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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/25/21

Guests: Sheldon Whitehouse, Sherrilyn Ifill

Summary

"The Washington Post" is reporting that the New York state prosecutor`s office is running a criminal investigation into former President Trump and his business. The Justice Department now under President Biden is appealing a judge`s order to release documents about the potential federal prosecution of former President Trump on obstruction of justice charges. Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, member of the Judiciary Committee, is interviewed.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is 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.

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

This is the headline tonight at "The Washington Post": Prosecutor in Trump criminal probe convenes grand jury to hear evidence and weigh potential charges.

"The Washington Post" was the first to report this story. Within two hours, "The Associated Press" matched the key reporting at the heart of the problem. This is their headline: New grand jury seated for next stage of Trump investigation. New York prosecutors have convened a special grand jury to consider evidence in a criminal investigation into former President Trump`s business dealings.

Seven minutes after that, it was ABC News that also independently matched the key point in this new reporting. Manhattan district attorney convenes special grand jury in Trump probe.

A special grand jury has been convened to consider the possibility of criminal charges against President Trump and people related to his business.

Now, does this mean former president Donald Trump is going to be indicted? Does this mean he`s going to be criminally charged? I don`t know. And neither do you, and anybody who tells you they know the answer to that for sure -- that`s somebody you might enjoy hearing stories from, but don`t necessarily assume they`re true.

We don`t know. You can`t have an indictment unless you have a grand jury. But having a grand jury does not guarantee you`re going to get an indictment.

A jury, as you know, that`s the group of citizens that gets called for jury duty, listens to all the witnesses as laid out for them in the course of a trial. There`s a trial judge who keeps everything on a straight and narrow, keeps everything running according to the rules. Sort of guides the jury as to the basis on which the jury makes the decision. But then the jury decides which side won the trial that`s a jury.

A grand jury is a different thing all together. Boy, would it have avoid a lot of non-lawyer confusion over time if they had come up for a different term for it. But a grand jury is another group of regular citizens who get called for jury duty, in this case, grand jury duty.

But as part of grand jury, they don`t sit there and watch a trial unfold. A grand jury sits there and watches a prosecutor and looks at evidence and listens to witnesses who answer questions. And the grand jury`s decision at the end of the day is not which side won the trial. They`re not watching a trial. The grand jury`s decision at the end oh of the day is whether or not a person is going to get charged with a crime, whether an indictment is going to be issued so a defendant can face a criminal trial. That`s what a grand jury does.

And a regular grand jury, one called by state prosecutors in New York, they usually sit for about four weeks. They sit for about four weeks. They are convened one or maybe two days per week for four weeks.

And, you know, any charges that state prosecutors want to bring against anybody during that time, any indictments they want to seek they bring that evidence and those witnesses to the grand jury, and the grand jury, during the normal course of events in New York, they meet over the course of four weeks, and they take case after case after case, one after another, making a decision in each instance as to whether a person is going to be indicted, whether criminal charges are going to be issued.

Well, in this new reporting about potential criminal charges for former President Trump, they`re talking about a variation on that grand jury structure. It`s what they call an extra grand jury or a special grand jury. "The Washington Post" initial report tonight says that the special grand jury in the Trump case will be convened to meet not for the usual four weeks, but for six months.

And this special grand jury is not going to meet one day a week, maybe two days a week. They`re going to meet three days a week for a solid six months. And this is, again, reportedly an extra grand jury. This is a special grand jury that is being convened on top of the usual grand jury that`s in session in the normal course of events in the New York state legal system, that special status, this unusually intense and long-running commitment that they have asked these grand jurors to make.

Why is that? Why is this being handled by a special grand jury that`s meeting so much more intensely than a normal grand jury? Again, I don`t know, neither do you, and anybody that tells you they know for sure is not being straight.

Grand jury proceedings are secret. And they`re considering whether or not people are going to be criminally charged. Those deliberations and everything that happens in the grand jury room has to be secret as a basic tenant of fairness.

Because at the end of those proceedings, the grand jury decides somebody should not be charged, that criminal charges shouldn`t be brought. It would be everything unfair for everything to be dragged out into the public eye, right? A person didn`t get charged, then they should not have aspersions cast on them by people knowing they were the subject of a grand jury process. You either get charged or you don`t.

It is secret what happens in that room. Prosecutors lay out a case, once they indict them and charge them, that`s the public part of the case. Grand jury proceedings are secret. We don`t know what`s going on there.

And we don`t know exactly what`s going on with this special grand jury that has been convened to hear the case related to Trump. "The Washington Post" does say in its reporting tonight that the special grand jury isn`t hearing Trump-related stuff alone. They`re also handling some other matters, some other cases. So who knows?

But it is unusual to have a special grand jury meeting this intentionally. And the speculation is that these New York state prosecutors want this special grand jury available to work with unusual intensity, three days a week for an unusually long period of time, six months, because they are asking this grand jury to consider a particularly complex or otherwise intense set of decisions, about whether or not former President Trump and other people in his orbit are going to be indicted. And this feels like a big deal tonight because it`s a big deal.

It`s not out of the blue, though. And the timeline here I think is grounding in terms of us keeping this in context, keep thing perspective, making sure we are focusing on what we know and not speculating about stuff we don`t know. We -- the way this has come about, the public reporting that has led us to this point, has been pointing in this direction for a while.

I mean, it was as long ago as the summer of 2018 that "The New York Times" is reporting that Trump might face criminal charges from New York state prosecutors. As long ago as last summer, the summer of 2020, "The Times" is the first to report that the scope of those prosecutors` investigation of Trump appeared to include several different types of tax fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud.

In December, December 2020, it was reported that those prosecutors had hired a big very capable, forensic consulting firm that`s very good at going through not only financial evidence, but they`re particularly good at going through large volumes of financial evidence. That was in December 2020.

In February 2021 this year, it was reported that the office pursuing potential charges against Trump had brought in a ringer, they had brought in an outside, very experienced former prosecutor, who had left that life behind, got into private practice, but the D.A.`s office recruited him back into public service specifically so he could run point on the Trump Organization being pursued -- excuse me, on the Trump investigation being pursued by New York state prosecutors. He`s a lawyer who has considerable experience with white collar crime and fraud cases. He also has some high- end and fairly gory mafia prosecution experience, as well, for what that`s worth.

But just days after we learned that they had brought in that ringer prosecutor, as well as the forensic accounting firm that they brought in to handle large amounts of data, just days after that became publicly known, we learned that both of those things, the consulting firm and the ringer prosecutor, would come in particularly handy in the Trump case, because the United States Supreme Court ruled in late February that tons, millions of pages of Trump`s financial business and tax records would be handed over to those prosecutors. Good to have an experienced white collar lawyer, working on running point on that investigation, also good to have the consulting firm, the forensic accounting firm that`s great at handling huge amounts of data because in late February, they got huge amounts of data on Trump and his business interests.

And then, earlier this month, we got this public statement from the attorney general`s office in New York saying that part of that office`s ongoing civil investigation into Trump had been hived off and move into the same state prosecutors office, the same D.A.`s office because that have morphed from a civil matter into a criminal matter.

So, we`ve seen from the initial reporting that Trump might face criminal charges from New York state prosecutors, based on the D.A.`s office in Manhattan, from that initial reporting going back to the summer of 2018 we have been building up to today. The timeline of all of those steps, potentially facing charges, open criminal investigation, criminal investigation adding lots of resources to be able to handle lots of information, getting lots of information, being given criminal parts of other investigations that started in other offices, it`s all been leading toward this revelation today in "The Washington Post."

That timeline leading up to this reporting today, again, makes this not a surprise, even though it is still kind of a shock to see it in black and white. I mean, "The Washington Post" reporting tonight, their story on this is 24 paragraphs long. You have to get 22 paragraphs into the 22-paragraph long story before they note as an aside, oh, my the way, no former U.S. president has ever been charged with a crime. Oh, yeah, this has never happened before. This is kind of a big deal.

But even the president`s allies and confederates have seen this coming, to a certain extent. We know that because two different news outlets separately reported in recent weeks, first, Jane Mayer of "The New Yorker Magazine" and then Politico.com, they both separately reported in recent weeks that Florida officials have recently been meeting to discuss the possibility that Trump might be indicted while he is at his house in Florida, while he`s at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

They`ve been meeting to discuss the prospect if a warrant is issued for Trump`s arrest for him to face criminal trial in New York, could Florida`s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, try to intervene to block Trump`s extradition to New York? I mean, they have been having these live discussions. This isn`t like a party game. This is something that they`ve been trying to come up with contingency plans for, expecting an arrest warrant for President Trump might be issued.

So, again, not necessarily a surprise, I guess, since a lot of this was foreseeable and a lot of people have been preparing for this in lots of different, observable ways, but it is still shocking.

And for all the sort of unimaginability of a former president facing criminal charges, with this particular former president, there`s a lot of these previously unimaginable prospects to keep an eye on. I mean, this is reporting tonight about New York state prosecutors convening a grand jury to consider a potential indictment for him. But this same president is also facing the possibility of a criminal indictment in the state of Georgia, where they are investigating his efforts to interfere with the administration of the presidential election in Georgia last fall. Also in that investigation, a grand jury has been convened to hear evidence.

Even back up in New York, don`t sleep on the civil part of the case that is still ongoing in the attorney general`s office. Yes, it made big news when we learned that part of that case had been hived off to become a criminal matter in the D.A.`s office. But the civil part of that investigation continues, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

That office, the New York attorney general`s office, brought a devastating civil case against Trump`s sham, fraudulent Trump university, which resulted not only in the Trump University being shut down, it resulted in Trump having to pay $25 million.

That same office also brought a devastating case against Trump`s sham charity, the Trump foundation, which also resulted in that being shut down and him having to pay millions of dollars in penalty. That is the same office that is now still pursuing its civil investigation of the Trump Organization, the president`s business. Even as it kicks some piece of that investigation over to the D.A.`s office for criminal prosecution and sort of seconded two of its prosecutors from the attorney general`s office to go over to the D.A.`s office to collaborate with them and work on that criminal case. So, all of these things are questions of serious potential liability for the former president.

And then there`s the question of what`s happening at the federal level, the prospect of federal criminal charges against former President Trump. And every time we report on this, I feel a little tickle behind my ear, which tells me that Attorney General Merrick Garland has just eaten another fistful of mint flavored Tums. I get a little notification right here whenever that happens.

It is just absolutely palpable that Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden Justice Department want absolutely nothing to do with the potentially criminal trailing ends of the last presidency. They just don`t seem like it. But they can only pretend so hard and for so long that isn`t something that has been left for them to deal with.

I mean, this is all happening at once. Here tonight is this news of state prosecutors of New York, convening a special grand jury to work intensively over a period of six months, meeting three days a week, to weigh potential criminal charges against former President Trump and other people connected to his business. That is dramatic, right? But at least that stayed in the federal.

But the federal thing keeps creeping up on the Biden Justice Department and I`m not sure how long they`re going to be able to avoid the question. I mean, within the last 24 hours leading up to this bombshell reporting tonight of what`s happening in New York, you know, hey, look, the federal potential federal case is rearing its head. All this stuff is happening at once.

Within the last 24 hours, we learned that Don McGahn, Trump`s former White House counsel, the star witness for the several hundred pages of detailed allegations against Trump that he might have committed felony obstruction of justice while he was president multiple times, lots of obstruction of justice, we just learned last night that Don McGahn is going to testify about that alleged behavior by Trump next week. He will testify for the first time.

Don McGahn spoke to prosecutors in the Mueller investigation. That`s why we know he`s the main witness for the most serious allegations against Trump when it comes to federal obstruction charges. But McGahn has never testified about any of it. While Trump was still in office, he blocked McGahn from giving testimony.

Now that Trump is no longer in office, McGahn is not going to be blocked from testifying, and it`s a funny story as to why. It has to do with money and someone who is feeling a little on the edges these days.

This is from Charlie Savage at "The New York Times", quote: Immediately after the deal from McGahn to testify was announced this month in a court filling, the lawyer for Mr. Trump had conveyed that former President Trump intended to intervene in the case. Former presidents can`t invoke executive privilege and Trump could have sought a court order blocking Don McGahn from testifying. But late last week, that same lawyer for Trump said that actually Trump wouldn`t be intervening after all. The Trump said to have provided no reason for the about-face.

While he was president, Mr. Trump vowed to stonewall all congressional subpoenas and taxpayer founded lawyers with the Justice Department fought lengthy court battles and appeals that succeeded in running out the clock and the possibility that Congress would obtain the information they were seeking before the 2020 election.

Now, that Mr. Trump is no longer president however, and therefore, no longer has access to taxpayer funded lawyers, there`s at least on major difference in how he`s approaching this matter now. Quote, to keep litigating over the matter now, Mr. Trump would have to pay the legal costs himself.

He`d have to pay himself for lawyers to try to block McGahn from testifying? Himself? We all know that the man does not like to pay for things himself. And so he will no longer try to block Don McGahn`s testimony. He would have to pay lawyers in order to do that, and he`s not doing that.

And so, Don McGahn is going to testify to Congress next week. Don McGahn is going to testify to Trump`s potential obstruction of justice next week. He`s going to testify for the first time on that matter and that will put all that alleged criminal obstruction of justice by Trump back in the public eye and sort of back in play. And none of those things are things that happened outside the statute of limitations.

Why was Trump never criminally charged in conjunction with those serious allegations already? It turns out that`s a funny story about that, as well.

It was the Mueller report that laid out hundreds of pages of detailed evidence of Trump allegedly committing felony obstruction of justice. Right when the Mueller report came out, as soon as it was submitted to the Justice Department, Trump`s attorney general, Bill Barr, immediately volunteered to the public and then to Congress under oath that, no, despite all that evidence laid out so carefully by Mueller, no, Trump would not be charged with obstruction of justice. Was that because the Justice Department has this longstanding policy that says a president can`t be criminally charged? Is that why he won`t face charges, Attorney General Bill Barr?

No. Barr told the public, he told the Congress explicitly no. Barr said, when the Mueller report came out, that it was immaterial, it didn`t matter at all that Trump, because he`s president, was immune from being prosecuted. Barr said that didn`t even come into play, he didn`t even have to factor that into his decision because he said Trump didn`t need immunity. He said Trump was innocent.

Barr said he consulted with Justice Department lawyers about all that evidence that was laid out by Mueller, and he concluded on the basis of that evidence that none of that was a crime, none of that was all that serious. There was nothing to prosecute. Trump didn`t need immunity, he was innocent.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. issued a scathing ruling that basically said, yeah, that`s not what happened. In a case about whether the Justice Department has to release to the public some of their internal documents about the decision whether to prosecute Trump, the judge ruled that the way Bill Barr described that decision, his supposed exoneration of Trump, is not actually what happened.

She ordered the Justice Department to release their internal memo about the potential prosecution of Trump for obstruction of justice. She gave the Justice Department until yesterday to release that document or appeal her ruling. Late last night, after we were off the air, the Justice Department told that judge they are going to appeal her ruling, they will still fight to keep secret that stuff about bringing federal charges against Trump and how the Justice Department came to its decision on those matters.

And, listen, I understand why Bill Barr and the Trump Justice Department wanted to keep secret their reasoning about whether or not to bring federal criminal charges against Trump. That`s easy to understand. Why is the Justice Department under Joe Biden doing the same thing, though, right? I`m honestly not sure. I don`t know. You don`t know either. Anybody telling you they know for sure either doesn`t know for their work for Merrick Garland, which they shouldn`t be talking to you about this.

But I`ll just finish with this, with two things to know about the Justice Department under Merrick Garland making the decision to appeal this judge`s ruling, to try to continue to keep secret the document that Trump`s Justice Department prepared about whether or not to charge him with criminal obstruction of justice. The first thing to know about the Justice Department now appealing this ruling and fighting to keep this document secret, the first thing to know about it is that the brief filed here, the reasoning explained by Merrick Garland`s Justice Department is humiliating. It`s abject and humiliating.

Throughout the brief filed with the court late last night, the Justice Department, the current Justice Department is just crawling and scraping about how they didn`t mean what they said and how sorry they are, that it looked the way that the judge thought it looked but they didn`t mean it to look that way, and now in retrospect they can see how misleading their previous statement seemed to the court when Barr was attorney general but please, couldn`t they be forgiven for that?

I know you think I`m being hyperbolic, but this is the actual language filed with the court.

Quote: In retrospect, the government acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearers, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused. But the government`s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the court.

Quote: We regret language that was imprecise in the government`s brief and the confusion it has cause. Quote: We regret that we did not make this distinction clearer in our briefing. Quote: The government now recognizes that several statements in its briefing were susceptible to an interpretation.

Quote: These passages could have been clearer, and the government regrets that they were not. Quote: The second and third sentences could have been worded differently to avoid confusion. Quote: With the benefit of hindsight, the government regrets that its declarations and briefs did not state expressly.

I mean, this is gross. This is humiliating. This is the Justice Department now, under Merrick Garland as attorney general, bending over backwards like this to try to make it seem like the Justice Department, under Trump, was acting in good faith and doing their best and all the false and disingenuous things they told the court about former President Trump`s liability to potential criminal prosecution, the false things they told not just the public but the court, should all be forgiven. Because we`re so sure that they didn`t mean it to be as bad as it seems.

I could see the Justice Department under Bill Barr, the Trump era Justice Department, making these kinds of representations about themselves and their own bad behavior here. But why is the Garland Justice Department trying to make this go away, trying to clean this up?

We didn`t really mean it. Does it seem like we lied? We didn`t mean to lie. We recognize it kind of looks like a lie, but look at us, we never lie. That`s one thing to know about it.

The other thing to know about it, the other thing to at least ask about all of this is however this resolves with the Justice Department and what gets released to the public and what doesn`t, and this question of why the new attorney general is trying to paper over what Barr did to protect Trump and to try to occlude even from the courts the question of Trump`s potential liability.

Regardless of how that all resolves, the question that`s now live and kind of red hot is whether or not Trump now is libel to federal prosecution for obstruction of justice by the Justice Department, right? Whether or not he`s libel for prosecution right now for the instances of alleged obstruction of justice that were laid out in the Mueller report.

None of those things are so far in the past that they are outside the statute of limitations. What has been clear through all of this unequivocally is that the Barr era Justice Department never did substantively consider obstruction charges against Trump. Despite all the evidence laid out against him, despite them lying to the public and the courts saying they looked at that evidence clearly, they did not. It was never looked at. We now know.

The question of whether or not Trump should face federal criminal charges is no longer constrained by him being a president and -- a sitting president and therefore immune from prosecution. That no longer applies. And the question of potential federal prosecution of him for obstruction of justice has never been substantively looked at, despite the hundreds of detailed pages of evidence about those alleged crimes that was made public in the Mueller investigation.

So, will the Garland era Justice Department now consider those charges? On top of everything else?

Hold that thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: It`s been a whole different show planned tonight. This is one of those things where the news sneaks up on you. But we`re now following these two big stories that sort of landed as a surprise.

"The Washington Post" first to report that the New York state prosecutor`s office running a criminal investigation into former President Trump and his business. "The Post" reporting tonight that those prosecutors have now convened a special grand jury that is expected to last for six months meeting three days a week. That`s a grand jury that will be considering potential criminal charges in conjunction with the Trump case. Now, six months is far longer than a typical grand jury needs, suggesting that this is a complex case for which prosecutors need an intense amount of focus over prolong period of time from that grand jury.

Also, simultaneously, because anytime your wipers are on, your headlights should be, too. Also, we`re following this puzzling story of the Justice Department now under President Biden obviously appealing a judge`s order to release documents about the potential federal prosecution of former President Trump on obstruction of justice charges.

I say these stories are both a bit of a surprise but one group that did see this last part coming where the Democrats in the Senate on the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee on the Senate wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, ahead of this decision, telling him not to appeal the judge`s order in this case, telling him basically -- it`s a terrible idea to appeal the judge`s order. You should release those documents about potential prosecution of President Trump. Do not fight to keep them secret from the public.

Attorney General Garland nevertheless did decide to appeal the judges ruling.

And so joining us now is Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He`s a member of the Judiciary Committee. He`s one of the senators who signed that letter telling Attorney General Garland not to do this. I should tell you, he`s also a former federal prosecutor, as U.S. attorney and the attorney general for the state of Rhode Island.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. It`s great to see you.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Thanks. Wonderful to be with you.

MADDOW: What was the basis of your case to Attorney General Merrick Garland that shouldn`t appeal that ruling from the judge, that he should facilitate the public learning about what the former Justice Department did when they had to -- when they`re confronted with potentially charging President Trump?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, it was, obviously, very controversial decision at the time and there was a lot of anger and angst about what`s going on with the Department of Justice. And then along comes the decision from Judge Jackson that required the report be disclosed.

And in doing so, she made some powerful findings. She said that the DOJ prosecutors, particularly from the Office of Legal Counsel, had been disingenuous from the court, which is brutally strong language from a court to a federal prosecutor, particularly to a senior federal prosecutor, high up in the Department of Justice.

And that the affidavits that they filed under oath, we`ll read it here, were so inconsistent with the evidence that they`re not worthy of credence. That`s an unbelievably strong comment from a federal judge. It`s not the first harsh commentary about the Office of Legal Counsel.

So, at this point, it really to us made no sense not to just clear the air of this, go with the judge`s decision with the department and every reason to pursue it. And not continue to drag the department through the nightmare of its own misstatements and misleading statements to the court. We`re right to read all of that apologetic makeup stuff they`ve tried to do. But point of fact, the Department of Justice should never be there in the first place.

That`s why you`re the Department of Justice. It`s not so the judge say that you`ve been disingenuous to the court and that you file affidavits that are so inconsistent with the evidence that they don`t merit credence. You`re the Department of Justice because you`re there to do justice.

MADDOW: In terms of what the Justice Department should do now -- obviously, you disagree with this decision to appeal the judge`s ruling. You think that this material should be made public. That will be a source of continued litigation. That will be decided in court ultimately.

But what about the substantive question that`s at the heart of this, which is that the Justice Department under the previous president being confronted with hundreds of pages of detailed evidence about him potentially committing felony, obstruction of justice while he was president? We now know it`s because of this litigation that the Justice Department never substantively considered that evidence. Should they now substantively consider that evidence?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, if you said that you didn`t consider the OLC policy that a sitting president can`t be indicted, so that`s not your reason for not proceeding. And you haven`t actually considered whether or not you should proceed, or by implication, you made the decision you should not proceed irrespective of that, on the merits, I think that`s a question that you then have to be prepared to defend.

What it looks like is they really never made that decision. And part of Judge Jackson`s anger I think was that they were treating it as pre- decisional so determination about the president`s culpability, what was actually strategic public relations framing of how they`re going to roll out the performance that they`re engaged in. And she, I think, properly said I think that`s not pre-decisional when what you`re doing is just trying to cook up what you`re going to tell the public.

So, they`ve got I think a lot of problems that this case opens up that merit pursuit. And if, in fact, the OLC firewall is absolute that a sitting president can`t be indicted, well, that`s past. So, that`s the decision for Garland to have to make, but the longer that he keeps us this open, the more alive this is going to stay, and the more the pressure is going to build for a real decision.

At this point, it appears that the department has not made a real decision on whether or not President Trump committed obstruction of justice, and we are entitled, I think, to that decision and to a credible defense of it.

MADDOW: Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse -- sir, thank you for joining us. You`re in a unique position to be able to help us understand the context here. Thanks for being with us tonight, I really appreciate it.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Tonight at the U.S. Justice Department, Vice President Harris swore in the brand new chief of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Her name is Kristen Clarke. The vote to confirm Ms. Clarke took place earlier today in the Senate. Just one Republican, Susan Collins, joined all the Democrats in the Senate to confirm her.

Kristen Clarke hereby becomes the first African-American woman to ever become the civil rights chief at the U.S. Justice Department. And, boy, what a moment to take over that job in that place.

Kristen Clarke`s swearing in comes today as people gathered in Minneapolis outside the Cup Foods, the corner store where George Floyd drew his last breath exactly one year ago today when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes while Mr. Floyd pleaded for his life. Mr. Floyd`s death sparked months of mass protests across the country and around the world. And the murder conviction of the officer who killed him notwithstanding, his death prompted sustained and serious calls for systemic police reform.

Today, on the first anniversary of George Floyd`s death, Mr. Floyd`s family visited the president and vice president at the White House. They met with congressional leaders. They are attempting to use the momentum from this somber anniversary to try to move the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This is a bill that`s passed the House. It is currently stuck in the Senate. Mr. Floyd`s family and frankly the Biden White House are trying everything they can to get it unstuck, to get it passed.

Sherrilyn Ifill leads the NAACP`s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Legal Defense and Educational Fund at the NAACP is also marking this anniversary today by, among other things, reflecting on the progress toward police reform that has happened in the last year. The progress that`s been made possible by the outcry and the protests that has happened ever since Floyd was killed.

She said this today online, she said, quote: Much will be said about where things stand a year after the murder of George Floyd. Did protests make a difference? Has everything changed? The answer is yes. Is there much more to do and are we facing a strong backlash? Yes and yes.

Joining us now is Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Ms. Ifill, it`s an honor to have you here tonight on this really big day. Thank you for being with us.

SHERRILYN IFILL, IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Tell me about the progress that you -- that you see is having been made in the past year and what you think made that progress possible?

IFILL: Yes, it`s important to take a moment and to recognize what shifts have happened because, you know, the truth is black people are still being killed by the police. They`re being killed by police during the Derek Chauvin murder trial, after the Derek Chauvin murder trial. And so, I don`t and anybody want to suggest that were out of the woods at the kinds of shifts that need to happen have happened.

But I also want us to be clear about the fact that some really important shifts have happens. One of the most important, Rachel, is just the narrative in the conversation that we`re having about the nature of policing. We`re now not just talking about individuals or even individual cities. We`re talking about reimagining public safety and we`re talking about, you know, should police officers be on mental health calls?

You know, we`re talking about the need for supporting the social services that we`ve starved and use law enforcement and its place in terms of, you know, dealing with the homeless and addressing issues of poverty and mental illness and so forth. And so, the whole conversation gets shifted but there`s also been a policy shifts.

There are multiple states require officers to intervene when they see misconduct happening. Multiple jurisdictions have ended qualified immunity from police officers including New York City and Colorado and Mexico.

Maryland passed a huge bill ending the law enforcement officers` Bill of Rights and requiring transparency of records, of police officer misconduct. And New York City repealed the famous Law 50A that prevented the disclosure of disciplined records of police officers.

And many more, there are jurisdictions that have removed schools from police. There are jurisdictions that have stopped police from engaging in certain kinds of conduct. There are jurisdictions that are now saying that mental health professionals will be the first line of defense for mental health calls.

We don`t want to forget that those changes are happening and they happened because we saw the largest mass protests ever in the United States last summer.

MADDOW: I know the Kristen Clarke`s nomination to lead the civil rights division at the Justice Department is something that is close to your heart. She is a lifelong civil rights attorney. She`s an alum of the organization on her confirmation is a landmark moment, first African American woman to hold that post.

It`s also critically important that she`s a lifelong civil rights attorney who`s going to hold that post. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you think the Justice Department under Merrick Garland has done so far on civil rights issues and on issues of police reform and even advance of Ms. Clarke taking her position tonight?

IFILL: Yeah, it matters who leads the Department of Justice and we`ve seen that already. The department is already opened an investigation into Minneapolis police department which Floyd was killed. They`ve opened investigation into the Louisville police department where Breonna Taylor was killed.

So, we are already seeing that really important see change and it will intensify I think in weeks and months. Kristen Clarke is a dedicated and serious civil rights lawyer. Rachel, she`s not only the first black woman to be confirmed for this post, she`s the first woman to be confirmed for this post.

And that`s because of the derailment of the nomination of Lonnie Gwinner (ph), many years ago in the early 1990s. She was subjected to the kind of smear campaign that they tried on Kristen Clarke. That they tried on Vanita Gupta, who is now associate attorney general.

But I`m really proud of our community for fighting back, for fighting for these two extraordinary women who are going to be bringing this wealth of civil rights experience in the Department of Justice.

And so, I think we`re going to see a lot more changes happen. Now they`ve got their hands full. It`s not just policing, let`s be clear. We just did an extensive, you know, some extensive segments this week on voting rights, on what`s happening in Arizona with the audit. There`s a lot of work for the Department of Justice to do the civil rights division was essentially stood down during Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions and I opposed to Matt Whitaker`s tenure as attorney general.

And so, they have a lot to do to pull the department up. It`s already happening and it`s going to intensify. And while, you know, both Vanita and Kristen have been dear friends of mine, you should know, I`m going to be pushing them from the outside because they`re going to be in their role as government lawyers and I`m gong to be in my role as a civil rights lawyer. And we`re going to be pushing them to do more.

MADDOW: I have absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever and it is heartening to hear you say and to hear you say it with that smile on your face knowing how much you mean it.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- it is a really big day today. Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

IFILL: Thanks so much Rachel. Good night.

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

MADDOW: This was view over the nation of Belarus today. All those yellow little blobs you can see on the screen there, those are commercial planes. You can see Belarus, even though you can`t really see anything else there. That`s because all those commercial planes are trying to avoid flying over Belarus, which is why you can read the name of the country on the map.

This weekend, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, the Putin adjacent dictator Alexander Lukashenko sent a military fighter jet to force down a passenger plane. On that plane was a 26-year-old journalist named Roman Protasevich. Protasevich runs an opposition media outlet that reports on the authoritarian regime in Belarus and on the recent large scale protests against it.

Protasevich has been living in exile in Lithuania in order to continue his reporting. That`s why the passenger plane he was on was forced down in Belarus on Sunday, so that Lukashenko could get him on Belarusian soil and arrest him.

This was what Roman Protasevich looked like before he was arrested on Sunday. And this is what he looks like now. This is from a video recorded yesterday, the day after he was arrested.

In this video released by the regime in stiff, stilted language, Protasevich confesses to everything they apparently told him to confess to. You can see the marks on his forehead. Also his nose appears to be a little out of whack.

Today, his father told "Reuters" that since his son has been in custody, the shape of his son`s nose has changed. He says he thinks it looks broken. He told "Reuters", it looks like they put make up on him to cover up who knows what.

He would know better than anyone though, right, what the face of this 26- year-old journalist should look like, right? He`s his dad.

Not long after the passenger plane was forced down and this 26-year-old kid was arrested by the regime in Belarus, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the arrest of the sham journalist. He said the United States government demands his release. Lots of other European nations have echoed that demand as well. But that was two days ago.

Roman Protasevich is still in custody in Belarus. They apparently have no immediate plans to let him go. I don`t know how this is going to end, but it must.

More ahead tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight. My big plan is that no news is going to happen tomorrow, which will allow us to do the whole show that we had planned for today before the news blew it up. We`re just carrying it over, assuming that news will still be fresh tomorrow, right? Good plan? Why not?

I`ll see you again tomorrow night where I`ll be doing yesterday`s news.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.