CBS News first breaks the news that federal investigators are looking into a Bahamas trip that Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019. Multiple sources are telling CBS that Gaetz made that trip to the Bahamas with a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon. Bloomberg News is reporting tonight that the Biden administration may be preparing to take some sort of retaliatory action against the Russian government very shortly, in short order, including for the treatment of Navalny.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN on this Wednesday night.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We start tonight on the Republican side of politics and politics in the news where things are a little bit of a three-ring circus right now. And it`s starting to seem like the circus tent could come down in the wind.
Starting in Georgia tonight, the national bull`s eye and the focus of so much anger and upset and controversy over Republicans rolling out new restrictions on voting rights, today in a surprise Georgia`s Republican lieutenant governor admitted publicly what critics of the law have alleged from the beginning, which is that the impetus for these draconian voting restrictions in Georgia, the impetus for it was the set of lies told by President Trump and on behalf of President Trump after he lost Georgia in the election in 2020.
This is what all of the critics of Georgia Republicans have been claiming about where this voting restriction bill came from in Georgia. Well, Georgia Republicans as of today are admitting that criticism is true, that these new voting restrictions they just passed into law are all based on Trump`s lies from the last election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R), GEORGIA: This is really the fallout from the 10 weeks of misinformation that flow in from former President Donald Trump and really you know I went back over the weekend to really look at where this really started to gain momentum in the legislature and it was when Rudy Giuliani showed up in a couple of committee rooms and spent hours spreading misinformation and sowing doubt across, you know, hours of testimony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That again is the Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia admitting today that, yes, Republicans in Georgia just passed into law all these new voting restrictions in that state because of the lies spread by President Trump and Rudy Giuliani alleging that somehow Trump didn`t really lose Georgia in the election.
If Georgia Republicans are now admitting that is the impetus for what they have done to roll back voting rights in their state, then perhaps corporations and entities like Major League Baseball could be forgiven for levying that criticism that the whole thing is based on a lie, now that the Georgia Republican Party admits that absolutely in fact, yes, this whole thing is based on a lie.
In a related matter today, the prosecutor -- state prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, announced that Democratic State Representative Park Cannon will not face felony charges for knocking on the door of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp`s office while he was holding a private signing statement for the voting restrictions bill, we all saw that astonishing footage of Representative Cannon being forcibly handcuffed and then dragged through the Georgia State Capitol that night by stood by state troopers, all for the crime of knocking on the door of the room where the governor was holding the signing ceremony on that voting bill.
That`s -- she was on the outside getting arrested while the governor was on the inside of that door with six other white male Republicans signing the voting rights roll back while they while he was seated in front of a painting of a slave plantation. Yeah, the optics were a little bit on the nose there, but Representative Park Cannon really was not just handcuffed and hauled off. She was taken to jail that night.
You`ll recall that we played footage here on the show if U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock visiting her in jail that night after she was arrested. She was charged with two felony counts. She was looking potentially years in prison if she was convicted on those counts.
But a state prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, today, released a statement saying that after a thorough investigation, Representative Cannon will not be charged, quote, after reviewing all of the evidence, I have decided to close this matter. It will not be presented to a grand jury for consideration of indictment and it is now closed. While some of Representative Cannon`s colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify a presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges.
So, the Georgia voting rights restriction law is still law. The biggest employers in the state of Georgia are still professing to be repulsed by what Republicans have done with that law. Major League Baseball still will not hold their all-star game or their draft in Georgia because of that law. The city of Atlanta is now trying to figure out how to avoid enforcing that law in Metro Atlanta.
But at least at least this one Atlanta-based state representative, Ms. Park Cannon, at least she will not be going to jail for years because of this law, because of her knocking on the governor`s door to see it get signed.
Representative Cannon put out a succinct statement today after the D.A. announced there would not be any charges brought against her, see it at the top there. Keep knocking. I said keep knocking on that door.
Beyond the ongoing fiasco in Georgia and in the other states where Republicans are moving to restrict voting rights, Republican politics also went through just a remarkable gyration today when it comes to what you`d think would be a sensitive issue about the party`s comfort level with fleecing its own supporters, with just downright defrauding its own supporters and basically stealing from them.
A couple of nights ago here on the show, we highlighted reporting from Shane Goldmacher at "The New York Times" who had this scoop over the weekend about how the Trump campaign and the Republican Party took in literally tens of millions of dollars around the election that their donors apparently really didn`t intend to give them.
And part of the stunning evidence in that story was anecdotal evidence, a 78-year-old California man who made a Trump donation in September of $990. Unbeknownst to him, the Trump campaign then took that same amount, another $990 seven more times from him, without him knowing. They took nearly $8,000 from him when he was trying to donate less than a thousand.
He told "The Times", quote, bandits. I`m retired. I can`t afford to pay all that damn money. That`s a 78-year-old in California.
There was also an 87-year-old in Illinois who made a quote series of small contributions to Trump last fall that he thought would add up to about $200. By December, federal records show that the Trump fundraising operation had actually withdrawn more than 70 separate donations from the man`s bank account, totaling roughly $2,300. That man told "The Times" it was quote, predatory.
There`s a bunch of anecdotes like this. Beyond the anecdotal evidence though, there was just the shocking cumulative data. Trump`s campaign and the Republican fundraising operation that he ran around the election ended up having to refund more than $120 million that they snookered their own donors out of, and that`s just from the people who caught it and complained. Who knows about the people who didn`t notice that they got fleeced or who did but they didn`t have the wherewithal to try to get the money back?
This is just a shocking story, right? Not only humiliating but damaging for the Republican Party. How do you ever ask people to ever trust you enough again, to donate money to you once you`ve ripped off thousands of people like that, apparently with no repentance whatsoever?
"The Times" in that reporting, they documented these little yellow check boxes that the Republicans used on all their fundraising pitches around this scam to basically unwittingly rope people into giving more money than they intended.
Boxes said things like this, let`s break a fundraising record on President Trump`s birthday, join now. And then below, in lighter print, this additional donation will process on June 14th. That box comes pre-checked as does the monthly recurring donation box above it.
But that bottom one even though it doesn`t say it in plain language, if you don`t uncheck that box, what they`re going to do is they`re going to double the amount of money they take from you. Whatever your donation was, they`re going to take that amount a second time on that date. That`s in there in the fine print, unless you uncheck that box.
So if your sweet little Trump supporting great aunt thought she was giving, you know, $200, unless she read to the bottom and figured out what those checked boxes meant and manually unchecked them, she was actually going to end up giving $200 a month maybe, and potentially a whole extra randomly taken out of her account or offer credit card on June 14th. She had to notice what those were understand what those were and physically go out of her way to uncheck them in order for that to not happen.
Or there`s this one, join the president`s executive club for true patriots only, and then in lighter type below, make this a weekly recurring donation until Election Day. Unless you found that read it, decided you didn`t consider yourself to be a true patriot and didn`t want to be in President Trump`s executive club, unless you found all those things and unchecked that box, your intended, say, $200 donation would become $200 every week all the way through November until you figured out they were ripping you off and canceled your credit card.
And just a humiliating scam the Republican Party and the Trump operation got caught for. They got caught for that just this past weekend in the New York Times and now we know how they reacted. Today, a new fundraising pitch from the Republican Party itself specifically the NRCC, which is the part of the Republican Party that supports Republicans in the House of Representatives, they put this out today, this box, pre-checked for their donors. We need to know we haven`t lost you to the radical left. If you uncheck this box, we will have to tell Trump you`re a defector and sided with the Dems. Check this box and we can win back the House and get Trump to run in 2024.
But to be clear, the box starts off already checked. And then, you know, in lighter text below, make this a monthly recurring donation, doesn`t even look like it`s related to that text about whether or not you want to be a defector.
This is what the National Republican Party is doing today to its marks -- I mean, it`s donors. If you`re a defector and you want to be reported as such to our former president who is notoriously ruthless and relentless against defectors, ruins people`s lives, six his followers on them, you`ve seen the way he goes after people who aren`t loyal to him, you want to be one of them? If you`re one of them, then uncheck this box you, traitor.
But unchecking the box is the only way you can keep them from taking your intended one-time donation over and over and over and over and over again, so your bank account is, what, drained?
There`s also this one today from the Republican Party. If you want Trump to run a run for president in 2024, check this box. If we flip five seats in the House red, Trump says he`ll run. That`s not actually true. Uncheck this box, we lose.
And what does unchecking that box actually do? Well, you have to skip down a line and then look at the finer print there but it would make it so that they don`t keep making -- taking more money from you in the future beyond what you`re donating today. They don`t double your donation.
Again, this was just exposed this week as having driven more than $100 million in fraud claims by Republican Trump supporters. They`re not only still doing it days later, they`re going hog wild with it. I mean, they`re upping the predatory nature and the sort of bamboozling nature of these things to try to trick as many people as they can into falling for one of these schemes where they donate more than they intended and their bank account is left open to the Republican Party to keep coming back and taking money out of it without getting any further permission.
I mean, becoming a donor to the Republican Party in this era it`s like replying to one of those Nigerian prince emails with your actual bank account information. It`s like loaning your credit card to the local meth dealer just for a few hours. He said he`d give it back. What could possibly go wrong?
Like I said, the latest news on the Republican side of things is a little bit like a three-ring circus with the circus tent falling down. The saddest little third ring in that circus right now is, of course, the ongoing and still expanding scandal around the most visible and enthusiastic pro-Trump congressmen of them all, former Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.
The Gaetz scandal has developed today in a way that does not look good for Mr. Gaetz. Part of that broken by Politico.com. Part of that broken by CBS News tonight. I`ll hold on these details for now. We`ve got one of the reporters who broke those additional developments in that story, coming up in just a couple of minutes to break it down for us.
But the Republican side of things today was a little helter-skelter. Democratic side of things today was sort of a supercharged day and it marked what may be a new tone -- a new, new tenor from President Biden and the Democrats?
There`s reason for them to be making a little bit of a pivot right now because of something structural that just changed in politics this week. This week, the Democrats learned that they will be allowed if they want to use the Senate rules in such a way that they can pass legislation in the Senate with just a simple majority of votes, with votes from the 50 Democratic senators only if that`s what they have to do, plus a tie- breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Now, that`s a really, really big deal. They thought they might be able to do that one more time this year. Turns out, they can sort of do that when they want to.
That ruling from the Senate parliamentarian this week, that`s a huge deal. If the Democrats had to hit a 60-vote margin in the Senate to pass anything which is what`s true with filibuster rule in place, I mean, if they had to hit that vote threshold, we could expect precisely zero new legislation, right? Nothing else on the Biden administration`s agenda to pass into law.
Republicans have said and shown that they will not allow any Republican senators to cast any votes with Democrats on anything of substance, even a bill is widely popular as the COVID relief bill, which had huge support among the population as a whole, including among a majority of Republican voters. Still not a single Republican senator voted for it.
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell now says that not a single Republican senator will vote for the infrastructure bill, again no matter what`s in it. And again, like with the COVID relief bill, it`s not because voters are against it or it`s an unpopular measure, new polling today from "Politico" and Morning Consult shows broad majority support for every single major element of the infrastructure bill, from modernizing V.A. hospitals to roads and bridges and streets, to improving caregiving facilities for older Americans and disabled Americans, to replacing all the lead pipes in our water systems, to building and improving public schools, to increasing high-speed broadband, to improving public transit and Amtrak to airports, to electric vehicle fleets and electric vehicle chargers, to capping and cleaning up abandoned wells and mines. I mean, all of it.
They pulled on all of those elements of it separately and every single one of those elements has at least 50 percent support among registered voters. Most of those things are considerably more than 50 percent support. But nothing has less than a majority of the country supporting it.
And look at that one highlighted proposal that we`ve got there, the one that we`ve got highlighted there in yellow. That`s just the proposal about improving caregiving facilities for older Americans and disabled Americans. That`s the part of the Biden infrastructure bill that Republicans keep picking on in particular. That`s the part of it they really hate and they really think that if they keep talking about that, that`ll turn the public against the infrastructure bill.
Turns out that has 76 support among American registered voters, 86 percent among Democrats, 64 percent among Republican voters. I mean, overall, only 13 percent of the country says they`re in opposition to that. The rest say they don`t know.
But that thing with 67 percent overall support and 64 among Republican voters, that`s the thing that Republicans have chosen to pick on the most they think if they keep talking about that, hoo boy, they`ll win on this one. It`s wildly popular. That`s more popular than like kittens.
But still, they say not a single Republican senator will vote for this bill, even from the outside, even before they start formally debating it, they`ve already promised there`ll be zero Republicans.
Well, that`s your prerogative. Okay, for something this popular, for you all to stand against it when it`s going to pass anyway, feel free, because Democrats do have an option to pass this without any Republican votes and today, President Biden made the case that he would love for Republicans to support this bill and he thinks they should. But if they don`t, well, they don`t. Their call, it`s going ahead anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain. In the next few weeks, the vice president and I will be meeting with Republicans and Democrats to hear from everyone, and we`ll be listening. We`ll be open to good ideas and good faith negotiations.
But here`s what we won`t be open to -- we will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction simply is not an option.
Now, since I announced this plan, I`ve heard from my Republican friends say that it`s -- many of them say it`s too big. They say why not focus on traditional infrastructure, fix what we`ve already got the roads and the highways that exist and the bridges.
I`m happy to have that debate but I want to tell you my view -- we are America. We don`t just fix for today. We build for tomorrow.
Two hundred years ago, trains weren`t traditional infrastructure either, until America made a choice to lay down tracks across the country. Highways weren`t traditional infrastructure until we allowed ourselves to imagine that roads could connect our nation across state lines.
The idea of infrastructure has always evolved to meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs, and it`s evolving again today. We need to start seeing infrastructure through its effect on the lives of working people in America, what is the foundation today that they need to carve out their place in the middle class to make it, to live, to go to work, to raise their families with dignity, to ensure that good jobs will be there for their kids no matter who they are or what zip code they live in.
That`s what infrastructure means in the 21st century. It still depends on roads and bridges, ports and airport, rail and mass transit, but also depends on having reliable high-speed Internet in every home, because today`s high-speed Internet is infrastructure.
It depends on the electric grid, a grid that won`t collapse in a winter storm or be compromised by hackers at home or abroad.
Ask a teacher or a child care worker if having clean drinking water, non- contaminated drinking water in our schools and our child care centers is part of that foundation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Biden today speaking on infrastructure.
With Republicans standing uniformly against the infrastructure bill the Republican Senate leader promising there will be no Republican votes for it, if they`re going to pass an infrastructure proposal, Democrats will have to pass it using that same process they used for the COVID relief bill, which is a Senate rule that let them pass it with 50 votes instead of 60.
And we know now that they can use that process not just one more time this year but basically as many times as they want this year. And I`ll tell you, it still hasn`t really caught on I think broadly in terms of the way people are talking about politics, but this is going to end up being a defining thing about the Biden presidency and this first two years he`s in office.
The filibuster rule that, you know, the 60-vote threshold, that has changed a few times in recent years so that it doesn`t apply to confirming cabinet nominees and then they changed it so it wouldn`t apply to confirming judges and they changed it again under Trump, so it wouldn`t apply to confirming Supreme Court justices. They keep narrowing down what the filibuster applies to, what you can exempt from that vote threshold.
This new rule this week effectively seems to mean that there is a new exception to the filibuster starting now that means that you can`t apply that vote threshold to budget bills, to bills that affect government taxes and spending. That seems to be with this parliamentarian`s ruling and we`ll wait to see the exact language of it, but the way it`s been described, that seems to be what it means and that will change what is possible in a big way with 50 Democratic senators and a Democrat in the White House.
And so, this 50-vote rule is how they will pass infrastructure in the end, mark my words. But in addition to that, what else are they going to pass using that rule? What else are they going to pass via these rules that don`t require them to get 10 Republicans to cross some mythical line and side with Democrats, which they won`t do on anything?
Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now saying that they`re working on a way to pass immigration under the same rules. Now, you probably can`t pass everything in immigration reform under these budget rules, but you can do a lot. That will mean if Democrats can agree among themselves on what to do, and they come up with a list of things to do on immigration that fit within the budget rules, they will be able to pass immigration reform this year even with unified Republican opposition and zero Republican votes.
And again, there are limits. As I said, not everything in immigration reform can fit under the budget rules that allow for that 50-vote rule. In addition, almost nobody believes that voting rights writ large or most civil rights legislation can pass under those budget rules either. There probably also aren`t great options under the budget rules for passing gun safety reforms, but they`re going to do everything they can every way they can.
And tonight, we`re learning that at least on guns, President Biden is going to take some executive action to get things done, even when the filibuster rule means that they probably can`t expect anything through Congress. President Biden is due at 11:45 Eastern Time tomorrow in the Rose Garden, to announce a series of executive actions on guns, and it will be interesting to see he will be appearing with Vice President Harris and with Attorney General Merrick Garland. He`ll be describing a series of executive actions that includes treating homemade guns, guns without serial numbers the same way that other guns are treated in terms of requiring background checks for their sale and other regulations. That`s the supposed ghost guns, so-called ghost guns loophole to background checks and other gun rules.
President Biden will also be nominating a former ATF agent to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms which is the federal agency that`s supposed to address gun trafficking and gun-related policy and crime. David Chipman is his name. He was as I said 25 years at the ATF, he was involved in the World Trade Center bombing investigation, the Oklahoma City investigation. He`s considered to be one of the country`s leading experts on gun crime and gun law.
Most recently, he`s been employed at Giffords, at the organization founded by former Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot and nearly killed in a mass shooting in Arizona in 2011.
I have to tell you, even just the act of nominating someone to run that federal agency, to run the ATF is something that Republicans consider to be an affront and a terrible thing. There hasn`t been a confirmed director of the ATF at all since 2015.
President Biden is saying this year -- well, this year, there will be. And yes, Republicans will hate that and I`m sure no Republicans will vote for him but it`ll happen anyway. You know, the NRA will probably hate it too frankly, but you know what? They`re tied up in a lurid bankruptcy trial right now which does not appear to be going their way.
The NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre testifying today in that trial about all of the multiple times he spent taking free vacations on a multi-million dollar yacht, 100 percent gifted to him personally as he repeatedly signed off on the NRA paying its members money out in contracts to the dude letting Wayne use his yacht, which really seems like Wayne LaPierre was taking very, very remunerative gifts and services for himself as part of the deal by which the person giving him that stuff was getting NRA money.
And that`s one thing if the NRA is something that you call your personal bank account. But in this case, the NRA is a non-profit organization governed by the rules that govern nonprofit organizations in New York state. They`ve declared bankruptcy to try to get out of a New York state attorney general`s lawsuit which will dissolve them if they are found to have abused their members and abused their charter in the way the attorney general alleges.
They`re on trial in bankruptcy court in Texas to see whether they are abusing the bankruptcy process to try to skate away from that accountability, and they`re having to admit all sorts of stuff that they did that they have never had to testify about under oath in the process.
And so, yeah, the NRA has had better days. The big bad NRA that has supposedly made everything impossible when it comes to gun safety and gun reform. Well, the NRA is otherwise occupied right now, and frankly, the Republicans are going to vote no on anything and everything that Republican -- excuse me, that President Biden proposes and the Democrats vote for, no matter what it is, no matter how much they themselves like it they will vote no.
And frankly, what`s going on in Republican politics right now it`s a three- ring circus with the tent falling down. They are busy with their own mess getting caught regularly and increasingly flagrantly defrauding their own supporters. They`re worried about what they`re going to do if one of their highest profile congressmen gets charged with child sex trafficking. They`re trying to keep entertaining Donald Trump`s fantasy that maybe somehow he`s secretly still president from his golf club because the last election didn`t count and so maybe if you call him the 45th president, that will mean that we don`t need to tell him that he`s an ex-president because he doesn`t believe he is.
And that`s what`s going on in Republican Party politics right now. So I know we`re a two-party, two-major party system in terms of our political system but one of these things is not like the other. One of these parties is not like the other right now, which is why Democrats we are seeing more and more every day now, Democrats are just getting on with things on their own, surveying what`s going on on the other side of the aisle and saying like, you know what, we`re just going to get some stuff done.
Much more ahead tonight. Busy news night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It has been like a twisted grab bag with this story every day you reach in and you find some new bizarre unsettling detail you weren`t expecting and you`re not very happy that you grabbed.
Today was this CBS News first breaking the news that federal investigators are looking into a Bahamas trip that Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019. Multiple sources telling CBS that Gaetz made that trip to the Bahamas with a -- let me make sure I get this right -- a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon.
To be clear, that`s one person who is both those things, and that person allegedly paid for congressman gates travel expenses his accommodations and for female escorts, the sources said.
According to CBS News, investigators are trying to piece together whether the escorts were, quote, illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of sex with the congressman. NBC News has now confirmed this reporting by CBS tonight.
We`ve also tried to reach the marijuana entrepreneur/hand surgeon, but he did not answer our calls. Still that was fun.
Congressman Gaetz reiterated his denial tonight that he`s ever paid for sex. He again specifically denied tonight that he had sex with an underage girl. But the story, of course, first broke in "The New York Times" last week that Congressman Gaetz is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had sex with an underage girl and whether he paid for her to travel with him across state lines.
If true, that could constitute a violation of federal child sex trafficking laws. The investigation of Congressman Gaetz reportedly started as an offshoot of a different federal child sex trafficking investigation that led to federal charges against a friend of Congressman Gaetz, a local Republican elected official in Florida named Joel Greenberg.
Mr. Greenberg was arrested last year on an array of charges including sex trafficking of a minor. He`s currently in jail awaiting trial. He`s plead not guilty to all charges against him.
According to "The New York Times", the sex trafficking count against Mr. Greenberg involves the same underage girl as the Gaetz investigation.
Marc Caputo at politico.com has some new reporting today that sheds some light on the relationship between Gaetz and Greenberg and potentially on the relationship between these two criminal investigations. Caputo at "Politico" says he spoke with three sources who knew Joel Greenberg before he was charged with child sex trafficking, all three of them told "Politico" that they personally heard Congressman Gaetz`s friend, Joel Greenberg, bragging about his sexual relationship with a girl who was 17 years old.
At the time at least one of those friends has reportedly testified before a grand jury as part of the Joel Greenberg investigation. I mean, what is that -- what does this mean?
We know we know that these allegations of child sex trafficking against Joel Greenberg are solid enough to have served as the basis for federal charges. We know from "Politico`s" reporting that there are identifiable witnesses who have testified to the grand jury about those charges. Now, we have three sources talking to a political reporter about those charges.
So all of that would seem to buttress the seriousness of that charge against Mr. Greenberg. Again, he has denied it.
But what exactly is the relationship between this child sex trafficking charge against Mr. Greenberg, which seems to have all of this buttressing support and the Matt Gaetz investigation for child sex trafficking. On that, again, one more interesting piece of reporting from "Politico" today, quote, some people in Joel Greenberg`s orbit suspect that Greenberg might now be cooperating with prosecutors to build a case against Congressman Gaetz.
Well, if that`s true, joining us now is Marc Caputo, national political reporter at "Politico" who added these new details in the Matt Gaetz story today.
Marc, it`s nice to see you. Thanks very much for being here.
MARC CAPUTO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well thanks for having me again. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: Nobody knows Florida politics or writes about Florida politics quite like you. I -- I`m happy to -- I`m happy to talk to you about this story I`m happy to know what more of what you know about it.
Did you see any of this coming once the Joel Greenberg case broke open last year? His friendship and relationship with Congressman Gaetz was not exactly a secret.
CAPUTO: It wasn`t. I think that the Alice in Wonderland line, curioser and curioser comes to mind. It just gets weirder and weirder.
A mutual friend of a lawyer who represented the political opponent of Greenberg had reached out to me many months ago and said, hey, you should interview this guy because Joel Greenberg, the tax collector from Seminole County, tried to smear him falsely as a pedophile and has now been arrested for it, and then that just mushroomed it out into this really bizarre investigation.
So, you know, every day, there`s kind of a new allegation. Unfortunately, I can`t discuss all of the things that we`ve been making calls about but Dr. Pirozzolo is among them. This Bahamas trip has been long rumored. There`s a possibility that other Florida officials might be wrapped up in this or former Florida officials. Republicans might be wrapped up as well.
Marc, one of the things that I feel like I`ve seen referenced a lot both in court documents related to Mr. Greenberg and in a lot of open source reporting around this, but still very fuzzy to me is the nature of the connection between the child sex trafficking charge against Joel Greenberg and what Matt Gaetz is reportedly being investigated for. We`re told that the Gates investigation grew out of what they found about Mr. Greenberg. We know that what they found out about Mr. Greenberg did lead to him being charged in federal court.
It`s been reported in "The New York Times" that that investigation is linked because it`s the same girl, the same underage girl who is at the heart of both the Gaetz investigation and the Greenberg charges. Do you have any more clarity on what the connection is between the investigation on Gaetz and the charges against Greenberg?
CAPUTO: That`s about it. Another common tie is the seeking arrangement website which hooks uh sugar daddies with women who are looking for a -- I guess a wealthier male to take care of them, might be that charitable way to explain it. There`s a possibility when you read between the lines here that if the kind of salacious allegations, and, by the way, they`re just allegations so far. We haven`t seen any evidence like on dates. I haven`t seen any names printed on Gaetz.
If they wind up being true, there`s a possibility that the government might be viewing the seeking arrangement website or at least the women in those cases as being more akin to prostitutes rather than women who want to go out on expensive dates and date men. It`s kind of complicated to talk about because there`s, you know, there are these -- you know, there are these lines that are kind of blurred by these websites. The question is whether federal prosecutors see these arrangements as prostitution.
In the case of a 17-year-old, if they do declare prostitution, it`s clearly sex trafficking. So, those are the details we`re waiting to come out.
But one thing that Gaetz`s defenders have repeatedly pointed out is it`s kind of day six of this, no names have come out, there`s been no clear evidence uh and they say look other men accused of wrongdoing but now, there`d be kind of a host of names and accusers and that hasn`t happened yet with him. So, you know, we`re certainly reporting this, as well as the rest of the national media, but right now, we have a lot of a lot anonymous rumors, a lot of salacious stories, but not a lot of cold facts.
MADDOW: Marc Caputo, national political reporter at "Politico", thanks for being here. I have a feeling we`re going to be talking about more developments in this case as the days go forward.
CAPUTO: Oh, yeah.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
CAPUTO: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in office as either president or prime minister of Russia for the past 21 years. His current six-year term in office will end in 2024. After that for the Russian constitution, he`s banned from running for another term as Russia`s president.
And so, he`s now preparing to step down with dignity in 2024, and hand the reins to the next generation in a peaceful transition of power. Kidding.
Now, Vladimir Putin has just this week signed a law that conveniently erases his previous terms as president, poof, pretend that they never happened, that change hits the recess reset button for the term limits in the Russian constitution. So this new law that he just signed this week will allow him to stay in power at least until 2036, 36 straight years in power because clearly after you have had 21 years of Vladimir Putin running your country, the thing your country needs most is another 15 years of him.
But while that totally unsurprising little push played out this week in the Kremlin, more worrying are the developments around Russia`s top opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, with the Kremlin trying to assassinate last year using a military grade nerve agent.
Mr. Navalny has been locked up in a Russian penal colony. This week, he was moved to the sick ward, the infirmary. Doctors say he has a respiratory ailment. He`s complained for weeks through his lawyers that his health is in steep decline, he`s described severe back pain and numbness in his legs. More recently, a fever and a severe cough. He`s a week into a hunger strike over the failure of the prison to provide him with adequate medical care, which he is supposed to be able to get.
Alexei Navalny`s wife shared on social media a letter she says she received from the prison director where her husband`s being held saying that they can`t send her husband to a hospital because they don`t have his passport. Why would he need a passport to go to a Russian hospital when he`s already in Russia? Your guess is as good as mine.
But as all this is unfolding, "Bloomberg News" reports tonight that the Biden administration is preparing a set of retaliatory actions against Russia for a range of offenses, including their interference in the 2020 election, their alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and also their treatment of Alexei Navalny.
"Bloomberg" pointing out that these actions will be the outcome of an intelligence review of Russia`s recent actions which President Biden ordered the intelligence community to do on his first full day that he was in office. The Biden administration already issued one raft of new sanctions against Russia over a month ago, specifically for poisoning and jailing Navalny.
But now, Navalny appears to be in trouble. The Biden administration has been pushing Russia really from day one on the way that they have treated Navalny. But now, it seems like things are taking an ominous turn with these reports of his steeply declining ill health, his reported mistreatment in prison. Are they going to kill him in prison? What`s the U.S. government planning on doing to stop that or to respond if it happens?
We`re going to have the latest live from Moscow, next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Amid increasingly worrying reports about the health of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who is in prison, who`s been moved to the infirmary at the Russian penal colony where`s he`s being held, Amnesty International is now giving voice to everybody`s worst fear about the situation. Amnesty says today that Russia, quote, may be placing him in a situation of a slow death and seeking to hide what is happening to him. Making it all the more important that the world keep watching what is happening here.
Joining us now is Andrew Kramer. He`s Moscow correspondent for "The New York Times".
Mr. Kramer, thank you so much for being up at this god-awful hour where you are to help us with this story here tonight. I appreciate it.
ANDREW KRAMER, MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure, thank you very much for having me on.
MADDOW: What do we know about the nature of Mr. Navalny`s illness. We`ve heard through his lawyers that there are suspicions that it could be tuberculosis. There are reports he`s tested negative for COVID. But there`s also these mysterious reports about back pain and numbness, which sort of sound like something else altogether.
KRAMER: Well, when Navalny returned to Russia in January, he was in apparent good health. Three months later, his health is deteriorating now. His personal doctor says she is concerned that his health problems may pose lethal risks.
And the principal issues that have come out are numbness in his legs and his hands, pain in his back, and now symptoms of respiratory ailment. Taken together, we don`t have a clear picture of what`s happening. Whether this is a lingering effect of the chemical weapon poisoning or a consequence of being -- spending time in a Russian prison.
MADDOW: Mr. Navalny`s statements through his supporters and through his lawyers have indicated that he at least believes that he has the right at his own expense to get medical treatment of his choosing, to have a specialist come in and look at him. And we know that his doctor who you just described was detained when she went to the facility where he was being held and asked to see him. What should we make of those assertions and the kind of treatment that we`ve seen with his doctor actually even at for a time a CNN correspondent who was also covering the situation at the prison all being taken into custody by authorities?
KRAMER: That`s right. I was at that event on Tuesday and Navalny`s personal doctor was arrested along with several reporters. The concern of supporters of Mr. Navalny is that what we`re witnessing is a slow-motion second assassination. Now, the Kremlin says that Navalny has received adequate healthcare in prison, and state media has reported on this situation as if he may be maligning his symptoms, also taunting him for essentially being a complainer.
But the grave concern of supporters of Mr. Navalny and I think that`s been echo by Western governments is that his life might be in danger.
MADDOW: How much attention is this getting inside Russia? I mean, we saw those myriad demonstrations in dozens and dozens of cities and towns in Russia, not just in Moscow. Big protests in support of Mr. Navalny, we saw a very heavy-handed security response to those protests.
Does the Putin government feel any pressure about what`s happening to him now inside prison?
KRAMER: I don`t think they have felt any pressure immediately in terms of protests but they`re definitely worried about the protests that happened in January. This was the first time there were nationwide protests in multiple cities over a national issue.
So, the concern about street protest is it`s palpable and it -- you know, it`s unclear what would happen if something were to happen to Navalny. That`s a step away from where we are now, but it`s a very sensitive situation for the Kremlin and something that is covered very delicately on state media.
But then a lot of Russians these days also receive their news through social media. So, it`s a delicate situation and certainly central to Russian politics right now.
MADDOW: Andrew Kramer, Moscow correspondent for "The New York Times" -- thank you so much for -- your continued reporting on this, but also for helping us understand. It`s invaluable to be able to talk to you in Moscow tonight. Thank you.
KRAMER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Again, we`re reporting tonight, or Bloomberg News is reporting tonight that the Biden administration may be preparing to take some sort of retaliatory action against the Russian government very shortly, in short order, including for the treatment of Navalny. That, of course, will tighten the screws even further on the Putin government.
Watch this space. A scary situation. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: One thing to watch for in tomorrow`s news -- obviously, we are expecting the president`s remarks before midday Eastern Time on executive actions that he is taking on guns. That will be the first appearance of Merrick Garland with President Biden since he was sworn in as attorney general. That is midday tomorrow.
But also, something else to watch for tomorrow. We are expecting tomorrow, the first big count of the ballots in the union election at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama. It`s going to take a while to count and to fight over the ballots. That is the way that it goes in union elections.
But the potential consequences are huge. If the nation`s second largest private employer, Amazon, is going to start unionizing, it`s potentially a huge deal in this country. We do think we`re going to get the first substantive news about the outcome of that union election sometime tomorrow. So watch for that, as well.
I`ll see you tomorrow night.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.