh, it`s true, it`s dangerous him. It`s an Achilles heel for him in terms of the way the exposure of that undercuts him with the Russian people. It`s also an Achilles heel, it`s also dangerous to him because I`m sure he doesn`t want it all to be interesting because I`m sure he doesn`t want it all to be taken away. The extent that is potentially within the power of the international committee standing up against him, it matters.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under President Obama, thank you so much for being here, Ben. It`s good to talk to you about this stuff.

RHODES: Thanks, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: Hope you have an excellent weekend. Keep in mind when you`re thinking about next week, when it`s a new president in his first year, we don`t call it the State of the Union, but honestly, it`s the State of the Union, and that`s on Wednesday night, and it happens to be the 99th day of Joe Biden`s time in office.

It`s going to be interesting. It`s a joint address to Congress. They are not cramming all members of the House and the Senate into the House chamber in order to hear it because of COVID protocols.

So, it`s going to look different, it`s going to be interesting that it is just far in the start of the presidency. That`s Wednesday night. We`re all prepping for it already. Have a great weekend.

I`ll see you again Monday night.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where my friend Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.