The San Luis Obispo County clerk-reporter leaves his post early after harassment by Trump supporters. House Judiciary Committee chairman, Congressman Jerry Nadler, issued a threat that the Justice Department now under Merrick Garland needs to address the reports of Trump DOJ targeting journalists and members of Congress quickly or else.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" on this Friday night.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris, Thank you, my friend. Have an excellent weekend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday. Happy to have you here.
On California`s central coast, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, give or take a few miles, is San Luis Obispo, which has nice beaches, lovely climate, it`s got an historic 18th-century mission. It is a lovely place.
If you -- if you visit, you should know that locals call San Luis Obispo County "SLO County". SLO for San Luis Obispo. But they pronounce it slow. Don`t say SLO County, they will know you are not from around there.
Some of the people who have recently inserted themselves in local San Luis Obispo County politics have made that mistake, thus marking themselves as outsiders.
But a few weeks ago, couple weeks ago here on the show, we reported on a sort of troubling situation in San Luis Obispo County, which erupted last month at a board of supervisors meeting there.
The county supervisors were holding their regular meeting. They opened the phones to public comment. And what they got was hours and hours of public comment, hours and hours of callers. Some of whom, didn`t even really seem to know what county they were calling into, who, nevertheless, wanted to talk about the 2020 election in the San Luis Obispo County.
They specifically wanted to talk about the election results and their suspicions about the county`s chief-election official. A man named Tommy Gong.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CALLER: From the evidence I have seen, I believe this machine was used to alter the vote counting in this county, and we need an independent-forensic audit to verify its accuracy. Tommy Gong is using every excuse available to prevent an audit, giving his assurance that the count was 100 percent accurate.
CALLER: I have lost confidence in our election process, partly, due to the voting machines. We want Tommy Gong to remove them, and also have them audited. If not, we need to have Tommy Gong removed.
CALLER: Is Tommy Gong, in any way, in relationship to the Chinese Communist Party?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We want the voting machines audited. We want a forensic audit, although we`re not sure what that means, because, maybe, election results or the machines were messed with by China. Because our county clerk is a secret member of the Chinese Communist Party, we need him gone, too. This went on for hours, in this one county in California at their board of supervisors meeting last month.
For the record, the top election official in San Luis Obispo County, County Clerk Tommy Gong, is a third-generation American citizen. He has worked in the county clerk`s office for more than 15 years.
He is not from China. He has never been to China, in his life. He`s from Modesto, California.
But here are Trump supporters, from San Luis Obispo County, and clearly not from San Luis Obispo County, people who don`t even know how to pronounce the name of the place, saying that they need the board of supervisors to remove him, because they suspect he must be controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, because, you know, just look at him.
The local paper in San Luis Obispo County, "The Tribune", has described the avalanche of calls at that meeting as, quote, the culmination of a campaign to discredit Mr. Gong and his county-elections staff. That campaign included not just all the attacks on him at the board of supervisors meeting but also even a radio ad that ran locally involving voting machine conspiracy theories, an ad that called him out by name.
Mr. Gong recalled driving t work one morning hearing himself denounced by name in this Republican-radio ad and thinking, quote, oh, boy, you know, they are really on rampage for this. He said he worried for his family`s safety, around this time. He said, quote, it did give me a little twinge of that.
He told the local paper "The Tribune" that the mob mentality that was seeming to form around this issue and targeting him, in particular, that caused him to become concerned. But when I made it home, I just told my two sons, you might want to be sure of your surroundings and everything, as they should be, always.
Well, now, after months of enduring this coordinated campaign against him, over the county`s election results, Tommy Gong is leaving his elected post, a year and a half before his term is up. He was elected to the top job in the county in 2014. He was re-elected to the job in 2018 with nearly 100 percent of the vote. But he is not sticking around for the rest of his term. Not after all this.
After he announced his decision to leave, "The Tribune" editorial board published this lament that, I think, is worth noting. You see the headline there.
Partisans and conspiracy theorists ran Tommy Gong out of town. That is a disgrace. They say, quote, it`s -- it is disappointing that Mr. Gong will not serve out the year and a half left in his term. It`s frightening to think of who might wind up in his post following the 2022 election, given the nationwide Republican campaign to back candidates willing to support voter-suppression tactics.
For fair-minded election officials, like Tommy Gong, this is a hellish situation. Is it any wonder that he and elections officials in many other parts of the country are leaving their high-stress posts?
Mr. Gong is truly the most nonpartisan of officials in all our years of interacting with him. We never had a clue as to where he stood on any, particular issue or any candidate. His only interest was in upholding democracy by ensuring San Luis Obispo voters had access to the polls. That is the exact opposite of what Trump conservatives are after.
It`s not hyperbole to say American democracy is under attack, including here, in San Luis Obispo County and it`s an attack we must resist with all our energy. We lost a defender in Tommy Gong.
You know what happened in the 2020 election and San Luis Obispo County under Tommy Gong`s leadership? Joe Biden won by a lot. He won by more than 20,000 votes, in that county. But regardless of who won the election in that county, under Tommy Gong`s leadership, administering the election as an experienced, totally-nonpartisan expert in the field.
You want to know what happened in San Luis Obispo County? Yes, Joe Biden won. But the county also broke its all-time voter turnout record. Literally, their voter turnout was over 88 percent. That is astonishing. It`s great.
And Tommy Gong is the local-elections chief. He`s super proud of that. He said, quote, when you are an election administrator, what are you going to be touting? The high number of registered voters. The high number of voter turnout. Vote-by-mail voters.
You are not going to say, oh these are the people I disenfranchised from voting. And these are the people I prevented from voting. Yeah, that doesn`t go on your record. That doesn`t shine on your record. It`s all about getting more and more people engaged and to participate in elections.
Yeah, so clearly, with an attitude like that, an official like Tommy Gong, in San Luis Obispo County, California, he has to go. Showered with abuse, threatened, run out of town on a proverbial rail. And so, it`s going all over the country.
"Reuters", today, has a long, blood-curdling report on violent threats and physical intimidation that have been unleashed in recent months not just against elections officials, high-ranking people, like secretaries of state, but even just volunteer-election workers, low-level and mid-level poll workers.
The headline from "Reuters` today, you can see there. Trump-inspired death threats are terrorizing election workers. The wife of Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, showed these text messages that she received after her husband, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, resisted Trump`s personal demands to him that Raffensperger find enough votes in Georgia for Trump to win that state.
This one some -- somebody who filled in their name as email@example.com reads, quote, you and your family will be killed, very slowly.
Another message, Mr. Raffensperger`s wife received was purported to be from firstname.lastname@example.org and it says, quote, please, pray. We plan for the death of you and your family every day. I`m sorry.
Another one that purports to be from email@example.com. It says, quote, keep opposing the audit of Fulton County`s 2020 election ballots and somebody in your family is going to have a very unfortunate incident.
Those were all sent to Brad Raffensperger`s wife. Mr. Raffensperger and his family and his staff viewed these, and other threatening messages to his wife, as an effort to try to coerce him into resigning from his job. He`s not resigning. He is, that fact, running for re-election, in Georgia, against a Trump-backed challenger, who is running his whole campaign on the stop-the-steal conspiracy theory.
But the harassment, even for a high-ranking official like that, has gone beyond threats in -- in text messages. This is from "Reuters" today. Quote, in -- excuse me -- in late November, the Raffensperger family went into hiding for nearly a week after intruders broke into the home of their daughter-in-law. An incident, the family believed, was intended to intimidate them.
That evening, people who identified themselves to police as Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that supported Trump`s bid to overturn the election. They were found outside the Raffensperger`s home. "Reuters" reporter Linda So writes, quote: Trump`s baseless voter-fraud accusations have had dark consequences for U.S.-election leaders and worker, especially in contested states, such as Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan. Some have faced protests at their homes, or have been followed in their cars. Many have received death threats. In Georgia, people went into hiding in at least three cases, including the Raffenspergers.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, told "Reuters" that she continues to receive death threats now. Michigan`s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who faced armed protestors outside her home in December, she says she is, also, still getting the threats. And in Georgia, election workers from local volunteers, all the way up to senior administrators, continue, even now, to endure regular, harassing phone calls and e-mails from Trump supporters today.
One e-mail, sent January 2nd to officials in nearly a dozen counties, threatening to bomb polling sites. Quote, no one at these places will be spared, unless and until Trump is guaranteed to be POTUS, again.
A local official in charge of the mail-in ballot operation in Fulton County, Georgia, received numerous racist death threats. He is seen here doing his job at a ballot-counting facility in Georgia.
One night, strangers showed up at his house. They identified himself -- themselves as the new neighbors, wanted to meet him, knocked on the door. He knew nobody had moved into his neighborhood, recently. He did not have any new neighbors. He did not open the door.
That guy`s boss, the elections director in Fulton County, was bombarded with threats after President Trump, at a rally in Georgia, showed a video clip of him and accused him of tampering with ballots and committing a crime. Police were posted outside that official`s house and office, after he received a detailed threat in late December, in which the caller said he would be killed by firing squad.
That Fulton County elections director`s worked on elections for 22 years. He`s also volunteered as an elections observer overseas. He said his experience dealing with Trump supporters right now, quote, it seem like we were descending into this third world mentality. I have never expected that out of this country.
Election supervisors now telling "Reuters" they fear high numbers of temporary workers who regularly staff polling sites won`t return for any future votes because they want to avoid harassment and threats, and potentially, violence. One polling manager, telling a hair-raising story from the night of the January Senate runoff in Georgia.
This is amazing. After the polls closed, she was quote driving to deliver ballots to an elections office in Bartow County, a prominently white Republican district in northwestern Georgia. The polling manager, who is black, was traveling with her daughter, also a poll worker hired temporarily for the election. On a dark, rural, two-lane road, they noticed they were being followed by an SUV. The manager called 911, as her daughter sped toward town with the SUV nearly running them off the road. They were followed by that SUV for about-25 minutes.
The dispatcher, the police dispatcher on the line with them, helped guide them to a parking lot. Where officers met them and escorted them to the election office. Months later, the polling manager says she still suffers panic attacks from the incident. And she may stop working elections, altogether.
Again, that reporting today from Linda Sow at "Reuters". I mean, this is the stuff of nightmares, right? Nightmare for election officials and poll workers, a nightmare for democracy. And these are the people who make democracy function, right? These are the people, who like check you in when you show up to vote and make sure that if you have any problem, you have somebody to ask for help and make sure you get to the right precinct, right?
Anytime you every show up to vote in person, it`s usually elderly folks, kind of church ladies and stuff who do this sort of thing. Those are the people, who are now being -- are now the subject of death threats and conspiracy theories by Trump supporters, trying to intimidate them out of doing their jobs, trying to blame things on them, that they have absolutely nothing to do with.
You can`t not have a functioning democracy, if running elections or staffing the polling sites means taking your life into your own hands. And it was interesting to see, today, in his -- his big speech at the great hall of the Justice Department today, the new attorney general, Merrick Garland, spoke, directly, to this issue, to his credit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have not been blind to the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. Such threats undermine our electoral process, and violate a myriad of federal laws.
The criminal section of the civil rights division, together, with the department`s national security and criminal divisions, the 93 United States` attorneys, and the FBI, will investigate and promptly prosecute any violations of federal law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking today, delivering what was billed as a major speech on voting rights.
And, of course, everybody was waiting, fruitlessly, as it turned out, to hear what he was going to say about the new scandal that is engulfing the Justice Department over the latest revelations of their behavior under President Trump, including this very disturbing new reporting about seizing the communications records of members of Congress who were investigating President Trump, at the time. We are going to have more on that, coming up.
But when it comes to elections, when it comes to protecting our elections, themselves, I mean, you can talk about it in abstract terms. It`s a policy thing. And apparently, according to Attorney General Garland, today, it`s going to be more of a legal thing than it has, otherwise, been. He talked about upping enforcement plans on part of the federal Justice Department, increasing the number of lawyers working on voting rights enforcement, going after states that, either, pass new laws or enact new practices that are discriminatory or, otherwise, illegal, in terms of the way they impede people`s right -- right to vote.
But as much as this is a -- you know, a philosophical issue for us, as a democracy, as much as it is a theoretical issue in terms of our values. As much as it may become a source of litigation, legal fights, if the Justice Department, in fact, takes this up the way that Attorney General Garland promised today. It`s -- it`s real life, right now, for people, whose life`s work is ending, for people who spent their lives working on a nonpartisan, technocratic administration of good elections in this country, people who are being run out of this type of work, on a one-by-one basis. Even people working at a low level, or at the county level, being picked off, one by one, by a violent mob attacking them, threatening them.
In the case of Tommy Gong in San Luis Obispo County, showering them with racist abuse. This is not a hypothetical thing. This is not a potential danger to our elections in the future. This is happening right now, person by person, all across the country.
Joining us, now, is reporter Lindsey Holden. She has been covering the story of elections official Tommy Gong for "The San Luis Obispo Tribune" in California.
Ms. Holden, it`s a real pleasure to have you with us tonight. Thank you so much for taking the time.
LINDSEY HOLDEN, SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE REPORTER: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So I have been following the story largely through your reporting and some other news outlets that have covered it. As far as I can tell, the sin that Tommy Gong is accused of -- aside from the racist stuff, which is a separate matter -- is that he -- the Trump folks were demanding that he approve an audit, or essentially, a recount of results in the county. But they demanded that he do it well after the window, the legal window, after which he could have even ordered that, himself, legally, if he had wanted to.
Am I right that they were demanding something of him, that he wasn`t even legally capable of granting them?
HOLDEN: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. The people can request a recount, like, five days after the election`s certified and that would have been in November. And when I interviewed him, he told me he hadn`t heard anything from Republican officials about that, at that time.
And then, months later, they started asking for an audit, which he actually told me he wasn`t, entirely, opposed to recount. He had done them, in the past. He had seen his predecessor do them. And he said they could actually be, you know, vindicating, and show that he is doing his job. However, legally, he`s not allowed to perform one after -- after that time runs out.
MADDOW: My sense, again, looking from -- looking from some distance, is that his resignation, the circumstances under which he was, kind of, he -- he felt sort of forced out after enduring all of this abuse, and having to sit through all these conspiracies and be -- being targeted in the personal way that he was.
My sense is that there`s some regret, in the county, about losing him. That he is viewed, particularly you see this in the editorial from your paper. But also, you know, a letter to the paper from the League of Women Voters, other people commenting about the -- the regret that he`s an asset to the county, and that he`s actually been great at his job. And this is something that there needs to sort of be some soul searching about, in terms of how - - how you lost him.
Is that a fair way to understand what`s -- what`s going on in the county?
HOLDEN: Yeah, absolutely. I think it`s -- it`s really upsetting. I mean, I have worked with him for five -- with Tommy for five years while I have been here at the paper. And he is a just super-passionate about elections. He cares so much about his job.
And, yeah, I think people were definitely speaking out after he left, or made the decision to leave, doesn`t leave until July, but saying that it`s a real loss for our county. And I -- I really agree with that. I think it`s really heartbreaking to see. I mean, he is going to continue election work in the Bay Area.
But to see him leave our area, you know, when you see committed people who are really -- care about their jobs leave the area because of -- I mean, he said it wasn`t, entirely, because of the racist attacks but you kind of have to infer that that was definitely a part of it. That`s just really sad.
MADDOW: On the other side of that coin, the people who have been pressuring him and attacking him. Do they see it as a victory that they ran him out of town? Obviously, there has to be an election to choose his successor. There`s worries that the people who have demanding -- been demanding that he essentially mishandled the election and to answer their demands. That those people might see this as -- as a win that they got him out and they might try to get somebody who would accede to those demands in that very important job.
HOLDEN: Yeah. That`s definitely a concern from -- I talked to local Democratic Party when -- after Tommy announced he was leaving and they definitely said that was something that was a concern for them. The local- Republican Party kind of downplayed their role in his departure, kind of saying they think he may have left for other reasons, which he did say he wanted to live closer to family. But it`s hard to ignore the attacks that happened, exactly-one month before he said he was leaving.
So I think, yeah, there is a lot of concern about what`s going to happen now that he has -- has left the area.
MADDOW: Lindsey Holden who has been covering the story for "The San Luis Obispo Tribune" -- Ms. Holden, thanks very much for your time tonight. I know it can sometimes be awkward when like the national media wants to put their spotlight on what you have been covering at the local level. But it really has been invaluable reporting and I thank you for helping us understand it.
HOLDEN: Yeah. Thank you so much. Support local news. It`s so important.
MADDOW: All right.
Indeed. Subscribe to your local paper. We need more Lindsey Holdens. We need more "San Luis Obispo Tribunes" in the world. And those papers don`t exist unless you subscribe to them.
All right. Much more ahead here. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Well, at least they`re going to investigate it. That`s the good news.
This time, last night, "The New York Times" had just broken the news that under President Donald Trump, the Justice Department had secretly obtained communications of their staff, even their family members.
It is a sign of just how shocking and how bad that is, that both of Trump`s attorneys general. Both, Jeff Sessions, the first one, and Bill Barr, the second one. Both, Sessions and Barr came out today and said, not it. That wasn`t me. I can`t recall doing anything like that.
The subpoenas for members of Congress, we now know, were first issued in 2017. The first year Trump was in office. We know the Justice Department kept renewing the gag orders to keep them secret, year after year, after that, 2018, 2019, 2020. They did it. This is what the Trump Justice Department did.
But both Trump attorneys general, who were there at the time, are like I know nothing. I saw nothing. I don`t remember anything. I can`t recall. Don`t recall. Can`t remember anything like that. I remember a lot but not that.
I mean, Trump-administration officials involved in the worst abuses of that administration are not known for, like, their shyness about what they did. But when it`s this bad, even Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr are like, yeah, wow, I -- sure that wasn`t me.
Except, maybe, I`m not sure of anything. Did I mention I fell and hit my head? But if neither Trump attorney general knew that the Trump Justice Department was collecting the communications of serving members of Congress who were investigating the president, who did know? Really? Neither of you guys? You sure? Can`t recall.
Senate Democrats, including the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durban, they`re calling on Sessions and Barr to, both, testify in the Senate about what happened. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin put out a statement today saying that the Judiciary Committee in the Senate will, quote, vigorously investigate this abuse of power. They say, if Barr and Sessions don`t agree to testify, voluntarily, they will subpoena them.
But with a Senate that`s divided between Democrats and Republicans, 50-50, at least one Republican senator would have to side with the Democrats on that committee in order to issue such a subpoena. So, good luck with that.
On the House side, though, the Democrats are just plainly in charge, there. There`d be no need for Republican votes, if a House committee wanted to issue that kind of a subpoena for their testimony. But are the House Democrats going to open their own investigation? And demand that kind of testimony? Turns out, to be a very interesting question.
In the House, the chairman of their Judiciary Committee is Congressman Jerry Nadler. And he did not just plainly announce today, the way they did in the Senate, that he is going to open an investigation into what happened here. Now, instead, basically issued a threat, a threat that the Justice Department, now, under Merrick Garland, needs to clean this up themselves and quickly, or else.
Not sure I have ever really seen a statement like this, before. But it`s pretty remarkable. It`s -- this is what he says. He says, quote, it`s outrageous that the department of justice may have used a criminal investigation as pretext to spy on journalists, members of congress, their families, and congressional staff. Sadly, after four years of Trump`s corrupting influence at the Department of Justice, we have every reason to believe that these reports are true.
Indeed, my concern, meaning Jerry Nadler`s concern at this hour, is that the corruption may run deeper than has already been reported. We know that the Justice Department, under Attorneys General Sessions and Barr, tried to secretly seize data from the accounts of these reporters and of my colleagues on the intelligence committee in the House. But we do not, yet, know how these two efforts were connected. Or whether there were additional targets of this gross abuse of power.
Now, quote, I am grateful that Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has committed to investigating both of these cases. His work here will be invaluable. An investigation by his office, however, is no substitute for swift action by the Department of Justice, itself.
He says, the committee has been in communication with the Justice Department and we have made our position clear. The department has a very short window to make a clean break from the Trump era on this matter. We expect the department to provide a full accounting of these cases. And we expect Attorney General Merrick Garland to hold the relevant personnel accountable for their conduct.
If the department does not make substantial progress toward those two goals, then we, on the Judiciary Committee, will have no choice but to step in and do the work, ourselves.
So, he`s not announcing that he`s opening an investigation. The committee has a short window to make a clean break from the Trump era. We expect a full accounting. We expect Attorney General Garland to hold the relevant personnel accountable. Or else, we`ll do it for him.
I don`t know what the Justice Department, under Attorney General Garland, plans to do here. This is a very big scandal. We did get word, early in the day today, that the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, had asked the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to open an investigation. Later in the day, we did, in fact, get a statement from the inspector general, affirming that he is opening that investigation.
And that means, you know, some number of years down the road, we`ll get the result of that inspector general investigation, presumably. But for those of us who are, you know, sort of, sadly, not shocked. Not shocked, to learn what the previous administration was capable of. For those of us who are sort of inured now to even the idea that Justice Department officials would fall in line and do unethical, potentially illegal stuff that Trump wanted.
Even if we are now incapable of being shocked by revelations of how bad not only Trump`s behavior was but his underlings` behavior was during the Trump era. It -- even still, it`s been kind of shocking to realize that there are people who were involved in this, in this particularly egregious, totally unprecedented case of the Justice Department secretly obtaining and rifling through communication records from Democratic members of Congress, who, at that very moment, were investigating the president.
It is upsetting, to realize, as jaded as we all are now. It is upsetting, still, to realize that officials involve understand that are, still, at the Justice Department today, people who were briefed on this, while it was happening, people who were in the chain of command while decisions were being made to do this. People who took part in it are, still, there under Merrick Garland.
So, number one, what`s going to happen to them if they, in fact, were involved in this? And number two, given the fact that those officials who knew about this are still in the department right now, why did it take a "New York Times" article about this abominable behavior to spark an inspector general investigation today?
I mean, this scandal wasn`t known to any of us, the public. But it was known to multiple officials inside the Justice Department. None of whom, thought to peep about it? And tell their new superiors now that Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco are in charge of the Justice Department?
No, apparently, Garland and Monaco had to learn about it in "The New York Times", because even the officials involved inside the Justice Department. People involved in this scandal inside the Justice Department, didn`t say anything. Is that because nobody asked them?
Apple and Microsoft have, both, released statements tonight, explaining how those companies were roped into this and why these legally-binding gag orders they were served with, prohibited them from telling anybody what was going on here, until now. Since last night`s show, when we reported on this, we have learned that, in addition to Congressman Adam Schiff, California Congressman Eric Swalwell, also, had his records secretly seized.
As part of his response, today, he said this. He said, quote, I hope every prosecutor who was involved in this is thrown out of the department. It crosses the line of what we do, as a country. Excuse me. What we do in this country.
Swalwell`s colleague, California Congressman Ted Lieu, went right at it, too. Saying, quote, anyone involved in this, who is still at the Justice Department, needs to resign.
In the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden went at it, even more directly, saying, basically, even that wouldn`t be enough. Senator Wyden says this. There must be a full investigation of abuses under former Attorneys General Sessions and Barr and any one at the Justice Department who was complicit in these abuses of power cannot be trusted to continue serving in government. The current Justice Department needs to act with much greater urgency, both to reveal abuses and ensure full accountability for those responsible.
Well, we`ll see. Attorney General Merrick Garland did not comment on -- on this, at all, when he gave his speech today on voting rights. The members of Congress, who were targeted by Trump`s DOJ, say they have been able to get zero information out of the Justice Department under Merrick Garland`s leadership since this came to light.
Garland`s people won`t even tell the targeted members of Congress what the legal predicate was for going after them, let alone what type of information, exactly, was collected from them. They won`t even tell Congress -- the current Justice Department won`t even tell congress, right now, if more members of Congress were hit, were brought into this thing. Expect this to get worse, before it gets better.
It is clear that the Justice Department, under President Biden, does not want the job of investigating and rooting around what went rotten inside their own department under the previous president. But even if they don`t want that job, that is the job they have, now. The stakes of them getting that job done get higher, with each, new revelation about what else happened there under Jeff Sessions and under William Barr, in particular. I think that President Biden -- just my, personal opinion. I think President Biden put really high-quality, good people at the Justice Department.
His appointees there, thus far, have been excellent choices. Really good people, with great experience and, presumably, great intentions. But wake up, you guys. You`re going to work every day at an active-crime scene, and there`s no other cops to call here.
You have to fix this. You`re the only ones who can. The country needs you to do this.
MADDOW: So this was the editorial headline. Who supports Missouri Governor Parsons` cruel stance that releasing an innocent man is not a priority?
This is an editorial in the "Kansas City Star" this week and the editorial, interestingly, lists all the things that Missouri`s Republican governor, Mike Parson, has been up to this week. It sounds like it`s been kind of a fun week.
He went to a barbecue. He, also, proclaimed that the month of June is dairy month in Missouri. Congratulation, cows.
He also went to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a fancy, new, frozen-foods facility. The Frozen Food Express. He followed that up with a trip to what was billed as a youth cattle show, although, there do not appear to have been any cattle in evidence while he was there. Sort of, a cattle-free cattle show. Less stress that way, maybe.
"The Kansas City Star" detailing all this stuff the governor`s been up to this week to make a salient point about what he hasn`t been doing. The governor made clear one thing that is not a priority for him because he is so, otherwise, busy. One thing he does not have to time work on is setting free an innocent man who has been stuck in a Missouri prison for more than 40 years, even though prosecutors are now pleading for his release, saying the map was prosecuted in error. The man did not commit the crime for which he has been in prison, again, for more than 40 years.
We have reported on this story over the course of a week or so now. It`s almost unbelievable story. The man`s name is Kevin Strickland. He was arrested as a teenager. Convicted of three murders in Missouri when he was 18 years old.
The problem, for the state, is that since his conviction, the case against him has not only fallen apart. It has reversed itself. There was one eyewitness to the crime, whose testimony was basically the entire case against him. She has recanted her testimony, and said it wasn`t him, and he should be released from prison. She says the police pressured her into making a false identification of him. It was not him.
There are two men, who were convicted in conjunction with the case. They have confessed to their involvement in the case. And also, said Mr. Strickland had nothing to do with it. They have already served their time in conjunction with the case. They are out of prison, while he`s still in.
The prosecutors in the case have told the court they made a mistake. That Mr. Strickland was prosecuted in error. That he did not do it. All of them, now, believe that Strickland was wrongfully convicted and he should be let go.
For his part, Mr. Strickland has maintained his innocence, since day one. There is nobody involved in the case, now, who says he is wrong about that.
But Governor Mike Parson has got a frozen-food thing to christen and a cattle-free cattle show to go to. And he is apparently, way too busy to get around to doing anything about this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: Today, 13 lawmakers wrote to you asking you to pardon Kevin Strickland joining the Jackson County prosecutor who believes that he`s innocent. Have you taken a further look at his case?
GOV. MIKE PARSON (R-MO): Sure, we looked at it. But I mean, you know, we`ve got 3,000 to go. We`re going to look at them to start going from the back and going towards the more current cases, but you know when something like that comes up, we look at those cases but I don`t know that that necessarily makes it a priority to jump in front of the line or anything like that.
He`s been tried. You know, again, by a jury of his peers that found him guilty, you know, and I know there is a lot more information out there, but at the end of the day, you`ve got to think through all those things.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Been tried. Found guilty by a jury of his peers.
Yes, all, people wrongfully convicted were convicted. That`s right. But sometimes, they were wrongfully convicted.
And in this case, the prosecutors say he never should have been prosecuted because he didn`t do it. As does the only eyewitness on -- on whose testimony his trial turned.
I don`t know that necessarily makes it a priority to jump in front of the line or anything, says the governor. "Kansas City Star" editorial says, quote, no one can accuse our governor of trying to hide the fact that righting the monumental wrong done by the state he runs is last on his to- do list.
I should say, the only reason that we, on this show, know anything about Kevin Strickland`s story, and the reason there has been this much movement, at least, in his case. Is because of really incredible reporting from the newspaper side of "The Kansas City Star". And in particular, the paper`s criminal-justice reporter, Luke. Nozicka.
Joining us now is Luke Nozicka, criminal justice reporter at "The Kansas City Star" who has shined a light on this story, in a way that is almost incredible, almost unbelievable tale to this day.
Mr. Nozicka, thank you for joining us tonight and thank you for your reporting, thus far.
LUKE NOZICKA, THE KANSAS CITY STAR REPORTER: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Is there any, substantive reason, that you are aware of, why Governor Parson doesn`t want to act here?
NOZICKA: You know, I can`t speak for Governor Parson. Like you said, he indicated that Mr. Strickland`s clemency application is not a priority. He has said that there are 3,000 other people seeking clemency today. Mr. Strickland applied for clemency, earlier-this week and is asking for a full pardon, not a commutation of his sentence. Basically, asking that his -- his proclaimed innocence be recognized.
So, yeah. And he could also, still, be freed through the courts. But his attorneys are still waiting to see how that -- how that plays out.
MADDOW: I understand that there are wrongful-conviction cases, all over the country. Missouri, itself, has some additional, some high-profile cases, in which it`s widely believed that there were wrongful convictions and there are people serving time for -- long sentences for things they may not have done.
In this case, though, it does seem like a remarkable confluence of events. To not have only the -- the eyewitness recant, and to have other people convicted, in conjunction with the crime, say that this was not the man. To have him having insistently said, from day one, that it wasn`t him. But also, to have prosecutors agree.
Is it unusual that the governor won`t listen, even to the prosecutors, in this case? It would strike me -- part of the reason I have been so fascinated by this is strikes me that`s sort of a golden spike. Once the prosecutors say you got to go, the governor would at least want to entertain that as -- as an unusual assertion.
NOZICKA: Yeah. I`m actually not sure the history of governors` involvement. But like you mentioned, there is another man actually on the other side of the state in St. Louis. His name is Lamar Johnson. Prosecutors there say he is also innocent. But prosecutors in Missouri currently don`t have any power to right wrongful convictions or to seek to free prisoners that they believe are innocent.
They could change, come August 28th, when a bill on Governor Parson`s desk is expected to be signed into law. So, yeah. I think his attorneys are just waiting and are hopeful he will be freed later this year.
MADDOW: But the governor, himself, Mr. Parson, would have to sign that -- that -- that bill. It`s been on his desk for some time. And he hasn`t signed it.
NOZICKA: Uh-huh. That -- that`s my understanding, yes.
MADDOW: In terms of what the reaction has been in the state. One of the things that I thought was interesting was to see a bipartisan response. There has been not just democratic legislators but, also, Republican-state legislators and a Missouri state legislature has a lot on its plate right now. They have got a lot of scandals to deal with. They have got a lot going on.
But to have a bipartisan group of legislators come together and write to the governor asking to, effectively, ask him to intervene in this case. Is that as unusual as it -- as it seems from the outside? And I think a lot of places around the country, it`s hard to imagine bipartisan action on a case like this. But that`s what you`ve got in Missouri.
NOZICKA: Yeah. I think it is. So, earlier this week, 13 state lawmakers called on Governor Parson to pardon Mr. Strickland. Ten of them were Democrats and three of them were Republicans.
And in the letter they penned to the governor, they basically said that, innocent -- or evidence has come forth proving Mr. Strickland`s innocence. And some -- some lawmakers in the state have accused Governor Parson of dragging his feet on -- on this pardon.
MADDOW: Luke Nozicka is the criminal justice reporter at "The Kansas City Star" who has just done yeoman`s work not only looking at the substance of this case but also chronicling the effort to try to spring Kevin Strickland from -- Mr. Strickland from prison given what`s come to light about this case.
Luke, congratulations on your reporting thus far. It`s really, really consequential and important reporting. And "The Star" is lucky to have you. Thanks for being here tonight.
NOZICKA: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I`m not kidding, NBC`s Keir Simmons just got a one-on-one sit down interview with Vladimir Putin. Seriously. I know, right?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEIR SIMMONS, NBC NEWS REPORTER: John McCain in Congress called you a killer. When President Trump was asked -- was told you were a killer he didn`t deny it. When President Biden was asked whether he believes you are a killer he said I do. Mr. President, are you a killer?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Over my tenure, I`ve gotten used to attack from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas, under all kinds of pretexts and reasons from different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me.
So, as far as harsh rhetoric I think this is an expression of overall U.S. culture. Of course in Hollywood, there`s some underlying deep things in Hollywood, macho, which can be treated as cinematic art. As part of American culture where it`s considered normal. By the way, not here, it`s not considered normal here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Me, a killer, that`s macho American stuff. Being macho, that`s just part of U.S. political culture where it`s considered normal, but not here in Russia, it`s not considered to be macho here. It`s very foreign to me.
I don`t go at all for this macho stuff. I`m more the sensitive type. My shirt just falls off a lot. We don`t do macho here.
That do-whoop moment was part of an exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin by NBC`s Keir Simmons. The whole thing is going to air on Monday and it will start the morning on "The Today Show", and it will be more on MSNBC and "Nightly News." But if it starts with him being like, I can`t possibly be the killer, I`m so sensitive, you`re the macho ones, can`t wait to see the rest of it.
MADDOW: I`ll leave you with one parting thought tonight. Looking for a gift for the person who has everything? How about a gift subscription to their local newspaper or two?
Our guests tonight on this show, we didn`t make a special effort to do this or anything. It just worked out our guests tonight were local reporters from "The San Luis Obispo Tribune" and "The Kansas City Star", local reporters at local papers doing work of national significance that we would not know about without them. It`s work that is needed in those communities, in those counties, in those states but also in our country.
Subscribe to your local paper. Give gift subscriptions to your friends and your family members when it comes time to give somebody a present. Tell them I sent you.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ali.