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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/8/21

Guests: Park Cannon, Gerald Griggs, Art Fierro, Matthew Dowd, Cedric Richmond, Ashish Jha


Today, Rep. Matt Gaetz's associate Joel Greenberg's lawyer told the judge that Greenberg might be willing to change his not guilty plea and instead strike a plea deal with prosecutors in this case. The Fulton County, Georgia district attorney announced yesterday that the arrested legislator, Georgia state Representative Park Cannon, will not be charged with any crime. President Biden today in the White House Rose Garden unveiling a series of executive acts that his administration is taking to address gun violence in the United States.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening Thursday.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Nicolle Wallace in for Rachel.

Good evening, Nicolle.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Hi there. Thank you so much, Chris.

And thank you at home for joining us this hour. I know, I know, Rachel has the night off. But do not despair. She'll be back tomorrow.

Tonight, though, Georgia State Representative Park Cannon will join us live. She is the lawmaker who was arrested and criminally charged for knocking on a door where the governor was signing into law a sweeping voter suppression law. This will be her first interview since those charges were dropped.

We will also be joined live in just a moment by White House senior adviser, Cedric Richmond. He's here to talk about the president's newest executive action on gun control, action that comes unfortunately and tragically on a day when there was another mass shooting in America.

But we start tonight outside a federal courthouse in Orlando, Florida, where embattled Congressman Matt Gaetz received some very, very bad news from an unlikely, albeit reluctant source. Watch.


REPORTER: Does Matt Gaetz have anything to worry about?

FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: Does Matt Gaetz -- that is such a --

REPORTER: When it comes to what happened today in court?

SCHELLER: Does he have anything to worry about? You're asking me to get into the mind of Matt Gaetz, right?

REPORTER: Well, from your mind?

SCHELLER: From my mind.

REPORTER: Based on what your client knows.

SCHELLER: Based on what my client knows, OK.

REPORTER: And the fact that --

SCHELLER: See, if I kept on talking and talking, I would avoid these questions and not to say -- I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.


WALLACE: Did you catch that? That was Fritz Scheller, the lawyer for former tax collector from Seminole County, Florida, a man named Joel Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg was arrested last year on a slew of criminal charges ranging from stalking to bribery to sex trafficking of a minor. And it was out of that sex trafficking investigation into a Florida tax collector that the Matt Gaetz investigation we know about today was born.

It was first reported by "The New York Times" last week that Congressman Gaetz is currently under federal criminal investigation over whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether he paid her to travel with him across state lines. He is being investigated for potentially violating federal child sex trafficking laws and for potentially using campaign funds to facilitate that behavior.

It was also first reported by CBS News last night that federal investigators are also examining a trip he allegedly took to the Bahamas and whether women were illegally trafficked across state or international lines to have sex with Congressman Gaetz.

Matt Gaetz is reportedly a close friend of Joel Greenberg's, and when investigators charged Greenberg with violating child sex trafficking laws, they turned up information that led them to start investigating Matt Gaetz for similar conduct. "The New York Times" has reported the sex trafficking count against Joel Greenberg involves sex with the same underage girl as in the Gaetz investigation.

Since the story first broke, Matt Gaetz has issued a blanket denial of every detail. He says he has never paid for sex. He denies having sex with an underage girl. He says the whole Bahamas thing is a giant fishing expedition. And his friend Joel Greenberg has denied all of the criminal charges brought up against him as well, until now.

Today, Joel Greenberg's lawyer told the judge that Greenberg might be willing to change his not guilty plea and instead strike a plea deal with prosecutors in this case. It is not yet clear how far along these plea discussions are. A judge has asked for an update on those discussions about one month from now.

But that potential plea deal, that is the reason that Joel Greenberg's lawyer today said this part.


SCHELLER: See, I thought if I kept on talking and talking, I could avoid these questions and not to say -- I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.


WALLACE: Not very comfortable today. Because oftentimes a prerequisite for accepting a plea deal with prosecutors is for the defendant to cooperate with prosecutors, to offer up what they know about other people who may have been involved in their wrongdoing in exchange for a lighter sentence. Maybe.

Former lead counsel for the House impeachment inquiry, our friend Dan Goldman, puts it this way, quote, if Greenberg is signing a cooperation agreement, it means he has information that can help the government prosecute other people. Usually prosecutors don't cooperate down, but instead look to cooperate up, against bigger fish. This is bad for Gaetz.

Joining our conversation, "New York Times" Washington correspondent Mike Schmidt, who first broke the Matt Gaetz story for "The New York Times", as well as former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance to help us understand all the legal aspects of the story.

Thank you both for being here.

Mike Schmidt, first tell us this statement seemed while reluctantly delivered, carefully crafted. Is his client planning to -- I know we used the word to flip on Matt Gaetz. But it's usually the by-product of negotiating a more lenient sentence. Is that his defense strategy?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: So, look, we are in the midst of a very dynamic federal investigation. So predicting how it's going to play out is difficult. But what I think we can say coming out of today is that Joel Greenberg has hired this long-time lawyer from Florida named Fritz Scheller. And Fritz Scheller represented the wife of the Pulse Nightclub shooter who was prosecuted on terrorism charges and beat the government in that case.

And for whatever people think about Fritz Scheller, he would not have stood outside that courthouse today and said that if I was Matt Gaetz, I wouldn't feel comfortable. He's just not going to do that without knowing the impact of the message that that sends, and the posture, the public posture that he is taking about his clients.

So I often think that we should never look at body language or try and read signals because it's very difficult. But in this case, it's hard not to think that Fritz Scheller is sending a real signal about the direction of where his client is headed.

WALLACE: And, Joyce, you've been on the other side of this as the prosecutor. Do you agree with Dan Goldman's assessment that the prosecutors -- and again, the obligation isn't on prosecutors to accept a plea deal. It's on Mr. Greenberg to offer something of value.

So how would you assess what sounded like from Greenberg's lawyer an opening of the door or sharing with the press that a door had been opened to a possible plea deal?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Dan I think assesses this one just right. You know, you have to keep in mind that Greenberg was himself an elected official, and he used all of the power that he had because of the office that he held to commit these crimes, to do the ID theft, to get access to women he was involved with. I've almost lost track of the 33 down, and now we're on the second superseding indictment.

So, lots of misconduct by him. You can't plead him out and let him cooperate against nickel and dime crimes. It seems almost inevitable that he has to flip on Gaetz to get a deal that will allow him to plead guilty and get less time than he would otherwise get.

So that has to be where we're headed, and it's worth saying, Nicolle, it's not just enough to say that he can tell stories about Gaetz. He will have to literally have the receipts. He will have to be able to lead prosecutors to proof that they'll be able to use in court so that they can bring and sustain charges against Gaetz.

WALLACE: Well, and, Mike Schmidt, you and your colleagues have reported on the receipts. You guys have seen some of the receipts. Can you sort of -- it's been a fast-paced sort of developing story, but it's really only been with us for a couple of weeks. What is your understanding of the sprawling nature of the investigation?

We know you've reported that it's sex trafficking of a minor, the same minor Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Gaetz. We also know there is some travel to the Bahamas that's being scrutinized. Can you just detail for us the conduct where Mr. Greenberg could perhaps illuminate prosecutors about conduct that he may have witnessed or participated in with Mr. Gaetz?

SCHMIDT: I think it's been clear from the reporting about the payments that were made and the practices that went on between Greenberg and Gaetz, that this was a constant thing that they had going on -- the recruitment of girls and women to come in and to have sex with him and for these women to be paid.

So the prosecution will need to have a narrator, someone who can help them understand what that process looked like. The payments between the women and Greenberg, or money that went from Gaetz to Greenberg, on paper it only says so much, but to really understand the details of how this was going down, where they were doing it, the names of the hotel rooms, why they picked different place -- those details will be very important to prosecutors as they build this case against Gaetz.

Because if you're the government, you have to be prepared to go to trial with Gaetz and to have a knock-down, you know, drag-out fight with some of the top defense lawyers in the country. Gaetz has a ton to lose here. And this is not just a thing where they're going to -- you know, they're not just going to roll up Matt Gaetz and put out an indictment and think he's going to give in. They need to have a very solid case.

And as we've seen in these high profile cases like these, you know, where the whole country or much of the media is paying attention to it, if the government were to get a plea from Greenberg and from other folks, but to lose on Gaetz, that is what people will remember. The -- whatever happens with the big fish?

So they're going to try and soak up as much as possible to have as solid a case as possible, to have witnesses upon witnesses to corroborate things, and you have to start somewhere. And now they're starting with someone who is in the room.

WALLACE: Well, and the evidence that we know of, the stuff that's public- facing, Joyce, I imagine is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, just a fraction of what investigators have. I wonder from your experience what revelations like Gaetz seeking a pardon, a blanket pardon for all conduct from the Trump White House, before Trump left office, and what his vote, the lone vote against a sex trafficking law, how does that evidence contribute, if at all, to an investigation or potentially a prosecution of Mr. Gaetz?

VANCE: It's probably not evidence that would be admissible at trial against Gaetz, unless the conversation about the pardon went something like I'm worried I'm going to be prosecuted because of that time I had sex with the 17-year-old girl, so I need a pardon. Then, of course, it's admissible.

But what it does tell prosecutors is that they are headed the right direction. And an interesting thing about 18 U.S. Code 1591, which is one of the statutes prosecutors are looking at. It's what Mr. Greenberg has been charged with. It prohibits sex trafficking of a minor, someone who is under 18, or also sex trafficking using coercion or force or fraud.

So it reaches a broad range of conduct. And it has an internal provision. This is a little bit unusual, that makes it illegal to obstruct an investigation into any of these crimes. It's a 25-year maximum sentence. So it's a very serious crime.

There is no evidence so far that Gaetz has tried to do anything that approaches obstruction, but for instance, this pardon story, prosecutors will want to know more of the details around that, or if there was any other conduct that amounted to obstruction because that could play big here.

WALLACE: And, Mike, just thinking about this as sort of all that we know is what you and your colleagues and other news organizations have reported. Do you have any sense from investigators or any of the lawyers involved what the scope of the investigation is? Is this just one bad apple and Mr. Greenberg, who was corrupt and ran afoul of federal laws, or are there overlapping investigations in other parts of the state?

Is Gaetz the only Republican congressman we know? I mean, do you have any sense the sort of scope and how long the investigation has been under way?

SCHMIDT: So we know a few things. The thing I think we all have to sort of remind ourselves about this is we've only been reporting on this investigation for ten days. And so we're really still trying to peel back the layers. There is not a lot of public documents out there about that.

There is Greenberg's docket, which is lengthy and has dozens and dozens of charges and gives some incite into what the government has against him and shows the strength of their case. But there is a lot that we don't know.

What we do know, and what I sort of what is remarkable about this investigation is it starts of an investigation of Greenberg. It's looking at this local tax collector. He's come in.

There are corruption allegations. There are stalking allegations. He is sending anonymous false letters about political opponents to the school where the political opponent worked, trying to undermine him. He is doing these really sort of underhanded in many ways openly flaunting the law, just in very sort of -- I'm looking for the word. It's a very foolish sort of way. Openly.

WALLACE: Swampy. It's called swampy.

SCHMIDT: But it wasn't even that well thought out what he was doing. And he was getting caught very easily. This comes through if you read the docket.

And so they're looking at him as this local tax collector, and it's in the course of that that it turns into this. It turns into this sex trafficking investigation, something that is going to require, you know, a very wide look at all of the contacts that Gaetz had with women. All of the money that he paid, all of his dealings, how he was financing his travel, when he did this, often members of Congress have their travel and finances intertwined for better or worse with the money that is derived from their campaigns and their offices.

This is a complicated high-stakes investigation for the Justice Department. And we have not obviously progressed to the point where Gaetz has been charged. And it doesn't look like that is going to happen, at least in the next, you know, in the short period of time. But at the same time, this will be looked at as the Biden Justice Department indicting a close Trump associate. And that will come with a whole set of issues.

Interestingly, folks in Trump world have not come to Gaetz's defense, but at the same time, if Gaetz were to be indicted, does he become a martyr of the right in some way? You know, you just don't know.

WALLACE: Just be a charged child sex trafficker. And at this point it's always interesting to remind folks that the Barr Justice Department knew this and green lit it at the highest levels.

I also want to tell our viewers "The New York Times" also reported that another aide to Matt Gaetz is set to have quit amid an intensifying Justice Department investigation. I think Rachel's term for this is that we will watch this space.

"New York Times" Washington correspondent Mike Schmidt, former U.S. Attorney Joy Vance, thank you both so much for starting us off tonight.

You will remember this really upsetting and jarring video from a few weeks ago. Georgia State Lawmaker Park Cannon being arrested for knocking on the door where the governor was signing a sweeping voter suppression bill. Prosecutors now say Park Cannon will not be prosecuted. She is here live for her first interview since those charges were dropped.

Stay with us.


WALLACE: Hundreds of bills have now been introduced in dozens of states that would make it harder for people to vote, particularly people of color. Voter suppression has become the top priority with the ball game for Republican lawmakers all across the country, based on the big lie that voter fraud cost Donald Trump the November election. Texas has introduced more bills to restrict voting than any other state, almost 50 of them so far.

Despite ferocious pushback, even from several of the largest corporations in Texas, today Republicans in the Texas state house voted to advance one of those bills. We will have more on that development in just a moment.

But, of course, ground zero for the entire fight over voting rights has been Georgia, which last month enacted a sweeping new law that limits absentee and early voting, gives the Republican state legislature the authority to take over local election boards, and even criminalizes the act of giving snacks or water to voters waiting in line at polling places. Georgia's governor is now defending that part of the law by reassuring Georgia voters that folks waiting in long lines at polling places can just order food and water from Grubhub or Uber Eats. Problem solved.

In case there is any doubt where all these restrictive voting laws are coming from, yesterday, Georgia's Republican lieutenant governor admitted, he admitted on camera that his state's new law is the result of lies and misinformation about the 2020 election spread by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.

But if there is an enduring image that will stick with us forever from this moment in American history, from this effort to enact the biggest rollback of voting rights since Jim Crow, it's probably this -- these images of a black Georgia state legislator simply knocking on the door of the room where Georgia's governor was signing the bill into law. She was trying to be -- allowed to witness the bill signing, and she was forcibly handcuffed and hauled away through the state capitol, while on the other side of the door, Georgia's governor was with six other white male Republicans signing the voting rights rollback, while seated in front of a painting of a slave plantation.

The Fulton County, Georgia district attorney announced yesterday that the arrested legislator, Georgia state Representative Park Cannon, will not be charged with any crime. Prosecutors said in a statement, quote, while some of Representative Cannon's colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges.

Joining us now for her first interview since that announcement that she will not face charges is Georgia State Representative Park Cannon. She is joined by her attorney, Gerald Griggs.

Representative Cannon, thank you so much for your time tonight.

STATE REP. PARK CANNON (D), GEORGIA: Thank you for having us this evening. Georgia is on everyone's mind. But this is a national issue.

WALLACE: You know, I wonder if you can just take us through what was in your mind, the whole thing. I mean, what were you trying to see and what was your reaction arrested -- when they reacted the way they did?

CANNON: Well, I serve as the caucus secretary. So, my first role was to reach out to as many legislators in the Democratic Caucus to let them know that the bill was being signed, just like I had been doing all day long when the bill was being debated, when the minority report was happening, when we were sending out information to constituents to let them know.

So I wanted to be present in the room to witness what was happening. We look at this as equivalent to taking away the rights of five million black and brown Georgians. There needed to be at least one in the room.

WALLACE: And there wasn't. And you were arrested.

Were you surprised that they did not pursue those charges against you? Can you just take us through your reactions? Surprised, relieved, the least they could do?

GERALD A. GRIGGS, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING REP. PARK CANNON: Well, I think that it was incumbent upon the district attorney to review the facts and evidence. She did that. She just recently made a statement indicating that Park Cannon should have never been arrested. And she will be having a conference with those officers. So I think it's incumbent upon everyone to understand this arrest should have never happened.

WALLACE: Tell us more about a conference with those officers.

GRIGGS: Well, she indicated on another interview that she believed that they needed more training and that this arrest should have never happened. So she plans on meeting with them some time in the morning to have a real conversation about the burdens of proof both for an indictment and an arrest, and ultimately, what would have taken to get a conviction. She believes that those burdens were not present in this case and it should have never been brought.

WALLACE: Representative Cannon, the law has already been signed into law, obviously. That's what you were there for. You were there to witness that.

Since then, Major League Baseball has moved the all-star game, corporations have felt the pressure to protest the law. What is your feeling or your sense of whether the law will be rolled back, or do you think it's on the books and here to stay?

CANNON: Georgia calls itself the number one place to do business, but it does not call itself the number one place to vote. And there are a number of other states lining up just like Georgia and doing the same thing. I've been receiving messages and letters from people from across the United States, from Texas to Vermont who are saying these same pieces of legislation are being pushed through the process in irregular fashions.

This irregularity is going to be met with the regular lawsuits which are already in tow. But what we want people to know is in Georgia, this is the law. Get to know the law so that we can challenge it, so that we can outvote it, and so that we won't continue to be suppressed by it. I do want to look back on the events that happened that day. They strategically placed themselves under a plantation in South Georgia.

So the rest of the country needs to look out too. Where else are these issues popping up? And how can we address them? We can speak up against white privilege and white power to feel like this is their ability or something they can do privately. This is a very public betrayal of the American vote, and we need all of our Americans to stand up and to protect their voting rights.

WALLACE: The president has called this law Jim Crow on steroids. As we mentioned, Major League Baseball moved their game out of Atlanta. Georgia- based companies have come out against it. What more can be done to pressure Republicans there who seem to be pandering to the Trump base to roll that law back?

CANNON: The job is not yet done. The federal government still has a role to play in this with HR-1. The Georgians here, we understand why something named the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is important, because we have these memories etched in our brains about his sacrifices to vote.

But we're not here just to speak. We need action from our federal government. We've heard the Department of Justice is interested in what is happening here, and we need for local election boards to pay attention to what the state election boards are doing.

Senate bill 202 allows for the state to take over local election boards and replace them with one individual. This is a call for action in Georgia, and we're going to keep knocking.

WALLACE: You're absolutely right to single that out. I mean, that is the one that keeps me up at night. Imagine if they had been able to remove even the Republican officials who said -- who counted and recounted and recounted and found no fraud. Georgia State Representative Park Cannon, Attorney Gerald Griggs, thank you both so much for joining us tonight. It's wonderful to get to talk to you.

In Georgia, the restrictive voting bill is already law, as we've been discussing, but over in Texas, voter suppression bills are still in process. They're still making their way through the legislature.

Quickly, though, in the past week, Dell, American Airlines, and AT&T, major companies headquartered in Texas have all come out against, in opposition of these voter suppression bills in Texas. That didn't stop the House Elections Committee from voting along party lines today to send HB-6 on its way toward a full house vote. Yeah.

The measure prohibits local officials from proactively sending all eligible voters applications to vote by mail, and creates new requirements for people who assist voters in filling out ballots. Texas saw record voter turnout in the 2020 election, in part due to the expansion of voting rights. But bills like HB-6 threaten to suppress voter turnout, especially along peoples of color.

While Georgia's voter restrictions are already law, there is a live ongoing fight right now tonight in Texas over these bills. When that Texas House Committee advanced a voter suppression bill today, well, the Democrats on the committee voted no, including Representative Art Fierro who says he still believe there's is still time before his state follows Georgia's lead.

In an op-ed he published today, he writes, quote, it is not too late for Texans to stand up for this attack on our constitutional rights, but the clock is ticking.

Joining us now are Texas State Representative Art Fierro and Matthew Dowd. Matthew is founder of Country over Party.

Thank you both for joining us tonight.

Let me start on what happened today in Texas.

Can you take me through? Was there heated debate? Was there any Republican who was willing to acknowledge what they were doing? Was there any admission that this is what the Trump voter wanted?

Just take me through what happened in the room.

STATE REP. ART FIERRO (D), TEXAS: Well, first, thank you very much for allowing me to be here this evening. But, you know, today it's very appropriate that the story that precede us was with Georgia and their election, the election laws are being forced down their throat and the voter suppression laws that are being forced down the Georgians' throats. Today right now we're sitting in an election period, which I stepped out to do this interview.

And suspiciously, there is at least three people who testified today who are I.T. experts who just came from Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Florida, testifying on the same type of bills. You know, there is not a single person of any party who's against voter transparency and voter integrity.

But many of these bills that we're posing like HB-6, which today you mentioned was voted out of committee, five Republicans voted for it. Four Democrats voted against it and tried to convince our fellow Republicans to really look and defend voter rights. But it still passed through.

You know, there isn't many bipartisan bills I do believe can secure elections. Like using voter machines that leave a paper trail that can be audited. We can put in a tracking system, mail-in ballots.

But no, the Republicans are insisting that we need to limit, hold people back from going to the polls safely and without a fear of being jailed, without a fear of being prosecuted, and encourage voter suppression. It's a very sad state. But I do believe that Texans still have time to stand up, have their voice heard. Our corporate partners are making their voices heard, and I think that they're making a dent into this little by little, but we cannot stop.

WALLACE: You know, Matt Dowd, it's hard to pinpoint what the most appalling part of this story is, and happening dramatically tonight as we're all talking. Whether it's the fact that it's all predicated on a lie, a lie that's been called a lie by Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell and John Bolton, and it's in the new John Boehner book, a law that is flagrant voter suppression, or a law that simply targets the kinds of voters that Republicans tragically gave up on.

Young voters, black and brown voter, people that live in urban centers. I mean, how is it zooming through in all these state legislatures?

FIERRO: Because there is five Republicans who let it go through the committee and four Democrats. And hundreds of people who last Thursday were here from 8:00 in the morning and we did not finish that bill, hearing testimony until 6:15 in the morning.

And they passionately told stories about how their mother was a first-time voter. And she went to the poll and they found something wrong with her signature. It didn't match, her address didn't match.

If it was after HB-6, she could have been prosecuted. So these are just fear tactics to make sure that the vote is suppressed. We keep hearing about this voter fraud, and it was witnessed and I saw it and it really, did you call the authorities and report it? Well, no, I didn't.

Is there any evidence of this voter fraud? One person even told me it's on YouTube. And we know we cannot believe everything that's on YouTube. They're just (INAUDIBLE) lies.

We have people tell us --


FIERRO: -- and I still believe that Trump won. And it's that -- it all stems from that, that the lie was told. The lie was fabricated. The lie was just grown and the water, and it was a seed planted.

And there are people that want to believe it. You can't prove it. They want to believe it, though.


WALLACE: Representative Fierro, let me bring Matthew in.

Go ahead.

DOWD: I'm going to add this doesn't need any more ludicrous added to it to make it as crazy as it, but I'm going to add another part how crazy it is. In Bryan, College Station, there is more gun deaths today in Texas, as you know, it was reported at the top of the show in the state of Texas.

On the same day, same day that occurs, the legislature, the House committee by Republicans is passing voter restrictions. So we have one of the most open ability to get guns and we're now going to be one of the most closed ability to get votes simultaneously. This is happening simultaneously.

The governor of Tennessee today sign a law that allows open carry and concealed carry without a permit and without a training, today, while they're sponsoring legislation to make it harder to vote.

So that's the sort of Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz crazy world we live in. I mean, if you laid that out to somebody, you would think you were in the beginning of a Jack Nicholson movie that you were about to see some crazy people storming in some field somewhere that we make it easier to get guns. The GOP makes it easier to get guns and harder to get to get votes while we know gun deaths are rising and the amount of fraud that is proved is falling simultaneously.

And we know in Texas, as I said before, on another time with you, Nicolle, there was basically -- there was less than allegations of voter fraud in Texas in 2020, 20. Less than 20. There were nearly 4,000 gun deaths in Texas.

And what are they spending their time doing? Dealing with nonexistent voter fraud.

WALLACE: It's everything you need to know about today's Republican Party, sadly.

Texas State Representative Art Fierro and my friend Matthew Dowd, the founder of Country Over Party, thank you so much for spending time with us tonight. I'm grateful.

President Biden today took executive action to do something about what Matthew is talking about, to do something to stop gun violence as Republicans in Congress refuse to do anything. Cedric Richmond, one of the president's most senior advisers, will join us live next.

Stay with us.



JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every day in this country, 316 people are shot, every single day. One hundred six of them die every day. Our flag was still flying at half-staff for the horrific murder of eight primarily Asian-American people in Georgia when ten more lives were taken in a mass murder in Colorado.

You probably didn't hear it, but between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings, 850, that took the lives of more than 250 people and left 500, 500 injured. This is an epidemic, for God's sake, and it has to stop.


WALLACE: That was President Biden today in the White House Rose Garden, unveiling a series of executive acts that his administration will take, is taking to address gun violence in the United States. And after the president called it an epidemic and said it has got to stop, sadly, tragically, we got reports of yet another mass shooting. This one was in Bryan, Texas.

The suspect allegedly opened fire this afternoon, killing one person and injuring at least five other people, four of them critically. And then allegedly shot a trooper who was pursuing him. That suspect is in custody.

So with that, that shooting today as a backdrop, President Biden took action on guns today. Of the dozen things he has the authority to do by himself without Congress, he can tighten. He can tinker, but Congress has to do the big sweeping stuff.

As the president said today, quote, they've offered plenty of thoughts and players, members of Congress have, but they've passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence, enough prayers, time for some action.

Joining us now is Cedric Richmond, White House senior adviser and the director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement. Before joining President Biden's administration, he was congressman from Louisiana.

Mr. Richmond, thank you so much for staying up and spending some time with us tonight.


WALLACE: So I talked to Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida who obviously knows this issue as well as anyone in congress. And he said something that surprised me. He said he was more optimistic that he'd ever been that something could get done in Congress. Do you share his optimism?

RICHMOND: I do. I want to know President Biden's passion about doing something about gun violence, and creating sensible gun laws along with Vice President Harris, and I think the country is shifting too.

This is no longer the date. Republicans and NRA have hid behind the Second Amendment for far too long. When the Second Amendment was written, people were stuffing gunpowder into a musket to shoot, and now you have guns that can shoot 100 rounds in a minute.

And that's just completely different. These are weapons of war. They're weapons of mass destruction. They have no place on the streets of America. And we have a president now who will call out all of those who oppose safe neighborhoods, safe streets and stopping the carnage on the streets of America.

WALLACE: I say this with respect, Cedric, but have you met today's Republican Party?

RICHMOND: I have, but I think that the people in the country are more powerful than they've ever been, and that the demand is there. So if you look at the American rescue plan, which was $1.9 trillion, I don't think anybody else could have passed that. But public support for it was in the 70s.

Public support for sensible gun regulations up in the 80s, almost at 90 percent. And for some things like universal background checks, it's in the 90s.


RICHMOND: I think Republicans are either going to move with the times, or the voting population will move them out, which is why your first segment was so important that they want to choose the people that vote, because people in America are tired of the carnage. They're tired of the politician, and they're tired of the games.

And I think that if they had their way, they will vote and fight for more just and safe America.

WALLACE: Well, and you very artfully I think answered my question for me. I mean, the model seems to be in terms of the president's legislative agenda is to govern bipartisanly in terms of what the bipartisan voter wants. And so when you can cite 60 percent of Republicans in the country who are behind shots in the arms and money for schools and your COVID relief package, you can certainly say you achieved a bipartisan accomplishment.

Is that the model, and is that what you're talking about when you say you're optimistic? You don't actually think Republicans are going to vote for gun reform with you, do you?

RICHMOND: Look, I think we have a president who cares more about the American people, more about the next generation, more about families than he cares about himself or his ego. I think that because of that, the American people believe in him. They trust him, and they support him.

And so we're going keep talking to the American people. And look, if the only Republicans in the country that oppose us are the ones that walk on the marble floors and sit behind the mahogany desk of the U.S. capital, then we can live with that.

But the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats and independents support the actions we're taking. And we're governing ourselves by the president's values, the president's morals, and we're not picking Democratic issues or Republican issues. We're picking issues that are important to hardworking Americans.

And those that have that deep hole in their heart, because they had to bury a loved one. And so, we're going to fight for it because we care about the next generation, and we're not picking our battles by what's easy. In fact, so far, everything that we've done has been hard, but it's been meaningful.

WALLACE: I'll tell you from working in the White House, everything is hard, but you certainly are all governing in an extraordinary moment of crisis for the country and making time to come talk to us is something I know is an extra thing on your schedule. So thank you for doing it.

Cedric Richmond, White House senior adviser and director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement -- thank you so much for making time. I really appreciate it.

RICHMOND: Thanks for having me.

WALLACE: Much more to come from us here tonight. Stay with us.


WALLACE: Compare and contrast. Today, we learned that the state of Kentucky has a surplus of COVID vaccine. Kentucky's governor says his state received more than 200,000 vaccine does from the federal government last week, but because not many people signed up for appointment, 42 percent of them went unused.

Now, let's compare that with the situation in Michigan. Michigan is currently experiencing the worse coronavirus surge, with 9,000 new cases reported just yesterday. The state is actively trying to acquire more vaccine doses in the hopes of beating back their surge.

Last week, Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, asked the White House directly if they would be able to surge vaccine supplies to her state. Yesterday, one of President Biden's senior health policy adviser says the administration has not ruled that out.

Joining us now is Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, thank you for being here.

You are someone we seek to for advice in our homes and families, but this is -- it would seem one of the complicated policy questions and what should the government do? Should the White House be surging back vaccines supply to our hot spots?


I think the answer is yes. They absolutely should, especially in Michigan. Michigan is really suffering right now. They are seeing huge spikes in cases, driven largely by the variants and more vaccinations would help a lot.

And so, I believe the White House should send more vaccines there and vaccinators around get a lot more people vaccinated in Michigan as urgently as possible.

WALLACE: Can you say a little more about what's going on in Michigan? Because the variants are everywhere. We heard today from the CDC director. Is Michigan an omen of what's to come everywhere? Is it an outlier? Is it under vaccinated?

Just say more why Michigan is happening.

JHA: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. I do think they were among the earliest in terms of widespread variants kind of showing up. So that's one part of it.

The other part is Michigan has actually done very well over the last four, five months when the rest of the country was having huge surges. Michigan was not. It was actually under reasonably good control under the leadership of Governor Whitmer, which has the perverse effect of leaving a lot of people still vulnerable.

And unfortunately, when B.1.1.7 arrived in Michigan, I think they just found a lot more people vulnerable. So, I think it is a combination of factors. It is potentially what other states will deal with, if we don't get vaccine nations in good shape.

But right now, it's Michigan that's really suffering the most, and they're the ones who need the help.

WALLACE: Some people just recoil, either from skepticism, I think, if you are looking at the right of our ideological spectrum or from fatigue, if just you look at ordinary people when you talk about a fourth surge? What is your point of view on a forged surge? Is it definitely happening?

JHA: First of all, I think we are seeing a little bit of a surge in a bunch of cases and Michigan is the one where things are really tough. But everywhere else, where we see a surge, it's moderate.

I think the good news is we're not going to see anything like we saw over the holidays. That's largely because we are doing a fascinating job and we're vaccinating, older, high risk people. So, we're not going to see massive increases and hospitalizations. We're not going to see a massive crush of deaths. But we still have probably three, four weeks to go before a large chunk of adults are vaccinated and during that time, we may see a lot of infections and hospitalizations that are unnecessary.

We can kind of keep these infections under control and keep vaccines going.

WALLACE: That's the saddest thing of all. Some of it gets really sick. Just -- you could have held on a little longer, protected yourself a little longer.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, thank you so much. It's always great to talk to you.

We will be right back.


WALLACE: That does it for us tonight. Thank you so much for watching. Rachel will be back here tomorrow. I'm here in my basement. You know what I mean. She'll be back tomorrow.

And I'll see you at 4:00 Eastern tomorrow on "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE".


Hi, Lawrence.