"The New York Times" is reporting tonight that in the closing days of the Trump administration, Rep. Matt Gaetz actually asked the White House privately for a blanket preemptive pardon for himself. This is while the Justice Department investigation of him for alleged child sex trafficking was underway. Former Rep. Beto O`Rourke is interviewed. NRA sought to reincorporate in Texas as New York`s attorney general`s investigation was underway.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That`s it for ALL IN on this Tuesday night.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well.
A little bit of breaking news right off the top here. Here is the just posted headline over at "The New York Times" right now. Quote: Matt Gaetz, loyal for years to Trump, is said to have sought a blanket pardon. And that`s not the kind of pardon you need for your blanket.
What this means is he was asking a pardon for himself for things for which he`s not yet charged. This is the latest development in a bizarre and stomach-churning story we have been covering for about a week now. Matt Gaetz, of course, is a Republican congressman from Florida. As that headline alludes to, he has been one of the most staunch and flamboyant defenders of former President Donald Trump.
It was first reported last week in "The New York Times" by Mike Schmidt and other reporters that Matt Gaetz is currently under federal criminal investigation for allegations of alleged sex trafficking of an underage girl.
Now, this is an investigation started during the Trump administration when Bill Barr was running the Justice Department. Bill Barr as attorney general was himself reportedly personally briefed on the Matt Gaetz investigation on multiple occasions.
The federal investigation into Congressman Gaetz is reportedly examining, among other things, whether federal campaign funds may have been used to facilitate the child sex trafficking ring, whether drug use may have been involved.
Congressman Gaetz has repeatedly and bombastically denied the allegations. He said they`re all made up. He did nothing wrong.
Well, this breaking news in "The Times" tonight puts those denials in sort of a different light. Here`s the lead from "The New York Times". Michael Schmidt is the lead byline on the story along with Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos.
Quote, Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was one of president Trump`s most vocal allies during his term. In the final weeks of Trump`s turn, Congressman Gaetz sought something in return. Gaetz privately asked the White House for blanket preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions.
"The Times" reports tonight that it`s unclear whether Congressman Gaetz or the White House knew at the time that he was under federal criminal investigation for child sex trafficking when he asked for this pardon, but "The Times" does note that if he was aware at the time he did not tell the White House when he made the pardon request.
Now, Congressman Gaetz didn`t, of course, get any such pardon from President Trump, at least one that we know of. "The Times" is reporting that the White House thought that kind of preemptive blanket pardon in the absence of any charges is something that might set a bad precedent, not that that`s the sort of the thing they usually cared about in other scandals during the Trump administration.
But "The Times" reports that, quote, in recent days, some Trump associates speculated that Mr. Gaetz`s request for a group pardon for him and other members of Congress was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure, the theory being that he knew he was in potentially in federal criminal danger, so he asked for a pardon for himself and lots of other guys, just in case.
A pardon is not a trophy. It`s not something you can put on a shelf in your house to show off your friends to prove how much the president likes you. Presidential pardon is a legal tool to avoid penalty for criminal behavior. It`s a weird thing to ask for if you haven`t done anything wrong.
Congressman Gaetz through a spokesperson denied to "The Times" that he privately requested a pardon in connection with ongoing criminal investigations in his behavior. But again, "The Times," which broke this story in the first place now advancing it tonight in a way that does cast a different light on Mr. Gaetz`s repeated denials that any of these allegations will stick.
We will stay on the story. We will let you know when we learn more. The way the Gaetz story has developed in the past, I`m not putting it out of the realm that this story will develop further while we`re on the air over the course of the next hour.
All right. So, we`re watching that.
And here`s something else. In the year 2000, the presidential election, you may recall, was closer than close. It took weeks to determine the outcome, and a fairly scandalous United States Supreme Court ruling ultimately came down to a few hundred votes in Florida and a bunch of votes there not being counted. It is almost impossible to overstate how close we were to President Bill Clinton being succeeded in the office, succeeded in the White House by Democrat Al Gore instead of Republican George W. Bush.
But because of the wacky and contested outcome of the 2000 election, George W. Bush is who we got.
Thereafter, George W. Bush`s Republican Party did well, shockingly well in the midterm elections in 2002, which, of course, were after the 9/11 terrorist attack and after the Bush administration had started one war in Afghanistan and was gearing up to start yet another one in Iraq in 2003.
So, 2000, Bush wins that incredibly close presidential election, 2002, after 9/11 and after starting one war on the way to another, his party does well in the midterms. 2004, he gets re-elected as he ran against John Kerry.
But in 2006, it was time for another election, the second of the George W. Bush era. And political common wisdom says the president`s party almost always loses seats in the midterm election, in the first contest after a presidential election. It didn`t happen after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The pendulum in political science common wisdom almost always swings back in the other direction after you elect a president of one party or the other.
That pendulum hadn`t had the chance to do its normal swing back against the Republicans in that first midterm in 2002 because of the 9/11 attacks and because of the politics around the wars. Even though Bush was re-elected in 2004, by the time the second midterm rolled around, not only were they overdue for the pendulum swinging back against them, the George W. Bush administration was absolutely swamp in the scandal by that time.
By the time the 2006 midterms were rolling around, I mean, they were dragging around the disastrous mishandling of both ongoing wars, the torture scandals, the secret prisons. They had a lot of corruption scandals. The disastrous, disastrous, just monstrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped the great American city of New Orleans, killed nearly 2,000 Americans while the government went from ignoring it to complaining about it to botching it further.
I mean, by the time the 2006 midterms rolled around, Republicans knew they were in trouble. They knew the pendulum had been swinging their way for an artificially long time and that they were due for a massive whiplash swing in the other direction. They knew they had so many scandals and such bad perception from the public that things were going to go badly for them in 2006. They knew they were going to get shellacked by the Democrats in 2006.
They did. That election night in 2006, that`s when we would get the first ever woman speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and Democrats to control the House. That same night, the Democrats would take control of the Senate. The pendulum really did just swing back in 2006.
But everybody knew it was coming. Before it happened it wasn`t all that hard to see. We knew we were overdue for it. Democrats knew it was coming. Republicans knew it was coming.
In the lead up to the 2006 elections, Republicans did try their best to lessen what they knew was going to be to blow there, and one of the most memorable ways they did that is that they tried to specifically to shine up their reputation as best they could with minority voters, particularly with black voters. After the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe especially, they knew they were facing something approaching like a 100-0 loss with black voters. They knew they were never going get of majority black voters, but they figured they had the do something to try to cut into that margin that was going to be absolutely terrible for them.
And so, in the summer 2006, knowing what they were heading into, heading into an election season that year, they came up with a plan, a way to try to cut into the Democrats` massive advantage with black voters. The Republicans in Congress and the George W. Bush White House in summer of 2006 decided that they would reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and they would do it early, even before provisions of the Voting Rights Act were due to sunset, the Bush White House and Republicans in Congress would vote to extend the provisions of that historic civil rights era law.
The real politic of it was they wanted to do it in plenty of time to get credit for it in the 2006 elections among black voters in particular. And ultimately, they would get it passed. President George W. Bush would hold a big bipartisan signing statement for it in the Rose Garden. George W. Bush even went to the NAACP convention that year, which was a bizarre thing to see. He had never been before, but he wanted to brag about the fact that he was signing to voting rights extension.
Looking back on it now, the politics of it were painfully obvious, painfully craven given everything else the party and Bush administration had done at the time, everything they stood for. But it`s clear why they were doing it, but they did have this thing, and it was a real thing they wanted to do to try to help themselves at the worst end of their worst margins with the most lopsided demographic they had in terms of voting patterns heading into the 2006 election.
The problem they had along the way is that quite a number of their own members of the House didn`t want to do it. They didn`t actually want to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There were actually dozens of Republicans in the House in 2006, particularly white southern Republicans in the house, who didn`t like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and didn`t want to extend and it didn`t plan on voting for it, even if it was being championed by their own party`s president and by the rest of the Republicans in Congress.
And that was going to be embarrassing for the Bush White House and Republican Party, given the Voting Rights Act extension thing was supposed to change their image as Republicans and make them look good with black voters and make them look good on this voting rights issue. They hit a real roadblock with -- on the road to this photo op, they hit a roadblock with dozens of House Republicans standing in the schoolhouse door saying, no, they didn`t do it.
They weren`t going to did it. They didn`t like it. They knew the politics around this maybe changed but they couldn`t make themselves support it.
And it was becoming a real problem for the Republican Party in the summer of 2006. It was at that moment when some surprising cavalry rode in to the rescue, to help shock the Republicans in Congress into line to get this thing passed.
It was such a surprising development at the time that reporters covering it didn`t know if they had seen anything like it before. They had nothing to compare it to in modern history. Here`s how NPR covered it at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER OVERBY: The first corporation to call for a renewal of the Voting Rights Act is Wal-Mart. Lee Culpeper is the company`s vice president for federal relations.
LEE CULPEPER, WAL-MART: Wal-Mart is the largest employer of African- American and Hispanic Americans, but we also have a great number of our customers who are African-American and Hispanic American. So, we have a great interest in the issue on behalf of both our associates, our workers, and also our customers.
OVERBY: Wal-Mart regularly battled with liberal lawmakers over union- organizing, health-care and other issues. But its executives met with the Congressional Black Caucus in early 2005. The result --
CULPEPER: In June of last year, the Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, sent a letter to President Bush urging him to support an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
OVERBY: The crunch came this summer when conservative Southern lawmakers pushed amendments to weaken the bill. The bill supporters used the Wal-Mart letter as a model and reach out to other companies. At Eli Lilly, in Indianapolis, spokesman Ed Sagebiel says they wanted to add a voice from the heartland. He calls it a unique situation.
ED SAGEBIEL, ELI LILLY: In most instances, when we lobby on Capitol Hill, we are lobbying for broader health care issues or industry/pharmaceutical issues that may impact our company. And we saw this as an opportunity to be a leader on this and we did so because we believe in the legislation. We think that it has contributed to monumental and dramatic changes in American society.
OVERBY: There was a letter from the Pfizer CEO Henry McKinnell, writing as chairman of the Business Roundtable. That`s a group of CEOs of some 160 major companies.
Tom Lehner is the group`s public policy director.
TOM LEHENER, BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE: You know, our main purpose is to promote economic growth. But one of the, you know, I think fundamental tenets is equal participation both in the economy and the political process.
OVERBY: Letters also came from CEOs at AT&T, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, ten companies in all.
Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights veteran, says he has never seen anything like this from U.S. corporations and that minority voters will remember it.
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): The words tend to spread very fast in minority communities. To see in those ethnic publications that several major American corporations supported the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, that gives them a leg up.
OVERBY: If there`s any blowback from critics of the legislation, the corporations say they have yet to see it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was 2006. It`s so nice to hear Congressman John Lewis` voice there again.
But that kind of odd backwards politics episode, 15 years ago, 2006 -- the Republican Party unsuccessfully trying to head off a shellacking at the polls, trying to repair their image with black voters, making a big show out of moving early to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they ran into problems with their own members in Congress who didn`t support the Voting Rights Act, and we saw this very unusual thing at the time, the biggest corporations in the company stepped up.
Wal-Mart first among them, but AT&T and all these pharmaceutical companies, and Coca-Cola and the Walt Disney Company, all the biggest corporations stepped up and stepped into the ring, and helped them get the vote right and helped them get the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act done.
And for voting rights, it was a short lived victory. They did reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and they got their big photo op out of it. They tried to help themselves out to no avail. But for voting rights themselves, it would only be a few years later in 2013 when a Supreme Court conservative majority led by justices appointed by George W. Bush would actually just rip the guts out of the Voting Rights Act and eliminate basically all of its most important protections.
So, even though it was reauthorized by Congress in 2006, it was eviscerated by conservatives in the Supreme Court in 2013.
And now, this year, in 2021, Republicans in state legislatures all over the country are racing to enact the largest most wide-ranging most aggressive restrictions on voting rights since the 1960s, since the Voting Rights Act back then blocked the worst of it. Right now, there`s no Voting Rights Act to speak of to protect voters in all these states but Republicans are now moving to strip their voting rights as fast and as far as they can.
And so now, once again, 15 years down the line, some of the biggest corporations in the country once again, some of the same ones that spoke out 15 years ago, are speaking up on this issue now. And most of them were very tentative about it at first.
Now, we`re starting to see more momentum, but big corporations are saying that while they usually only weigh in on things that affect specifically their industries, on this, on voting rights, just like they said in 2006, they are once again saying it is such a fundamental thing about how our country functions and what we stand for that they want to be recognized as standing against voting rights rollbacks. They want to stand against the voting rights restrictions that Republicans are putting in place in the states. And increasingly, large corporations in increasingly large numbers are willing to stick their necks out at least a little bit to say so.
It`s not the first time it happened. It happened in 2006 in different circumstances. And you know, it`s not a monolithic response. Companies like -- they`re doing this at different degrees.
Patagonia, for example, today, the company Patagonia that makes outdoor gear, today, they went beyond criticizing the voting restrictions put in place by Georgia Republicans. Patagonia said today they`re now going to fund pro-voting rights advocacy groups in Georgia, including the New Georgia Project and the Black Voters Matter Fund.
Over in Texas, meanwhile, corporations like AT&T that stood in favor of the Voting Rights Act extension in 2006, this year, AT&T has made sort of mild pro-voting rights statements but they haven`t taken a strong stand against what Republicans are trying to do against voting rights in the states right now. AT&T right now and others, they`re facing pressure to take a more pointed stance, to put their money in their institutional heft where their mouth is on this.
Activists are saying they ought not get credit essentially for saying mild things in favor of voting rights. They should actually weigh in and try to stop voting rights restrictions.
In Dallas, AT&T Plaza this week is going to see a rally and a big press conference on Thursday to press AT&T to do more, along with other Texas companies like Frito-Lay and Pepsi and Valero and Whole Foods and the list goes on.
Companies taking a stand, big business in our country taking a stand in favor of voting rights is not actually a new thing here. Republicans had to deal with this in 2006 as well when the politics of the circumstances were a little different. A president of their own party wanted the Republican Party to at least appear to get over onto the voting rights side of things.
At that time in 2006, corporate pressure actually helped Republicans get in line to do that. This year, they`re not even bothering to pay lip service to the idea that Republicans support voting rights. This year, Republicans are only uniformly and aggressively pushing against voting rights. And so, this year, they are really not handling it well that big business interests once again are on the voting rights side of things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): My warning if you will to corporate America is to stay out of politics. It`s not what you`re designed for. You get my drip. This is an issue that the big corporations in America, Major League Baseball being one of the biggest, should stay out of. If I were running a major corporation, I`d stay out of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)_
MADDOW: Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell pounding his little shell and telling corporate America to stay out of politics. Warning them, my warning is to stay out of politics at least on this, at least stay out of being in favor of voting rights.
There is literally no one in American politics who has done more as an individual to ensure that companies stay in politics, to ensure massive unrestricted corporate involvement in U.S. politics. There`s literally nobody who has done more for that cause than Mitch McConnell. It`s the one thing he`s been devoted to more than anything else in his own career -- his own power and making sure that corporations can flood as much money into politics as they want with absolutely no accountability for it.
The last bipartisan campaign finance reform law that we had as a country -- remember that -- McCain-Feingold, remember that, when that went to the Supreme Court challenged by the corporate interests that it restricted, what was that court case called before the Supreme Court? It was called McConnell versus Federal Election Commission as in Mitch McConnell suing to make sure corporations can stay in politics as much as they want.
That is what he has built his career on. But now that corporations are saying they`re in favor of voting rights now today --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yeah, stay out of politics if you`re going to be on the side of voting rights. We were willing to have you help us with that in 2006. But right now, we`re on the other side and you better shut up. We`re warning you.
It does actually matter when corporations with a lot of money and power come out and support something like voting rights. It mattered when they shocked everyone including John Lewis when they did it in 2006. It matters now.
Republicans are infuriated by corporations taking a stand about Republicans just did to voting rights in Georgia. Texas appears to be the next big battleground.
Beto O`Rourke joins us live from Texas, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER HUD SECRETARY: This is a Republican Party power grab. The Republican Party in Texas is trying to bring back Jim Crow-style voter suppression to this state. They`re trying to achieve in Texas what they tried to achieve in Georgia. And companies have a choice to make.
BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Let`s make sure that while we still have time, AT&T, Toyota, Frito Lay, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines -- others can add their favorite companies in Texas as well -- you still have time to do the right thing.
And as Charlie reminded us, when you step up, when we call step up and do the right things, we can stop some really bad things. We did it with the bathroom bill in 2017. We did it with other voter suppression measures. We can do it now. We still have time.
But I want these companies to know, if you fail to act, if you fail to step up, please know that the very hottest places in Texas will be reserved for those companies who maintain their neutrality in a moment of the moral crisis like this one.
So we`re watching you. But we`re inviting you in. There`s still time to act. Please do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The very hottest places in Texas will be reserved for those companies who maintain their neutrality in a moment of moral crisis like this one.
Joining us now is Beto O`Rourke, former Democratic congressman from the great state of Texas, the founder of Powered By People, a grassroots organization working to mobilize voters in Texas.
Mr. O`Rourke, it`s real pleasure to see you. Thanks for making time tonight.
O`ROURKE: Thanks for having me on.
I really enjoy listening to the start of your show. I didn`t know that history about 2006. But it should give us even greater encouragement about the work we`re doing in 2021. We still have time to stop this stuff, and 2006 is a lesson in that.
MADDOW: 2006, I was thinking about in particular because we`re seeing some of the same corporate names pop up, and I thought about it with AT&T, still having -- having sort of come out and said that they`re generically in favor of voting rights but not having taken an active role in trying to stop what the Republicans are doing in voting rights in Texas or anywhere else.
AT&T was pretty important as a big company 15 years ago in 2006 for that national push on voting rights, and again, the politics then were different and everybody`s motivations were different.
But to the extent that the company has identified with this issue, it wouldn`t be something new for them to take a strong stand. I feel like some of this is kind of reminding companies who they are, not asking them to become something they`re not.
O`ROURKE: That`s right, and we should also acknowledge that whatever Mitch McConnell says, AT&T and other American corporations are very involved in our politics. In fact, since 2018, AT&T has given more than $574,000 in contributions to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the authors of these voter suppression bills.
So, it`s not as though they`re actually neutral in the face of this. They are a party to this effort. That is until they withdraw contributions, take a public stand and maybe -- and I learned this from watching your show earlier as well -- follow the lead of somebody like Patagonia and actually funds the effort to expand access to the franchise and make sure that all eligible voters, be they Republicans, independents or Democrats in the state of Texas can vote and have some say in who will represent them in the course and direction that this state and our country will take.
I don`t think that`s asking too much from AT&T or any of these other companies that we named earlier in the program.
MADDOW: Is it possible that things are too far along already in Texas to stop it?
I mean, Texas Republicans, as far as I can tell, as far as I`ve read today, they`re considering more than 100 bills to restrict voting rights in the state right now. There`s obviously a Republican governor, a Republican- controlled Senate, Republican controlled House.
One of the voting restriction bills has already passed the Senate. It`s on the way to the House. It appears that there`s no reason to expect that it won`t pass there. The governor is a vocal supporter of it.
In some ways, this feels they`ve got so much momentum and they`re moving so quickly, it seems hard to be hopeful that voting rights advocates will be able to stop it.
O`ROURKE: I was in the state capital and I saw folks who`d driven into Austin from Nacogdoches and Del Rio and Dallas and El Paso, eight and a half hours away, and all points in between. And folks waited 14 hours through a hearing to get their two minutes, literally their two minutes to be able to make their stand for democracy.
It happened again, although more recently, and folks waited until 3:00, 4:00 in the morning to testify.
It`s that kind of people power, that kind of grassroots activism that can put a stop to this as it did to the bathroom bill in 2017 when in concert with big Texas companies, major employers and -- who saw their customers in the line of fire and their civil rights being challenged -- stepped up, stood up, spoke up, and forced the state legislature, along with the people of Texas, to do the right thing and effectively withdraw that bill.
We can do this now, but you`re right, it`s what`s happening in Texas. It`s what happened in Georgia. It`s what`s pending in 41 other state legislatures. This is the most concerted attack against voting rights, against democracy since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by our fellow Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, in 1965.
But if I could, I want to make sure that beyond the issue of justice and the right that everyone should have to be able to vote and participate in our democracy, it comes down to the very lives that our fellow Texans lead. You know, what happens when you can`t vote in the school board election to your kid`s school? How are they going to be represented?
If you can`t vote on the municipal election, on a bond issue, is your part of town going to get taken care of? When it comes to state elections and the distribution of these vaccines across the 254 counties of Texas, if you can`t vote, will you be heard?
In a state where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and you`re a shift worker making that minimum wage at two or maybe three jobs to make ends meet, do you have any hope if you can`t effectively participate in deciding who your representative is going to be and what they focus on and whether or not they hear you?
So, this is people`s lives. It`s the kids -- the schools that their kids go to, it`s the wages that they earn. In fact, the Texas Civil Rights Project has commissioned a study from a Texas economist, Ray Perryman, and they find that up through 2025, this will cost the state nearly $15 billion in losses. It will cost tens of thousands of jobs.
So lest anyone think that this is an abstract fight about democracy, it`s about your rights to participate in this democracy. But it`s also about what happens to our lives when we can`t participate in this democracy.
And so, yes, there`s still time to fight this and do so successfully, and we`ve got to take the inspiration from John Lewis and all those who preceded us in this fight in the `50s and the `60s who force LBJ to do the right thing. They didn`t give up and we can`t give up either.
And so, I think we can win this. It`s not going to be easy, but we can do it.
MADDOW: Beto O`Rourke, former Democratic Congressman from the state of Texas, former Democratic presidential candidate -- thanks very much for joining us tonight. I have a feeling that the spotlight is going to be really on Texas over these next few days in particular. Thanks for helping us understand.
O`ROURKE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There was $3,900 shopping spree on really nice suits. There was the $200,000 spent on private jet vacations. There was a stay on a 108-foot yacht that came with a private chef and a jet boat and a couple of jet skis, actually a couple of nice long stays on that yacht. Tens of thousands of dollars spent on hair and makeup for the CEO`s wife, all things that were paid for by the unwitting members of a non-profit organization, members who apparently had no idea that that`s the kind of stuff their membership dues were being spent on.
Last year, the attorney general in the state of New York, Letitia James, sued the national rifle association because the NRA is technically a non- profit. It`s chartered to operate within her jurisdiction in the state of New York and these kinds of spending details, the private jets, and the hair, and the makeup, and the vacations -- those were the basis of her lawsuit.
Attorney General Tish James basically charges in her suit that the people in charge of the NRA used the money the NRA collected from its members as a private piggy bank to pay for lavish vacations and travel and personal privileges for themselves and their family members. And it`s one thing to live your life that way on your own dime, to spend your own money on yachts and private jets and safaris and stuff.
But if you`re spending the money of a non-profit organization on that stuff, it may well be fraudulent and illegal.
So, Attorney General Tish James of New York sued to dissolve the entire organization. She sued to dissolve the NRA for its leaders` alleged financial misconduct. The NRA denies any allegations of financial mismanagement. They called the lawsuit brought by Tish James baseless.
But they also reacted to it in some unexpected ways, given the nature of the allegations in the lawsuit, right, the lavish spending allegations, it was weird that in the immediate wake of this lawsuit being brought by Attorney General Tish James, the NRA earlier this filed for bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy, that`s a weird thing to do when you apparently have $39,000 to spend on fine luxury suits for your company`s executives. On the same day they filed for bankruptcy, it got even weirder. The NRA told its supporters that their declaration bankruptcy was actually coming at a time when, quote, the NRA is in its strongest financial condition in years.
Again, that`s a weird thing to say on the same day you`ve officially declared bankruptcy in a court of law. Why are you telling a court that you`re totally out of money while at the same time you`re telling all your supporters, we have never been richer?
But the NRA asked the court to please allow them to declare bankruptcy. They said their intention was to re-incorporate the NRA as a new entity not in New York anymore but in the state of Texas, far away from Attorney General Tish James in the state of New York.
All those circumstances suggest that this oddly-timed bankruptcy application by the NRA was not really about the organization going bankrupt at all, but instead may have been devised as a way to dodge that lawsuit, to dodge accountability from the New York attorney general who was trying after all to dissolve their entire organization.
One neat trick when you file for bankruptcy is that it essentially puts a pause on any other ongoing litigation that may be pending against you, that may be what the NRA was banking on here.
"The Wall Street Journal" pointed out at the time that at a minimum, the NRA`s bankruptcy declaration would delay Tish James`s lawsuit against them. They noted that organizations often file for bankruptcy in such circumstances to try to slow walk litigation. We don`t know for sure whether that`s what the NRA was doing, but if that is what the NRA was doing, what they were trying to do here and if they get caught for trying to do that here, that could get them in even more trouble.
The judge in this case that`s deciding whether or not the NRA will be allowed to declare bankruptcy, they have the option of appointing a trustee to manage the NRA`s finances, putting in an overseer, an outsider to investigate the financial fraud allegations laid out by Tish James and to make all financial decisions going forward for the NRA.
The judge also has the option of just saying no, dismissing the bankruptcy application by the NRA and that, of course, would clear the way for Tish James to continue her litigation which again seeks to dissolve the organization.
The NRA`s bankruptcy trial started this week in federal bankruptcy court in Texas. The entire trial is expected to last about a week. Several top NRA officials are expected to testify about the alleged spending abuses for the first time ever, including the CEO, Wayne LaPierre, the guy who allegedly spent all that NRA money on suits for himself and makeup for his wife and got the free stays on the fancy 108-foot yacht.
Wayne LaPierre was asked about the stays on the yacht today as part of a deposition that was filed with the court, he asked why he needed to stay on that yacht as part of official NRA business, why he accepted that stay on a yacht from a yacht owner who was getting multi-million dollar contracts from the NRA at the same time.
Wayne LaPierre told the court that he went and stayed on that yacht after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 after 26 people, most of them little boys and girls were murdered at school, he said after Sandy Hook, he thought his own life was in danger as the head of the NRA and so he fled to the yacht for safety. He said the yacht was, quote, the one place that I hoped I could feel safe I remember getting there going thank God I`m safe. Nobody can get me here.
Joining us now is Shannon Watts. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Ms. Watts founded Moms Demand Action to push for stronger gun laws to try to prevent more tragedies like Sandy Hook. So she is an interested party here. She`s been following the NRA bankruptcy trial closely.
Ms. Watts, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here with us tonight.
SHANNON WATTS, MOMS DEMAND ACTION FOUNDER: Good to see you too.
MADDOW: I think I am surprised that the NRA`s bankruptcy trial. I realized bankruptcy court`s kind of an arcane thing but the NRA`s bankruptcy trial isn`t sort of more of a big national political story, the potential dissolution of the NRA, the contested bankruptcy filing and whether itself is a fraud seems to be such a tawdry and potentially consequential thing for this hugely influential special interest group to be tied up in and something that has very high stakes for the future of gun reform and the future of that organization.
WATTS: Hugely high stakes. I mean, as you said, I think that NRA thought this was sort of a get out of jail free card that they could avoid any kind of accountability from the New York attorney general`s office and ultimately they`re finding that this trial is more trouble than they thought it was worth. I mean, we`re getting every day details about the NRA`s history of extravagant spending and financial mismanagement.
I mean, Wayne LaPierre is a man who has spent years and made millions of dollars saying the only protection from a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and basically what he`s saying now is the only protection is actually a good friend with a 100-foot yacht, right?
So this is all coming out into the public. I think Tish James has been masterful in really laying out how executives have essentially used the NRA as a slush fund. I mean, they`ve spent $11 million on private travel, jet travel for their friends, their families, so-called celebrities like Tom Selleck and Dean Kane.
And a lawyer has even said, you know, we should expect more cringe-worthy revelations.
So the NRA`s best argument seems to be yes, we looted, yes, we set this horrific fire, but look how hard we`re trying to put it out.
MADDOW: From an advocacy and activism perspective, obviously you and Moms Demand Action have been pressuring putting pressure on this issue relentlessly, trying to make gun reform achievable in individual states and at the federal level. How does the solvency of the NRA affect the work that you are doing right now, the gun reform space and the gun policy space has been so defined by the NRA`s belligerence and dominance, if they fall apart, if they`re literally dissolved, or if they are you know revealed to the public eye as essentially a fraud on their own members here, how does that change the space in which you are you and your colleagues have been working so hard to try to get gun safety and gun reform done?
WATTS: Well, let`s be clear. You know, the NRA used to be a power broker and now they`re just broken. Based on this trial, it`s clear they don`t care about public safety. They don`t care about policy. They certainly don`t care about their members. They care about money and power.
And so, while they`re busy in bankruptcy court, our 6 million supporters are demanding action, demanding more than thoughts and prayers. In fact, we have this road trip for background checks and over the next 10 days, our volunteers are going across the country, 60 stops in 22 states, very COVID safe, about 16,000 miles long, and we`re telling D.C. that`s where it will culminate that we want our senators to act.
And this is the perfect time. You know, our organization and our movement is stronger than it`s ever been. The NRA is weaker than it`s ever been. And just to put that in perspective, the last time we had a major fight which was in 2013, the NRA was a political powerhouse.
Today, they have to ask the court to pay their light bills. I mean, literally, the roof is collapsing on the NRA, and they have to get permission to fix it. So this is a completely different time and day, and I truly believe that the NRA is a paper tiger and, you know, senators should vote their conscience, otherwise you know they will be held to account, it will be at their political peril.
And, clearly, the NRA`s badge of honor, the A rating is now a scarlet letter.
MADDOW: Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, thank you for being here. I appreciate being able to talk to you about this tonight.
WATTS: Thank you.
MADDOW: As I mentioned, the NRA bankruptcy trial it`s in federal bankruptcy court in Texas. The NRA officials who are having to testify at that bankruptcy trial, it`s the first time any of them have had to try to testify under oath and had to answer publicly for the ways they allegedly ripped off their members to the tune of tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is one of those stories we -- I think I feel like lawsuits and legal cases get covered pretty well in this country, I don`t know if it`s because this is a bankruptcy court, it`s not getting as much attention, but this has huge ramifications for a really important political issue in this country and so far what we`ve learned is just been shocking.
Anyway, more news ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It is week two of the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin who is charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The prosecution continues to roll out one law enforcement witness after another to testify that Officer Chauvin`s actions were not what he was trained to do, including some dramatic testimony from the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF MEDARIA ARRADONDO, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE: Once there was no longer any resistance and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy and it is not part of our training and it is certainly not part of our ethics and our values.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, the prosecution called a Minneapolis police officer who led use of force training classes which Officer Chauvin took.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROSECUTOR: Is this an MPD-trained neck restraint?
LT. JOHNNY MERCIL, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: No, sir.
PROSECUTOR: As it ever been?
MERCIL: No, sir.
PROSECUTOR: Say for example the subject was under control and handcuffed, would this be authorized?
MERCIL: I would say no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One of the defense strategies in the trial has been to argue that the crowd mattered, the crowd that gathered out of concern for George Floyd that day, the crowd that included an off-duty firefighter, elderly man and 9-year-old girl. Defense argued they were so rowdy and threatening that they were a distraction to Officer Chauvin and drove some of his actions.
Today, two more Minneapolis Police Department officials give testimony that undermine that argument from the defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROSECUTOR: If we are looking at assessing someone`s medical condition, like for the purpose of rendering emergency aid, would that be a big or a small thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be a big thing.
PROSECUTOR: If that is contrasted with say a 17-year-old filming you with a camera, would that be a big thing, filming, or a small thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The filming would be a small thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So far, the prosecution has called 26 witnesses, 10 of those 26 have been law enforcement officials, not to including several EMTs, 911 dispatcher, a firefighter who witnessed George Floyd`s death. The trial resumes again tomorrow, 10:15 Eastern time.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Quick reminder of the top story tonight that just broke as we were getting on the air. "The New York Times" furthering their story on Matt Gaetz, the most pro-Trump Republican congressman on Capitol Hill. He is reportedly under federal criminal investigation for alleged child sex trafficking. "The Times" reporting tonight in the closing days of the Trump administration, Gaetz actually asked the White House privately for a blanket preemptive pardon for himself. This is while the Justice Department investigation of him for alleged child sex trafficking was underway.
"The Times" reporting at the time he asked for the pardon, Justice Department investigators had begun questioning associates of Mr. Gaetz about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, which violated sex trafficking laws. He obviously never got the pardon that we know of, but him asking for it is the latest nauseating wrinkle in the story.
That`s going to do it for us for now. See you again tomorrow.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.