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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/14/21

Guests: Katie Benner, Eric Swalwell, Barb Byrum, Judith Browne Dianis, Michael McFaul


The House Judiciary Committee announces a formal investigation into the Trump Justice Department`s secret seizure of communications records of journalists, members of Congress, and their staffers and families. California Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, is interviewed. Ever since Joe Biden took office in January of this year, voting rights in America have been under attack.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now with Ali Velshi in for Rachel.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Chris, a bit of an extra surprise for me this evening as I walked into the building, something we have rarely done in the last year and a half.

HAYES: In person.

VELSHI: And ran right into you.

HAYES: It was very, very, very nice.

VELSHI: It`s always a pleasure to see you, but it was extra special pleasure to see you tonight, and may we have many more of these evenings.

HAYES: I agree completely. Have a great show.

VELSHI: You too. Thanks, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel will be back tomorrow.

This weekend, we all had an experience collectively as Americans that we haven`t had in a few years. All this weekend, our president was overseas. And nothing crazy happened. The president of the United States, not storm out of a meeting or threaten to blow up a decades-old alliance or insult a head of state, or fawn over a dictator.

And look, your mileage may vary. Maybe you liked all that stuff about our previous president, the way he shall we say, stirred things up, but either way, for the last few years, any time the American president got on a plane to go abroad, we all kind of involuntarily tensed up, bracing for whatever was going to happen this time.

So it may take us a little time to get used to reports like these. Biden causes sighs of relief among world leaders. U.S. allies enthusiastically welcome Biden to a gathering of world leaders. Biden was greeted with delight by leaders at the Group of Seven gathering.

Yes, delight. Why wouldn`t they be delighted? Even if they don`t see eye to eye with Joe Biden on everything, they`re ate least pretty well guaranteed to be spared the small indignities beseted on G7 and NATO leaders by the previous president, like the weirdly long violent hand shake that nearly took the arm off the Japanese prime minister to who turned to his staff once he was released with a look that was either relief or, get me the heck out of here.

Or there was the weird non-hand shake with the German chancellor, just totally ignoring her as she asked for a handshake. I think I would describe her expression there as bemused, befuddled maybe. I`m sure there`s a fairly long German word for it.

And, of course, who could forget the previous president literally shoving NATO leaders out of the way to puff his chest out at the front of a photo op. This was today`s NATO group photo. As you can see, no shoving. It`s a very low bar to clear. But there you have it.

The British prime minister is calling President Biden, quote, a breath of fresh air. The French president says Biden has definitely convinced allies America is back. The German chancellor has hailed his commitment to multilateralism.

But the G7 this weekend and NATO today, those were in a way the easy parts. When President Biden emerged tonight in Brussels after a full day of talks with NATO allies, the assembled press mostly wanted to ask him about his next meeting, his one-on-one this Wednesday with Vladimir Putin.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses. And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.

There need not be, we should decide where it`s in our mutual interest in the interest of the world to cooperate. And see if we can do that. And the areas where we don`t agree, make it clear what the red lines are. I have met with him. He`s bright. He`s tough. And I have found that he is a -- as they say, when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.


VELSHI: Again, that meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin is coming up on Wednesday. NBC`s Keir Simmons got an exclusive interview with Putin ahead of the meeting. And we`re going to have more on that a little later on the show.

So, Joe Biden`s message on this first trip has not been subtle. America is back, as he puts it. United States is recommitted to its alliances, standing up to autocrats, repairing relationships with friends, and his message appears to be resonating.

A survey out last week from the Pew Research Center found that attitudes towards the United States in 12 other countries have rebounded remarkably since Biden was sworn into office, with favorable opinions of the United States and confidence in the American president jumping dozens of points in just a few months.

A new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds here in the United States, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, say they trust Joe Biden to negotiate with other world leaders. Nearly 60 percent say they have confidence in Biden to do the right thing regarding world affairs.

But as President Biden has been overseas working on rebuilding and repairing America`s image on the world stage, his predecessor`s shadow is looming large back at home, too. As new and troubling questions arise about the damage the Trump administration did to the U.S. Justice Department and whether the Biden Justice Department is doing enough to repair it.

And on that front, we have breaking news just this evening, with the House Judiciary committee announcing a formal investigation into the Trump Justice Department`s secret seizure of communications records of journalists, members of Congress, and their staffers and families. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says tonight, quote, recent reports suggest that during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice used criminal investigations as a pretext to spy on president Trump`s perceived political enemies.

Congress must make it extraordinarily difficult if not impossible for the department to spy on the Congress or the news media. We should make it hard for prosecutors to hide behind secret gag orders for years at a time. We cannot rely on the department alone to make those changes.

It is also possible that these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump administration to target President Trump`s political opposition. If so, we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions.

Like many Americans, I desperately want to see Attorney General Merrick Garland succeed in his goal of repairing the damage done by his predecessors and return a sense of normal to the Justice Department. That`s an important and worthy undertaking. It is not, however, something we can accomplish by simply turning the page on the Trump era. I have instructed my staff to begin work without delay.

Now, this announcement comes on the heels of the Senate Judiciary Committee announcing that it, too, will investigate, but in an evenly split 50/50 Senate, the judiciary committee cannot issue a subpoena without at least one Republican signing on, and since that seems unlikely, it makes tonight`s news that the House Judiciary Committee will investigate that much more important. They should have no problem issuing subpoenas.

But the frustration among congressional Democrats here is not just with the former attorneys general or with Senate Republicans who do not seem inclined to support investigation. There is palpable frustration with the Biden Justice Department, and with Attorney General Merrick Garland.

It seems fair to ask why there should need to be a full-blown congressional investigation in the first place. Whatever answers are to be found as to what went down here, those answers are inside the Justice Department. And that Justice Department is now run by appointees of President Biden.

Who signed off on these subpoenas for communications records of journalists or of members of Congress who were investigating president Trump? And even, we now learn, on president Trump`s own White House counsel, with whom Trump was feuding at the time. And were all these seizures of records part of a larger effort by the White House to weaponize the Justice Department against Donald Trump`s political enemies?

And if so, are people who were involved in that effort still at the Justice Department now?

The Justice Department announced today that the head of the national security division, a Trump era holdover, is resigning. But the department says this departure was long planned. Nothing to see here.

Executives from "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," CNN, the three organizations whose reporters` reports were seized secretly met with Attorney General Garland today, but the meeting was off the record, so we do not know what was said there.

Garland today says the Justice Department will codify new rules around seizing the data of journalists and lawmakers, and he`s directed the department`s inspector general to investigate the seizure of records from members of Congress and their staff. But if this is as bad as it looks, handing this off to the inspector general and making tweaks to the rules is probably not going to cut it. If this is as bad as it looks, the Justice Department needs a deep cleaning, and it`s not clear whether Merrick Garland is up for that.

Joining us now is Katie Benner. She`s a "New York Times" reporter who covers the Justice Department.

Katie, my good friend, good to see you. Good to be back with you in real life.

But you and I have been talking for several weeks about this particular issue. What`s the tension here? Is there just not enough coming out of the Justice Department to assure members of Congress and the media this is being taken seriously and rooted out?

KATIE BENNER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: That`s certainly the primary tension right now. Of course, there are always going to be questions about what happened during the Trump administration. Those questions are going to be answered, eventually. To your point, these investigations will take a lot of time.

So, what members of Congress are wondering, what reporters are wondering is, why can`t the Justice Department begin to answer some of those questions now? And also, as an indication that there is maybe a lack of political skill at this Justice Department under this administration.

Merrick Garland, he was -- he was a federal judge. He is not a political animal. He`s not a creature of politics. If he wants to do everything by the book, I do understand that, but time is of the essence, and answering some of these questions and keeping the public`s faith in the department along with these -- with his stated intention of being transparent.

So the more time goes by, the fewer questions are answered, that`s going to make it harder and harder for people to believe that they will get the answers that they feel they deserve.

VELSHI: What do we know about this head of the Justice Department`s national security division, John Demers? He`s a Trump appointee. According to your reporting in "The New York Times", a Trump appointee who remained in the department, would have been briefed on investigations like those involving the secret collection of journalists` phone records. Justice Department is saying nothing to see here. That was a planned departure.

BENNER: John is a really curious figure because as head of security division, you would have expected him to be more at loggerheads with President Trump if you think about what his division does, it looks into very sensitive national security matters. Keep in mind, the biggest national security matter was taken out of his hands and given to Robert Mueller, that was the Russia investigation. And he managed to fly under the radar for most of his tenure.

There was even talk of allowing him to be the acting attorney general until Merrick Garland was confirmed. He is known as a centrist. He`s trusted by people even within this Justice Department. John Carlin is somebody who`s worked with him, he continued a lot of the work that John Carlin and the current deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, did before him under the Obama administration. He did not change a lot of their policies on things like China.

And he did express to John Carlin, as we have reported, he wanted to leave in April and May. He was asked to stay on. I think if he had known that all of this information was going to come out in the late spring, early summer, he would not have stayed for it because he does need to do things like try to find a job, and he does need to leave the department, and it`s coming at possibly the worst time.

VELSHI: Let`s talk about Merrick Garland issuing a statement where he says I directed the matter to be referred to the inspector general and have full confident he will conduct a thorough investigation. If any time question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly.

For regular people like us, we think that must be important, the inspector general. What we witnessed over the last four years is the politicization or interference in these inspector generals. Every department has one.

So now, there seems to be concern by congressional -- people like Jerry Nadler and others that that`s not enough. What should we be thinking about when we realize this has been referred to the inspector general?

BENNER: The inspector general for the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, has managed to act independently, and his reports have come out really, if you look at the reports he`s done looking into FISA abuses, looking into the Russia investigation, he`s come out with reports that have generally satisfied both sides of the aisle.

He is known to be a straight shooter. I do believe you`ll get answers from him. As we have seen in his reports, the answers from him often don`t live up to all of the anxiety and hand-wringing that you see, whether it`s by conservatives or by progressives, as we sort of get into the finish line when we know his reports are going to come out. I see that as a word of caution to the public only because we don`t have all the facts, in part because the Justice Department didn`t give them to us.

So, you know, in Merrick Garland`s mind, in an ideal world, we would sit back and wait for the work to be done and think about other things. As we have seen over the last four years, that`s not exactly how it happens. Sorry, Merrick Garland.

But in an ideal world, that`s what we do because Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, does have a history of producing reports that seem credible and seem fair and that do have the facts that people want. But we also know that can take, you know, 8 to 18 months.

And in the meantime, the political firestorm is going to continue. As we know, members of Congress take it very personally when they`re attacked and they feel attacked in this moment. So this is not going to let up for the attorney general.

VELSHI: Katie, good to see you. Thank you for your fantastic reporting. Katie Benner of "The New York Times."

All right, I want to bring in one of the two congressmen whose records we know were seized by the Justice Department. California Congressman Eric Swalwell is a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman Swalwell, thanks for joining us. Good to see you again.

Where are you on this whole thing? Because we have heard now from the Justice Department, from the attorney general, about what he plans to do. Obviously, Congress is now taking its own steps.

How do you see this unfolding? How will we all get the information we need about what went down here and why they were going after your information?


And we have to because presidents set the tone for the country, and the tone Donald Trump sent was one of being a bully and of phony tough guy, but that has presented and manifested itself in the way that everyday Americans are acting, right? You`re seeing the treatment of public health officials, the disdainful way that NBA players are having bottles thrown at them, the breakdown in decency on the House floor.

And my fear is that if the president is spying on his political opponents or weaponizing the Department of Justice, that it`s not just in Washington that that could happen, that across America, people may think, well, that`s cool now. You have a permission slip to do this because Donald Trump did it.

And so, that`s why not only is an inspector general investigation needed but in Congress, to interview and to find out what happened through places that the inspector general can`t go, we should also simultaneously have our own investigation.

VELSHI: I want to just read from you something I read from committee chair Jerry Nadler on the Judiciary Committee.

It`s also possible these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump administration to target President Trump`s political opposition. If so, we must learn the full extent of the gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions.

I want to try to connect that to what we believe was happening, because the records we understand were seized were seized before the Democrats were in power in the House of Representatives, before Adam Schiff was chairing the Intel Committee.

What do you think was going on in 2017 that would have caused records like yours to be sought out?

SWALWELL: We were speaking out against a president who was pretty close to Russia. And, Ali, I had been on the committee for years where there were classified leaks. And it was information that I had heard about on the committee, and I was never investigated or targeted.

So what changed? And why was no one else on the committee investigated for these alleged leaks other than the two most vocal critics of the president? So, I think there`s a lot of answers that we need about why we were targeted.

But again, the bigger issue here is that, you know, John Dean said 50 years ago that there`s a cancer on the presidency. Well, over the last four years, we saw that the actual cancer was the president. Whether it was the rule of law, our system of justice, or even our democracy, Donald Trump was willing to destroy any of them if they got in his way.

And so this is not a 500-year flood situation. You know, nothing Donald Trump hates more than being a loser, and in the last year, he was the biggest loser of all. Not just because he lost in a landslide, Ali, but also because he tried to test our democracy, and he failed. He barely failed.

And so if he comes back as president or if one of his wannabe cronies gets into office, we have to make sure that we have rules and regulations that never let anyone get this close, as close as he did, again.

VELSHI: Your colleague, now the vice president, Kamala Harris, asked Bill Barr about this in Congress, about whether or not he -- the president ever asked anyone at the White House to open investigation on anyone. Barr equivocated. Now, when asked about it, Sessions and Barr both say they have no recollection of this.

I would just imagine that if I were the attorney general and someone caused me department to investigate someone of your profile or a reporter, there`s no chance the attorney general wouldn`t know about that. That would actually be grounds for not being the attorney general, if you didn`t know your department was going rogue and investigating Eric Swalwell, Adam Schiff, and "New York Times" and CNN reporters.

SWALWELL: No chance, Ali. You`re absolutely right. And Barr in that exchange looked like my 4-year-old last night when I asked him if he had eaten a cookie and he had crumbs all over his mouth. He looked guilty in that response, and now we need to find out if he looked guilty because in fact he did know something.

And, Ali, I don`t want your viewers to think that I`m above the law. If I have done something wrong or my colleagues have done something wrong, we should be surveilled if a warrant is issued.

But here, in this instance, and even with Don McGahn, there was no connection to us and the leaks. I know that because I did not leak.

And so the fact that I had never been investigated for prior leaks in the intelligence community makes me believe that this was very targeted by a president who would not only punish his enemies with the Department of Justice, but would reward his friends, whether it`s Manafort, Flynn, Roger Stone, that`s just how he viewed our Department of Justice. And it`s really on us now as to whether we want to see a continuation of that for future presidents.

VELSHI: Congressman Swalwell, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us. Congressman Eric Swalwell.

All right. We`ve got a lot of news to get to here tonight, including new concerns related to the story that Rachel led the show with Friday night, the safety of America`s election workers. New reporting that many of them are leaving their jobs. That`s next.


VELSHI: All right. This is a photo of four Wisconsin state lawmakers getting a tour of the so-called Arizona election audit on Saturday. Republican lawmaker tours of the stadium in Maricopa County where 2.1 million 2020 election ballots are being retallied and examined for signs of fraud, have been a growth industry lately.

This photo of the latest group of lawmakers comes courtesy of a One America News correspondent named Christina Bobb. One America News is the only so- called news outlet with restrictionless access to the fake Arizona audit, and Christina Bobb was kind enough to tweet out this picture.

But that`s not the most interest thing about the lawmakers` visit. "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" reported Saturday that the four Wisconsin lawmakers` trip was paid for by a dark money group called Voices and Votes. The president and CEO of which is, drum roll please, One America New`s Christina Bobb.

So to recap, the so-called journalist who is not only covering the so- called audit, but has also been fund-raising to help pay for it s also reportedly paying for lawmakers from at least one other state to come and see how it`s done so they can replicate it back home. That is what you call nice work, if you can get it.

At the same time that these phony election auditors are getting all sorts of help like this, evangelizing their fake cause, the job of real election officials across the country is under attack. In at least three states now, the secretary of state has either been directly or indirectly threatened or intimidated physically. New laws in Iowa and Florida have been tailor made to impose huge fines on election officials for incredibly small technical mistakes. Texas is considering measures that would make similar technical errors criminally prosecutable or put plainly, make jail time or probation the punishment making a mistake doing your job as an election official.

All of this together, the rise of the conspiracy theorists running their own phony audits, the direct physical, legal, and financial threats facing local election officials, all of it together makes it no wonder that states are now having trouble filling election related jobs.

"The Associated Press" reporting that huge numbers of election officials are either quitting or retiring early all over the country, and that there`s, quote, no shortage of job opening for local election officials in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin.

So the question is, now that those positions are empty, who is going to fill them?

Joining us now, a local election official in the great state of Michigan, Barb Byrum, clerk of Ingham County, Michigan.

Barb, thank you for joining us tonight. Thank you to you and people like you across this country who make elections work in this country.

The idea is that these are necessary positions. They are a manifestation of civic duty. But we`re doing things across the country that are causing people to back away, to not want to do this.

Have you seen any of that where you are in Michigan?

BARB BYRUM, COUNTY CLERK, INGHAM COUNTY, MI: Unfortunately, I have. Many clerks have decided to retire or not run for re-election. And it is a direct result of the attacks they have seen, the unnecessary criticism that they have received just doing their job. Most clerks, most election officials just want to make sure that every qualified registered voter has an opportunity to exercise their right to vote and that our elections are safe and secure.

Now, they`re dealing with over 120 bills in Michigan, over 120 election related bills have been introduced in the first six months of the Michigan legislature`s session. Directly impacting the way we do our job and access for the voters to the ballot. This is -- this is not helpful, repeating the big lie, having committee hearing after committee hearing, talking about the big lie.

This does not help. And these individuals have been just empowered to act irresponsibly and to attack civil servants and to go after election officials who have been working so hard with limited resources. It`s really unfathomable that we have gotten to this point, because election officials are the front line of our democracy. And we`re -- and --

VELSHI: I`m sorry to interrupt you. Your secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, was on with Chris Hayes earlier. And she has been saying since the election that these bills that you talk about, these more than 120 bills introduced by your legislature are a solution looking for a problem. You actually had remarkably successful elections in Michigan this time around. In fact, you saw remarkable increase in access to the polls, in the number of people who voted absentee or in advance.

This is anybody looking at Michigan would say you wouldn`t need one bill to fix things right now.

BYRUM: You know, you should look at Michigan. Many states should look at Michigan, how well we do elections. How well our election officials work together.

In Michigan, we have 83 county clerks that program the election, and over 1,500 local clerks that conduct the day of the election. There are many checks and balances. We use paper ballots.

In Michigan, we have safe and secure elections. But the facts won`t get in the way of conspiracy theories or those believers. And so I`m constantly dealing with messages from individuals saying how dare you conduct a fraudulent election?

I have -- I didn`t. And neither has anyone else in the state of Michigan. We conduct secure, accurate elections. And there are checks along the way to make sure those elections are safe and secure and accurate.

VELSHI: Well, you just mentioned the conspiracy theorists, "The Associated Press" reporting today that these conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul, and that they are looking specifically toward these election administration positions, trying to force people out, come up with these laws that cause good people who have been working in elections, we don`t know what party you`re with or what you`re doing, causing good people to go out because of intimidation, because of threats, because of all these laws to make it difficult, and then playing the long game of putting people in there who share their conspiracy theories.

BYRUM: They`re absolutely playing the long game. And the truth of the matter is, in Michigan, most election officials are Republicans. So, that I find interesting. I also find interesting it`s not just the election officials that are retiring or seeking alternate employment. It`s also their election directors.

So, we`re seeing moving away from all the institutional knowledge, conducting our elections, people are finding other jobs that are less stressful and provide less heartache and what we`re going to see is new people filling those positions that don`t have elections experience or in it for other reasons, and that is very concerning. It`s very concerning.

VELSHI: Barb Byrum, thanks for sharing some of your own experience with us. Barb Byrum is an election official for Ingham County, Michigan. Thank you for your time tonight and for your time helping us, have safe elections in this country.

Coming up next, the actions that progressives are taking to try to do anything, anything, to stop states from rolling back voting rights.


VELSHI: Ever since Joe Biden took office in January of this year, voting rights in America have been under attack. Over the past few months, Republican controlled state -- Republican controlled state after Republican controlled state has passed legislation making it more difficult to vote. Meanwhile, federal legislation to protect the right to vote is on life support in the U.S. Senate, with Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin coming out against it.

With each day, the national fight over voting rights looks increasingly dire for voting rights advocates. But there is another side to the story. We saw it when Democratic lawmakers in Texas dramatically walked out of their state legislature and successfully delayed the passage of that state`s voter suppression bill.

This week, those same Texas Democrat lawmakers decided to take their fight to Washington. Tomorrow, they`re going to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers in the house and senate, urging them to pass the For the People Act.

Then on Wednesday, they`ll meet with vice President Harris, whom President Biden has tasked to lead his administration`s fight to protect the vote. At the same time, a new wave of grassroots action is taking place across the country, just tonight, bishop and civil rights leader Dr. William Barber led a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, to quote, march on Manchin.

What appeared to be hundreds of West Virginians marched through West Virginia`s Capitol to Joe Manchin`s office, demanding that the senator end his opposition to the For the People Act. And that may be just the beginning of what`s shaping up to be a summer of action on the issue.

Today, more than 70 pro-democracy organizations including the grassroots protest group, Indivisible, announced a new coalition to mobilize voters in support of the For the People Act, during Congress`s summer recess. What kind of public pressure will be enough to force some kind of national action on this issue?

Joining us now is Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, one of the civil rights organizations leading the new coalition to advocate for voting rights over the summer.

Judith, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

We have heard tonight from Stacey Abrams talking to Joy Reid, we heard from Reverend Barber this weekend and again tonight talking to Joy Reid, saying this is the summer to call your members of Congress, to call your senators, to get out there and march, to show discontent with the things that are happening or the things that are not happening.

How do you see this unfolding?

JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, thanks, Ali, for having me. Yes, you are right.

It is time to turn up the heat. Democracy is on the line, and so over the summer, we will see lots of actions. For example, Advancement Project and other organizations, we have litigation that`s already ongoing in places like Georgia and Florida, but we can`t just leave it at the courts. We need to make sure that we are in the streets and in the legislatures.

And so, what we will see is people coming, like the Texas legislators coming to Congress, because we have to let members of Congress know, senators know, that this is unacceptable, that we will not allow the GOP to hold our democracy hostage. And so, we`ll see those kinds of actions Advancement Project has teamed up also with Black Voters Matter, and we`re part of the freedom rides that will be a bus ride coming from the south up to the north, arriving in Washington, D.C. on June 26th.

So there will be a number of actions. The work with indivisible, which will be across the country, getting people to call their senators, this is an all hands on deck moment to save our democracy.

VELSHI: How do you convince people that it should be an all hands on deck moment? It sort of worked with Indivisible with the campaign to prevent Republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Obviously, we saw it in the social justice movements after the murder of George Floyd.

But in this particular instance, for a lot of good people, this doesn`t feel urgent. This doesn`t feel like it`s about them. If it`s not about them being bused to a voting place after church on a Sunday or it`s not about long lineups for them, how do you get people to understand that this is crucial and urgent?

DIANIS: Well, this is about all of us. You know, this conversation about whether or not this should be bipartisan, et cetera, this is a nonpartisan issue. This is an American issue.

And people have to understand that we have to connect the dots. January 6th should have shown us that democracy is under attack. That there are lies and disinformation about voter fraud, that there was a steal. That is a lie.

And what we know is that there are people who want to take our country back. And so really, what this is about is should Americans have a voice in our democracy? What we are seeing at the state level is just unacceptable and outrageous. It is a power grab.

And what we`re saying is, let`s get the for the people act passed. Let`s make voting easier. Let`s have all Americans be able to participate in our democracy. And let`s get the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed because we shouldn`t have discrimination in voting.

So, this is for all of us. This isn`t a white and black issue. This isn`t just about Latino voters or young voters, but for young voters it`s important to understand that the work that they did last summer is not over. We still have to keep working to protect our democracy.

VELSHI: Judith, it`s also a pleasure to talk to you. Judith Browne Dianis is the executive director of the Advancement Project. Thanks for your time tonight.

Still ahead here, a look at the agenda for political event later this week that quite literally the entire world is going to be watching. We`re going to talk with someone who briefed President Biden today ahead of his meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Stay with us.


VELSHI: This mural went up of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he was imprisoned by Putin. This is St. Petersburg in April. Four hours after it popped up, it was gone. Navalny`s smiling face and hands in a shape of a heart censored into oblivion by a thin coat of yellow paint.

Vladimir Putin will come face-to-face with President Biden on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland. The first meeting between the two leaders since President Biden was elected.

And look what will be waiting for President Putin when he arrived in Geneva. It`s back. Alexei Navalny`s smiling face will be there to greet the Russian president. The inscription says, a hero for our time.

Navalny`s political imprisonment and the assassination attempt against him is almost certain to be a topic of conversation when the two leaders meet. Potentially so will the false equivalency that Putin has been drawing between the treatment of his main political critic, Navalny, and the arrests of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.


KEIR SIMMONS, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Did you order Alexei Navalny`s assassination?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Of course not. We don`t have this kind of habit of assassinating anybody. That`s one.

Number two is, I want to ask you, did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress, and they didn`t go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands, 450 people had been detained.

SIMMONS: You`re talking about the Capitol?

PUTIN: They`re looking at jail time between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn`t that persecution for political opinions?


VELSHI: NBC`s Keir Simmons with that exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin.

For the record, trying to poison your political rivals and then imprisoning them on false charges for opposing your regime is not the same as jailing someone who tried to violently overthrow the government while it was in the process of certifying legitimate election results. But you know that. And so does Vladimir Putin.

And so with relations between the United States and Russia at a low point, it is unclear what if anything the meeting on Wednesday will accomplish.

There is one specific agenda item, though, that both sides are previewing might bear fruit. Two American citizens are currently imprisoned in Russia. One has been accused of hitting a Russian police officer. The other accused of spying. U.S. has called both of their detentions unlawful. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this weekend that President Biden plans to address their imprisonment with Putin and suggested a prisoner or may suggest a prisoner swap between the two nations to insure their release.

Surprisingly, President Putin says he`s open to it. He told NBC news he is, quote, of course open to the idea of trading prisoners with the United States, potentially releasing those two Americans from Russian custody.

Is productivity in this meeting a pipe dream, though, or could something constructive truly come out of a meeting between Biden and Putin on Wednesday?

Joining us now, Ambassador Michael McFaul, former United States ambassador to Russia. He`s in Geneva tonight ahead of the summit between Presidents Biden and Putin.

Ambassador McFaul, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

Just in the last hour, "Axios" is reporting that President Biden assembled a dozen or so experts on Russia to brief him ahead of his meeting with President Putin on Wednesday. According to "Axios", the president was briefed by two former U.S. ambassadors to Russia including yourself.

What can you tell us about this meeting and how you advised the president?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, first, Ali, I really want to congratulate you and your team for mentioning Alexei Navalny, Trevor Reed, Paul Whelan in this story. They sometimes get forgotten here in Geneva, and we need to remember them. We need to remember their stories, and I hope that President Biden does as well.

With respect to that story, I`m obviously not going to comment on private conversations with President Biden. But isn`t it great that the president is preparing for this meeting? Because if you`ll remember, the last time Putin met with a former president, President Trump, it was clear to me, I was at that one as well, working for you, not for the U.S. government, just to be clear, that President Trump was not prepared for that meeting.

So I think it`s a great thing that he is thinking hard about this. He said it many times along his trip so far. The one time I will talk about it, I was actually at the last one when they met, Ali. It was ten years ago. They each had different jobs. He was the vice president. Putin was the prime minister.

And the night before me, and a guy named Tony Blinken, now, Secretary Blinken. We spent several hours preparing Vice President Biden for that meeting because he understands that that`s what you do to conduct effective diplomacy.

VELSHI: Well, let -- let`s talk about that because when -- when Jill Biden. You I and I talked about this a few nights ago. When Jill Biden was asked about how Joe Biden is preparing, she says he is overprepared for it.

What do you need to be prepared for? Donald Trump sort of had the sense that he could outsmart anybody or outcharm anyone. But when you are dealing with Putin, whom Joe Biden refers to as a worthy adversary, you have to understand him and the policy and his -- his habits and tricks.

MCFAUL: Well, let`s remember a few facts about Putin. This is his fifth president of the United States that he is meeting with. For President Biden, this is his first time meeting with Putin, as president.

So, he`s been doing this for two decades. He knows the issues, cold. He doesn`t need any briefing. He doesn`t need any advice about it. That gives him a big advantage.

Number two, Putin, in the past, including, by the way, with his meeting with Vice President Biden a decade ago will sometimes enterprise his interlocutors. Remember he did that in Helsinki with President Trump when he said, let`s exchange alleged criminal. He said you want to review our Russian intelligence officers.

Remember, Mueller had just indicted those intelligence officers just a few days before Helsinki. He said, okay, let`s do a swap. I want to interrogate a dozen of Americans and I remember it well because I was on that list.

Ten years ago, when he met with Vice President, when the press came into the room, Ali, he said, oh, we just agreed to visa-free travel between the United States and Russia. And then, he sat back and he waited to see how Vice President Biden reacted. So, he`s got to be ready for that.

And then, third, he needs to be ready for exactly what you were just talking about. This false symmetry, this what-aboutism. Putin loves to play that game and he is good at it. The vice -- President Biden now needs to be ready to rebut it.

Don`t get pulled into, oh, that sounds like a good idea or maybe we should consider those ideas. He needs to rebut it firmly -- firmly, and don`t make it part of the story, afterwards.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about a topic you would know well. There were some mixed messages coming out of NATO, today. There were some early reporting that Antony Blinken shot down that Ukraine might be considered for membership in NATO. That was a triggering conversation for Russia, before the invasion of Crimea. The idea that Ukraine, a Western-facing Ukraine, would become a NATO -- yet another, NATO country on Russia`s border.

What do we make of that reporting today?

MCFAUL: Well, it`s standard NATO policy, to have an open door for all aspirants, as long as they meet the criteria. Not just Ukraine, by the way, but Georgia as well. And so, I think it was right that they talk about it.

And I, most certainly, hope that President Biden talks about Ukraine when he meets with Vladimir Putin. And not just about Ukraine. But about the occupation of Ukrainian territory that is, still, ongoing today. You know, a decade ago, the number one sticking point in the conversation between Biden and Putin was Georgia and Russian occupation of Georgian territory, back then.

Guess what? They are still occupying Georgia, but everybody`s forgotten about it. We`re not talking about it, and I think that is a mistake. We need to keep bringing these things up. Even if you can`t bring progress to the issue, let Putin know that you`re still focused on it.

VELSHI: That`s an important point. Even if you can`t bring progress to something, it is our job to bring these things up, as they relate to political incursions, human rights issues, prisoners.

Michael McFaul, good to see you as always. Thank you for ginning us.

Michael McFaul is the former ambassador United States to Russia, staying up awfully late for us tonight in Geneva.

OK. Up next, what Mitch McConnell said today that has progressives hoping for word of a Supreme Court retirement, very soon.

Stay with us.


VELSHI: Tonight, the Senate voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to sit on the U.S. court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often regarded as the second-highest court in the land. Three Republican senators, Graham, Collins, and Murkowski, joined all-50 Democrats in elevating Judge Jackson to the seat, formerly healed by the Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Jackson becomes the first Appeals Court judge of Biden`s presidency, and only the ninth African-American woman to ever serve as a federal appeals court judge. During his 2020 campaign, Biden pledged that, if given the chance, he would nominate the first black woman to the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson is considered to be near the very top of Biden`s short list, should a seat open up on the highest court.

Prior to becoming a judge, herself, Jackson clerked for Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer who is currently facing calls to step down from some liberals who worry about a repeat of what happened in 2016, when Republicans blocked President Obama from filling Justice Scalia`s seat.

On that front, we got some less-than-surprising news, today, from Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, about his plans in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy. When asked if he would allow Biden to have a Supreme Court pick in 2024, if Republicans took control of the Senate, next year, McConnell said, quote, I think it`s highly unlikely. In fact, no.

Of course, McConnell didn`t have a problem confirming Trump`s third Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, just eight days before the 2020 election.

In today`s interview, McConnell would not even commit to letting Biden have a Supreme Court pick in 2023, either, should Republicans control the Senate, at that time, which is not only mind-blowingly unfaithful to the United States Constitution. But is sure to ramp up the pressure on the 82- year-old Breyer to retire even more.

So, as Rachel would space -- would say, watch this space. It`s uniquely- important space.

That does it for us tonight. Rachel is going to be back tomorrow.


Good evening, my friend.