IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 7/2/21

Guests: David Fahrenthold, Rebecca Roipe, Ashish Jha, Manuel Oliver

Summary

Trump Organization charged for 15-year tax fraud scheme. Trump organization, CFO Weisselberg charged for off-the-books compensation scheme. Mary Trump: I don`t believe Donald Trump`s children will show loyalty to him. White House says U.S. is not on track to meet July 4 vaccination target. NRA Board Member unwittingly delivers speech at ceremony to honor gun violence victims, Ceremony honors victims of gun violence who were supposed to graduate this year. Woman heading to space 60 years after losing her chance to become an astronaut.

Transcript

ALI VELSI, MSNBC HOST: Special two-hour edition of The Rachel Maddow Show. We will hear from Rachel little later. But we will begin this hour in Panama. Until a couple of years ago, if you found yourself traveling to Panama City, the capital of the Central American nation of Panama, you could if you were so inclined check into the Trump International Hotel and tower, a 70-storey building built to resemble a billowing sail and containing the hotel managed by the Trump Organization.

But after Donald Trump became president, the owners of that hotel began trying to fire the Trump Organization from running the hotel because they said the Trump Organization had so mismanaged the hotel and the Trump brand was so toxic, the hotel was being run into the ground. The dispute between the hotel owners and the Trump Organization management eventually rose to the level of physical altercations.

At one point, when representatives of the hotel owners tried to get into the main office, Trump`s security guard shoved and manhandled them out the door. The police were called to the hotel several times because of confrontations like this. At one point, personnel working for the owner cut the power.

The owner claimed that the Trump personnel were seeing shredding business documents in the midst of all this, the Trump Organization has denied all of it. Ultimately, though, in March of 2018, the Trump Organization was evicted from the property. A Panamanian judge sided with the hotel`s owner and the police were sent in one last time to oust the Trump management.

And once the Trump management was gone, it was time to say - it was - it was time to deal with the Trump sign. The Trump name was pried off of Donald Trump`s only Hotel in Latin America literally, removed unceremoniously letter by letter. And given what we know of Donald Trump, one has to assume this was the most painful part of all.

Goodness knows he really likes to put his name on things, but this sort of thing has been happening over and over. Property by property ever since Donald Trump was elected president. His name was taken off his hotel in my hometown Toronto, was also taken off his Hotel in New York Soho neighborhood. The Trump name has gone from a luxury hotel project in Brazil.

The tenants of at least six apartment buildings in New York City voted to remove his name from their facades and more are expected to do so soon. Officials in New York, Chicago and Vancouver are all in the process of trying to get Trump`s name removed from various properties in those cities in particular, because they say they have a civic interest in not having the name of a man who fomented an insurrection against the United States plastered across their skylines in giant letters.

In other words, the Trump brand is already a brand in crisis, it has been for years seems like maybe the Trump Organization as a business and a brand might not be in a position to withstand a 10 count felony indictment, plus 15 felony counts against its chief financial officer, but don`t take it for me.

Ask the people who used to work there in its upper ranks. Former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res tells Bloomberg News, "This is it. I think it`s going to destroy the Trump Empire." A former Trump Org executive vice president says, "It`s the beginning of the end of the brand and not just because of public perception." Bloomberg notes that, "When financier see the charges, their thoughts may turn to the company`s ability to refinance more than $590 million of debt coming due within the next four years - more than half of which Trump personally guaranteed."

Because as one former prosecutor points out, "The direct consequences of any criminal conviction could be a massive fine, probation or some type of court supervision." And as we know, Donald Trump has already alienated almost every bank on earth that could conceivably loan him money. The Washington Post David Fahrenthold, who has done some of the deepest, most granular reporting over the last few years on Donald Trump`s businesses, including I should say, on that amazing Panama City story.

Well, today, David Fahrenthold, and his colleagues Jonathan O`Connell and Josh Dawsey spoke with a couple of Trumps biographers to try to put these latest charges in perspective. Both of them said the indictment of the Trump Organization comes during what appears to be the company`s most difficult moment since Trump`s financial crash in the early 1990s.

"During that period, Trump found himself hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, and he lost control of prized assets, including an airline, a yacht and New York`s Plaza Hotel. His business empire did not fully recover for a decade until Trump gained television fame and made 10s of millions as the star of NBC`s The Apprentice."

Well, needless to say, Trump seems unlikely to be saved by a lucrative new network television contract any - anytime soon. But another thing to keep in mind in terms of the health of the Trump Organization, is the charges filed against the CFO Allen Weisselberg, not just because of his personal legal liability, or the pressure on him to turn on his boss but because of what it could mean for the company, if anything happens to him.

One Trump biographer tells David Fahrenthold that quote, if Weisselberg were to unexpectedly leave the company whether for reasons related to the case or not, it could cause a major disruption

One Trump biographer tells David Fahrenthold that quote, if Weisselberg were to unexpectedly leave the company whether for reasons related to the case or not, it could cause a major disruption. Weisselberg has effectively run the business with Trump for several decades, managing the details and the finances while Trump has built his brand and cut deals.

The Trump Organization is a web of hundreds of interrelated limited liability companies, making it unusually difficult to run for run for a relatively small company. "It was Weisselberg job to keep everything straight." Well, joining us now is that reporter, the Washington Post`s David Fahrenthold. He was the first to report on the existence of the special grand jury in this case back in May.

This week, he was the first to report that the grand jury had filed criminal indictments against the Trump Organization and against its Chief Financial Officer. So, David, thanks for your time tonight. I know you`ve been busy. Give us a sense of what the financial situation is right now for the Trump Organization.

What - What do we know about how much of a going concern this business actually is?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, obviously, the private company, doesn`t put out public statements about it - about its cash flow. But here`s what we do know. It`s shrunk. As you said, it`s lost a lot of hotels it`s lost. One of its biggest cash generators, which was the merchandising business, think about all the Trump - Trump suits, Trump eyeglasses, Trump water, Trump the fragrance, all of this stuff that generated money for Trump for nothing for no work and no effort, just other people paid him to put his name on their stuff, that`s gone.

In addition to the hotels that suffered and those that are gone, COVID took a big bite out of his properties, by you know, ending the tourism business for almost all of 2022 so his business was in dire shape at the beginning of 2021. Then came the January 6 insurrection at Trump`s role in it, which drove away more lenders, more business partners, a PGA Tour event, the British Open.

And now on top of all of that, we have this indictment which you know, they haven`t been convicted of anything yet, but it adds legal costs and uncertainty at a time when the business as you said, it`s already it`s one of its lowest ebb since 1990.

VELSHI: You know, I think about companies that are convicted, it`s not something that happens very much. We remember Arthur Andersen, you know, back in the early 2000s. That was that was ultimately overturned, but it wrecked the business. But that`s a different kind of business. That was an accounting business. It had clients who said we don`t want to be associated with it.

Is the Trump Organization, that kind of business or does it run on its own?

FAHRENTHOLD: I don`t think it will be as devastating. Obviously, Arthur Andersen was an auditing business. You can`t audit people if you`ve been convicted of a felony. It`s hard to have government contracts, Trump Organization does. It`s not really that much of a regulated business. So, it doesn`t need money licenses to operate that it might lose if it`s convicted.

They might have trouble with its lenders, there might be trouble with liquor licenses, which are really crucial to making money off its hotels and golf clubs. I don`t think that conviction would be an automatic death sentence for it, the way that it was for Arthur Andersen.

That said it adds stigma on top of stigma and might make it even harder for this company to, as you said refinance its loans, find a business partners, move on from the hole that it`s in.

VELSHI: There`s stuff that was alleged, that is alleged to be illegal. At best, it`s unsavory. It may be more common than we think, people have brought that up that the kinds of things the expensing of the - you know, the unorthodox business practices that the Trump Organization allegedly practiced, they, you`ve seen these before you`ve - you`ve reported on this company in the past, did these charges surprise you?

FAHRENTHOLD: They didn`t surprise me, only in that there seemed to be such a deliberate effort to deceive here. I covered the Trump foundation a few years ago at this little charity Trump ran and that ran afoul of all kinds of different laws, and they blame, they`re what - we just did know we were doing, we didn`t know how to run a charity, we didn`t bother to learn and we made these mistakes through sloppiness.

This thing, on the other hand seems to be mistakes, not mistakes, deceit done purposefully, if you recall, the indictment says there was a second set of books the Trump Organization created where they kept track of the real compensation for their employees. And then they showed the IRS and state tax authorities another set of books in which some of that compensation was hidden.

People that I talk to that know this world say like that is the - that`s manna from heaven for a tax fraud prosecutor in that both you`re showing that you understood that what you`re doing is wrong because you`re keeping a ledger that hides things from the government and also you kept track of exactly how much you hidden from the government.

This isn`t something where they have to go back and recreate how much money was given out. You have a record. The Trump Organization has a record of the cash that they should have paid taxes on and they didn`t.

VELSHI: Let`s talk about the loans. This company owes money. Donald Trump owes money. This has been a major concern of his for some time. He`s always been able to not only refinance, but this guy gets better terms than you know, folks who have no you know, no, no, no, no strikes against them.

What happens now how serious is that, that he`s got more than half a billion dollars of loans that are that are coming up?

FAHRENTHOLD: It was a serious situation. It was serious before this indictment. It`s serious now. The bigger problem for him is not the indictment but rather the nature of the properties in which he has these loans. A couple of them his Doral property down in Florida, his DC hotel, they don`t make money, they - they don`t make enough money to pay off the huge loans and the DC hotel that was clear at the beginning when he got this giant loan.

He was never going to make enough money to pay it back. And that was before he destroyed his brand with politics. So all along, I think people have thought, OK, Trump needs to refinance these loans, he`s never going to be able to pay them off. Again, looking from outside, we don`t know what his balance sheet says. That`s going to be harder to find somebody to refinance them.

That said, Trump`s entire life has been a sort of an objective lesson on the idea that there`s a sucker born every minute, and if he just tries hard enough, there`ll be somebody who will save him. So, I think it`s way too early to say he can`t get out of this mess. He`s always found a way out before, but certainly his options have narrowed.

VELSHI: He always has found a way out before. Interesting to follow the story with you, The Washington Post reporter, David Fahrenthold. Always good to see you, my friend. Thank you. Well, up next, the latest on the actual charges against the Trump Organization and its CFO and how far that investigation could - could go. And Rachel is coming up later in the show. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Among others, it appears that Ivanka Trump benefited from the type of scheme that`s described at the end of the indictment, today. The indictment says other executives also benefited from that scheme. And now we`ve got solid reporting that the investigation continues, that raises the prospect that further charges could be brought against his children.

MARY TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP`S NEICE: Yes, it does. And I again, I think they should be quite anxious right now. I think he would be surprised to learn that I don`t believe my cousins would exert that kind of exercise, that kind of loyalty towards him because his relationship with them and their relationship with him is entirely transactional. So, and conditional, I should say. So, they`re not going to risk anything for him, just as he wouldn`t risk anything for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That`s a crazy thing for someone to be saying about parents and their children. They`re not going to risk anything for him, just as he wouldn`t risk anything for them. That`s what Donald Trump`s niece, Mary Trump told Rachel last night about how she thinks Donald Trump`s children would react if they were swept up in the New York investigation that just resulted in criminal charges against Trump`s Chief Financial Officer, as well as the Trump business itself.

As we enter the next phase of this criminal case, the big question is where will prosecutors take this next? How confident should Donald Trump be that Allen Weisselberg will remain loyal to him? Who else at the Trump Organization might end up walking into a New York State courtroom in handcuffs?

Joining us now former Manhattan, assistant district attorney Rebecca Roiphe. Rebecca, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us. You know, Michael Cohen, pointed out this week, something that has been pointed out over the years and that one`s reality, no matter how important they are, or even wealthy, one`s reality changes, when there are charges of this level of this magnitude filed against you. And when those handcuffs go on, it makes you rethink your priorities.

REBECCA ROIPHE, FMR ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MANHATTAN: Yes, I mean, that`s a 100 percent true. And he`s speaking, obviously, from personal experience. But you know, as a prosecutor, you realize that this is true, you know, I think it`s most helpful to have somebody`s cooperation at the very beginning of an investigation.

But sometimes prosecutors can`t get that, and they need to wait to a later - till a later phase, when the reality really sets in for somebody to agree to cooperate. And you know, the key question here, as you say, everybody`s speculating, why did they come down with this indictment of the organization if they`re waiting to bring charges against somebody else?

And to me, what`s really clear about this particular indictment, there were two things. One is, this is a really strong indictment. It shows 15 years of, you know, off the books, compensation scheme. And the question is, who was this designed to benefit? And it`s not convincing, once you read this indictment, it`s really clear that it wasn`t Allen Weisselberg.

The prosecutors do not think this was a scheme that was designed to benefit Allen Weisselberg there. It has to be a scheme that was designed to benefit somebody else and so given the fact that there were all these other executives involved, given the fact that there was that detailed set of other records that David Fahrenthold was talking about, this is not a one- man game.

So, there are all these other people. The prosecutors know that there are all these other people. The question is, how can they get to from what they know to what they can prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt? And that`s the question mark that I think is really difficult to answer right now.

VELSHI: There`s a name that showed up some months ago for the first time, not a name that, you know, people who have followed the company very closely have talked about. And we know that there`s something called an unindicted conspiracy - co-conspirator in this case. CNN is reporting that that person or a person familiar with the investigation told them that the unindicted co-conspirator is Jeff McConney, the Trump organization`s longtime controller.

There`s a lot of information in there because Weisselberg was the CFO, the controller and the CFO and most companies work very closely together on detailed financial matters and have financial responsibility. What if anything, does this reporting mean to you?

ROIPHE: Well, you know, the conspiracy count to me is quite interesting, because you have to have an agreement in order to have a conspiracy, and then you have to have an act that is furthering that conspiracy. The act itself doesn`t have to be illegal but in order to make a conspiracy, you have to have both that agreement and the act.

So, you have to have Weisselberg agreeing with somebody to engage in this scheme to enrich himself and to enrich others. And so, you know, that makes a lot of sense but it would be the person who works, you know, basically directly below him who would be involved in this agreement. You know, again, the question mark is who else if anybody is involved?

And to me, that`s this question about when you think about it, who stands to benefit from this. And to a certain extent, it`s any of those executives who are named. Weisselberg is not only helping to create this situation in which he`s getting all of this compensation that`s hidden, made as if to seem like fringe benefits. There were others.

And so what were their - what was their involvement in this conspiracy if the conspiracy was between him, and, and McConney? That`s - that shows that that`s what the prosecutors can prove right now. But if there are others involved in that conspiracy, we just don`t know that yet. And we don`t know whether you know who those people might be, and whether prosecutors can prove that yet, or whether they`re waiting for a cooperator, somebody to flip in order to be able to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.

VELSHI: And one can never tell when and how that might happen. But this is obviously the first step, right? You file charges against them, people have their Come to Jesus moment and decide whether they are going to participate, or they are going to, as Donald Trump always hopes, stay loyal to Donald Trump and not do that.

Any sense as to how this plays out?

ROIPHE: I really don`t have a sense. But I do think that the fact that this was a far stronger indictment than anybody thought it would be puts increasing pressure on those individuals to cooperate. I`ll tell you another thing that I think is really important about this, which was, I feel like it undermines that narrative that, you know, we saw the defense attorneys and his family members come out and say, you know, this is a political witch hunt, this has worked for the president in the past.

But the stronger the indictment, the more ironclad it is, the harder it is to make that stick. And so you know, there`s some way in which, you know, there`s obviously a legal battle, and there`s a public relations battle, but winning the public relations battle, or at least being in there helps a little bit with the legal battle.

And thus far up until this point, we had, you know, the defense attorneys basically, along with Trump himself, able to spin this the way that they wanted to spin it, you know, with Trump going out there and saying things like, you know, all businesses are run this way.

Well, now we can look at this and, you know, if you`re just a business owner in New York, you know, like, no, they don`t, I can`t pay my employees off the books and if I did, I will get caught and sent to prison. So this isn`t about who the defendant is. It`s about what the defendant did. And that really pokes holes in this - this narrative or this rhetoric that the defense attorneys - and again, it is their job to do this, but it just - it`s not going to work as well with an indictment like this.

And I think that makes a difference to both on a public relations level as you were speaking about before, but also a little bit in the legal battle to come.

VELSHI: Yes, that`s - your point is - it really comes down to this. It`s - it`s - is it about who the defendant is as Trump would have you believe and his people, or is it about what the defendant did? Thanks for this, Rebecca, good to see you. Rebecca Roiphe is a former Manhattan assistant district attorney. All right, much more to get to on this Friday night.

We`re going to hear from Rachel shortly but back - coming up next, a reason to be very thankful this holiday weekend. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Last year on July 4, 2020, we were here. About 50,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported that day across the country, a seven-day average of more than 48,000 new cases on that day, and it was going up. Look at that incline. That was the start of what would quickly become this country`s second peak in the pandemic.

Fast forward about 365 days. And we`re now approaching the July 4 weekend once again yesterday, about 16,500 cases were recorded for a seven-day average of more than 12,800, far fewer than this time last year. We know cases are down more than 95 percent from the highest peak in January. Overall, we`re doing pretty well in the fight against the virus.

But if you look a little closer at where we are on the curve right now, you`ll see that the seven-day average of cases it`s hard to see got to look right in that right corner is increasing once again. The new daily COVID cases rose 10 percent since last week and that uptick might be due in part to the lagging vaccination rates in this country. But we`re still on a slight increase for that right now.

Our pace of vaccinations has been declining since spring. President Biden set a goal to get 70 percent of adults at least one shot by July 4. But just last week, the White House acknowledged we`re not on track to meet that goal and heading into the holiday weekend, he`s right. There are now fewer than 66 percent of adults with at least one shot.

Another reason cases are increasing right now even if just by 10 percent might be the Delta variant, the strain of COVID originally seen in India. It`s now present in all 50 states and accounts for a quarter of all new cases. Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House COVID-19 Response Team say the vaccinations we have are still highly effective against the Delta variant.

But CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said yesterday that health officials expect transmission to increase in unvaccinated communities unless those vaccination rates can increase right now. So the question is, when it comes to new COVID cases, are we at an inflection point because of the Delta variant? And if we are, what can we do about it?

Joining us now is Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, good to see you. Thank you for being with us today. Your take on this? Where are we right now? We`re clearly far better than we were a year ago. Still, we`re in the 10s of 1000s of cases, or at least over 10,000 new cases each week, and we have this Delta variant.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. First of all, thanks for having me back. Couple of things. I mean, first of all, sort of couple of hundred Americans dying every day. It`s not great. That`s not where we want to be. We want that number to be lower.

Where we are as a country is more and more we`re becoming a nation of really two Americas. We have a vaccinated America that`s doing well, that I think is going to have a very safe July 4th. And we have an unvaccinated America that is at very high risk from the Delta variant. And unfortunately, I`m worried that the unvaccinated America is going to see a lot of infections and hospitalizations in the weeks and months ahead.

VELSHI: What do you do about it Dr. Jha at this point? Is it a messaging problem, is it an access problem? I`m here in New York City where they literally have pop-up stands all over the place touting vaccinations. Do we have a vaccination shortage in this country? Or are we just up against people who don`t want it?

JHA: So, there are couple things. We don`t have a vaccine storage. There is plenty of vaccines. We have more vaccines than we know what to do with. That`s why I actually have been arguing that we got to start shipping some more vaccines abroad to places that don`t have enough.

So, what slowing things down here is a couple of folds. I mean, one is a massive misinformation campaign that`s been directed at communities of color, it`s been directed at conservatives, and that has dissuaded some people. There are other people who have - who worked three jobs, who can`t just take a day off after they`ve had their first or second shot. For them, those barriers still exist.

So, we`ve kind of doing all of the above strategy. Yes, better messaging? Yes, more trusted voices. Also, yes, policies that make it easier for people to get the shot.

VELSHI: Now, there were worries about what we have to do about this Delta variant and whether or not boosters will be needed. And analysis from Public Health England released on June 14th, found the two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 96 percent effective against hospitalization from the Delta virus.

The two doses of AstraZeneca were 92 percent effective. J&J says its vaccine is effective against Delta. We got another report, as Moderna says its vaccine is effective against Delta. So, what does that mean?

JHA: What that means is I feel incredibly fortunate. All of our vaccines are holding up against these variants. I don`t know that six months ago I would have predicted that. I am incredibly thankful.

It means that if you are fully vaccinated, you do not have to worry about getting sick and dying. You may suffer a breakthrough infection if you`re around a lot of unvaccinated people, but you`re going to do well. This is amazing. This is terrific and should be all that much more motivation for people to get vaccinated.

VELSHI: You wanted to have a July 4th barbecue, is that going to happen?

JHA: It is going to happen. Yes, back in November, I said that I thought that we`d be at a point where we can do it. I`m having about 20 or so friends and colleagues over. My backyard probably cannot accommodate much more than that without violating some gathering laws. But we`re going to have a pretty standard traditional fun with July 4th barbecue.

VELSHI: That makes us very happy here at the show. We appreciate that you`re going to do that. And thank you for the time that you`ve taken to always join us. Dr. Ashish Jha is the Dean of Brown University School of Public Health. Thanks for your time, as always.

All right. When we come back, Rachel is going to be here with an incredible story. She`ll be right back, and we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Acta Non Verba, that`s what it says. It`s the official crust of a fancy private school in the Las Vegas, Nevada area. Acta Non Verba, see that? And then J, M, A in those three corners. The motto is splashed across the front. They are Latin for actions, not words. And the J, M, A is because this is the James Madison Academy.

Here`s the school`s website. This private school is called the James Madison Academy. It`s named after James Madison, one of the founding fathers, credited as the brains behind the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which of course enshrines the right for Americans to keep guns.

And that, you might imagine, is why the James Madison Academy in Las Vegas picked these two guys to address their graduating class earlier this month. On the left there is David Keene, he spent two terms as President of the National Rifle Association, the NRA. He now sits on the NRA`s Board of Directors.

On the right there is a man named John Lott. He is a very influential person in sort of gun organization circles. He`s an advocate for more people having guns with fewer rules about having them or using them. He wrote a book that people call the Bible of the NRA.

Both David Keene and John Lott were invited to address the graduates from James Madison Academy, and they both said, yes. They`ve put on their robes and their funny hats. They traveled to Las Vegas, they prepared speeches about following your hopes and dreams, also about the importance of the Second Amendment. Right? That`s why kind of why they were there.

The school told them as a thank you for giving those speeches, they would both be awarded the James Madison Academy`s "Keeper of the Constitution Award." This is them having received their statues to commemorate their receiving those awards.

And all of this - I don`t know it seems a little bit on the nose, right. Gun themed school, gets gun themed speakers to give gun themed speeches and receive a sort of gun themed award for having done gun. So it`s a little on the nose.

There were saw some other signs too that a vigilant person might have picked up on early on. Let`s look, for example, at that website again for the James Madison Academy. Parts of it look quite official like the things you might expect.

But then there`s little things that seem a little bit weird like this. Call us at 800 870 8 blah, blah, blah to apply. Call us to apply. What does that like operators are standing by your toll-free number? What are you, an ambulance chasing law firm? This is an infomercial?

Also, if you run a history of the web address for the James Madison Academy`s website, it turns out that school`s website has only existed since April of this year. That`s weird. Also, that Keeper of the Constitution Award for which those guys got the little statue thing. Keeper of the Constitution Award doesn`t exist. There`s no record of it anywhere. There`s no record, for example, of anybody else having ever received that award.

Turns out the James Madison Academy doesn`t exist either. Unbeknownst to these two pro-gun advocates, they were both invited to speak at a fake graduation for fake school. And they gave their pro-gun speeches in front of 3,044 empty white chairs in the Las Vegas venue.

According to one group that tracks gun deaths statistics, that 3,044 number, that`s the number of high school seniors who should have put on their caps and gowns and gotten their high school diplomas this year, but instead, they died. They were victims of gun violence and they never made it to this year`s graduation. That`s the class of 2021 in gun violence deaths.

And it is a dramatic thing to watch a sitting NRA Board Member telling 3,000 empty chairs that they need to follow their hopes and dreams. They`re not going to follow their hopes and dreams.

I`m going to play a little video of parts of his speech now. Parts of Keene`s speech now. I will warn you. This video also includes some upsetting audio from 911 calls made during school shootings. If that is something you would rather not experience, this is me giving you a chance to mute the TV if that is something you don`t want to hear.

OK, here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KEENE, A FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Let me begin by telling you what an honor it is to be here to help celebrate your graduation. Picture for a minute the young James Madison, for whom this school is named. This year, you focused on one of the most important of Madison`s amendments, the Second Amendment.

There are some who continue to fight to gut the Second Amendment. But I`d be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who stand up and prevent them from succeeding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911 what is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you help --?

KEENE: Defending it is a challenge and a duty that Americans like you--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A student going to (ph) high school is being shot up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He used to be in each of my classroom.

KEENE: Who understand what has made the country the envy of the world must accept as their own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Is anybody injured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes, a lot of blood. Will you help, please?

KEENE: An overwhelming majority of you will go on to college, while others may decide their dream dictates a different route to success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible) school open.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, do you know how many people are injured?

KEENE: So my advice to you is simple enough. Follow your dream and make it a reality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son is in Stoneman Doug. My daughter just texted me from school. She`s at Stoneman Douglas--

KEENE: And never for a minute doubt that you can achieve that dream. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, oh, my god.

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god.

(GUNSHOTS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Follow your dream and make it a reality. Never for a minute doubt that you can achieve that dream. An overwhelming majority of you will go on to college. There are some who will continue to fight to gut the Second Amendment, but I`d be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who will stand up and prevent them from succeeding.

That is not going to happen from any of the students. Both that NRA Board Member David Keene, and the pro-gun commentator who also spoke at that, they gave those speeches in front of those 3,000 empty seats, representing kids who did not graduate this year, because they were killed in gun violence in the United States.

Keene and John Lott were told that before the actual event they needed to participate in a dress rehearsal to test the lights and cameras and stuff. That`s what this video is from. After the run through, they were told the actual graduation was canceled because of a credible threat of violence.

BuzzFeed News called up the pro-NRA commentator guy today after the videos were published. He said he had no idea what had happened here. He told BuzzFeed, "You`re telling me the whole thing was a setup? No, I didn`t know that." Now, we`ve reached out to David Keene, the sitting NRA Board Member to ask his response. We haven`t heard back from him.

This remarkable demonstrative experiment, this stunt was orchestrated by a gun safety advocacy group called Change the Ref. The group pointed out today that "Ironically had the men conducted a proper background check on the school, they would have seen that the school is fake."

They said that we`re trying to illustrate here that the 1000s of students lost to gun violence won`t be forgotten. And they wanted to force pro-gun advocates to literally face the consequences of their policies. They call those 3,000 empty seats, the lost class.

This advocacy group Change the Ref was founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver in 2018. Their son Joaquin was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Joaquin was 17 years old. He was a great writer, an athlete, he loved music.

Joaquin`s father Manuel said today that he was not scared to pull off this sort of unbelievable piece of advocacy and, and honestly subterfuge. He said, "We need to show we`re brave and we`re not afraid of these guys. We`ve already felt the worst possible situation. There`s no threat that can make me feel different." Actions, not words.

Joining us now is Manuel Oliver. Mr. Oliver, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

MANUEL OLIVER, JOAQUIN OLIVER`S FATHER: Thank you. You did a great job presenting what we did. I love it. Thank you.

MADDOW: Well, it`s well tell me about Change the Ref and tell me about how you came up with this idea?

OLIVER: Well, Change the Ref is a consequence of losing our beautiful son Joaquin. Joaquin loved playing basketball. He was a great writer, like you said. And he mentioned that sometimes when he played basketball, he was feeling bad calls from the referees. He was always looking for a fair game.

Then when I saw what happened in Parkland and I got more involved with the news and the reality behind that episode and every day`s gun violence. We thought that the referees - the referees in D.C., the ones that are supposed to give us a fair game, the ones that are supposed to make the right calls are ignoring us. So that`s how we started with Change the Ref.

My wife, Patricia, myself, my daughter Andrea will love the fact that the name came from Joaquin, and not from us. So it`s an extension of Joaquin`s activism.

MADDOW: I know that you and your wife, Patricia were on site, were sort of behind the scenes, and able to watch while these pro-NRA guys were giving their speeches in front of that sea of empty chairs. I just have to ask what that was like for you. It must have been emotional?

OLIVER: It was very emotional. We were not allowed. They told me that they might recognize me. I don`t - I had no idea that I was recognizable. So - but we didn`t want to take the risk of anything going wrong. So they`d laptops in that RV and we were watching the whole thing.

Very emotional. But - because we were part of a process, we knew exactly, every step. Everything that was happening it came out exactly how we planned.

MADDOW: Do you feel any more hope than you have felt in the past that there will be action on any element of gun safety, including background checks, which you obviously have been pushing to the forefront here? Do you feel any more hopeful or do you see any other reason for other people to hope that something might finally change?

OLIVER: I`m going to give you a great reason for me to think that things are different. I am having an interview with you not because there was a mass shooting, but because we are doing something to prevent it from happening. So now we handled the conversation. We don`t need to wait for a new tragedy to bring this subject. And that is a great advance for us, for everyone that is fighting this epidemic that is killing people every single day.

Preventable, but just because some of our leaders are part of the problem, it`s kind of on hold being part of a solution. Well, I think that we control now the information, we do things like the one that you just saw, we`re not the only group that is working in this direction. And hopefully, that young generation will make things happen.

It`s not going to happen tomorrow or next year, but it will happen in a few years. Feels like it happened to the tobacco industry. I`ve always said that we need to advertise the truth. And in Patricia, myself, we use art and we do a lot of campaigns in partnership with the most creative people from around the planet to make things happen. We believe in this.

We need to bring out a reality that has been ignored for years. Enough of lies. These two guys, this is not about them. So I don`t even care how they feel. This is about those empty chairs. This is about my son Joaquin.

My wife, Patricia was the one that received Joaquin`s diploma when he was supposed to be graduating from high school. So I know how that feels. And I`m glad that I can do this. I`m glad that that we can find things that empower us.

And maybe they are giving power to many parents that don`t know how to react. They don`t know how to do things, they don`t - they maybe haven`t found themselves doing something similar or, well, you`re more than invited. We need to keep on being parents and no one - no one will stop that from happening.

MADDOW: Manuel Oliver, the co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref, father to Joaquin Oliver, it`s a real honor to have you here tonight, sir. Thank you.

OLIVER: Thank you very much. It was my honor. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. Back in the day if you were an obscenely wealthy, you spend your money on mansions, yachts, private islands, art collections, you funded expeditions to the farthest corners of the world. Now, the status symbol for the world`s billionaires is apparently space exploration.

Elon Musk has SpaceX, Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin. And this is not necessarily a terrible thing. SpaceX is changing the game for low Earth orbit by ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station so that NASA can focus on other things and developing eye poppingly exciting technology for reusable rockets, while doing it.

Elon Musk has frankly lapped both Branson and Bezos, but they are trying to catch up. Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down as the CEO of Amazon as of this coming Monday, has announced that the first thing he`s going to do after that is travel into space himself. He won`t be in space long. He`ll be getting to what is technically space, but on a suborbital flight. Meaning he`s coming back to Earth after about four minutes of weightlessness.

Bezos is going up on July 20th, the anniversary of the moon landing. Not to be outdone, Richard Branson has announced that he is also going into space on a suborbital flight, and he`s getting there first. He plans to beat Bezos to space by nine days.

And the idea of billionaires racing each other to the upper reaches of the atmosphere makes you feel a little achy, there is at least one amazing thing happening that might make it seem a little more palatable.

Jeff Bezos is bringing three people with him his brother, as an yet unnamed winner of an auction for a seat, and someone who arguably deserves the chance more than any other human.

Now, let`s go back a bit to the very dawn of the space program in the late 1950s. NASA decided to select its astronaut corps, the famed Mercury Seven from the ranks of military fighter jet pilots, who were all men.

A few years later, there arose a shadow program, privately funded and privately administered by the same man who had tested the men to test and train women for the same opportunity. The first woman recruited for it, a pilot named Jerrie Cobb was featured in a photo spread in "Life Magazine" in the summer of 1960, titled "A Lady Proves She`s Fit For Space Flight."

Mary Wallace Funk, nicknamed "Wally" was a 21 year old flight instructor working at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. When she saw that "Life Magazine" story, and she was inspired to sign up to be an astronaut.

Ultimately, 13 women each of them accomplished pilots, though not allowed to fly fighter jets for the U.S. Military tested off the charts on some of the same tests that NASA was putting its male astronauts through.

Wally Funk, for example, said she was able to endure more than 10.5 hours floating in a sensory deprivation tank, while the Mercury Seven only had to do three hours sitting in a dark room. Here`s how she described it in an oral history project for NASA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLY FUNK, NASA FIRST LADY ASTRONAUT TRAINEE: What would I do in a tank of water that was so - and the humidity of the room it was so perfectly controlled to my temperature that I couldn`t feel the water on my hands or my face, because there was no hearing, smelling. All your sights, all your senses were taken away from you. And you were to stay in there as long as possible, and I broke the record of 10 hours and 35 minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: But acing those tests was where the dream of becoming an astronaut ended for Wally Funk and 12 other women. The next step would have been flight training, but that required sign off from NASA and the U.S. Military. That sign off never came.

Women would not be allowed to become NASA astronauts until the late 1970s when Sally Ride was named the first female astronaut candidate. And in 1995, when astronauts Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot the space shuttle mission, seven members out of that original group of 13 women came to Florida as her invited guests to watch the launch.

Wally Funk, herself said she applied to NASA`s astronaut program four times after they started letting women in, but she said she was turned down for lack of an engineering degree. And since then, she has jumped on every opportunity to try to make it to space, including several years ago when she thought Richard Branson was going to be the billionaire to get her there.

But now, this week, Jeff Bezos announced that Wally Funk is getting a seat on his ship, aptly named the "New Shepard" after the first American men to achieve suborbital flight, Alan Shepard.

So, if all goes well, more than 60 years after that "Life Magazine" story kindled the hopes of a young pilot from Oklahoma, one of the first female astronaut hopefuls, may finally get her chance to fly high.

That does it for tonight. Rachel, we`ll be back next week. I`ll see you tomorrow and Sunday.