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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/7/21

Guests: Beto O`Rourke, Matt Kaplan


Texas voter suppression bill easily passed the Republican-controlled House and it`s on a fast track to Governor Greg Abbott`s desk, who has promised he will absolutely sign it. A piece of rocket launched by China in April is expected to reenter Earth this weekend.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Note to the staff in the control room, can we run down the absentee and the recusal just for next week?

All right. That is "ALL IN" for this week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you very much my friend. Have an excellent weekend.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Happy Friday night.

1918, two years before American women were granted the right to vote, the women of Texas were granted the right to vote in state primary elections. Didn`t happen until two years later for the whole country, but in Texas, it happened in 1918.

Here`s a group of Texas women waiting to register to vote for the first time in July 1918. They`re getting ready to register to vote in a Texas primary election. This is a flier from around that time, making sure women knew they now had access to the ballot box in Texas. Women! Isn`t that a great flier? Look at that.

Women, the eyes of Texas are upon you. Have you paid that poll tax? Poll taxes were still a thing back then.

And, again, this was for voting in a primary, not in a general election, but this was Texas in 1918, and Texas for all intents and purposes was a one-party state. It was controlled by the Southern Democrats, a very different party from the Democratic Party as we know it today. The Southern Democrats basically won all the elections in Texas back then, so voting in the primary was basically like voting in the general. Whoever won the Southern Democrats primary was basically guaranteed to win the general election too. So it was a big deal.

When Texas, ahead of the United States as a whole, Texas welcomed women to the ballot box in 1918 to vote in state primaries, except there was a hitch, a really, really big hitch.

This is Christia Adair. Back in 1918, Christia Adair was 25 years old. She was a young suffragist living in Texas when the state granted women the right to vote.

And so the day of that first primary when Texas women could turn in a ballot for the first time in the state of Texas, Christia Adair says she got dressed up to go vote. She was a voting rights advocate. She was somebody who had been agitating for women to be allowed to vote. Women can vote, she was there.

When she got to the polls, she was not allowed to cast a ballot. This is Christia Adair in 1977 explaining what exactly happened to her that day. Watch this.


CHRISTIA ADAIR, TEXAS RESIDENT ATTEMPTING TO VOTE IN 1918 PRIMARY: The white women were going to vote, and we dressed up and went to vote. And when we got down there, well, we couldn`t vote. They gave us all different kind of excuses why.

So finally, one woman, a Mrs. Simmons, said, are you saying that we can`t vote because we`re Negroes? And he said, yes, Negroes don`t vote in primary in Texas. So that just hurt our hearts real bad.


MADDOW: Negroes don`t vote in the primaries in Texas. Let`s throw that picture up there again. Those Texas women in their cute hats and their long skirts all registering to vote. These women, of course, are all white because in 1918, Texas held all white primaries. No person of color in Texas was allowed to vote or run for office in a primary election. Only white people were allowed to do that.

This was post-Reconstruction America. This was the era absolutely of poll taxes, of literacy tests. This was Jim Crow. This was an era of white people in power using overt, unapologetic influence to prevent black people not only from running for office but from voting. This is one of the ways they did it, by holding explicitly all-white primaries.

They said they were protecting the purity of the ballot box. That was as far as they went in terms of code, right? Banishing black people from the right to vote for the sake of the purity of the ballot box.

That kind of language was ultimately enshrined in the Texas State Constitution. Quote, in all elections by the people, the legislature shall make regulations as may be necessary to detect and punish fraud and to preserve the purity of the ballot box. The purity of the ballot box was about having all white voters in primaries. All white primaries.

And all-white primaries are not just a Texas thing. They happened in other southern states too. But when people talk about all white primaries, they`re usually remembering Texas because Texas is where the all-white primary first began to fall. In 1940, an African-American dentist named Lonnie Smith tried to vote in a primary in Houston, and he was turned away because it was an all-white primary.

But then with the help of the NAACP, Dr. Smith sued. His lawyer assigned to the case was a young lawyer, turned out to be a very talented young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, who of course would go on to become the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court. And that case, that case of that black Texas dentist in fact went all the way to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Dr. Smith had the right to vote in the Texas primary, that the idea, this rule in Texas of an all-white election was unconstitutional.

The majority ruling reading in part, quote, the United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens the right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any state because of race. Constitutional rights would be of little value if they could be thus indirectly denied.

The next day, April 4th, 1944, this was the headline in "The New York Times." high court rules Negroes can vote in Texas primary. Denial of right to vote because of race violates the 15th Amendment.

That ruling -- remember, this is 1944. This is not ancient history. This is 1944.

That ruling had huge implication implications all over the country. There were all-white primaries all over the South. But after that ruling, all white primaries started to fall like dominoes. Thurgood Marshall called it the most important case he ever worked on.

And so in 1944, Dr. Lonnie Smith got his chance to vote in his Houston primary, and so did Christia Adair and all the other young women who got dressed up to vote that day in 1918 and were turned away on account of the color of their skin. All-white primaries in Texas took a long time to die, but they died.

The reasoning behind them, that bogus justification to preserve the purity of the ballot box, that language about having all-white electorates for Texas primaries, that sentiment still lives in the state of Texas today in some ways. Right now a sweeping voter suppression bill is working its way through the Texas legislature. If signed into law, the Republican-sponsored bill will radically restrict access to the ballot box in Texas in a way that all observers and experts say will disproportionately affect voters of color.

And for the Texas Republicans who wrote this bill, their reason for writing it, literally what they call the stated purpose of the bill, will sound familiar. From page 1 of SB-7, the big voter suppression bill that just passed the Texas House. Quote, purpose, 9 purpose of this act is to exercise -- to make all laws necessary to detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box. To preserve the purity of the ballot box, the language from the Texas state Constitution that was put there to try to protect the Texas ideal of all-while electorates, of all-white voters in Texas primaries. Purpose. Purpose, to preserve the purity of the ballot boxes, it says in our Texas state constitution.

Last night, the Republican-controlled house in Texas passed that bill restricting voting rights in the state of Texas. The vote happened in the dead of night, 3:00 in the morning last night. Democrats threw every legislative maneuver at the kitchen sink to slow it down but it passed just after 3:00 a.m.

One of the most striking moments of the night came when a Democratic lawmaker confronted one of the sponsors of the Republican voter suppression bill, confronted him to ask him if he understood what he was doing when he and his colleagues wrote one particular clause into this bill. Watch this moment.


STATE REP. RAFAEL ANCHIA (D), TEXAS: You chose a peculiar term in drafting this bill, and you talked about preserving the purity of the ballot box, is that correct?

STATE REP. BRISCOE CAIN (R), TEXAS: Yeah, that`s a quotation from the Texas Constitution, Article 6, Section 4.

ANCHIA: Right. And are you aware of the history behind that provision of the constitution?

CAIN: I`m -- I`m not.

ANCHIA: What was your motivation for using that term "purity at the ballot box," because that`s a specific set of words that has a lot of meaning in state history?

CAIN: Well --

ANCHIA: What was your intention?

CAIN: I`m going to answer for you. You may have figured out right now really like the state constitution and I think as a legislative body just as Congress should, they should be looking for their authority from their charter, from the thing that gives them power. And so when we`re looking at what authorizes us, right, the sovereign people of the state of Texas who delegated their authority through the Constitution, we then should look to the Constitution and say, what gives us authority to do anything on this issue? And that`s the provision that does that, and so that would be why.

ANCHIA: Did you look at the history before using that word?

CAIN: No, no. The only thing if we were to have a discussion maybe over some coffee or drinks to go into the details of Article 1 really well. I`ve read the debates and the journals of the convention of 1875 on that for that thing, but I`m not familiar with the --

ANCHIA: You may have missed it that -- and this would have been very obvious, I think, to anybody who looked at that and looked at that language. That provision was drafted specifically to disenfranchise black people, black voters in fact, following the civil war. Did you know that?

CAIN: No. That`s -- no. I`m sorry to hear that.

ANCHIA: And are you familiar with white primaries?

CAIN: We`ve -- we`ve heard and read of such things. I`m glad that`s gone. It`s a disgusting thing. Yes.

ANCHIA: Did you realize that that purity of the ballot box language in the Texas constitution gave rise to all-white primaries?

CAIN: No. No, I didn`t.

ANCHIA: And did you know that this purity at the ballot box justification was also used during the Jim Crow era to prevent black people from voting?

CAIN: No. No. Those are troubling things. I didn`t know that was their --

ANCHIA: Did you know that in states across the country that penal disenfranchisement schemes were put in place including in Texas as far back as 1845 to effectively lock African-American people out of the political process? Are you aware of this history?

CAIN: You know -- I think we`ve said a few times that I wasn`t aware of any kind of malicious intent in the use of that term.


CAIN: The reason it was used is I looked at the Constitution because I believe our authority --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman`s time has expired.


MADDOW: The gentleman`s time has expired. Did you look at the history of this before using that phrase, before defining this as the purpose of your voting rights rollback bill? Did you know what history you were referencing here? No. I`m -- I`m -- no, I didn`t -- in fact, I`m very sorry to hear that. That`s very unfortunate.

That man was not a visiting child on a field trip who had been allowed near the podium. His name is Briscoe Cain, and I know he looks like a seventh grader who is pretending like he`s trying to qualify for an A.P. civics class and showing shortcomings. But he is, in fact, the Republican chair of the elections committee in the Texas House of Representatives. That young man is the guy who wrote the sweeping new voter suppression bill for the state of Texas, including its purity clause, which comes from Texas` history of all-white primaries, ensuring all-white electorates, segregating the electorate by race.

They did struck the purity phrase from the bill late last night when they apparently learned for the first time where that came from. The heart of the bill stayed there, though, stayed intact, easily passing the Republican-controlled House and it`s on a fast track to Governor Greg Abbott`s desk, who has promised he will absolutely sign it. Why not? The Texas bill is not the first of its kind we have seen in Republican- controlled states this year, and it`s clear it won`t be the last.

Georgia a couple of weeks ago, Florida this week signed into law new draconian voter restriction bills, which will severely change the way voting happens in those states, severely limit access to the polls.

Ohio has just become the latest state to introduce blockbuster legislation aimed at rolling back the right to vote wholesale in the state of Ohio. Republican efforts to restrict voting in all these states are turning into big local fights, right? Everybody from Democratic lawmakers to activists to lawyers to some business groups, some big corporations.

But this does raise the question of where the United States Department of Justice is in all of this. I mean we do have a brand-new Justice Department with brand-new leadership. They appear to be doing their best to try to dig out of the scandals and mire left behind by the previous administration, and there is a lot of that, and we`ll be talking more about that later on tonight.

But if you just look at the issue of policing specifically, the Biden justice administration has acted aggressively already and quickly. They have acted with real alacrity. They`ve already announced not one but two pattern and practice investigations, looking at potential illegal conduct and bias in police departments in Minneapolis related to the George Floyd killing and the protests that followed it.

Also in Louisville following the killing of Breonna Taylor last year. In North Carolina, the FBI just announced they`re launching an investigation into the death of Andrew Brown Jr. to determine whether federal laws were violated in his shooting by sheriff`s office deputies last month.

The Justice Department also brought federal civil rights charges against a Georgia sheriff accused of grievously mistreating prisoners in his care. In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the Justice Department brought hate crimes charges against three Georgia men believed to be involved in his death when they essentially hunted him down while he was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

All these actions came within President Biden`s first 100 days, the Justice Department moving aggressively and with speed. Now, just today, the Justice Department announcing they`ll bring federal charges against the police officers, not just Derek Chauvin, but all four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest that led to the death of George Floyd. Three of those officers are still facing state charges in Minnesota, but all four of them will face federal charges on top of it.

New indictment brought today by the Biden Justice Department. So we`ve got this -- this record already of robust action on policing at the Biden Justice Department. We are not seeing, at least so far, an equivalent sort of level of energy and involvement on the issue of voting rights even as Republican-led legislatures across the country pursue this effort, unprecedented in modern times, to fundamentally constrict the right to vote in this country.

And it`s not theoretical. We`ve seen Iowa not just propose stuff but pass, Georgia not just propose it but pass. Florida pass it this week. Texas on the way of passing it right now. Ohio soon to pass it.

I mean, in terms of Justice Department action, the one thing that we have seen is a letter sent by the acting head of the Justice Department`s civil rights division. We don`t have a permanently confirmed civil rights chief yet at the Biden Justice Department. Maybe once we got one, that will make the difference.

But they`ve gotten estimable official, Pam Karlan, who`s long been on shortlists and long lists as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Pam Karlan is currently send a tough Arizona Senate Republicans this week asking what exactly they are doing with over 2 million ballots that were cast in the 2020 presidential election. That letter from Pamela Karlan warning Arizona Republicans about potential violations of federal law in terms of how they are handling those ballots, how they are literally treating those ballots.

They`re part of a so-called audit. Ballots from a federal election are supposed to be under the direct control of elections officials for 22 months after an election happens. In Arizona instead, Arizona Republicans have given all the ballots to the Cyber Ninjas, led by its QAnon promoting CEO, and they`re being -- the ballots are being recounted by people they apparently recruited off of right-wing list serves. None of this appears to comport at all with federal law in terms of how ballots are supposed to be treated.

And so, the Justice Department -- Biden Justice Department has sent them a letter inquiring as to what exactly they`re doing with these ballots. But, you know, it`s just a letter. Arizona state Republicans have been bragging ever since that letter arrived, bragging online, bragging to local reporters that the Justice Department needs to back off. The federal Justice Department has no right to intervene.

The Arizona Senate Republican president has now, tonight, written back to the Justice Department basically saying all the Justice Department`s stated concerns are unwarranted. Sort of a back of the hand kind of letter, back off.

So they`ve sent this letter. What else the Justice Department plans to do about what`s happening in Arizona, we don`t exactly know.

Now, we`ve been watching this closely and watching for signs that the Biden Justice Department may take stronger action, may actually act. We did find out about a very interesting meeting that was held yesterday between Justice Department officials and a bipartisan group of secretaries of state or former secretaries of state. That meeting apparently involved discussions of concerns about the audit in Arizona, whether that might mushroom into a national phenomenon in other states where Republicans seize the ballots from the presidential election and recount them using hinky made-up concern, made-up rules, and then announce, you know, lo and behold, we`ve checked the results, and it turns out Trump won.

That meeting with Justice Department officials included four current Democratic secretaries of state and three current or former secretaries of state from the Republican Party. It also interestingly -- see the lower right-hand corner there?

It also interestingly included former New Jersey Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who is not a secretary of state and is a former governor. I don`t know. Maybe they had a hard time finding another Republican election official to make up the number so they would have an even number of bipartisan officials. But Christine Todd Whitman was there as a former Republican governor.

Arizona`s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, who attended that meeting, later told "The Washington Post" that she left not sure what any further actions the Justice Department might take in her state as this banana republic recount continues there.

But Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of Arizona does have some personal reasons to worry. We learned today that as of today, she`s now getting 24- hour, round the clock state trooper protection because of all the death threats that she has been getting while the Arizona Republican recount has been under way.

You know, it`s an open question as to what the Biden Justice Department plans to do, what they feel they can do, not just about this ongoing sham audit in Arizona, which appears to be in pretty direct violation of important federal law about what you`re supposed to do with ballots from a federal election, but also what they may do or may not do in all of these states where Republicans have either passed or are pursuing a radical anti- voting rights legislation.

Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, was asked today about the voter suppression efforts in Texas and Florida, these new laws that have just been passed by state legislatures and signed by Republican governors. She said the White House would leave it to the Justice Department to decide what they are going to do about it, and that makes sense in terms of the Justice Department operating as an independent law enforcement concern. But to date we have not seen the Justice Department act as state after state after state keeps passing increasingly onerous voting rights restrictions.

Now, we asked the Biden Justice Department about this tonight. They did point to the department`s recent request for $33 million in additional funding in part to help enforce voting rights statutes. But this is a real live issue with real consequences right now.

And if this is how Republicans in the states are going to behave and are going to comport themselves, should we -- shouldn`t we expect a Biden Justice Department to get involved, to join this fight somehow?

Joining us now is Beto O`Rourke. He`s a former Democratic congressman from the great state of Texas. He`s the founder of Powered by People, a grassroots organization working to mobilizes voters in Texas. I should tell you tomorrow, Congressman O`Rourke and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and a host of civil rights organizations are going to be hosting a pair of in-person rallies in Austin and Houston to speak up for voting rights, to speak against these bills that are currently racing through the Texas state legislature.

Mr. O`Rourke, it`s a real pleasure to see you here tonight. Thanks so much for making time on a Friday night.

BETO O`ROURE (D-TX), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate everything you just laid out, including that really important history in Texas. Both Ms. Adair`s to vote in 1918, Mr. Smith`s fight to vote, finally able to do so in 1944. And in that clip you played from the Republican elections chair in the Texas statehouse, talking about the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875, after which you have a wave of Jim Crow voting laws throughout the state of Texas, you have elections overturned, stolen, in some cases violently like in the case of Washington County.

It produced such outrage that congressional committees in the United States Congress in the House and the Senate took up the issue and proposed a federal elections law that would safeguard the right to vote for everyone who was eligible, especially for African-Americans, who were being denied that right violently. That`s in 1890.

It passes the house, Rachel. It then is pending in the United States Senate, where it dies on the horns of a filibuster. Really eerily prescient in terms of predicting what we`re going to see if we don`t get our act together this year. It would be 75 years. It wouldn`t be until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under Lyndon Baines Johnson, you`d begin to have a multiracial democracy in America again.

And now that`s being rolled back. Three hundred sixty bills pending in over 47 state legislatures, and it`s not just that. It`s the death threats against the secretary of state in Arizona, the attempted kidnapping plot in Michigan, and then the violent insurrection at our Capitol, the first breach of that institution since the war of 1812.

If we sleep on this, democracy will be dead by the time that we wake. We need more action from all of us. I mean certainly the people here in Texas, while there`s still time to try to stop this. But we need more from the Biden administration, and we need more from our friends in the United States Senate.

They must pass the For the People Act. That`s the Voting Rights Act of our day and our age, and it will do more than anything else to roll back these voter suppression efforts throughout this country right now. We need it now. It cannot wait for another term in congress.

MADDOW: Tell me a little bit about the state of the fight in Texas. I was interested to see you and all those other leaders and civil rights groups planning these rallies tomorrow at the Texas Capitol and elsewhere. We`re also seeing the Texas Democrats last night push that session past 3:00 in the morning, offering amendment after amendment after amendment, asking these hard questions that Republicans had a lot of difficulty answering in terms of what the intent was of these bills and where they came from.

We haven`t seen anything in terms of any sort of federal intervention or any sort of federal energy on this aside from the efforts to pass that bill through the Senate where it does face a tough road. What do you make of the state of the fight against these voter rights rollbacks?

O`ROURKE: Given the fact that we are effectively on our own, it`s just the folks here in Texas trying to fight this latest voter suppression effort in a state that is already the toughest to vote in, in the country. That`s directly from the election law journal. We rank 50th out of 50. Given that fact, we have an extraordinary team on the ground.

That clip you played from Rafael Anchia is amazing, but it was one of many different exchanges led by House Democrats last night, all the way up until 3:00 a.m. in the morning that make all of us proud. The grassroots groups on the ground, groups like move and the Texas Civil Rights Project, the voting rights arm of the Texas Democratic Party, Texas Rising, young, old, and folks like me in between maybe, everyone coming together and willing to make the trip to the Texas Capitol. That`s an 8 1/2-hour drive for those of us here in El Paso, Texas.

As soon as we conclude this interview, I`m getting on the road and making my drive to be there by 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. There`s hope, and I see it everywhere in Texas. But we also need some help, and that needs to come from the Biden administration and from our friends in the United States Senate. We can`t sleep on this one. We can`t wait this out. We need action now.

MADDOW: Beto O`Rourke, former Democratic congressman from the great state of Texas, former Democratic presidential candidate -- sir, thank you for your time tonight. Be safe on the road tonight. That sounds like a long drive and a big day tomorrow. Thanks for being with us before you go.

O`ROURKE: Thank you.

MADDOW: I should mention that Rafael Anchia, the Texas Democrat who you saw questioning the Republican head of the election committee there to just devastating effect -- I know I have heard reference to people blanching or going ashen before. I have -- I`m not sure that I`ve ever actually seen it live the way that Republican blanched, just turned absolutely paler than pale as he could not answer those questions about the purity of the ballot box and the origins of that term that he inserted into this bill. Rafael Aanchia is the Texas Democrat who made that moment happen, and he is going to be here on MSNBC live with my colleague Ali Velshi in the hour after this show on "THE LAST WORD." So don`t just watch me. You have to stay and watch that too.

All right. Much more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Earlier this week, a federal judge in D.C. ordered the U.S. Justice Department to release a document that they`ve been trying to keep secret for years now. It`s the document the Justice Department drew up to justify not bringing criminal charges against then-President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice. Judge Amy Berman Jackson in her blistering ruling this week said that Trump Attorney General Bill Barr and other Trump Justice Department officials had essentially lied to the public and lied to the court about Barr`s decision that Trump wouldn`t be prosecuted despite the Mueller investigation laying out more than ten potentially criminal instances in which the president acted to obstruct the investigation into Russia interfering in the 2016 election to help Trump win the presidency.

Well, now that the Justice Department is under very, very, very new management, it`s going to be interesting to see if the Justice Department now, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, follows Judge Jackson`s ruling and releases that document about not prosecuting Trump, or will they appeal to continue the Trump Justice Department`s efforts to keep that document secret?

The clock is ticking on that. We`ve been watching this every day now because they`ve got less than two weeks to either file that appeal or let that document see the light of day. And in either case, it`s going to be a really big deal. If we do see that document and, as the judge hinted in her ruling, it turns out that Barr and the Trump Justice Department never substantively considered the evidence against Trump, if it turns out the evidence that Trump committed obstruction was just ignored -- well, that puts a very hot potato in the lap of the new Justice Department leadership under President Biden as to whether they might pursue those charges against Trump now.

The statute of limitations on the former president`s conduct has not run. It, of course, would also put another hot potato in their lap in terms of the former attorney general himself. If, as Judge Jackson`s ruling implies, this document shows that former Attorney General William Barr may have lied not just to the public about Trump`s alleged crimes, he may have lied under oath about it to Congress, he may have lied about it in official communications with the federal court about it.

I mean, that itself is a whole pupu platter of stomachache for the new Justice Department leadership to figure out what they`re going to do, right? Figure just how much of the scandal and cover-up from the last administration they`re going to let slide and how much of it they are going to pursue, potentially up to and including the immediate prior attorney general of the United States.

So we`ve been watching this closely. Depending on what Merrick Garland and the Biden Justice Department decide to do here, it`s going to be a big deal either way. And it`s going to arrive right in the middle of the Biden administration still trying to box up and figure out whatever it was that happened between Russia and the Trump administration.

Russia`s efforts to help Trump in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign`s awareness of that help, their welcoming of that help, in at least one instance the Trump campaign chairman apparently helping the Russians` efforts by secretly giving Trump campaign strategy and polling data to a Russian intelligence officer while the Russian intelligence effort to help Trump was under way -- I mean, that was all followed, of course, by four years of Trump hopping in Putin`s proverbial lap whenever Putin summoned him, refusing to criticize Putin`s worst behavior, repeatedly adjusting U.S. policy in ways that aligned with Russian interests.

The Biden administration is still trying to box that up, understand that, and clean that up as well. And today, "The New York Times" broke really interesting news on one part of those troubling interactions between Trump and Putin, an issue that has been the source of considerable controversy even just in the last few weeks. It was last summer, last June that "The Times" first broke the news, and then "The Wall Street Journal" confirmed with their own reporting that fighters, Afghan fighters who had been detained in Afghanistan had said during interrogation that Russia was paying money. Russia was paying cash bounties to reward attacks on U.S. troops. They were specifically paying bounties to people who killed U.S. troops.

"The Times" reported that U.S. intelligence had found that it wasn`t just a theoretical incentive to attack U.S. troops. They found evidence that in fact Russia had paid out those bounties. They had paid out cash to these Afghan fighters.

Now, "The Times" reported that then-president Trump had been briefed on this, and he had been offered by the National Security Council a menu of options for how the United States government could respond to this outrageous allegation against Russia. "The Times" reported that the option he chose from that menu was none of the above. Let`s do nothing. Let`s have no response.

Then President Trump in fact had multiple conversations with Putin after Trump was reportedly briefed on this issue, but Trump apparently never raised the issue with Putin at all. Just this horrifying story, right? And it isn`t the sort of thing you can just let slide, even into a new administration. Bounties? Another government, another country paying bounties for people killing Americans, and there`s not going to be a response? Not a peep?

Well, very interesting development on that last month. The Biden administration announced significant new sanctions against Russia for a whole bunch of different things, including for interfering in the 2020 election to help Trump, just like they interfered in 2016 to help him. Also for the SolarWinds cyberattack. They levied new sanctions for that as well.

But on this bounties issue, interesting, the administration announced that there wouldn`t be new sanctions specifically for that. They said the intelligence community had only low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers had sought to encourage Taliban attacks against the U.S. they had low to moderate confidence that it had happened.

Now, the Biden administration did say that -- they took this seriously enough, there was enough evidence for these allegations that they issued a warning to Russia on the issue. They demanded an explanation from the Russian government for what they described as Russia`s suspicious behavior on this front. But no new sanctions.

Well, today that story advances further. "The Times" basically, in essence, defending their initial reporting on that story and -- this is the really new part. On the basis of what they describe as newly declassified information, for the first time they tell us what they say is the backstory of where this intelligence, where this outrageous allegation about Russia came from.

Quote: In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators they`d heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American and coalition troops. The claim that Russia was trying to pay to generate more frequent attacks on Western forces was a stunning claim. CIA analysts set out to see whether they could corroborate or debunk the detainees` accounts.

Ultimately, newly declassified information shows those CIA analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate, namely this. Other members of that same Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, which is known for its assassination operations.

The National Security Council said in a statement provided to "the New York Times," quote, the involvement of this GRU unit, the assassination unit, is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad.

Now, they`re talking about not just the GRU as a whole. They`re talking about a specific unit inside the GRU. That`s essentially their foreign assassination squad.

The Russian intelligence unit at issue here is the one that`s blamed, among other things, for the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England, in 2018. This unit is blamed for blowing up arms depots in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, killing people in both instances. They`re blames for an attempted assassination by poisoning of a Bulgarian arms dealer as well.

The National Security Council says, quote, we have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this Afghan criminal network to Russia. Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network in Afghanistan worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019. "The Times" goes so far as to name a couple of the Afghans in question that they say was working with this GRU unit in Russia.

They note that both of those Afghan guys escaped from custody in Afghanistan and once they had escaped from custody, where did they go? They fled to Moscow, and they now reside in Russia.

So this is a whole new element of this story that- I mean maybe other people saw this coming. I did not see this coming. Afghan fighters getting paid by Russian military intelligence, specifically this notorious unit of Russian military intelligence that funds and carries out destabilization and assassination efforts abroad. That`s where the intel came from that Russia was offering bounties to those same Afghan fighters to kill American soldiers.

Now, the Trump administration claimed that Trump was never actually briefed on this. They apparently lied about that when they made those claims. It apparently was briefed to him in his PDB early last year. We do know that Trump did nothing in response to that briefing.

So far, the Biden administration has pushed back diplomatically on Russia. As I mentioned, they have demanded an explanation from the Russian government as to what was going on here. But now there`s this new information telling us how it may have happened.

The chilling prospect that our troops in Afghanistan were potentially targets of the Russian military intelligence assassination squad that`s been blamed for so many killings and attacks around the world, including in Western countries. The Biden administration demanding further answers from Russia, "The Times" now standing by and defending and bolstering their reporting.

This stuff is -- is not behind us yet, but we are at least finally getting closer to understanding it, which honestly is the first step toward demanding that we somehow make all of this right.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: A few weeks ago, March of this year, people in the Pacific Northwest looked up in the sky and got a shock. Watch this.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s a meteor. That`s a meteor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s a meteor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, Armageddon.



MADDOW: Armageddon. It wasn`t Armageddon. Those fireballs in the sky were from a SpaceX rocket that had gone up into space to deploy a bunch of satellites. Then as it came down into the earth`s atmosphere, it broke apart and put on that Armageddon-like show.

That`s not the way it was supposed to happen. SpaceX was supposed to control the descent of that rocket and make sure it fell into the ocean, but they lost control of it, and it whizzed around the earth over and over and over again at high speed for three weeks before it came down that crazy way that it did. And luckily most of it did fall into the ocean, but not all of it. Some big chunks did fall on land. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.

But now here we go again. Perhaps by now you have heard that this weekend there`s another big thing expected to fall out of the sky.

Last month, China launched a rocket carrying a big piece of hardware. It`s the first section of a space station that China is building in low-earth orbit. That part of the mission worked. They got their space station unit up there where they wanted it.

But the rocket that delivered that hunk of space equipment up there has been steadily falling back to earth ever since. And it`s expected to re- enter our atmosphere sometime this weekend, but not in a controlled way.

Where is it going to re-enter the atmosphere? I don`t know. Is it going to be over land? I don`t know. Could be.

China today said, don`t worry. We expect that the rocket will burn up on re-entry. But a previous rocket like this did send giant chunks of space junk down to Earth, and there`s lots of quotes from space experts in the news today saying that if something should survive, well, the best thing to hope for is that it will land on water. They say, in fact, it`s most likely to land on water, but the only reason they`re saying that is because technically most of earth is covered with water. So they`re kind of playing the odds here, like don`t worry. We all live on land, but most of the earth isn`t land, so that means it will probably be fine.

No reason for unnecessary alarm here, but are we good with that? Is this working as directed? I have just the person to ask next, who you are going to want to meet.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Sometime tomorrow, we think, pieces of this big 100-foot tall, 20- ton rocket will make an uncontrolled re-entry into earth. We don`t know where. That`s obviously not good.

Amazing, though, it`s the second time in a year that a Chinese rocket just like this has come down in this uncontrolled way.

Joining us now is Matt Kaplan. He`s host of "Planetary Radio", which is the Planetary Society`s weekly podcast devoted to someplace exploration. Mr. Kaplan, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate your time.

MATT KAPLAN, HOST OF PLANETARY RADIO: It is a great honor. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: How much notice do we get of where it`s going to land?

KAPLAN: Not much. It is so unpredictable that -- if they`re off by 45 minutes, that puts it on the other side of the earth. We know so little about this rocket as it tumbles across over our heads that it`s almost impossible to predict where and even when it`s going to come down. Yeah, it`s kind of a crapshoot.

MADDOW: Is this working as intended? I`m struck by the fact that last may there was another Chinese rocket kind of like this that dropped gigantic metal rods in the Ivory Coast and that gave a lot of people a scare. Are Chinese rockets doing this on purpose or is this a malfunction?

KAPLAN: It`s an excellent question, and because China doesn`t tell us much about their space program or their rockets, we don`t really know. Yes, there should`ve been a de-orbit burn, a firing of the engine of this rocket that would make it come down in a more predictable way.

But as you said, the first one didn`t do this. Here`s the second one not doing it. We don`t know if it`s a malfunction or if this is just China saying, you know, get over it, it`s going to come down where it comes down.

MADDOW: Can the -- can the earthlings of the world, can we humans in this little crust of the universe do anything other than play catch here? I mean, is there -- are we essentially passive recipients of whatever gets thrown at us? Is there anything that we can do?

KAPLAN: Unfortunately, no. Maybe in the future, there are actually efforts underway to learn how to deal with space junk, whether it`s staying up this for coming down, but right now, there`s isn`t much other than keeping an eye on, which Defense Secretary Austin says we are doing. He must have been asked are we prepared to shoot it down and he wisely said no, because that would probably be a big mistake.

Now, as you said, chances are it`s going to fall even if it`s not in the ocean, 60 percent of the Earth, it`s going to fall on other land where nobody is. But we simply don`t know.

MADDOW: That`s just a statistical probability in the same way people ask what were new a previous life. Statistically speaking, I was a Chinese peasant, not because of anything that connects to the Chinese peasantry, but just playing the odds.

Yeah, wow. Well, we`ll see. Matt Kaplan, host of "Planetary Radio," it`s a real pleasure to have you here. I hope we don`t have you back to talk about the aftermath, because I hope it`s not a big deal.

KAPLAN: We have a lot of happier topics going out there, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: Indeed. Thank you, Matt.

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


MADDOW: I leave you with the sincere hope that the whole Chinese rocket thing is something that we`re all laughing about by Monday. I hope you have a fantastic week. I plan on not thinking about it at all.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ali Velshi who`s in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.