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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/16/21

Guests: Amy Gardner, Ann Simmons, Michael McFaul


Donald Trump pressed DOJ official to support his false claims of election fraud. Joe Biden addressed treatment of Russian opposition leaders, independent media during meeting with Vladimir Putin. Senator Manchin says that he wants to pass a voting rights bill, but the math doesn`t work, though.



ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR FOR COVID RESPONSE: And I`m very confident that people there are going to continue the path we`re on.

HAYES: Andy, thank you so much. Thank you for joining me on my podcast this week "Why Is This Happening?" Our newest episode is available where you get your podcast.

That is ALL IN on this Wednesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Today is my mom`s 80th birthday, which is impossible that she`s 80, but happy birthday, mom.

In your own family, with your mom`s birthday, particularly if it`s big round number birthday, probably feels like the biggest holiday there is. But we do have federal holidays in the United States that we celebrate regardless of my mom`s birthday.

They are not very many of them. There`s Thanksgiving. There`s Christmas, New Year`s day. There`s Veterans Day in November. Memorial Day in May. Labor Day in September.

We have Martin Luther King Day in January. Columbus Day in October. Presidents` Day in February. That`s nine, I think. And, of course, there is the tenth one, 4th of July, that is the easiest one to remember because we call it the Fourth of July, and every year, it`s in July, on the fourth. Reliably.

If you are a person who is bad with dates like I am even about family birthdays, that`s a particular blessing about July 4th. I feel the same way about Cinco de Mayo, frankly. Anybody that tells me in the name of the holiday when the holiday is, I thank you.

But tonight, the House of Representatives voted to create the newest federal holiday and we do not do this that often as a country. It has been nearly 40 years since the last new federal holiday was formally recognize with the approval of the holiday honoring Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. That was way back in 1983.

Tonight, though, we have just done it for the first time since then, again, almost 40 years. There was a unanimous vote in the Senate that we told you about on last night show that happened late last night. Now, tonight, there has been a big but not unanimous vote in the House. But it passed easily and in the end it was Texas congressman who was able to call it with just palpable joy, as she did so.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): On this vote, the yeas are 415, and the nays are 14, the bill is passed.



MADDOW: Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee announcing the passage tonight in the house of legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee sponsored the legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. She also sponsored legislation to create what they call a National Emancipation Trail, to trace the news of the Emancipation Proclamation. The news of the freeing of the slaves to Galveston, Texas.

It took more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln, for the news to reach Galveston on June 19th, 1865.

Once President Biden signed this bill that is now passed the Senate in the House, June 19th every year will be celebrated as the Juneteenth federal holiday, honoring the end of slavery in the United States.

Like I said, it was a unanimous vote in the Senate. It was an overwhelming vote in the House but not a unanimous one. There were 14 Republicans who voted against it, 14 conservative Republican white guys all voted that we should not commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, which is the kind of vote that will stick to their shoe forever, and smell up any room they ever walk into for the rest of their lives, forgive me for saying so.

But, you know, it`s worth -- it`s worth noting that they were a minority. Yes, there were 14 Republican men who voted no, but there were 195 Republican men and women who voted yes for the holiday, along with every single Democrat in the United States House and every single United States senator from both parties. So, take Congresswoman Lee`s palpable joy as the punctuation mark on this vote today.

President Biden is on his way back from Europe as we speak. There is no rule that says he has to sign this newly-passed bill as soon as he gets back, but there is some good timing coming up that would seem to indicate that he has reason to hurry.

June 19th, Juneteenth is Saturday. Today is Wednesday, the 16th. The 19th is this weekend, if he signs this new law, this new bill into law on Saturday or before, this year, 2021 will be the first year that we as a nation commemorate that day as a federal holiday.

We will commemorate together as a country, even including the 14 Republican men who voted against it, it will be a holiday in their country too, even if they don`t like it. So we will see about the timing on when it gets signed into law. But this is a big deal, it is a big vote tonight, it is a big thing for our country and for our history that will also indelibly shine a nice spotlight on the 14 Republican men who stood against it -- hi guys. I hope you enjoy this week, I hope you enjoy your weekend in particular, a lot.

Today, at their summit in Geneva, Switzerland, President Biden and Putin agreed that the U.S. ambassador to Russia and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., they can go back home, they can go back to their respective embassies. The Russian ambassador can go back to the U.S. embassy in Washington. The U.S. ambassador can go back to the American embassy in Moscow. Both of those ambassadors have been staying away since one of the recent rounds of U.S. sanctions on the Russian government, for them messing with our election, and for them poisoning and trying to kill Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

At their summit today, President Biden and President Putin also agreed to further dialogue between our two governments on a few important matters, including cyber attacks. Also on what they call strategic stability -- which sounds like nothing right, or at least it sounds like something you might do on a wobbly little platform at the gym.

Strategic stability, what does that even mean? In end of the world terms, what that means is that they`re going to talk about neither side having new nuclear weapons of some kind that don`t have an equivalent on the other side, because it is perceived to be unstable for one of our two countries to have the ability to wipe the other one off the map in the way that the other country couldn`t theoretically reciprocate. Seriously, that is the insanity of nuclear weapons thinking.

Sure, sure, sure, the world will end, but it will and equally. Because anything else is unstable. You have both sides having the ability to destroyed each other and the world several times over, that`s stable, that`s very stable. That`s a nice equipoise we can all live with comfortably, assuming there`s no accidents.

That`s what they mean when they say strategic stability, it is the most anodyne, problem-solving term and it is about the exact way we want to approach the end of the world as potentially effectuated by our two countries mutually, rather than in some unbalanced way. That`s strategic stability. Our countries will open a new dialogue about strategic stability, for people who know these things say that is good, the people who know these things that we`ll also have scary minds, because they`ve got to think about this stuff all the time.

President Biden at his press conference after the meeting, he seemed sort of -- I mean, your mileage may vary on how you perceive the president, may effect how you saw him today. To me, he seemed sort of grounded and satisfied with how it went.

President Biden said he believed it was important for he and President Putin to meet in person. He said, quote, I did what I came to do. He said the tone of the discussion with Putin was good and positive. He described it as neither strident, nor hyperbolic and said that`s important. That`s the way it needs to be.

If you had the sense though that this means we`re friends now, we`re not friends now. President Biden both took pains to say that no threats were issued by either side in today`s discussions, but then he also made sure to share with the press this not very subtle threat that he says he left in Putin`s proverbial lap.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And before I take your questions, I want to say one last thing: folks, look, this is about -- this is about how we move from here. This is -- I listen to, again, a significant portion of what President Putin`s press conference was. And as he pointed out, this is about practical, straightforward, no nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make.

For example, when I talked about the pipeline that cyber hit for $5 million, that ransomware hits in the United States, I looked at him and say how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said it would matter.

This is not about just our self interest. This is about a mutual self interest. I`ll take your questions.


MADDOW: And then he took questions.

I looked at him and said, well, how would you feel about our cyberattack taking down the pipelines from your oil fields? President Putin.

According to President Biden, he said it would matter. You`ve got your Russian cyber attack shutting down our pipeline on the East Coast, you -- physically, you are the largest country on earth, with an economy smaller than Italy`s, in part because your government is terrible and also because there is no Russian economy other than oil, but because of your corruption and your terrible governance, even your oil sector, the entire basis of your economy is backward and decrepit, you think cyberattacks on us are no big deal? Cyberattacks on our fuel infrastructure is no big deal, really? You want to put yourself on the line here to?


BIDEN: I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability and he knows it. He doesn`t exactly what it is but it is significant. And if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond. Cyber. He knows.


MADDOW: He knows.

President Putin for his part today, he denied all Russian responsibility for any cyber attacks on the United States at all, also for the attacks his government mounted against our elections in 2016 and 2020.

But President Putin seemed to swarm the hardest under questioning from U.S. reporters. He was asked multiple times for example, about Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who was very nearly assassinated with Russian military grade nerve agents, and who Putin has had in prison ever since Navalny survived that poisoning attempt, and then came back to Russia.

President Putin said today that Alexei Navalny is only in prison because he quote, consciously, consciously, chose not to check in in person with Russian security services while he was out of the country being treated for that poisoning. Putin actually use the word consciously.

Alexei Navalny was literally unconscious at the time. He was in a coma because Russian security agents dosed him with a military grade nerve agent. So, he wasn`t making decisions about anything, let him know making a conscious decision to check in with Russian security services while he laid in a coma in Germany fighting for his life because Russian security people tried to kill him with a military grade nerve agent from the Russian military. Yeah, he didn`t think to check in.

I`m not sure if Vladimir Putin knows that he gave a lacking stock answer there because in Russia I don`t think anybody gets caught laughing at him, but really, consciously that`s the word you`re using?

ABC News reporter Rachel Scott pressed him on Navalny today and on related matters. The exchange actually between reporter Rachel Scott and President Putin, to my eye, was the moment that was probably the most important public exchange of the whole day.


RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS: If I may, sir, the list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long. Alexei Navalny, an organization called for free and fair elections and end to corruption, but Russia has outlawed that organization calling it extremist. You have not prevented anyone who supports him to run for office.

So, my question is, Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It`s not prohibited. They`re not prohibited from working. They can continue to operate. Foreign agents don`t need to stop operating. If they are extremist in nature, then that`s another issue. The organization you mentioned has been -- has publicly called for a mass disorder.

SCOTT: You didn`t answer my question, sir. If all your political opponents are dead, imprisoned, poisoned, doesn`t that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight?

PUTIN: As for who is killing whom, and throwing home in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands. 400 people, over 400 people had criminal charges that were placed on them.


MADDOW: ABC News congressional correspondent Rachel Scott driving Vladimir Putin to spluttering today, flummoxing him to the point where he started going, oh, what about January 6th? What about that? What about? What about?

President Putin actually repeatedly brought up today the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol essentially implying that he was on the side of the Trump supporters who thought that day that they could reverse the presidential election results by force with a violent attack on the Capitol to stop the certifying of the election results. It`s a remarkable thing to see from him.

Not long after Biden and Putin `s press conferences wrapped up in Geneva, "The Washington Post" broke this very interesting new story about the days leading up to the January 6th attack and how President Trump actually made some progress in those days in trying to get the U.S. Justice Department to act on his behalf, to flip the election result, or otherwise stop the election results from being made official.

"The Post" story was based on this bombshell email that was released by the oversight committee yesterday. But they also supplemented that with source material, and with interviews, with people who were involved in or who were briefed on those events in those fraught three or so weeks after the election, and in the immediate days leading up to the U.S. Capitol attack. As we reported last night, Justice Department officials were not passive in their response when Trump and his White House chief of staff and Trump allies, acting on the president`s behalf, try to get the U.S. Justice Department to take action based on these moonbat wingnut claims that it must of been election fraud in the states that Joe Biden won.

"The Post" notes in his reporting tonight, quote: The department did examine some of the claims from Trump, and top Justice Department officials forwarded some of the material from Trump allies to U.S. attorneys in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In other words, as we reported last night, they did not passively receive it and make sure the pressure for the White House went to no further than them. Top officials of the Justice Department, they actually passed down to prosecutors in the relevant states.

Now, when it comes to Georgia, there is very interesting to reporting here from the Washington Post. Quote: One relatively high ranking Justice Department lawyer named Jeffrey Clark seemed to entertain Trump`s requests, pushing internally to have the Justice Department assert that fraud in the state of Georgia was the cause for that state`s lawmaker -- excuse me, was caused for that state`s lawmakers to disregard Georgia`s election results and appoints new presidential electors.

Trump contemplated installing Jeff Clark as attorney general. Clark was then running both the environment and national resources division and also the civil division of the Justice Department. And he, unlike others in the Justice Department, was more sympathetic to Trump`s claims of election fraud.

According to people familiar with the matter, Jeff Clark became particularly focused on Georgia, trying to persuade Justice Department leaders that they should issue a letter that argued the Georgia`s elections were affected by fraud, and that -- as a consequence -- Georgia`s lawmakers should disregard the presidential result, and instead, appoint their own electors, meaning, have the Republicans at the state pick Trump electors instead of the states electors who work for Biden because Biden actually won the state.

According to two people familiar with the matter, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen tried to convince Jeff Clark that his theories were misguided. On New Year`s Day, he shared with Jeff Clark, the cell phone number of B.J. Pak, who was then the U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta. Two people familiar with the matter said that Rosen was hopeful that the U.S. attorney could convince Jeff Clark there was no widespread fraud in Georgia.

After giving Jeffrey -- excuse me, after giving Jeff Clark the U.S. attorney`s phone number, Rosen circle back the next day, asking Clark in an email, were you able to follow up?

In a meeting at the White House, two days later, January 3rd, according to two people familiar with the matter, President Trump complained that he wanted to fire the Georgia U.S. attorney, B.J. Pak, who he felt was not doing enough to uncover fraud in Georgia. The people said, participants of the meetings told the president that B.J. Pak intended to leave anyway, that he need not take the step of firing him. Just after 10:00 p.m. that night, an email shows a senior Justice Department official named Richard Donoghue, emailed the U.S. attorney, emailed B.J. Pak, writing on the subject line, please call ASAP.

Two people familiar with the matter said the official conveyed to B.J. Pak what was said at the meeting about him. Early the next morning, Pak informed staff he was stepping down. He was then replaced by a new U.S. attorney, a man named Bobby Christine, who Trump viewed as more amenable to his voter fraud claims.

This is the fullest accounting of that incident that we`ve had. The president pushing these bogus election fraud claims in Georgia because he does not want to have lost Georgia. He is threatening Georgia officials, right, we now know, telling them they need to define enough votes to declare him the winner.

He`s got a guy he is trying to install as the new attorney general, planning to install as the new attorney general who wants the Justice Department to infect right to Georgia and tell them that they can`t certify their results. They need -- their election results were -- were infected with fraud and new electors should be appointed.

The U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in Georgia got calls from Main Justice, by that official, who wanted to tell Georgia officially from the Justice Department that Georgia needed to uncertify their elections and instead say Trump won.

The U.S. attorney, after receiving that call, and getting follow-up calls from the White House, resigns, under circumstances still not clear.

There is an active criminal investigation underway in the state of Georgia into the president`s actions when he tried to interject himself into the process. He tried to influence election officials, to try to get them to alter the election outcome in that state. It`s been investigated by multiple congressional committees, and by the Justice Department congressional investigator, it`s also being investigated as a criminal manner by a state prosecutor in the state of Georgia.

What was said to that U.S. attorney who resigned? What was said to him by the Justice Department official who called him up from when we no want to Georgia to undo its election results? What was said to him in the call from the White House? Why did he resign? What did they try to get him to do?

This is starting to look like a pretty good map of the potential crime scene for an ongoing criminal investigation.

Joining us now is Amy Gardner. She is a "Washington Post" national political reporter. She is one of four "Post" reporters who are byline on the story today.

Ms. Gardner, it`s really nice to have you here. Thanks for making time tonight.


MADDOW: So, this piece today is a great, sort of, connecting of the dots and bringing together of a lot of different sources of information, including interviews with people involved in or briefed on these events. In terms of the pressure that was put on Justice Department officials, what are the unanswered questions here? One of the black boxes that aren`t answered either in the emails or in the interviews that you and your colleagues conducted than either a criminal investigation or congressional investigation might be able to get it?

GARDNER: Well, I can tell you what I`m really curious about, I`m certainly curious about exactly what promoted BJP act to resign, as you just alluded to. I think that there a couple of different possibilities, and we just don`t know what happened.

It seems as if Rich Donoghue called him to say that Trump was displeased with him and that that conversation prompted Mr. Pak to resign. That does not mean that Pak was -- asked to do something that he did not want to do.

It could mean that he -- this is a man who`s planning to resign anyway already announced his plans to resign. He saw that he was going to be a distraction in the efforts in Main Justice to sort of fend off President Trump`s efforts to overturn the election. So, we just don`t know what exactly happened there.

The other thing that I`m really curious about is that you talked about Jeff Clark, the assistant attorney general over in environment and civil who was eager than some of the other leadership at DOJ to help President Trump find evidence of fraud. What was the evidence that he was pursuing? And who was he talking to, to seek out that evidence?

There is one exchange in the emails that we have got yesterday where he talks about -- where the acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen, says, did you talk to B.J. Pak? And we know from our reporting that he wanted Mr. Pak to explain to Mr. Clark that there was not widespread fraud in Georgia and that he should back off, that this was a fools errand.

But instead, Mr. Clark responds to Rosen in his email, no, I did not talk to Pak. He says, I spoke to the source, and on with the guy who took the video right now, working on it, more diligence to do. We have no idea what he`s talking about here. What video? What guy?

I mean, there are videos shot, as we all know, of election workers, and voting equipment contractors, doing their jobs that were wildly misinterpreted by conspiracy theorists. People had death threats. There was a noose hung in the front lawn of one worker for Dominion Voting in Georgia.

Was he speaking to somebody who took videos like that? Who in some cases had, you know, relationships with QAnon? Was he a senior leader in the DOJ who is going to have QAnon relationships to find evidence of fraud in the 2020 election? I mean, that is my biggest question that I don`t know the answers to right now.

MADDOW: And, Amy, we also know from these emails, as you guys point out and your reporting tonight, that some of these complaints from President Trump and his allied forces were actually sent down the line to U.S. attorneys in both Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan and also to a U.S. attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

From my read through those emails, there is very little indication of what if anything came of those communications. I think those -- for my read about the way that is emails are being received and what we are learning, I`m not sure that anybody is heads up about this is I am. I find a very concerning that senior officials of Main Justice are putting the stuff down the line to federal prosecutors rather than sitting on at themselves, and absorbing the pressure themselves.

By passing it on from Main Justice to actually U.S. attorneys in the field, it would seem like that`s an important act of furtherance to what the president was trying to accomplish. But do we know anything about how those materials were received in Michigan, or in Pennsylvania?

GARDNER: I have a slightly different take on that. I think that there was some protection going on by senior leaders in the Main Justice in regards to the U.S. attorneys out in the field. I think they were trying to signal to the White House that they were listening and doing what they`re being asked to do.

But you can see in those emails, you know, there will be no that says please take a look at this for what it`s worth. I`m paraphrasing, I don`t have it in front of me. But, you know, there`s a phrase like, for what it`s worth.

I also had one conversation with former Justice Department official who told me that the -- if -- if the leadership of Main Justice wants a U.S. attorney to run something down to the ground, it`s a phone call, it`s not an email.

And I also learned that these sort of tips or conspiracy theories, whatever you want to call them, were investigated and the fact that we never learned of anything, never learned of, you know, charges, grand juries being you, know, as to, you know, indict, is actually evidence that they were investigated and alternate explanations for what they were allege were discovered.

So I do think that there was a bit of a nuance or strategy on the part of senior leadership at the Justice to not, you know, slam the door in the face of the White House officials who were emailing them, including Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff. But also sort of slow walking like they were doing internally to make sure that this does not go too far.

MADDOW: Yeah, at least until one U.S. attorney, through this process, found himself enough in the crosshairs that the president was sounding often meetings about wanting to fire him. He got that communicated to him, apparently, from that meeting, and within a few hours he was out.

I mean, at least, one of them was -- it cost him his job. Boy, do I want to know more of the circumstances. We`ll get them in time.

Amy Gardner is "Washington Post" political reporter, congratulations to you and your colleagues on this important advance in the story. Thanks for helping us understand it.

GARDNER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right, we`ve got much more ahead here tonight. Busy news night. Stay with us.


MADDOW: When President Vladimir Putin held his press conference earlier today, the room was packed with the journalist and also with translators. President Putin actually does speak English but he makes a habit of not doing so in public. So, non-Russian speaking reporters needed to have their questions to him translated into Russian.

But at least one reported there for the Wall Street Journal today, she did not need her question translated into Russian. She needed it translated for her colleagues in the room in English.


ANN SIMMONS, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (through translator): Mr. President, thank you very much for affording me the opportunity of asking you a question. A few years ago, you met President Biden, that was when he was vice president. What he said was that he looked you in the eye and he said that you didn`t see a soul, and you said that means we understand one another.

Did you -- tell me please, did you look him in the eye and what did you see there? Did you see a person, a person you can work?


MADDOW: That was Ann Simmons, "Wall Street Journal`s" Moscow bureau chief, , obviously, fluent in Russian asking President Putin to recall his meeting ten years ago with then Vice President Biden, when Biden reportedly said to him, Mr. Prime Minister, I`m looking into your eye and I don`t think you have a soul.

Here is part of what Putin said in response to Ms. Simmons` question today.


PUTIN: As for the soul, seeing it or not seeing something -- well, this is not the first time I`ve heard this. Frankly speaking, I don`t recall this conversation, but I will allow that it happened and escaped my attention. But if you ask me, if you ask me what`s sort of partner, what`s sort of a conversational partner Biden is, I`d say he`s very constructive, he`s very balanced, just the way that I expected. He`s very experienced. You can tell that at first glance.

And what I think --


MADDOW: Joining us now from Geneva is the reporter who asked President Putin that question, eliciting that remarkable response from him about how it isn`t the first time he`s heard about people looking at him and wondering if he had a soul.

Ann Simmons is the "The Wall Street Journal" Moscow bureau chief.

Ms. Simmons, it`s a real pleasure to have you here tonight. I know it`s been a very long day. Thank you for being with us.

SIMMONS: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Mr. Putin went on in his answer to you to conclude effectively by saying that this was not a relationship where he and the president of the United States needed to like each other. This is a pragmatic relationship in which they both needed to represent their countries. I just wanted to get your take on whether that was a satisfying answer, whether you think he was telling you the full truth there?

SIMMONS: Well, I think the Russians came into this, particularly Mr. Putin, really not wanting to create any type of conflict, that was from both sides. So there was kind of a tempering of the tensions that we have noticed in recent days.

And so, Mr. Putin was very much in the mode of, I`m not going to rock the boat here, I`m going to be a little bit complimentary which he was, but that`s not to say that tensions do not exist. There were many areas where both of these presidents, both Washington and Moscow, still do not agree. And that certainly came out during the course of their talks.

MADDOW: As somebody who is fluent in Russian and was able to ask that question of President Putin in Russian, I particularly wanted to talk to you tonight, Ann, to ask you about what`s seemed in translation to be a troubling or unsettling word choice by President Putin, when he was asked, one of the several questions he faced about Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia who is now in jail who has narrowly survived an assassination attempt. He described Navalny as having consciously, meaning consciously chosen to break Russian law when he was treated after that assassination attempt in Germany and because he wasn`t Germany and part of that time in a coma, he missed meetings with Russian security services who he was supposed to check in with.

That consciously, word from him, I think through everybody back in their chairs in translation. Did it have a different meaning in Russian?

SIMMONS: No. He really did want to make the point that Mr. Navalny knew that he would be in trouble if he came back to Russia. Mr. Navalny, according to Mr. Putin, knew that he had broken the rules, he had violated Russian law and that if you`ve returned he would be in the hot waters.

So very much so, he was making the point that Mr. Navalny has gotten what he deserved. He`s making the point basically that Mr. Navalny would not be imprisoned now if he had not come back to Russia. But he came back, consciously made the decision to return.

MADDOW: Do you think that president Putin and his government might have been surprise today but the repeated questioning about Mr. Navalny? Obviously, Mr. Biden said he pressed him on it and referred to that several times, but you get repeated questions and at time aggressive questioning about the treatment of Navalny, will that have been something that they expected or would that have been more than what they bargained for?

SIMMONS: I think they absolutely expected to get questions about Mr. Navalny, because the foreign press, the foreign media in Russia has been quite aggressive, quite assertive in asking questions of the Kremlin about this opposition leader. I don`t think it came as a surprise at all.

I believe that Mr. Putin was probably thinking if I don`t hear a question about Mr. Navalny, that would be the surprise.

So, certainly, Mr. Putin never mentions Mr. Navalny by name, as you know. He always says when he was in Germany, he refers to him at being the Berlin patient and right now, he would say the person in prison, or the person detained. He never mentions his name.

But certainly the question came up, do you fear Mr. Navalny? And Mr. Putin has kind of skirted answering that question. But in the past he has definitely said, of course, I do not.

MADDOW: Ann Simmons, "Wall Street Journal" Moscow bureau chief, it has been a full 24 hour a day for you already, at minimum -- thank you for staying up with a so late. Ann, thank you for your time tonight.

SIMMONS: Thank you so much.

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


MADDOW: When Michael McFaul was tapped by President Obama to be the U.S. ambassador to Russia, President Putin and his government decided that they would Michael McFaul a bogeyman. McFaul details the whole thing in a book that he wrote, called from "Cold War to Hot Piece".

In the book, he explains that basically as soon as he was named to be the U.S. ambassador, state-run Russian TV started denouncing him, saying that he had no business being invested or that he was some kind of operative who was an expert in destabilizing governments and starting revolutions. They also denounced him tellingly as a really, really close friend of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Now Michael McFaul at that point had met Alexei Navalny precisely once, and while Ambassador McFaul is a very nice guy who makes fast friends he is not that fast. As the ambassador to Russia, not only did Mr. McFaul continue to meet with Russian opposition leaders and independent media, he went out of his way to be seen doing it as a sort of unbowed message about the U.S. government support for democracy, and for free expression and for a free press, in the United States, in Russia, all over the world.

And Russian state media treated that like it was the crime of the century. They would do stake outs and released video montage is of every Russian political figure, and independent journalist who ever visited the U.S. embassy. They would put the footage on screen over titles like, obtaining instructions from the U.S. embassy, like they caught these people being spies or traitors.

President Biden`s summit meeting with President Putin today was of course behind closed doors but when talking to the press afterwards, President Biden spoke at length about how much discussions of Russian opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny and independent media outlets like Radio Free Europe were at the core of his conversations today with President Putin. He even went out of his way to the question from the Radio Free Europe reporter.

What were the consequences of that? What will that mean for Russian opposition leaders and independent media outlets in Russia to have an American president standing up for them so bluntly? And confronting President Putin so bluntly over his fear of opposition and his fear of a free press?

We know from experience the kind of thing that drive the Kremlin nuts. What will happen inside Russia, as a consequence of how President Biden pushes those issues today?

If feel like nobody`s in a better position to talk about that than our former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. I should also note that he was involved in briefing president Biden before the summit today.

Michael McCaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russian under President Obama joins us live now.

Mr. Ambassador, it is great to see you. Thank you for staying up until the middle of nowhere -- middle of the night to be with us tonight.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Glad to be with you as always, Rachel.

MADDOW: What are likely to be the consequences, if any, of today`s events for Russian opposition figures, for independent in Russia? It feels like the Kremlin has felt totally unconstrained in the way it`s been going after the opposition and the media lately. What will today do to affect that if anything?

MCFAUL: Well, first, you`re absolutely right. 2021 will go down in Russian history as one of the most autocratic years we`ve had since the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think you have to go deep into the Soviet Union to remember a time that has been so oppressive.

And so, I was delighted. I have to say, honestly, to hear the president of the United States, again, talk about democracy and human rights like traditionally we used to. But it was important I think to what President Biden said today.

He named Navalny. He did not shy away from him. I don`t know if you remember but in a previous presidency, he would not use his name either just like Vladimir Putin.

And I can tell you, I spoke to Navalny supporters after that press conference, they heard that voice of support. It doesn`t mean that things are going to change overnight. But it does mean that they are hearing that people who believe in democracy outside of their own country are thinking about them. And there`s this feeling of solidarity I would say about ideas that are shared between Russians and Americans.

MADDOW: In terms of how things went, today you know about the closed-door meetings, and what we all saw on terms of the press conferences, you have any regrets or worries, or things that got in a different way?

MCFAUL: You know, once they set the meeting, that put a lot of pressure on President Biden and his team. We are all here in Geneva because we want to cover this summit, even the where the summit is a dangerous word in my view. But once the meeting was set I think was orchestrated pretty well, actually, incredibly well.

The buildup was right, meet with democratic allies first in a series of meetings. Come here. The orchestration in terms of the protocol was perfect, Biden showed up second, that`s important, there were note takers in the room, that`s important. And they didn`t do a joint press conference. That was fantastic.

By the way, fantastic because a great journalist by like Ann Simmons got to ask President Putin some pretty tough questions. That would not have happened had there been a joint presser with two or three questions on the side. So that was good.

And I would say, on the substance, let`s be honest, there is not that much accomplished. Maybe steps towards strategic stability stalks, sending our ambassadors back. But remember, Putin was the one who removed his ambassador. He`s just restoring him on his own. We did not have anything to do with that.

But it was important, you need to engage with Putin, I think that that`s right. And now, they have to go home and do their homework, they have a strategy of containing Putin as well.

MADDOW: Mr. McFaul, do you believe that it is of significance either domestically pasha or domestically in the United States that Putin keeps bringing up January 6th as if the people who attacked the U.S. capital to try to stop the certifying of the election, as if those people are, should be seen as political prisoners, or that Russia is on their side in some way? Is this just a diversion, a deliberate verbal provocation? Or do you see that as potentially consequential either there or here?

MCFAUL: For me, Rachel, it was the worst moment of Mr. Putin`s press conference today, to compare the peaceful organization that Mr. Navalny had, which is fighting corruption with those that use violence to storm our Capitol. One side is fighting peacefully for democracy. The other side is doing the exact opposite.

That is classic Putin what about-ism. But here`s another dimension. He is siding with Mr. Trump and the people that support Mr. Trump.

And I think people forget that, yes, there is a battle between democratic states and autocratic states. The president rightly spoke about that today and throughout this trip. But there`s also a battle within states between democrats and autocrats. There`s a fight going on in Russia and there`s also a fight going on in the United States of America, and by the way, in other European countries as well.

And that`s the kind of linkage that Putin thinks he is fighting. He thinks it`s an ideological battle he`s doing it on purpose to rally supporters, and tragically, it`s having some success in Europe and in the United States as well.

MADDOW: Michael McFaul, who is U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama, who helped prepare President Biden`s this meeting today with President Putin. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time tonight, particularly given the very late hour and how long this has been going on. Thanks very much.

MCFAUL: I will always get up or stay up for you, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: You are very kind.

All right, we`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This was interesting today on voting rights. There`s only one Democrat in the Senate who isn`t cosponsoring the big voting rights bill, Senate bill one, the For the People Act. Forty-nine of 50 Democratic senators on board with it, but not Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Earlier this month, he, of course, published an op-ed saying that he wouldn`t vote for it if no Republicans would vote for, the neither would he. The Senate Republican leader has said in fact, not a single Republican will vote for a voting rights bill, so that would seem to be the end of that.

But then today, interesting news. Senator Manchin today released a list of what he called a compromise proposal on voting rights. A list of things that he likes and that he apparently thinks could get lots of Republicans support. He then, noisily, held a meeting with eight Republican senators to discuss his proposal on voting rights.

The problem here though is the math. Say for arguments sake that only Democrats give Joe Manchin everything he wants on this bill. They all agreed to still vote for it even others amongst stuff in there the Democrats don`t like. And say that Manchin miraculously convinces all eight of these Republican senators, that he speaking with, they should also support the bill. That would still be enough votes to pass it over a Republican filibuster, even under the unrealistically auspicious circumstances I just described.

Unless Senator Manchin is willing to change the Senate rules so that at least voting rights bills can be filibustered, he`s proposing this compromise for absolutely nothing.

Senator Manchin says that he wants to pass a voting rights bill. The math doesn`t work, though. The coverage of this should reflect that.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight. I will see you again right here tomorrow night.


Good evening, Lawrence.